Mixers and Home Recording

OH! Now I know what I exactly am!

If that is in reference to my calling you a "newb" please do not be offended. Most of us here were one once. You qualify you see having used the term "confused" and having a sub 10 post count.

Neither age nor previous experiences qualifies you as any kind of expert here. I am in my 75th year and was an electronics technician all my working life but I was totally newbish about computers and home recording with them just a little over 15 years ago.

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.


-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.


-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?


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!
A great post! Marketing says you can do this and that and ten other things with this mixer and some software plus your DAW - and the reality is that after an infernal amount of thinkering you just give up, when Cubase, Audible, _______, Windows / MacOS does not bend at your command.

I have some learning and pattern recognition difficulties, and thus I repeatedly go nuts with signal routing, no matter how many times I read about it. I can read Arabic, Greek and Hebrew (to some extent) , but not signal flow diagrams. Devil made them!

My humble experience and even humbler wits say: keep everything as simple as you possibly can.

And still it will be uncomfortably complicated many times - for me at least. But I'm trying to fight back..
As an amateur, I drive my studio monitors from a cheap 8 channel analogue mixer, so that when the computer is turned off, I can still hear my keyboard for practicing.
Audio interfaces do not seem to provide insert sockets for external HW processing.
As an amateur, I drive my studio monitors from a cheap 8 channel analogue mixer, so that when the computer is turned off, I can still hear my keyboard for practicing.
Audio interfaces do not seem to provide insert sockets for external HW processing.
One that does is the Behringer UMC204HD and it also has very good, i.e. decent gain, low noise mic pres. Good enough in fact for VO work with a dynamic such as the SM57/58 though it might struggle with a 7b.

As it happens I am in the middle of building a 'rig' using a laptop, a MOTU M4 and a Behringer Xenyx 1202 mixer. The sources at present are the laptop, Radio 3 from my FSTV and an old Yamaha keyboard (plus MIDI I/O) I intend to expand the system, not yet taken a feed from mixer back to 3/4 on the M4 but will report with smudges in a day or so. Oh, all gets harkened unto through my Tannoy 5As.

I have loads of mixers - sitting in the store are two X-32s and a Midas M32, plus a couple of analogue mixers - and my studio just has a multi-input interface - no mixer at all. I could connect one of the digital mixers and have 32 inputs and waggle the faders from Cubase, but I don't need them. I have 8 mic inputs, and my recording has never needed more than 4 maybe? The monitor system goes to the interface as do the inputs - that's it now. No need for faffing around with ins and outs any more.
As an amateur, I drive my studio monitors from a cheap 8 channel analogue mixer, so that when the computer is turned off, I can still hear my keyboard for practicing.
Audio interfaces do not seem to provide insert sockets for external HW processing.
Most smaller mixers also don't have inserts.
I need to pull out my old Yamaha MX12/4 mixer and connect it to the line inputs of my Tascam interface, pull out a couple of matched pairs of mics and see what it sounds like. I recently did a comparison of my Tascam interface vs my Yamaha AW1600 and my Zoom R24 using 3 Senn 835s. The sound was similar, but the Yamaha was by far the noisiest of the three recording at 24bit and 44.1K.

I ran the three files through FreqAnalyst and this is what came out. You can easily see the noise level (it was an acoustic guitar recording).

A professional studio mixing desk would be bristling with insert sockets, but DAWS expect you to live in the box.
It makes sense to record your track raw, and then apply processing to that track later. But if you want to apply
your favourite outboard kit to that track, they don't make it easy for you.
I tried using my focusrite 18i8 for this job, as it allows you to select alternate studio speakers. By feeding this alternate
source into your outboard kit, and the return back in as a fresh track, I think it can be acheived.
It would be nice if the DAW and interface could give me an insert socket just before the faders.

I do have a behringer Eurodesk 32-8-2 for pre-mixing my drums, which has inserts everywhere.
Also a cheap Alto 16ch performing mixer, with inserts. What do DAWS and audio interfaces have against inserts?
Slouch, I don't think it's so much an issue with the DAW, but interfaces are generally going to limit the input and output because of cost. Adding another set of in/out plugs, plus the additional circuitry, and control knobs is going to raise costs massively. At that point, you might as well go with a bank of channel strips and a full console.

That's not going to fit in my basement. Plus, adding in all those compressors and limiters isn't cheap. Just routing the signal to a plug-in and back doesn't cost anything at all if you are using stock plug-ins. $30 for a Pultec plug-in vs a $$$$ for a Pultec EQ is a no-brainer for most of us.
Thanks for this informative post! I'm just starting out in home recording and it's great to have some solid information to help me get started. I definitely appreciate the reasons why someone might want to use a mixer and I'll keep all of this in mind as I decide if it's something I need for my own setup.

Jason Hook. Audio Enthusiast and Software Developer
Remove or Isolate Vocals from any Song 👉 https://www.UnMixIt.com/
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Hello I am a musician that wants to get into audio production and recording however I need to know how I can multitrack. I got a Behringer x2222 in 2020 to get better audio quality in my zoom calls and from that i have used the mixer to record. sadly its a working usb audio interface that doesn't support multitrack recording just the 2 main stereo outs mix knobs. a friend at church gave me a old Mackie TT24 mixing console a big step up but I reached out to Mackie support for drivers to get my mixer to connect with my computer.

I was able to get the tt controll software and mackie controll but I cannot get drivers for the mixer or maybe I don't know how to install them. I am looking to get the mixer to run on windows 10 and later 11 when I upgrade.

does anybody have the drivers I can use? Will it work? should I throw it out as well? what's a good comparable modern mixer that will work for recording ??

p.s was also thinking about a focusrite18i20 and using adat on the mixer outs to Audio interface to get extra inputs any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks