As far as home studios go, most people never consider getting a mixing console, mainly because everyone tells them that they need to get an Audio Interface.
And while in most cases that might be the best way to go about it, since Audio Interfaces are more affordable, there are many reasons to get a quality mixer in your studio.
Note: The mixers that I will list in this post come with a built-in audio interface that lets you record every single input separately to your DAW.
This means that with any of these mixers, you actually get the best of both worlds.
Now, before we get into the list of mixers, here are a couple important points that you should consider;
Do you need an Audio Interface or a Mixer?
I wrote a whole post covering this subject, but here is the short answer:
An Audio Interface converts the analog signal into a digital one so that you can record it to your PC and for every input the interface has, you can record an independent channel to the DAW.
A mixer takes the incoming signals and mixes them together to make them sound pleasing and then outputs them to the Stereo Out.
This stereo out can often times be recorded to a PC as well if the Mixer has a built-in audio interface.
However, some mixers feature multitrack recording capabilities and allow you to record each input to an individual track in the DAW, but most of them only let you record the stereo out.
In most cases, you should be fine with an Audio Interface if you want to record music at home.
However, having a mixer that can record multitracks can often times be the better choice, since you get the best of both worlds.
Why do you need a mixer for a Home Studio?
There are a couple reasons why having a mixer might be more beneficial than having an Audio Interface, here are a couple of them:
Latency; Mixers are designed to let you hear what is coming into it instantly, so you won’t have to deal with any latency issues.
Built-in effects; If you need to send an effect to a headphone mix, instead of using a plugin for it, the mixer can do it.
No need for a computer; If the band wants to practice and hear themselves through headphone mixes, the mixer can do this, no need to have the PC even turned on.
Hybrid mixing; If you set the routing properly, you can use the console to mi your music, instead of only relying on software.
Live Streaming; There are multiple live streaming services out there and having a console to mix the audio to get it sounding as good as possible is the best way to go about it, since doing it with software will be nearly impossible.
Analog Vs Digital Mixers
With analog mixing consoles, what you see is what you get; meaning that all the processing of the audio is done by the controls you see on the channel strips, making the workflow fast but often limited.
On the other hand, Digital Mixing consoles come with a lot more features, such as effects, but accessing them isn’t as fast since you have to select one channel and then add all the effects before moving on to the next one.
For a fast workflow, analog mixers tend to be better, while digital mixers are more versatile.
Lastly, and this point is extremely important for the purposes of this post since it’s about mixers that are suitable for home studios, most digital consoles can often be used as control surfaces for different DAWs.
Here’s a post I wrote where I go into more detail about the differences between analog and digital mixers that you should absolutely check out!
One last important note
For home studios, having a mixer with a built-in audio interface that is capable of multitrack recording is the ideal way to go, not only because you can record every individual input to its own track without the need of any extra gear…
But also, because hybrid mixing is much easier to accomplish, meaning that you can route the audio from the PC to the board to mix it there and then back into the PC.
Ok! Let’s move on to the actual mixers…
The best mixers for Home Studios are:
Allen & Heath ZEDi Series
The ZEDi Series by Allen & Heath is comprised of three different mixers; the ZEDi-8, ZEDi-10 and ZEDi10FX, and they are ideal mixers for any small home studio, especially if you’re someone who is just starting out since they are small and easy to use.
They feature a built-in audio interface, meaning that you can record the mono inputs onto different tracks in your DAW, instead of just the stereo out like you would with most regular mixers.
The ZEDi-10 and 10FX offer four mono mic/line channels (with phantom power), which are the ones that can be recorded separately on to the DAW, while the ZEDi-8, on the other hand, can only record two inputs simultaneously.
The difference between the ZEDi-10 and ZEDi-10FX is that the 10FX comes with a couple built-in effects, like delay, reverb, chorus, doublers, flangers, and more, but it does cost slightly more.
Lastly, all three mixers come with free Cubase LE and Cubasis LE software keys.
Learn more about the Allen & Heath ZEDi Series Here.
Soundcraft Signature MTK Series
The MTK Signature Series by Soundcraft are two mixers that feature a total of 12 and 22 channels, depending on the model.
What sets the MTK ones apart from the regular Signature series is their ability to do multitrack recording over USB.
The consoles have XLR and switchable Hi-Z inputs that enable guitars, basses and other instruments to be directly connected to the board.
They include a wide variety of built-in Lexicon studio-grade reverb, chorus, modulation and other effects and dbx limiters on the input channels, as well as a 3-band EQ with sweepable mids.
In addition, the console’s multi-track USB audio interface allows any VST/AU/AAX/TDM/RTAS plugins to be inserted on any input channel, enabling studio plug-ins to be integrated with live performances.
With the purchase of one of these mixers you also get the Lexicon MPXL native plug-in and Ableton Live 9 Lite downloads for free.
Learn more about the Soundcraft Signature MTK mixers Here.
Presonus StudioLive ARc Series
The StudioLive ARc hybrid mixers are comprised of four different models, from 8 channels all the way up to 22, that work as an Analog console with the typical channel strips, etc. plus they come with some digital effects as well as other additional features.
The built-in digital effects processor offers a total of 16 effects and each channel can be assigned to that effect’s processor.
Not only do they allow for multitrack recording to your DAW, but you can also record the stereo mix to an SD card (no multitrack to the SD card though).
The last channel on each of these mixers is called the “Super Channel” and it allows you to play back music in multiple ways; From a device connected via an RCA or Aux connector, via Bluetooth, from the computer via USB or directly from the SD card.
Additionally, the first two channels feature High-Z inputs for connecting a guitar or bass directly to the console.
Lastly, with the purchase of one of these consoles you get Studio One Artist Edition DAW included, as well as the Studio Magic Plugin Suite.
Learn more about the StudioLive ARc mixers Here.
Tascam Model Series
The Tascam Model 12, 16 and 24 are true hybrid mixers that have all the controls an analog console has to offer, as well as some extra digital features.
On the first two channels you get High-Z inputs for connecting guitars and other instruments as well.
A one-knob compressor and 3-band EQ with sweepable mids is also available for each mono channel.
They come with a built-in audio interface that allows for multitrack recording and playback, but you can also record multi-tracks directly on-to an SD Card.
One feature that the Tascam Model Series Mixers have that not many other consoles do, except for digital ones, is that they come with the DAW control mode that lets you turn them into a control surface for all the major DAWs out there.
Just like the Presonus StudioLive mixers, these ones also come with a built-in effects processor that lets you access a total of 16 effects.
With the Routing Mode selector, which is common to all channels, you can assign the input of your choice; the live incoming signal, the return from a DAW channel or the return from the internal multitrack recorder to each channel for EQ, processing, etc.
Lastly, they also come with RCA, minijack and Bluetooth connectivity for streaming Audio.
Learn more about the Tascam Model Series Here.
Zoom LiveTrak Series
The Zoom LiveTrak Series is comprised of three mixers that feature 8, 12 and 20 channels respectively, with multitrack recording capability over USB and on-to an SD card.
The first two channels feature Hi-Z inputs, or instrument level inputs, which you can use to connect a guitar or bass directly to the board.
In addition to this, these mixers also feature a one-knob compressor on each of the mono channels, a 3-band EQ with sweepable mids, plus a wide variety of effects.
What sets the LiveTrak mixers apart from all the other mixers on this list is that they feature a total of 5 headphone outputs with individual volume control, and you can create different mixes for each of them.
The LiveTrak mixers can operate in three different modes:
- Audio Interface; Takes advantage of the built-in audio interface to let you do multitrack recording.
- USB Mode; To transfer projects and files to a connected drive.
- Card Reader Mode: Transfer files to and from the computer.
Get the Zoom LiveTrak Mixers here:
Behringer X32 Producer
With the Behringer X32 Producer you will have the ability to multitrack a total of 32 tracks directly to your DAW.
If you need more inputs, you can use the expansion slot to get an additional 32×32 channels.
One huge pro of this mixer is that it comes with motorized faders, which really comes in handy when switching between different banks of faders, since they will jump to the correct position, plus motorized faders are extremely cool!
Since it is a digital mixer, you get access to a hefty number of effects, as well as a 31-band graphic EQ, as well as the ability to control it wirelessly or via Ethernet by using a dedicated app.
Like I mention in the post I linked earlier about the differences between analog and digital mixers, this is both useful to the engineer as well as the musicians, since they can control their own headphone mix.
One feature of the Behringer X32 Producer is the “Auto Mix” function, which enables automatic gain sharing, providing increased gain to your main speakers while ducking open mics.
Lastly, with the purchase of one of these mixers you also get a free Tracktion 4 download (Digital Audio Workstation).
Presonus StudioLive Series 3
The StudioLive Series are the latest digital Presonus mixers and they range from 16 channels all the way up to 64.
These mixers are capable of multitrack recording and also feature the DAW control mode, which turns the mixers into a control surface for your DAW.
One feature of these mixers is the Fat channel, which is the section that delivers a compressor, limiter, gate/expander, and four-band parametric EQ on every input channel and mix bus.
The Fat Channel features a touch screen and allows you to access different types of compressors, EQs, etc.
This gives you a lot of options and a simple and fast workflow, plus it also provides a highpass filter on every channel and aux bus and polarity invert for each input channel.
When recording, you can choose to record the audio with the effects you add to them or the RAW files, if you want to do all the processing in the box.
Motorized faders are also featured on these consoles and this is useful when linking two channels together and even for fader layering, creating different headphone mixes for every musician and recalling those with the press of a button, etc.
Lastly, with the purchase of a StudioLive mixer you get Studio One Artist included, and one interesting feature of using the mixer with the Studio One software is that you can import the settings of the plugins on the Fat Channel directly into the DAW with the click of a button.
This means that if you had a great-sounding mix going, you don’t have to start from scratch on the PC, just one click and all the settings will be moved over to the DAW.
You can get the Presonus StudioLive series III mixers here:
The Behringer Wing is a digital console that features 48 channels (mono, stereo or Mid/Side compatible), 16 buses, 8 matrix buses and 4 main buses.
Everything on this console is configurable; from the way the channels are laid out, to the routing of the signals and even the lighting of the console itself.
It features a touchscreen where you can monitor what is going on as well as access all the controls.
The channel count can be increased to up to 144 by connecting stageboxes to the three AES50 ports, which is huge!
Just like the previous digital consoles on this list, the Behringer Wing can be accessed remotely via an App, giving you the ability to control everything directly from the stage as well as letting the musicians manage their own headphone mixes.
One feature that is unique to this console is the 32-channel StageCONNECT interface for personal monitoring or analog I/O boxes, which is ideal if you’re using external in-ear monitor transmitters, for example, since you can route them out using a single XLR cable into a breakout box.
Not only can you do multitrack recording to your DAW with this mixer, but also up to 64-track recordings on-to an SD card.
Lastly, it features 16 true-stereo processors with effects, High-Pass Filter, Tilt EQ and much more.
How to choose a mixer?
This definitely depends on how many inputs you need to record simultaneously, and in most small home studios this number isn’t really that high.
So, with something like the ZEDi-10FX that lets you record 4 separate tracks to your DAW, you should be set.
However, if you need more inputs and don’t want to spend a fortune, then go with either the StudioLive AR series, Signature MTK or the Zoom LiveTrak mixers.
These are all quite affordable for what they offer.
Lastly, if you want the best possible set up without the need of ever having to upgrade, then go with the StudioLive Digital Mixers, they are fantastic!