• Mixers and Home Recording

    A recurring theme of questions here on HR is about mixers. "What mixer should I choose?" "How do I hook up my mixer?" "Why doesn't my mixer sound good?" (and all sorts of variations of the above.) Anyway, I thought I'd try to set down some mixer information in one place.

    The first and most important thing to know is that YOU DON'T NEED A MIXER FOR HOME RECORDING. There are some reasons why a mixer might be convenient and aid your work flow--but unless you choose the right mixer and use it properly, many of these reasons aren't valid.

    REASONS YOU MIGHT WANT TO USE A MIXER

    -You have multiple instruments and the mixer lets you connect them all at once without lots of patching.

    -You find it more convenient to set and ride levels with a fader than in software or with little knobs on an interface.

    -You are fussy about headphone monitoring during recording and like the convenience of a mixer for setting it up.

    -You like having specific knobs to control headphone monitoring, pre fade listen, etc.

    -You buy an expensive mixer that can work as a control surface with your DAW.

    -Some mixers can replace an interface and feed USB/Firewire/Something else straight into your computer.

    REASONS MAYBE YOU SHOULDN'T USE A MIXER

    -Cheap ones have rubbish pre-amps that will add noise and reduce headroom.

    -Routing options on cheap ones can be limiting and cause more problems than they solve.

    -Cheapies don't have direct outs (which are needed to allow you to record multiple tracks).

    -Cheapies don't have (or don't have enough) pre fade auxes for effective headphone monitoring set up.

    So, other than looking sexy beside your lava lamp, a mixer can be more trouble than it's worth. You may well be better off with a decent interface that handles as many inputs as you need.

    Still want a mixer?

    THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING A MIXER FOR HOME RECORDING

    1. Inputs

    Work out how many sources you need and how many of these need mic pre amps (some mixers claim "16 inputs" but half of these are line level sources).

    2. Quality

    Microphone pre amps seem simple but have to do a lot. Poor ones can add extra noise (background hiss) to your recordings and also restrict the headroom you have making them prone to clipping. If that 16 channel mixer for the same price as a 2 channel interface seems too good to be true, it probably is--and the pre amps are a good place to cut costs at the manufacturer.

    3. Routing to your Computer

    You have a few options here. You can buy a conventional mixer and an interface with the appropriate number of inputs and outputs to connect between your mixer and computer. The interface inputs you need to connect a mixer are line level so you can save some money by not buying one with mic pre amps. Working this way, you'll need a mixer with some form of direct outs on each channel if you want to multitrack. If you just want the mixer for home recording, a mixer with the direct outs post fader is probably your best bet. If you want to record live performances and use the same mixer for the live mix, look for one with the direct out post pre amp, pre fader.

    Note that it is possible to use the Insert jacks on some mixers like direct outs. This will need either a special cable (recommended) or just pushing a jack half way into the socket (always risky). Insert jacks are almost always pre fader when you consider this option...but always check.

    Otherwise you can consider some of the mixers with built in USB or Firewire converters. However, BEWARE! The majority of these (at least in the economy range) only send the main mix output to the computer and also can have limitation as to what you can do with the return signal from the computer. If the return only goes to the main mix, it becomes useless for monitoring when recording. Don't laugh. A lot of cheap mixers are wired this way. Check the spec very carefully before buying--and don't trust the salesman.

    At the higher end of things, consider a digital mixer. This could be a topic in its own right but, done properly, this can be a good way to convert your signals to digital then get them to your computer via ADAT, Ethernet or several other protocols.

    4. Routing in the Mixer

    Consider what you need when you're recording and also mixing.

    When you record, you need to route the signal(s) out of your mixer into the computer but you also need to listen to any existing tracks and route these to headphones for yourself (and, potentially, everyone else in your band). If you're just doing the recording, you likely want to be able to give one or more mixes to the musicians but be able to swap between sources, mixes and anything else in your control room feed.

    A good way to handle the headphone mixes is with a facility known as a "pre fade aux". You need a separate pre fade aux for each different monitor mix you want. Turn up the pre fade aux for each channel being recorded and also for any returns from the computer (the faders for these channels stay off so you don't feed them back into the mix).

    Similarly, it's very useful if your mixer includes "pre fade listen" capability on each Aux output, letting you check each Aux mix at the desk.

    Finally, consider how you will hook up and control your monitor speakers. Good mixers have separate monitor outs with a dedicated control so you can turn them off when recording and up again to listen to your recorded take.

    5. Use as a Control Surface

    Some mixers, particularly digital ones, can send and receive MIDI commands, allowing them to act a a controller for your DAW. In this mode, user buttons on you mixer can operate the transport controls (Play, Stop, etc.) on your DAW and the faders can be used to control the "virtual" faders on the software mixer in your DAW. However, this only applies to some very specific (and expensive) mixers such as some of the Yamaha digital range, some big Studers, Protools/Digidesign specifically for Protools, etc. I don't know any at the economy end of the market that have this facility. If you are buying specifically for this, be aware that there are some dedicated control surfaces (for example a Behringer BCF2000) which can do this for you--but don't actually do any mixing themselves.

    Before assuming you want to use anything as a control surface, make sure your DAW is compatible! Not can even do this and not all have the right protocols for every control surface.


    In summary, think carefully about whether you even need a mixer--and if you decide to go that route, check every details of the spec of the ones you're considering. All mixers are NOT created equal and very often the cheap one the guy at the music store tries to sell you will be more trouble than it's worth. My advice would be that, unless you can buy a mixer with a decent list of facilities, you're probably better off with a good interface.

    Hope this helps!
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Mixers and Home Recording started by Bobbsy View original post
    Comments 17 Comments
    1. Noah Wilcox's Avatar
      Noah Wilcox -
      thanks for the help
    1. Anima_Cantus's Avatar
      Anima_Cantus -
      any advice on getting vocals to stand out in a recorded mix?
    1. Endorya's Avatar
      Endorya -
      Quote Originally Posted by Noah Wilcox View Post
      thanks for the help
      Honored to serve you.
    1. Endorya's Avatar
      Endorya -
      Quote Originally Posted by Anima_Cantus View Post
      any advice on getting vocals to stand out in a recorded mix?
      Sorry for my late response. I have no advices on that for now. I'm a noob on the sound recording field myself. I hope our paths may cross again when I get some experience on the subject.
    1. iHawkSystems's Avatar
      iHawkSystems -
      I have a few things to add to this thread.
      1. Analog mixers work well for recording only if you know how to use them and can integrate them into your system.
      2. You can get a decent used Roland VS workstation for about a tenth of what they cost originally, they are all-in-one digital mixer with good onboard digital effects with a hard drive and CD burner and digital display,
      the effects are customizable, some even use mouse and monitor, hard drives are swappable, plus they sound really great and the cost is very low overall. Recommended VS880 or VS1680 ($100-$250) VS2000CD ($600-$700)
      3. Older Macs with ProTools earlier versions using a Digi 002 control surface (digital mixer with motorized faders) can be had reasonably inexpensively and produce a very professional sound.
      4. If you are recording on a computer I recommend using an interface, you can always route the outputs of just about any mixer into your interface if you want but beware that unless you have multiple outs into multiple inputs your track mix will be permanent.

      I know this is probably old news but if you are just starting out and on a tight budget, it might be helpful .
    1. jimmys69's Avatar
      jimmys69 -
      Quote Originally Posted by iHawkSystems View Post
      I have a few things to add to this thread.
      1. Analog mixers work well for recording only if you know how to use them and can integrate them into your system.
      2. You can get a decent used Roland VS workstation for about a tenth of what they cost originally, they are all-in-one digital mixer with good onboard digital effects with a hard drive and CD burner and digital display,
      the effects are customizable, some even use mouse and monitor, hard drives are swappable, plus they sound really great and the cost is very low overall. Recommended VS880 or VS1680 ($100-$250) VS2000CD ($600-$700)
      3. Older Macs with ProTools earlier versions using a Digi 002 control surface (digital mixer with motorized faders) can be had reasonably inexpensively and produce a very professional sound.
      4. If you are recording on a computer I recommend using an interface, you can always route the outputs of just about any mixer into your interface if you want but beware that unless you have multiple outs into multiple inputs your track mix will be permanent.

      I know this is probably old news but if you are just starting out and on a tight budget, it might be helpful .
      Henry? Date?
    1. Mike Stangroom's Avatar
      Mike Stangroom -
      Quote Originally Posted by Anima_Cantus View Post
      any advice on getting vocals to stand out in a recorded mix?
      Usually, I find that carefully boosting mid tones can make vocals stand out quite considerably. Be careful though 'cos too much boost will make the voice sound super duper nazal.
    1. Procurion's Avatar
      Procurion -
      Quote Originally Posted by Anima_Cantus View Post
      any advice on getting vocals to stand out in a recorded mix?
      As a rough guide, the range of the human voice is approximately 150 to 7000 Hz, though the strongest components are usually in a narrower range of approximately 300 to 3000 Hz. Remember that when you try to boost the EQ in that range on a finalized mix that you will get distortion very quickly. When I am band-aiding a finalized mix, I bump the band where I find the vocals less than you might think necessary and then gently reduce the rest of the frequencies a tad...too much of either alters the recording enough that it sounds goofy.
    1. richmoorb's Avatar
      richmoorb -
      can anybody in here give me a good tips on how to mix,or proberbly direct me on how to get mike senior mixing book plsssssssssssss
    1. Yusuf Mahardian's Avatar
      Yusuf Mahardian -
      come listen, thanks
    1. kiki's Avatar
      kiki -
      ny thanks ive a lot to learn best get reading
    1. Marc1972's Avatar
      Marc1972 -
      omg can anyone help me create a post, iv just spent the last 30 min trying to figure out how to post a question in the forum and this is the closest i have come. thank you for any help
    1. pablofuente's Avatar
      pablofuente -
      If I would just have read this before buying my mixer...
    1. onoffkey's Avatar
      onoffkey -
      I do use a mixer for several reasons. It's nice to have more channels than you really need. Sometimes situations arise where you can use those extra channels. When you use outboard effects, it's easy to rout them through a mixer. I also rout one computer to another using a mixer. Mixers make for great direct boxes. Mixers can be plugged into the inserts of the interface and give you more mic inputs. This can come in handy if you're recording live also. I use a 4 buss mixer (with direct outs) that plugs directly into the inserts of my 4 X 4 interface. At this point I'm considering even going to an 8 or more channel interface. When I'm recording several musicians, it's good to have a mix for the headphones too. During the final mixdown, a mixer is less needed for me except for using different reference monitors. Depending on how elaborate your home studio is and what you need is the factor that determines whether or not to have a board. Some home studios will rival "professional studios". Most think of a home studio as just a "demo" type studio. I think we may have arrived at a point where home studios can go full blown production. With better and less expensive equipment, mics, computer software, interfaces and the demand that put this stuff on the market, ask yourself, "what can the professional studios do that I cannot?" If you find yourself not only a good musician/singer, but also a talented engineer, why not?
    1. onoffkey's Avatar
      onoffkey -
      I'm going to add a little addendum to this mess. A lot of hype by manufacturers brag about having class "A" mic pre-amps. As if it's part of the GPA for mic pre-amps and that they are better. Most mic pre-amps are class "A". Your pre-amps in your guitar amp starts off class "A". Class "AB" (push pull) pre-amps/amps is usually reserved for latter stages of amplification. Yes there are class "AB" pre-amps for mics! And they're usually very high quality and do run a lot cooler. Not to mention, more expensive. I have seen them for under $400 each though. Preamps are an important factor when recording. Going through mixing board may not be your best choice when recording lead vocals, and recommend going direct into your interface pre-amps. That is of course if your interface has better quality pre-amps than the boards pre-amps, which is not always the case. Usding a mixing board is good for me, even if the pre-amps are not the greatest, especially if they only lack the higher frequencies and your miking the kick drum. Miking a guitar amp isn't as critical either, again the board comes in handy, because the noise level and sonic quality of the amp itself is nowhere near the boards quality. This of course depends on the mixing board you're using.Idealistically, we'd all like to record our lead vocals through a telefunken tube pre-amp plugged directly into our interface, well, most of us would I think. Pre-amps and mics do add a lot of "color" to the sound, and this is often a good thing. Otherwise, if accuracy was the only criteria, we'd all be recording with calibration mics, lol. I have a home studio, don't have tens of thousands of dollars to shell out for "the best". Can I still make professional quality recordings? I say "absolutely". There's some awesome gear, mics boards, outboard effects etc. that you don't have to take out a second on your house to purchase. One of my favorite vocal condenser mics cost less than $100. And in some cases sounds better than my U87! One thing I truly believe, making a great recording is not how much you spent on the equipment, but how talented is the engineer and the musicians. For me it's all about the music, having fun and keeping the dream alive. I wish all the best, rock on!
    1. onoffkey's Avatar
      onoffkey -
      Here's another tip when using a mixer into the inserts of an interface. Unbalanced outputs (some mixers use these) into balanced line inputs of an interface can be risky business. Pushing the unbalanced jacks half way into the interface (balanced) can resolve this but can be risky. You'll be shorting the sleeve to the ring thus shorting out your mixer outputs. Best to always use ring tip sleeve (balanced/stereo type) connectors only, in case you do push them all the way in. It's good that this post did mention this. Most mixers nowadays, decent ones, utilize balanced line ins and outs, or both balanced and unbalanced. Ring tip sleeve (balanced) connectors work with both balanced and unbalanced lines. I also suggest power off when plugging these in! Note: Using an unbalanced line connected to a balanced line will still carry the signal and still work, but it will be an unbalanced signal.
    1. Chaplain Jerry's Avatar
      Chaplain Jerry -
      Quote Originally Posted by Anima_Cantus View Post
      any advice on getting vocals to stand out in a recorded mix?
      Microphone Choice is subjective and using a good dynamic mic can give you good results but requires a lot of tweaking. A condenser mic usually gives better clarity especially in the mid (vocal) range. Stay as close to the mic as possible "when singing" and set your input levels between 60 to 75 %. or between 6 and 8 on a 1 to 10 scale. Breath control is important but more manageable in this range. Recording your music first and generally with the same settings will allow you a very clean final mix by simply reducing your final music mix to 20% lower than your vocals which should be just below 0 on your vue meter;(not over, which will add noise). I have found this technique works best for me. I hope this helps you.