This is part 2 of the article – Why You Should Not Use A Mixer In Your Home Recording Studio. In part 1, I spoke of a problem one of our readers was having with his home studio set-up. He routed everything, including the playback, through his mixer, and wondered why he couldn’t do multi-track recording.
His set-up looked like the picture on the left. I finished part 1 by asking who could see, by the set-up on the left, why the owner of this studio couldn’t seem to get even sequentially-recorded sounds to be by themselves on their own tracks. Here is the problem.
With this set-up, if you record one instrument first, say the drum machine, all will be well. The drum machine goes into the mixer that sends the signal to the UCA222 interface, which sends the signal to the computer and onto a Reaper track. But now you want to record the keyboard part on track 2 in Reaper. So you arm track 2, disarm track 1, and hit the record button in Reaper. Track 1 is playing back, of course, so you can monitor it and play the keyboard along with it. But you’ve plugged the output of the UCA222 into your mixer, which is blending the drum machine playback with the keyboard you’re recording, and sending both sounds to the main mixer output, which as we know, goes to the inputs of the interface. And just like that, you’ve recorded BOTH the drums AND the keyboard onto track 2. This is exactly what my reader was complaining about. He wanted ONLY the keyboards on track 2, and the drums on track 1. And yeah, that is how it should be. But you can’t do that with his set-up.
The reader also said he wanted to do simultaneous recording of multiple instruments, and was concerned that Reaper couldn’t do this. First of all, Reaper most definitely CAN do this. But you need an interface capable of receiving multiple inputs, which the UCA222 is not. And once everything is blended (mixed) in the mixer, Reaper certainly cannot separate them again. He is definitely confined by his interface to recording only one thing at a time. This is really not a big deal. Lots of folks record this way. But like this reader, there are lots of folks who might expect that they can record multiple instruments/sounds simultaneously (onto their own discrete tracks) just because they have a mixer they can plug everything into. Clearly not so.
One solution might be to NOT plug the USA222’s outputs into the mixer. You could connect your headphones or speakers to the UCA222, making sure to disconnect the interface’s outputs from your mixer. That way you can monitor playback separate from the mixer, and it won’t be fed back into the inputs of the UCA when overdubbing. But then you are still left with the problem of having to use the not-so-great-for-recording mic preamps when you want to record vocals. And if you have speakers plugged into the UCA222’s outputs, you’ll have to disconnect them or turn them off (assuming they have an off switch) when you record the vocals, otherwise the playback of the music will be picked up by the mic. Sigh. These are not terribly difficult work-arounds. But life would be so much easier, and you would have a lot fewer problems if you simply stop using a mixer altogether.
Instead, get yourself a decent recording interface such as M-Audio Fast Track, which has a nice-sounding preamp designed for recording. If you need to record more than one sound/instrument simultaneously, get an interface with as many inputs as you need. For example, M-Audio also makes the Fast Track C-400 and Fast Track C-600 with 4 and 6 inputs, respectively.
In effect, these interface units are mini-mixers in themselves. You control the input levels of each sound source like you would on a mixer. That, combined with your multi-treack recording software’s mixing controls, gives you all the mixing you should need for simple, hassle-free high-quality recording. Forget the mixer. 90 percent of folks don’t need it.