Last updated: August 19, 2021

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Welcome to this edition of Monederosmart. You are in the right place to find everything you need to know to make the best purchases. This time, we present you with a very complete guide to make the best decision when it comes to buying your music mixer. Read on to find out more.

It's hard to believe that a good sound can often be ruined by a poor quality mixer. This is the most important part of any live performance, whether it's an acoustic set, DJ, band or orchestra. There are mixers for all kinds of needs and budgets, of all sizes and specific functions.

We want you to choose the music mixer that's right for you, so we invite you to stay tuned for this article to answer all your questions. We hope that by the end you will have all the tools you need to compare and discern about the different products offered on the market today.




The most important things

  • A music mixer is a device used to combine different audio signals into one mix. They include from 2 to more than 72 channels to connect all kinds of microphones and instruments via different audio cables.
  • There are two types of music mixers on the market: analogue and digital. Both work for the same purpose but have particularities that we will discuss in depth later.
  • The decision you make to purchase your music mixer will depend on a number of purchasing factors. Some of these are the inclusion of effects processors, busses and equalisation options, among others. We will discuss these in the next sections.

The best music mixers: our recommendations

Buying guide: What you need to know about a music mixer

Choosing a good audio mixer is not that simple. Its multiple functions, inputs, outputs, buttons and controllers can be confusing, especially if you're not an audio professional. That's why here's a guide to help you get your bearings.

The sound quality you are looking for is solved by knowing how to use a good mixer. (Photo: Wisawa Chinnacotra / 123rf.com)

What is a music mixer and what are its advantages?

A music mixer, as the name suggests, is used to combine different audio signals into a digital or analogue mix. It has inputs for connecting voice microphones or acoustic instruments, as well as for connecting electronic instruments or music recorded from some other device.

Music mixers (also known as audio mixers), can have 2, 4, 8 or up to 72 channels or more in the case of professional studio mixers. They have all types of audio connectors: from RCA and XLR (canon) to ¼" and 3.5 mm plugs (mini plug).

Did you know that audio mixers were first used in the 1950s and have since completely revolutionised the way music is produced and recorded?

It is no longer necessary to spend a lot of money on studio time to have good equipment to rehearse with your band, or even record a good quality demo from home. However, nothing replaces the professional quality of a recording studio with an audio engineer controlling a super mixer.

Advantages
  • Compact and portable models
  • Multiple input channels
  • Basic effects processor
  • Multiple types of connectors
  • Ease of operation
Disadvantages
  • Studio models are very large and heavy
  • Effects are often of poor quality
  • You have to operate with great caution
  • Generally not all channels are fully featured

Analogue or digital music mixer - what should you pay attention to?

Both types of audio mixers on the market are very good. Some people still prefer to work with analogue models because of their manual and visual ease of use. However, digital mixers offer greater versatility and do not sacrifice audio quality.

Much has been said about the difference between analogue and digital mixers. However, experienced engineers agree that microphones and speakers affect audio quality more than the mixer itself. And, in fact, the person controlling the mixer is what the sound quality depends on most.

Analogue mixer. Its operation is more intuitive as everything is controlled by physical knobs and faders, which makes it easier to understand. The audio signal arrives directly, without going through any compression process, and this ensures the highest quality performance at any time.

Analogue mixers began to spread in the mid-20th century and are still widely used. These types of electrical devices are considerably heavier and some are even built on a wooden base.

Digital mixer. The audio signal necessarily goes through a digitisation process which makes all kinds of complex modifications much easier. These include handling a wide variety of effects, changing the signal routing or adding all kinds of plug-ins to achieve any kind of tone.

Digital mixers have been around since the 1990s and have made music production much easier. Since then, they have continued to evolve and are now controlled by computer software, accessible to everyone regardless of budget.

Analogue mixer Digital mixer
Latency None 1 to 10 milliseconds
Ease of use Simple, everything is visible Programmable, but can be confusing
Sound quality High, depends on the operator High, depends on the operator

DJ music mixers

It is important to mention this other type of digital mixers, created especially for DJs. They are a much more sophisticated version of the early turntables used for analogue live mixing.

These mixers add features for instant control over certain frequencies and crossfader options, as well as the ability to connect directly to a laptop. In addition, they provide controls for a wide variety of audio effects and a sophisticated way to equalise the signal.

A good DJ behind a good mixer ensures the success of any party. (Photo: MaximBinkov / 123rf.com)

Purchasing criteria

As mentioned above, music mixers are very varied and offer different features. In order to make the best purchase decision, it is necessary to analyse the different factors involved. Here are the criteria we consider to be the most important:

Sound effects

At this point it is crucial to ask yourself how worthwhile it is whether or not your audio mixer comes with sound effects. Usually these effects are extremely basic in their scope and cannot be controlled in a specific way. However, they are useful for basic ambience in live performances.

But if you have external sound effects (e.g. guitar or bass pedals), you can dispense with this feature. And in the case of digital mixers, it is best to process a "clean" sound and process the effects from the plug-ins offered by your audio software when editing your recording.

Nowadays it is easier and cheaper than ever to have a home studio with a good audio mixer. (Wavebreak Media Ltd / 123rf.com)

I/O plus channels

I/O refers to "in/out", and you can also find it as I/O. It refers to all those inputs and outputs where you're going to connect your instruments, microphones, speakers and monitors. The number of channels you need will depend on the number of instruments you want to connect (a drum kit requires 5 microphones or more). To sum it up:

Inputs (I). This is where you connect your instruments, microphones or music devices via XLR (canon), plug (¼ " or 3.5 mm) or RCA cables. Please note that not all channels are full-featured and only some are stereo channels.

Outputs (O). These are the ports where you connect speakers, monitors, headphones and any other audio signal you need to send out of your mixer. XLR (canon), plug and RCA cables are also commonly used to send external signals.

It is always better to have enough free space to work comfortably without losing order. Keep in mind that at some point you may want to grow and be able to connect more instruments, so it's not a bad idea to invest a little more in a console with more channels than you currently need.

Buses

Busses are more commonly used in the recording world than in the live performance world. Basically, busses are circuit junctions where the output of several channels meet. The main bus sends the master signal for all channels, while the auxiliary buses can be fed by volume controls independently.

These aux outputs are useful for sending a specific mix to headphones, effect processors or monitors. Consider that the more special-purpose mixes such as external effects mixes or monitors you use, the more bus routing flexibility you will need. Check these features in the product description.

Application

The decision you make between one mixer and another will depend largely on what you intend to use it for: do you need it for audio recording, live performance, or both? There are a few details that are most important to pay attention to depending on your application.

Live performances. If you need it for live performances, it is essential to make sure that you can connect your whole band as mentioned above. In other words, that you have enough inputs for all instruments.

Recording audio. If you are going to use your mixer for recording, the quality of the microphone preamp and its ability to connect external processors is a must. To find this out, we recommend that you carefully read reviews from users who have previously purchased the model you are interested in, and if necessary, contact the manufacturer.

Equalisation

Once again, this factor depends to a large extent on the intended application of your music mixer. Generally, studio recording requires much more precise post-production over EQ. This is achieved by means of external processors or digital plug-ins directly in the software.

However, for practical purposes in a live performance, a simple equaliser controlling low, mid and high frequencies will suffice. Such equalisers are included in virtually all audio mixers and are very easy to use.

Usually the equalisers are located on the knobs of each channel, however some mixers also include general equalisers that affect the entire mix. These multi-band graphic equalisers are very useful and work in a very intuitive way.

A graphic equaliser very precisely alters every frequency in your mix. (Teera Pittayanurak / 123rf.com)

(Featured image source: NejroN / 123rf.com)

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