Last Updated on September 15, 2022.
If you’re interested in recording music at home, then you probably considered doing so through a mixer instead of a regular audio interface, which is the more “common” route people take.
However, Audio Interfaces are known for being able to record each individual input onto separate tracks in your computer to allow in-depth processing of each one.
Is this something that mixers can do? Or will getting a Mixer prevent you from recording multi-tracks?
In this article, I will answer all of those questions, and more! So, without any further ado, let’s get started!
Can a USB Mixer record Separate tracks (Yes and No)?
USB Mixers come with a built-in audio interface which allows them to record the audio to the computer. However, not all of them are capable of recording multiple inputs as individual tracks onto the DAW, and these mixers are often referred to as Multi-track Mixers.
Most affordable mixers, say in the $200 range, are only capable of recording the stereo out (right and left channels), and if you’re only recording two inputs then you’re completely fine since you can assign the left output to one track and the right output to another, resulting in two separate tracks on your DAW.
However, if you’re recording eight separate inputs, for example, these will all be summed up to the stereo out and you won’t have any way of processing those tracks individually.
This is where MultiTrack Mixers come in since the audio interface that is built into them allows you to record multiple inputs onto separate tracks.
Of course, this comes at a much higher cost, generally starting at about $500 for the smaller models with 8 – 12 inputs, but I’ll talk more about this later on in the post.
How to tell if a Mixer can Record Multi-Tracks
If the mixer has already been labeled as a Multi-track mixer, then it can, or should, be able to record tracks individually.
However, if it’s just being labeled as a USB mixer, it may not be able to and you should make 100% certain that it’s a multitrack mixer before buying it.
If you want to find out whether or not it can record multi-tracks, then you need to check its specifications, generally in the “Computer Connectivity” or “Audio Interface” section.
Here’s an example:
This is the Specifications sheet of the Soundcraft Signature MTK 22, which is a large USB Mixer capable of recording Multi-tracks.
The way you can tell this is because in the Computer Connectivity section it says 24×22 (The important number here is the latter one, in this case, 22, since it tells you how many tracks it can output to the computer):
This means that it can output 22 tracks separately through the Audio Interface to your computer.
Here’s an example of a mixer than can only record the Stereo Out:
This is the specifications sheet of the Behringer Xenyx 1204USB Mixer, which features a total of 8 channels.
However, when looking at the Computer Connectivity section it says 2×2, and if you remember what I mentioned earlier where the second number tells you how many tracks it can output through the audio interface, in this case only 2, this means that it can only record two channels (the stereo out) onto the Computer.
In short, how to tell if a mixer can record Multi-Tracks:
If the mixer features a high number of inputs but only two outs, 14×2, for example, then it can’t record multi-tracks, whereas if it said 14×12 or 14×14, then this means that it can record 12 or 14 tracks separately to the computer.
Are USB Audio Interfaces better for Home Recording than a USB Mixer?
Audio Interfaces are the go-to for most people because they are more affordable, lightweight, and portable, and they offer great bang for your buck.
Mixers have the advantage of being useful for home recording as well as for live performances, plus they generally feature more inputs and outputs (especially if you get one with Multi-track capabilities), allowing you to record full bands without issues.
For most home-recording enthusiasts, however, I would recommend going with an Audio Interface most of the time since you generally record on your own, meaning that you only need to record a couple of inputs simultaneously and not like 20+.
Also, when recording at home, or in a studio for that matter, you generally don’t process the audio on the way in, which is something that you can do on a mixer, so you would be wasting money on all of the additional features a mixer offers since you wouldn’t be really using them.
I would only recommend going for a mixer, especially one that can record multi-tracks, if you want to record many inputs at once and also have the option to record bands in a live setting.
Consider Audio Interfaces with ADAT connectivity
Some Audio Interfaces, as well as some mixers, have a type of port on the back which is called Optical or ADAT, and this allows you to connect external preamps to the interface to increase its channel count by 8, generally.
There are multiple Audio Interfaces out there that come with ADAT inputs, such as the Apollo Twin interfaces, the Adient iD14, and others, and you can increase their channel count from 2 to 10 total by hooking up an external preamp.
It’s worth noting that these preamps with ADAT connectivity vary drastically in price since you can get them from about $200 to $1000+ per unit.
Cost difference between an Audio Interface and a USB Mixer
Mixers are generally more expensive if they feature the same channel count since they come with some additional controls to affect the sound: The Scarlett 2i2 audio interface, which is a mid-range 2-channel audio interface, features two inputs, and a USB mixer with two inputs and just the stereo out will generally cost a little more since it does everything the Scarlett while providing some extended functionality.
Generally speaking, you can expect to pay between 10% to 30% more for a mixer with the same channel count as an Audio Interface.
Important Note: Here I’m comparing budget mixers that more often than not can only record the stereo out (left and right channels) and which could be compared to regular 2-channel audio interfaces.
As far as Multi-track USB mixers go, these are vastly more expensive since they are designed to record dozens of tracks individually and they also come with a lot of built-in features, such as recording to an SD card, WiFi connectivity, built-in amp simulation, and some of them even work as control surfaces for our DAW.
USB Multitrack Mixers generally cost about $800 and up.
USB mixers can definitely record separate tracks onto a DAW if it’s one that offers multitrack capabilities, but as I previously stated, most “affordable” mixers can only record the stereo out and not all the individual tracks separately.
You need to check the specifications sheet of the mixer you intend to buy to make sure that it’s actually multitrack-capable.
I wrote a post on the best multitrack mixers out there that you should definitely check out, just know that these can be quite pricy!