The mixer is the core of your Public Address (PA) system since it enables routing, combining sounds, and changing the timbre, volume, and dynamics of various audio signals. Reading this detailed Buying Guide will equip you with the information on how to choose an audio mixer that matches your needs.
Also known as a mixing console, the audio mixer works by combining audio signals, processing them, and routing them to the speakers. Today, many devices have mixing capabilities, including tablets and smartphones, if they have the right interfaces and necessary applications installed. All Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software offer mixing capabilities.
If these software mixers fascinate you, think about what the real knobs, buttons and faders of a hardware mixer will do. Amazing, right? Nothing can replace the great experience of a real audio mixer, especially to home studio owners and performing musicians. Read on to find out if the solution to your situation is an audio mixer.
There two main types of audio mixers: Live and Studio Mixers. Studio and live sound mixers are used to consolidate signals and route audio to wherever it is supposed to go. The quantity of I/O needed is determined by the application you use. If you use a live sound mixer, it provides several monitor mixes and feeds several main speakers
through quality audio cables
. On the other hand, studio mixers need to have direct inputs on each channel for multi-track recording.
However, distinguishing the two has become difficult nowadays, therefore, you should use the various parts of a mixer to choose the right one for you.
To complete the musical experience, ensure you find yourself a decent audiophile headphone
and start your journey to becoming a professional mix master. With that appreciation, it’s time to delve deeper into the critical features to look for in an audio mixer, and then you’ll be ready to make a choice.
The price of an audio mixer ranges between $250 and $7,000 depending on the quality of its components. In mixers, durability is not determined by the specs but by the reliability of its construction. Mixers have many moving parts, and therefore, if you are planning on getting one, you should consider a pretty solid structure.
When purchasing a mixing consoler, you only get what you are willing to pay for. Decide to go with a cheap audio mixer and you will get a low-quality mixer with more hisses, less headroom, and high susceptibility to picking hums. Such inexpensive audio mixers are very likely to pose danger whenever they are overloaded or wired. Most old and used mixers auctioned online tend to display such defects.
However, most of today’s mixers have very high sound qualities including the budget models. This makes it almost impossible to distinguish them from mixers which costs twice or thrice as much. Most inexpensive mixers are characterized by sticky or wobbly faders and knobs. It is important to compare the warranty and repair policies with the set price. Remember that a mixer is a mechanical structure with complex wiring and circuit system which are expensive and difficult to fix if they break down.
Audio mixers have several components that determine the overall performance and durability. When shopping for one, here are the features to look out for:
- Channels – Do you want to hook up more stuff into your mixer? Well, consider trying a mixer with more channels. Channels can either be monaural (with one input) or stereo with two inputs. Channels normally accept preamplifier, which amplifies the audio signal, line level signals and a fader which controls the sound volume. Normally, each channel has an equalizer, pan control and auxiliary sends; although some can be simple with many rudimentary channels plus a master output.
- Buses – The purpose of each bus is to receive the signal passed onto it by the channels in the mixer. The central output of the mixer is linked to the master bus. Auxiliary sends can either be post-fader or pre-fader. Pre-fader aux sends are independent of the channel’s volume while the post-fader aux sends are dependent on the output fader. It is important to consider them when choosing a mixer since these outputs are used in monitoring mixes, recording mixes, and relaying headphone mixes.
- Groups – Some higher-end mixers use channel grouping called Voltage-Controller Amplifier (VCA) groups, which enable the operator to manage multiple channels. The output of every channel is assigned to a bus which feeds a group fader. This allows you to manage the entire sections of your mix using very few faders.
- Mute Groups and Scenes – What happens if you want to mute a band and let a speaker perform? Some mixers have mute groups which allow you to quickly mute and unmute many channels at once. High-end mixing consoles allow you to store many mute and unmuted scenes or channels for future use. This feature is very crucial, especially in theatre and worship sound. Your mixing needs will lead you into choosing or ignoring the feature.
- Inserts and Direct Outputs – Channel inserts are used in adding outboard processors like equalizers and compressors to each specific channel. A channel’s insert plug is usually right after its preamplifier when it comes to the signal flow and uses send and return jacks which use a special insert cable. On the contrary, direct outputs send the preamplifier signal out of the board, making it useful in sending individual feeds.
Construction and Design
In terms of design and construction, audio mixers fall under five main categories:
In an analog mixer, all components including the channels, EQ, preamplifier, and bus exist in physical circuit systems such as wires, switches, potentiometers and resistors. They are simple with all controls for each function and routing operation done practically. Some people prefer this since it is easy to master and reach out to grab a setting.
Shortly after the preamp stage, the analog signal in a digital mixer is immediately changed to digital data for easy processing and routing. A digital mixer is essentially a complex computer with special control surface attached to it and with AD/DA converters too. Unlike analog mixers, in digital mixers, the DSP chips are smaller and less expensive. With digital mixers, you’ll not need an outboard gear since they have advanced dynamics processing, EQs and effects. Digital mixers require great skills to operate and all the channels are configured by a single master control. However, they have large screens, in-built layouts, and advanced features like Ethernet audio integration, tablet PC control, and Wi-Fi networking, all making up for this limitation. They also offer very high sound quality compared to analog mixers.
Line mixers are mostly analog mixers which operate solely with line-level signals. They are always simple, with only one volume control for each channel. With line mixers, you can easily pool multiple sources together, allowing you to free up channels or preamplifiers on the main board.
Summing mixers are usually highly advanced mixers used by many engineers to combine their final mixes.
Powered mixers compress the mixer and the power amplifier into one unit. They are suitable for portable PA systems. Sometimes, they are integrated with loudspeakers to create very convenient all-in-one PA systems with small formats.
Performance and Ease of Use
So, with such a wide variety of audio mixers on the market, how can you manage to settle on the one that will serve you best? It is overwhelming, but by creating a checklist of the parameters of the mixer in mind, it becomes very easy to narrow down to that very kind of mixer.
How many channels and inputs do you need? How many microphones are you intending to connect? Well, remember to include direct inputs for guitar and bass, including stereo types of inputs for keyboards.
Do you expect your mixer to have low or high sound-shaping capability? Mixers offer different sound-shaping capabilities. Some have the typical low or high frequencies while advanced models offer multi-band parametric EQ with high or low shelving on each channel.
In some mixers, the input channels are routed to recording systems or an external processing gear and others to the main mixer output. Your choice determines the type of mixer you select.
With onboard processing, you won’t have to suffer the hustle of transporting or adding the outboard gear. However, onboard processing is not necessary in case your rig has an outboard processing gear already.
What are your signal routing needs? Are you planning to send out monitor mixes, record feeds, or relay external effects mixes? If so, you’ll need auxiliary sends which are enough to handle the demand.
This information is enough to help you find the best audio mixer that you can operate without hassles while giving out optimum performance. By now, it should be clear to you which mixer matches your budget and needs depending on the consideration factors mentioned.
Have you been wondering how a single DJ can bring out a combination of sounds at the drop of a hat? Well, wonder no more – the audio mixer does all the magic. This is a revolutionary device that combines different voices, changing the pitch, level of audio and picking different background audios. However, you need to be careful when buying these devices since there are low-quality mixers that can lead to misbalance in your audio. Take a look at our shortlist of five great audio mixers with a variety of prices and features, and grab a model that suits your needs and budget.
Having gone through these reviews, we hope you have a better sense of the wonderfully wide range of options out there. Some of the best audio mixers featured here have been presented to you in hopes of broadening your horizons and helping you take your first steps into testing out the powers of audio mixers for yourself. So, hopefully, you found an ideal choice from our picks. If you didn’t, you can still browse through a myriad of options by these same brands.