Mixer vs Audio Interface: The Best for Your Home Studio

Table of Contents

Last Updated on March 18, 2024 by Muisc Pro Editorial Team

Creating your own home recording studio has never been easier, thanks to the abundance of information and resources available online. If you aim to produce high-quality sound, the choice of hardware is crucial. Essential equipment includes a high-quality recording microphone and a device capable of receiving and converting digital audio signals from analog to digital. This setup is key for achieving superior audio quality, whether you’re recording songs, performing live, or post-processing audio for video productions.

Understanding Audio Devices

In the realm of audio production, two primary devices are commonly used: audio interfaces and mixers. Your choice between them depends on your production needs. Some setups incorporate both devices to meet specific requirements. To make an informed decision on which is best for your podcasting or professional-level audio production, it’s important to understand the functions of each device.

What is an Audio Interface?

An audio interface acts as the bridge between your microphone (and other sound sources, such as musical instruments) and your computer. Unlike directly connecting a USB microphone to a computer, an audio interface preserves the quality of the sounds from live sources for playback or to record audio. These devices often come with Thunderbolt or USB outputs for direct computer connection and built-in preamps to enhance your microphone inputs for recording and mixing. Depending on the scale of your recording needs—from simple podcasting to multi-instrument music sessions—the size and capacity of the audio interface you choose will vary.

mixer-and-audio-interface

What is an Audio Mixer?

Audio mixers, while sometimes confused with an audio interface, fulfills a distinct and more complex role. It allows for more control over the audio sent to your computer, featuring dials and sliders for volume adjustment, equalization, and built-in effects (e.g., reverb, delay, chorus) for each line input. Mixers are invaluable for live performances and settings where audio from multiple sources must be blended into a clear mix. A modern digital mixer may include USB or Thunderbolt connections, negating the need for a separate audio interface, and are favored by professional producers for their manual control capabilities and enhanced input and effect options.

Choosing Between an Audio Interface and a Mixer

When setting up your recording studio or live sound setup, understanding the key differences and features of audio interfaces and mixers is crucial. This guide will help you decide which device is more suited to your needs based on their features and functionalities.

Intended Use

The intended use is a primary factor when choosing between an audio interface vs a mixer. Audio interfaces offer essential connection for microphones and instruments to a computer for recording purposes. It’s ideal for capturing high-quality audio from a single or a few sources simultaneously. On the other hand, mixers are more suited for broadcast, streaming, and live sound reinforcement, offering the capability to combine multiple sound sources and providing onboard effects for a polished, audience-ready sound. For recording to a DAW using a mixer, ensure it includes a “USB audio interface” feature in its specifications.

Inputs and Outputs

The number of inputs and outputs you need is a significant consideration. Audio interfaces typically come with one to four mic preamps, Hi-Z inputs for direct instrument connection, and a couple of line outputs for speaker monitors, suitable for recording single or a few sources. Mixers, however, can range from four to over sixty-four channels, making them perfect for large productions or multi-source setups, though this might be excessive for a typical home studio.

man-and-audio-setup

Effects

Unlike audio interfaces, which generally do not include effects (relying instead on DAW plugins for post-processing), mixers come equipped with built-in effects like EQ, compression, reverb, delay, and modulation. This feature is particularly useful for live sound, broadcasting, and streaming, where processing the sound before it reaches the audience is necessary. However, when recording, it’s often better to capture a “dry” sound and apply effects during mixing in the DAW.

Footprint

The physical space available in your studio can also influence your choice. Audio interfaces are usually compact and portable, requiring minimal desk space. Mixers, by contrast, are larger and require more room, which can be a deciding factor for those with limited space.

Mixers with a Built-in Audio Interface

Some mixers integrate an audio interface, offering the convenience of hands-on control and the ability to send audio directly to a computer. However, not all these mixers support full multichannel recording; they might only send a stereo mix instead of individual channels. This limitation is vital to consider for projects requiring multitrack recording, such as band sessions where separate control over each channel is needed. Additionally, modern digital mixers equipped with advanced features can be versatile enough for both stage and studio use, highlighting the need to carefully assess the functionality and flexibility of these hybrid devices before making a decision.

Key Considerations for Choosing an Audio Interface or Mixer

When deciding between an audio interface and a mixer for your recording needs, certain features are essential to consider. These features will help ensure that your chosen device fits your workflow and meets your production requirements.

Phantom Power

Phantom power is crucial if you plan to use various types of microphones, including condenser mics and active dynamic mics. Ensure your chosen device provides phantom power on the necessary inputs. Some devices offer phantom power across all inputs simultaneously, which might not be ideal if you intend to use sensitive mics like ribbon microphones alongside others. Choosing a device that allows for individual control of phantom power on each channel can be more flexible and safer for your microphone collection.

Stereo and Mono Channels

Manufacturers often list the total number of channels on mixers, combining both mono and stereo inputs. For example, a 12-channel mixer might have only two mono channels suitable for microphones and additional stereo channels for line-level instruments like keyboards. It’s important to carefully examine the mixer’s or interface’s inputs to understand exactly what types of connections and how many of each you can use.

Connectors

Many audio interfaces and mixers commonly feature professional XLR inputs for microphones and various line-level inputs and outputs (balanced TRS jacks, unbalanced TS jacks, or RCA jacks). Understanding the types of connections available and the use of adapter plugs or cables to match your equipment is crucial. Matching the correct level outputs to inputs (mic-level to mic-level, line-level to line-level) ensures proper signal flow and quality.

audio-setup

Power Requirements

For those requiring portability, an audio interface that is bus-powered via USB offers convenience and flexibility, eliminating the need for an external power source. Many bus-powered devices also come with an optional power supply for stationary setups, providing versatility in various recording environments.

Loopback Audio for Streaming

Streamers, especially those using Macs, should consider devices with loopback audio capabilities. Loopback allows you to route your computer’s audio back into the interface or mixer, combine it with live inputs, and then send it back to the computer for streaming. While this can be set up manually with creative cabling, some devices offer built-in loopback functionality for ease of use.

Software Control Limitations

It’s important to note that mixers with built-in audio interfaces typically do not control software functions directly. This means you cannot use the mixer’s faders to control levels within your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). For beginners or those with basic needs, this might not be an issue, as software on your computer can handle most mixing tasks.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the choice between an audio interface and a mixer—or the decision to use both—depends on your specific needs, preferences, and long-term goals. Whether you prioritize high-quality audio recording, versatility in live settings, or a combination of both, carefully considering these features will guide you to the right decision for your studio setup. If exploring sound transformation and music production is your aim, investing in both could provide the comprehensive capabilities you seek.

In the world of audio production, whether you lean towards an audio interface or a mixer hinges on the specifics of your projects, your studio space, and your ambitions in the realm of sound. Both devices serve critical, yet distinct roles in capturing and enhancing audio. An audio interface excels in delivering pristine recordings by directly connecting your instruments and mics to your computer, making it indispensable for studio-quality productions. On the other hand, mixers offer unparalleled flexibility in live settings and complex audio environments, allowing for real-time adjustments and effects. Some creators might find that a combination of both tools best suits their creative flow and technical requirements. Ultimately, your choice should align with your intended use, desired audio quality, and the complexities of your audio projects. By considering the factors discussed, from phantom power needs to input types and beyond, you’ll be well-equipped to make an informed decision that elevates your audio production to professional heights.

FEATURED ARTICLES

Best Portable PA Systems
Best Studio Monitor Speakers
Best Home Theatre Systems
Best Bass Headphones
Best Close Back Headphones


PAGES
About
Ethics Policy

Our team independently selects all featured products, but Pro MusicShop may earn a commission on purchases through our links. See our ethics policy for more.

COPYRIGHT 2024 © PRO.MUSICSHOP.ORG. PROFESSIONAL AUDIO, VIDEO & TECH GEARS REVIEWS.