Three best audio mixers
Audio mixers aren't just for musicians and rock stars. They're also for YouTubers, podcasters, motivational speakers, videographers, DJs, and even home entertainment systems. Whenever you need to take multiple sounds and mix them together into a single stereo output -- a singer and a background track, for instance -- you need an audio mixer.
It's possible to be a professional sound mixer your whole life and still be learning tricks, hacks, and new techniques when you retire. If you're just starting out, how can you possibly know what audio mixer is the best one to buy?
This guide will give you the essentials so you can learn about the features you might want in your mixer. You'll be able to purchase with confidence and get right to work on perfecting your craft.
Considerations when choosing audio mixers
How does an audio mixer work?
Think of the inputs on your mixer like several pristine mountain streams that all converge to feed a mighty river. Each creek and rivulet is its own unique channel, and your mixer allows you to enhance their individuality through a variety of controls.
Audio mixer features
Gain: This adjusts the signal level as it enters your mixer. If you're recording something quiet, use this to boost the signal. When the signal is too strong and you need to lower it, that is called trim.
EQ: The EQ raises the volume of certain frequencies to enhance the overall sound. This is comparable to the bass and treble controls on your music listening device, only you have much greater control over which frequencies are affected.
Effects: Effects enhance the sound in specific ways. Most mixers come with at least reverb, which can make it sound like you're singing in a big, empty room. Other popular effects can repeat the sound (echo), double it (chorus), or purposely distort it (distortion).
Pan: The pan control places the sound to the right, to the left, or anywhere in between. You can hear it best when you're wearing headphones.
Fader: This slider functions as the volume. All the way down is off. As you slide the fader up, the sound gets louder.
Audio mixer prices: The toughest question you'll face when purchasing a mixer is, do you want one that's perfect for right now or do you want one that you can grow into? If you know you'll only be doing podcasts or playing solo gigs, a smaller mixer can be yours for under $100. If there's a possibility that another performer or two might sit in with you, you'll be looking at closer to $200. If you eventually want to record a live band, you'll want a mixer that costs $300 and up. If you're looking to go pro, you're moving into mixers that can cost in the thousands.
Q. Every time I crank up my mic, I sound horrible. What can I do?
A. Hopefully, you're talking about the sound and not your performance. Watch the little column of green, yellow, and red lights on your mixer (the peak meter). Once the red light comes on, it means the signal is too hot and it is distorting. You must either turn down the gain, slide down the fader, or patch in a compressor or limiter to control the levels.
Q. What's the difference between the gain and the fader? Aren't they the same thing?
A. No. Gain adjusts the level of the signal going into the mixer while the fader adjusts the level of the signal coming out of the mixer (the volume). If your gain is too high, it will add unwanted noise and distortion.
Audio mixers we recommend
Best of the best: Mackie PROFX12V2 Compact Mixer
Our take: A high-quality, versatile mixer from a respected company.
What we like: Comes equipped with many features you'd only expect on a high-end board: preamps, effects engine, graphic EQ, USB recording, main and phones output, effects send and return, and more. This portable mixer is designed to be as effective on stage as it is in your home studio.
What we dislike: You'll need to spend some time with this board. Its flexibility makes the learning curve steep for anyone new to mixing.
Best bang for your buck: Behringer XENYX 502
Our take: An extremely portable mixer designed for presentations or solo performers.
What we like: Behringer excels at making powerful yet compact units. The XENYX 502 is a versatile mixing system with main, stereo, and headphone outputs. It also has a powerful mic preamp and is astoundingly affordable.
What we dislike: Lack of a midrange control in the EQ might be missed by some users, but the onboard two-band EQ should be adequate for most situations.
Choice 3: Yamaha MG10XU Stereo Mixer
Our take: A quality mixer that offers a good combination of features at an affordable price.
What we like: Your creativity can be unleashed with 24 onboard effects, as well as a three-band EQ, high pass filters, and two one-knob compressor controls. The durable metal chassis is an important design feature and the inclusion of Cubase AI is greatly appreciated.
What we dislike: The USB interface can present some difficult monitoring situations when recording a live band.
Allen Foster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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