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Behringer XENYX Q802USB
6 Channel Mixer with USB Audio Interface
£ 55.00
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Yamaha MG10XU
10 Channel Mixing Console
£ 180.00
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Soundcraft Notepad 12FX
Compact mixer with a USB interface
£ 118.75
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Everything about Mixers

The mixing console is one of the most important components of a PA system and is also indispensable in recording studios. What do you need to know when buying? Find out here!

1. General Information

Soundcraft GB4 32+2
Pro-Mixer: Soundcraft GB4 32+2 Live Mixer

Without a mixer (or: mixing desk, mixing console), things would quickly become confusing - on stage, in the rehearsal room or at practically any venue where several signals need to be managed at the same time. For example, you would then have to use a separate volume control for each signal and keep an eye on all levels at the same time. If you then want to use separate effect devices such as equalisers or reverberation for different signals, the overview and workflow are soon a thing of the past ...

This is where the mixing console comes into play: It is primarily used to record multiple input signals, process them and then forward them, for example to an amplifier or a PA or to a computer. Channels with inputs (e.g. XLR and/or jack) are available for this purpose. Conveniently, they are also directly equipped with possibilities to change the respective input signal; for example, to adjust the volume by means of a fader or rotary control. 

And since we were already talking about effects: These are also included in many mixers. Classic effects such as equalisers and compressors can be found in most mixers. If you want a little more: larger, especially digital devices often have additional, even more unusual types of effects such as delay, chorus or flanger (more on this later). 

Classic areas of application for mixing consoles include:

  • Live events
  • (Multitrack) Recording
  • Mixing and Mastering

Mixers are available in many sizes and models, from small DJ mixers with only two channels to huge units with several dozen inputs.

PreSonus StudioLive 32S
Faders for volume control on a PreSonus StudioLive 32S

Which mixer is right for you depends mainly on what you need it for. Do you want to record several instruments at the same time? Then of course the mixer must have the appropriate number of channels or inputs. Do you want to use the mixer on a PC as an alternative to an audio interface? Then a USB connection is a very sensible thing. You will find some other common configurations in the examples of use section below.

Popular manufacturers and brands of mixers include:

  • Yamaha
  • Behringer
  • PreSonus
  • Mackie
  • Dynacord
  • Allen & Heath
  • Solid State Logic / SSL

By the way: Mixers are not only available in flat/free-standing form, but also as rack mixers - in case you want or need to work with a 19" rack.

2. Glossary

When searching for the right mixing console, you will stumble over terms and features, again and again, that may not mean anything to you now - time to change that!


Channel

The channel is the heart of a mixing console and is usually available in multiple, identical versions. This is practical, especially with analogue mixers: If you know a channel and its functions inside out, you can operate the other channels in your sleep.

Depending on which mixer we are talking about in each individual case, a channel has different functions and elements, for example:

  • Inputs: Here you can feed signals into the mixing console, in most cases via classic XLR and/or jack sockets.

  • Insert: Inserts are very useful because they allow you to loop external effects into a channel. Inserts are often placed immediately after the preamp in the signal flow.

  • EQ: Edit frequencies in the input signal quickly and easily? The EQ (equaliser) makes it possible!

  • Pan Control: With a panorama or pan control, you can distribute the signal in the stereo field - practical, for example, to create a fat guitar board with two guitar signals on the left and right.

  • Compressor: If the channels of the mixing console have a compressor, then you can save the external effects unit and process the dynamics directly on the console.

  • Aux-Sends: Another useful function: Aux sends "send" the input signal to a separate output. This way you can create alternative mixes for monitor boxes on stage, for example.

  • Mute-Button: Mutes the respective channel - simple but effective. You don't have to touch the knob and fader settings for this.

  • Volume control: Controls - you've probably guessed it - the output level of the signal. Depending on the model, you can do this either with a fader or a knob.

Kanäle auf einem Mischpult mit EQs
Multiple channels with integrated multiband equaliser

Bus 

Buses can make your life much easier: They are used to combine several signals and output them as one signal. The master bus, i.e. the master output of a mixing console, is one of the best-known examples of this. However, many mixers can also generate additional busses and thus create subgroups for drums, vocals, etc. 

How such busses are handled differs from mixer to mixer: some models offer separate faders for this, others knobs, and digital devices often assign their physical knobs to several different functions (including busses). This can also have its advantages - more on this in the section Digital Mixers.


Meter

Unwanted distortion is the natural enemy of any good sound. Therefore, always keep an eye on the level meters or meters - not least because too high volume levels can, in the worst case, damage your valuable equipment.

Small mixers often only have a level meter on the master output, while large models offer much more convenience and usually have a meter per channel.


Groups

Unless you are blessed with ten fingers on each hand, groups are a very useful feature, especially on large mixing consoles: With their help, you can combine several channels and control them simultaneously - for example, regulate the level of all drum microphones with just one fader.


Effects

Effects integrated into the mixing console are definitely a good thing: they save space, speed up the workflow and are already included in the price. Ultimately, the main question is which effects should be included? We have already mentioned the classics: EQ and compressor, which are often found in the entry-level class.

If you want more variety, extravagance and scope, it is - not surprisingly - worth taking a look at digital mixing consoles in particular: since effects are incorporated here in the form of space-saving algorithms (or in other words: zeros and ones), you will not infrequently find a considerable selection there. 

Just some of the effects that can be integrated into (digital) mixing consoles:

  • Reverb: Also called Hall. With this effect, you literally give vocals or instruments more space - perfect if the venue's acoustics are very dry or a particularly wide sound is desired.

  • Delay: Echo effect - think of the guitar sound of U2.

  • Chorus: Has nothing to do (at least usually) with the sweeping rhyme in a song. Thickens the signal by creating additional voices with slightly different pitch.

  • Phaser: Produces a swinging, airy sound using modulated (moving in the frequency field) filters, which is especially popular with guitarists.

  • Flanger: Sounds similar to a phaser, but somehow different - some say "more intense". Also a classic among guitar effects.

Display des Behringer Wing mit Effekten
With the Behringer Wing, effects can be controlled via the display.

Talking about the quality of integrated effects in a mixing console is - at least on a general level - not that easy. Of course, there is a high probability that a professional console for several thousand pounds will also include effects that sound like several thousand pounds. At the same time, however, devices from the mid-range or even entry-level sector can have very useful sound shapers on board for only a few hundred pounds.

A tip for narrowing down: first select the mixing console based on the entire range of functions (number of channels, etc.), then pay attention to which effects should definitely not be missing and then consider what budget is available. This will make the selection easier!

3. Types of Mixers

There are basically two types of mixers: analogue and digital models. This is usually less about personal preference and more about practical use - in some situations, an analogue device simply makes more sense than a digital one, and vice versa.

Then there's a third category that we don't want to forget, of course: Hybrid mixing consoles. They are meant to combine the advantages of the analogue and digital worlds and can also be a good choice in individual cases.

3.1 Analogue Mixers

Dynacord CMS 2200-3
Analogue mixing console for larger projects: Dynacord CMS 2200-3

Analogue mixers are the classic mixing consoles. All signals pass through analogue circuits and are not digitally converted - old school. One of the consequences of this is that basically every function is assigned to a single, physical control. Double assignments of faders and similar (relatively) complicated stuff do not exist in an analogue mixer. Remember how we talked above about the ease of use thanks to uniform channels on analogue mixers? Here's why.

In practice, this means that these units are particularly convenient and easy to use: Everything that is important in some way is directly in view, along with the corresponding control element. 

Advantages of Analogue Mixers:

  • Reliable, robust construction
  • Simple handling (one function per control element)
  • Often cheaper than digital devices (applies especially to smaller models)

But where there is light, there is also shadow: What is a blessing for one sound engineer is more of a curse for another. For example, if you need a device that is as compact as possible and yet has many channels and functions, a digital mixer may be the better choice - because here you save space by assigning multiple controls.

In addition, individual settings cannot be saved with analogue mixers and recalled at a later time. In this case, you have to reach for good old pen and paper and carefully note down the perfect settings. Few things are more frustrating in the stressful world of sound than when your carefully adjusted mixer is temporarily rendered unusable by a few ill-considered changes by overzealous musicians or other ignorant people - and you have to set everything up again. 

3.2 Digital Mixer

PreSonus StudioLive 64S
More channels than faders - the digital technology in the PreSonus StudioLive 64S makes it possible.

Digital mixing consoles have taken the sound world by storm: they offer maximum flexibility and functional diversity that even the largest analogue consoles can hardly match. First of all, this is due to the fact that one control element can take over several functions here - for example, the control of the output volume as well as that of an aux send. For this purpose, so-called layers are used: On the first layer, a certain control element controls a different function than on the second layer.

Logically, the size of the devices can also be reduced in this way: Instead of 32 physical controls as with an analogue mixer, a digital model can get by with half that number thanks to double assignment - with the same or even greater range of functions. Because theoretically, you can process significantly more channels with a digital mixer than there are physical controls.

Another advantage of digital mixers that can save you a lot of time and nerves is the ability to save entire settings and restore them later with a single keystroke. You can safely forget about the annoying notepad we mentioned with analogue mixers.

Advantages of a digital mixing console:

  • High flexibility (number of channels, signal flow, ...)
  • Easy storage and recall of entire mixes incl. effect settings.
  • Increased connectivity (Wi-Fi, Ethernet audio, ...)
  • Excellent, "clean" sound quality

Especially the ability to save and restore many or even all mixer settings often makes digital mixing consoles the first choice for live sound mixers: For example, complex mixes can be prepared in advance and only need to be loaded shortly before a performance. Or would you like to have to adjust the same countless volume, pan and effect settings over and over again from scratch during a tour?

In addition, digital mixing consoles offer further special features depending on the equipment:

  • Integrated effects and DSP
  • Extended control options, e.g. via tablet (see Tablet-Mixer)
  • Touchscreen
  • Connections for storage media (USB sticks, SD cards)

After so much praise for digital technology, you're probably already waiting for the catch - and in a way there is one: because the range of functions of these mixers is so large and you have to "struggle" with things like multiple assignments, the learning curve is much steeper. There is less of the simple hands-on feeling of analogue devices here. But: It can be absolutely worthwhile to invest some time and effort in the functioning of a digital mixer in the beginning.

QSC TouchMix-8
The QSC TouchMix-8 allows mixing via touchscreen.

3.3 Hybrid Mixers

This type of mixer is supposed to combine the best features of analogue and digital units. What exactly this looks like differs from model to model. For example, a common configuration is an analogue signal path, while other areas such as control, DSP or an integrated USB audio interface are realised digitally.

4. Application examples

After all the theory so far, you are probably now asking yourself where exactly is what kind of mixing console used? We will show you some practical examples.

4.1 Mixers for PA and Live applications

PA mixing consoles and mixers for live use - for controlling the sound at concerts or similar events, for example - have to meet a whole range of requirements, depending on the place of use: On the one hand, they should be robust so that they don't die so quickly even after frequent changes of location. On the other hand, there must of course be enough channels for all instruments, singers and co. (32 or more channels are quite appropriate depending on the event). You or the artist may also want to adjust or spice up the sound with some effects here and there. And last but not least, the whole thing should be as compact and transportable as possible (especially if you have to take care of it personally and cannot rely on the help of roadies).

Today, digital mixing consoles are often the first choice for live performances because ...

  • … entire set-ups can be easily saved and loaded at a later time.

  • … they offer flexibility, as controls can be assigned multiple times.

  • … the console itself can be smaller due to the multiple assignments.

  • … effects are available and you don't have to lug around and wire up external effects units. 

However, if you are only looking for a solution for your band or band rehearsals, don't panic: You do not have to bring out the big guns. In this case, an analogue 4-channel mixer can already do a good job if, for example, no other instruments are to run through the PA except for vocals, background vocals and keyboard. Larger 12-channel or 16-channel mixing consoles offer more flexibility.10-Kanal-Mischpult Yamaha MG10XU

Band-ready device: 10-channel mixing console Yamaha MG10XU

4.2 Mixers for computers

Theoretically, you can connect almost any mixing console to a PC, as long as the computer has a sound card with an audio input (mini-jack) and you have the appropriate adapters and cables. We say "theoretically" because (mini) jack plugs often have their disadvantages (keyword: loose contact). Especially when it comes to recording, you certainly don't want to compromise on the signal path.

It is therefore more convenient and in many cases more convincing in terms of sound to simply rely directly on a mixer with USB and use this interface for the connection to the computer. In this case, the mixer functions as an audio interface.

Other important aspects of mixers for the PC:

  • Quality of the preamplifiers/preamps: If you want to record via the mixer on the PC, you should pay attention to the best possible sound quality. It would be downright negligent not to use high-quality preamps.

  • Phantom power: Many recording microphones require 48V phantom power. If your microphone is one of them, the mixing console should have this function.

  • Sampling rate and sampling depth/bit depth: Generally, higher values can provide more detailed results. Professional audio interfaces offer bit depths from 24-bit and sampling rates up to 192kHz.

Mixers with USB, by the way, do not automatically have to be digital. There are also models that combine an analogue mixer with a digital USB-Audio-Interface.

Behringer Xenyx Q502USB
Compact mixer with USB connection: Behringer Xenyx Q502USB

5. Accessories


If you want to get the last bit of comfort and efficiency out of your mixing workflow, the right accessories can help.

  • Mixer Cases: Mixing consoles cost money, sometimes even a lot of money, and should therefore be protected from damage during transport. Having a case helps.

  • Dust Covers: Dust and electronics are not known to be friends. A dust cover protects against this: the cover prevents dust from accumulating on the mixing console when it is not in use. From simple canvas covers to high-quality, stylishly transparent plastic panels, you can choose from all kinds of variants.

  • Wi-Fi Dongle: Mixers have also arrived in the smart age: With the help of a Wi-Fi USB dongle, you can connect the mixer to a network and then control it via tablet or computer.

Behringer Xenyx Q502USB
Compact mixer with USB connection: Behringer Xenyx Q502USB

6. DJ-Mixers

Although they do not belong directly to the PA segment, DJ mixers are nevertheless an important part of this product category - which is why we want to introduce them to you at least briefly. These devices differ quite clearly from "traditional" (PA) mixers, both externally and functionally. When you mix a DJ set, you usually only need a few channels, which is why these models are often very compact. Nevertheless, all-important DJ features are on board, for example:

  • Volume fader for adjusting the channel volume
  • Crossfader for fading between channels
  • Sound shaping options (EQ) for each channel
  • Line and microphone inputs

Some DJ mixers can also be comprehensively integrated into PC setups. Via trigger pads, for example, you can then spontaneously "fire off" individual samples at the touch of a button - sounds fun, is fun.