Buying A Mixer


Buying a New Mixer: The Beginner's Guide

A solid audio mixer is essential to any musician's setup. Basically, an audio mixer (sometimes called a "mixing console") takes audio signals, combines and processes them, and then routes them into the appropriate channels. There are quite a few options for audio mixers nowadays: even a smartphone equipped with the right apps can get the job done. But nothing beats the real knobs, faders, and buttons that can be found on a dedicated hardware mixer, especially for performing DJs and home studio owners. So how do you decide which audio mixer works best for you? Basic Mixer Terminology There are three basic types of audio mixers: recording mixers (sometimes referred to as studio mixers), live sound mixers (PA mixers or sound system mixers), and DJ mixers. Because a lot of mixers can support both live sound and recording functions, the lines between each type can sometimes get a little blurry. You'll also run into a few terms that you may not be familiar with, so we've put together a glossary to help you navigate through all of the descriptions of mixers.

  • Channels: basically a path that sound travels on to reach its destination. The more channels a mixer has, the more things can be connected and routed through it.
  • Channel strip: a group of controls that change the audio signals that pass through it, like external jacks, mic jacks, microphone preamps, faders, and meters.
  • Buses: like a bus stop in a busy city, buses are intersections where the output from different channels meet up.
  • Inserts: these allow a musician to link external sound processors (compressors, equalizers) to specific channels. This usually happens after the channel preamp stage.
  • I/O: literally stands for inputs/outputs, which are the incoming and outgoing audio signals on a mixer. The I/O calculation for studio mixers also includes other devices that will be part of the signal chain and recording process (like signal and effects processors, headphones, microphone preamps, and monitor speakers).
  • Direct Output: this is what allows the mixer's preamplifier output to be fed into recording systems and external audio interfaces like speakers.
  • Groups: because there are so many channels on a typical mixer, mixers often have a group function that allows you to control multiple channels together to make things a little easier. Some more advanced mixers also offer a "scene" function that allows musicians to keep multiple group configurations of channels in a consolidated, easy-to-access channel.

Shopping for a Mixer

Some important things to consider when shopping for a mixer are: what you'll primarily be using the mixer for, how many channels and I/O you will need, how many buses and signal routers you will need, and how much EQ capability you need. First, determine what you'll be using your mixer for: are you using your mixer to play live music, record music, or do you want one that can do both? If you're using it mostly for house recording, connections to external processors and mic preamp quality are the most important factors, and if you're using it for live performances, compatibility with your sound system and capacity for connectivity and sound processing are things you want to take into consideration.

Now that you've determined how you'll be using your mixer, think about your band setup. The amount of channels and I/O you'll need will depend on what your band setup is like: if you're using something like a drum kit, you may need lots of mic channels in order to properly mic all of your audio input. But if you're just DJing, you'll need significantly less I/O channels, and may be able to save a bit of money by searching for ones that are more streamlined. The necessary amount of buses and signal routers will depend on your setup as well. For DJs, a simple setup is best. But for home or studio recorders, a system that supports recording gear, monitors, headphones, and external effects mixes with an extensive amount of buses and signal routers is your best bet.

Your need for EQ capability ultimately comes down to personal preference: if you're live-mixing a typical DJ setup, you'll want to look for mixers that have great EQ stability control over bass, mid, and hi-frequencies. If you're recording, you'll need a broader range of EQ capability in order to fine-tune tracks for recording. You now should have a good idea of what type of mixer will best suit your needs, and how to look for the one that will work best for you. Like any DJ product, it ultimately comes down to what feels best for you.