Why You Should Not Use A Mixer In Your Home Studio, Pt 1

Updated On
22-May-2020
By
Ken Theriot

Should you have a recording mixer as part of your home studio? For people who are beginners or otherwise not experienced audio engineers, I say definitely not.

I know, I know.  You experienced recording folks are going to say "why shouldn't I have a mixer as part of my home studio?"  Well as with most things, the idea of a recording mixer is one of those "it depends" type of situations.

If you truly understand all the routing (gozintas and gozouttas, as I've heard them described), then using a mixer as part of your home studio may well be what you're used to. And you probably have high-quality mixers that integrate with your computer (or even tape machine for the really old-school folks). For you, I say please YES - use your mixers as you have always done.

I use a small mixer to receive inputs from several sources (computer sound card, two different audio interfaces, etc.) and it is only for listening. I DO NOT use it for recording! I feel I need to make this clear based on some comments I've seen on our FB page.

Mixer not to sue for home recording
Mackie 102 VLZ Mixer

My mixer, a Mackie 1202 VLZ Pro, sends nothing out except a signal to the speakers/headphones.  Most importantly (for this type of mixer), it does NOT send any signal into the computer for recording purposes.  And of course, if you're recording a live band (straight to stereo - not doing multi-track recording), you'll want a mixer for that.

You almost certainly do not need a standard analog mixer

But my general advice is this: you don't need a mixer for a computer-based home recording studio; and trying to add one to your set-up may well cause more confusion and trouble than it's worth.

So what SHOULD I use if not a mixer?

You should either be using a USB microphone plugged straight into your computer (but only if your budget is under $200), or if you want to ensure professional quality, have an audio recording interface, and plug your microphones and/or instrument inputs into that.

Audio interface units - such as a Focusrite Scarlett or SSL 2 USB Audio Interface are good examples.

To hear and monitor playback, you'll either use your computer's speakers, headphones (preferably plugged into your interface and not your computer sound card), or monitor speakers plugged into your interface.  There will be (on a vast majority of recording interface units) a volume knob to control playback.

Problem with mixer in home recording studio
Problem With Mixer In Home Studio

So why am I writing this article?

A reader recently sent me an e-mail asking for help with his home recording studio setup.  He was using Reaper recording software (excellent choice!) on his computer, along with a mixer, a drum machine and a keyboard synthesizer, along with some mics plugged into the mixer as well. 

He wanted to be able to record several things simultaneously (or sequentially) onto their own tracks. But he couldn't manage either.  He said he'd record the drum machine on track one, and try to record the keyboard onto track two.  But track two ended up with BOTH the drum machine and the keyboard.

Now this can be caused by any number of things, but as soon as I saw that he had listed a mixer as part of his home studio set-up, I was pretty sure I knew the cause of his trouble.  I asked him if he could tell me how he had everything plugged in.  Basically it was as seen in the picture on the left (which I drew using the Paper app on my iPad - free and very cool! But I digress).

Behringer UCA 222

He had an audio interface, but a very limited one, called the Behringer UCA 222, which is not designed for multi-track recording, but rather for you to plug in line-level signals from things like tape decks, mixers, and other consumer audio devices, as well as electronic instruments like keyboards, drum machines, etc. 

There are only 2 inputs, but they are designed to accept a stereo pair (inputs are L and R) of RCA plugs.  There is also a pair of outputs to connect speakers/headphones to). 

So you can only plug in one thing at a time. Also, and this is important, there is no preamp in the UCA222 (see our article about what a preamp is here: What Is A Mic Preamp )! That means in order to plug a microphone in, you must first plug it into the mixer to use its preamp, and then plug the mixer's output into the UCA. 

The trouble with that is the preamps in a mixer like the 1202, though decent, are pretty cheap by necessity.  There are 4 of them on a 1202, and if they used top-notch recording quality preamps, it would drive up the cost of the mixer by a lot. 

The 1202 is mainly designed for live sound, not recording. So the thought process goes like this.  I only have a pair of stereo inputs on this interface (UCA222).  But I also have a mixer that has lots of inputs!  I can plug everything into the mixer and then just take the main mixer outputs (left and right) and plug those into the UCA222). Then I'll plug the outputs from the UCA back into the mixer, and hook up my speakers to the mixer as well.

The main problem

There is a major flaw in this set-up though if you want to do multi-track recording (have each instrument/sound be on its own track).  Raise your hand if you see the problem. Exactly! Everything, including the playback, is going into the mixer, which is perfectly designed to - well - mix. [end of part 1 of this article.  See part 2 here].

36 comments on “Why You Should Not Use A Mixer In Your Home Studio, Pt 1”

  1. Hi Theriot,

    Its an impressive article. Even I thought of doing the same in my home. As you told its not possible with "Behringer UCA222". So may I know how can I do it. Can you refer me some name of the cheap Audio Interface? And one more thing, Any audio mixer machine will work right? If not can you please refer me the type of Audio Mixer machine?

    Thank You So Much,

    Wish you the best,
    Regards,
    Amit

  2. I see right off the bat what is going on .... your computer recognize your usb interface but it cant see your mixer.... Your DAW see whats connected to your interface (Chn 1 or 2 and that's all. Now coming out of your extnl will only help you if you rout back to the interface.........NoWay..........

  3. One caveat here: if you want to use effects while recording, a mixer is an easy "what-you-hear-is what-you-get" solution, either with the mixer's own effects (if it has them) or outboard equipment via the mixer "sends". Live monitoring the result of computer effects added to live instruments while recording is fussy and becomes a pain with multiple tracks, effects, etc.

  4. Thanks Mike. You sound like you know quit a bit about what you are doing with a mixer in your studio. And hey, that's fine. You're the kind of person who can get away with it. I'm not saying nobody should ever use a mixer. I have one too (though I don't use it as any part of my actual recording chain - it's just for monitoring. I still think you could do what you say with an external recording/monitoring interface rather than a traditional mixer. But for a lot of folks who don't have a decent amount of knowledge and experience with analog mixers (different story with digital ones), I just think it creates MANY more opportunities for things to go wrong. And folks are having enough problems already (I help a lot of people with audio problems). And in 2018 it just isn't necessary to have a mixer in the ... mix (sorry :-P).

  5. I just bought a Macbook Pro and am setting up all over again in a new house. I had a ghastly, ghastly mess of cables after setting up my mixer and all the other stuff you need - and then I saw your article. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have now plugged my microphone into the left input of my PreSonus Audiobox and my piano into the right input. I took away the mixer and tied up the remaining cables. I have two independent recording tracks, rather than getting everything mixed together.

    Now I can concentrate on recording.

  6. That's awesome, Geoff! Thanks so much for letting me know that. Because yeah, simpler is so much better in this case. So glad you were able to get things working better!

  7. So here's my question: I am working with my theatre company to produce a sketch comedy podcast, so we are leaning to a four-mike audio interface. However, we are thinking we may want the option of being able to add pre-recorded sound effects or underscoring as part of the performance/recording. Can we do that with an audio interface (like a Behringer 404 or Scarlett 18x8) that will allow us to add a laptop so we can do that? Or are we going to need to add some sort of mixer so we can patch in the outside sound effects?

  8. Hi Joseph. I think you're right about the Scarlett. The Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 will allow you to record 4 mics at once. For the additional sounds, by far the fastest and easiest way to do that would be to add them after the talking part of the show is done. If that makes it too hard to be spontaneous in the recording session (you want to hear the sound "live") you could use sources on your computer created soundboard you can hit when needed, etc.

  9. I'm old school been Recording since 80's I am not a fan of all the straight to computer recording. Yes I have an interface (UMC1820) no its not great but our focus is on analog we have both 16 & 24 track reel to reel decks. Personal preference, I'll never go all digital, so our studio has a mixer not sure I would know what to do without one. I know I know I'm a dinosaur but I'm good with that. Lol. My 24 year old son on the other hand can run circles around me in Studio One.

  10. Hi Paul. I definitely make an exception to the "no mixers" thing in a case like yours :-). Clearly it is needed in that case. Once upon a time, I also recorded that way. The recorder is separate from the mixer so it is not the same as the modern all-in-one digital recorders or interfaces. Thanks for the comment, and happy reeling :-).

  11. I have a question for you in my current setup. Please excuse me if I am saying it wrong but here it goes:

    I have an external preamp a grace design M101: I put my xlr microphone in that. Then I use a TRS to TRs cable going into my audio interface a Steinberg UR242. Then I use another TRs to TRS cable to my external soundgate Behringer XR4400. Now in my setup, it works pretty well getting good sound in my microphone. I have a Sterling St77 microphone.

    It works well-doing things in Adobe Audition to record but I have to use the audio mapping to get it to work since I have it setup in my way I have it set up. The problem that I have that gets a little confusing is when I want to go doing a remote recording for example on IPDtl or sessionlinkpro or whatever it won't record unless I use something like Voicemeeter. AS that is a virtual mixer and it correctly gets everything to record on their then. My question is would it be possible in my setup to make things possibly easier to get an external mixer or something? Instead of relying on a virtual mixer? I would like to keep my setup like it is for one my preamp was expensive about $600 and everything as well. And then I would not use the mixer for recording but for routing and possibly monitoring. Is this possible? I hope you understand what I am talking about. It is hard to explain in writing sometimes. I also might want to get nearfield studio monitors in the near future and instead of using the back of my Steinberg to put it in to just get a mixer and connect it on there.

    So my question is would an external mixer help with doing remote live recordings with clients instead of using a virtual mixer to route everything? The virtual mixer works pretty well but lately, it sometimes gets static noise so I am trying to find a remedy to my solution. Like I said it works flawlessly when I am just doing the recording to adobe audition and the like. The problem is when I want to do remote recording on the browser-based IPDTL alternative platforms online.

    I have actually got it to work using the virtual mixer program free program called voicemeeter as that routes everything to get it to work when I do remote recording but it is a hit or miss. And I need this problem resolved. As you are aware clients want to do remote recording and not just get the file by e-mail.

  12. Hi Sean. that was a lot :-). First, I will say that I do use a mixer for monitoring. The point of the article was just to make it easier on people who seem to think they need a mixer to record with, which I am trying to discourage (in favor of doing something like what you are doing). But yeah, I say go for it by plugging the monitoring output of your setup into a mixer and connect nearfields to that. It's exactly what I do.

    As for the question regarding IPDTL and virtual mixers, I really can't give your an answer, never having dealt with that at all. My only remote recording stuff is voic-over work and mostly with Voices.com and gets submitted through their upload system. When I work directly with VO clients, I usually upload finished files to something like DropBox, Amazon S3, etc.

    I am a little curious as to why you connect the gate to your recording chain. That would seem to add more potential trouble to your pristine signal coming from the Grace Design pre. Also, make sure you are connect that to your interface via the line input and NOT the mic input - just in case that was causing any noise in the system.

    Hope some of that helped.

  13. Key-Key - Yes, those are fine. In fact they are designed as recording interface units. The point I was trying to make is not to use analogue mixers for recording in this day and age - unless you absolutely know exactly what you are doing.

  14. Ok thanks for your help on that. So when you say plug the monitoring output into the mixer use another trs to trs balanced cable that I would have to buy and put it into an external mixer then? And I would be able to rout things like that?

  15. I hate to say "it depends," but... :-). I have my Focurite 2i2 connected to my Mackie 1202 mixer for monitoring using unbalanced 1/4-inch TS cables and it works just fine. The Mackie inputs can take balanced or unbalanced. So check your mixer. If it only takes unbalanced inputs, then just use TS cables. If it can take a balanced input, in general it is considered desirable to use balanced cables (like I didn't do :-P). So you would probably want TRS cables to connect your interface (1/4-inch balanced outputs) to a mixer.

  16. I have always used a mixing console. I specifically use an 8 bus board, and an 8 input interface. Not only can I record a whole band at once, or at least take 4-5 tracks for my drums. But zi cam also leave all kinds of specialty channels set for certain instruments. And any channel can go to any track or group at any time. Plus, I can track with compression eq, and verb, so my tracks need less help later, and playing back through the board gives me another level check on the way to the speakers.

  17. Hi Jim. You are clearly experienced and already have a great understanding of how a mixer can integrate into a home recording studio. This advice was not for you :-). Most of my readers are musicians or voiceover people just getting into recording and for the bulk of those folks, using a mixer - as opposed to a standard modern recording interface, just causes more confusion and problems than it solves. But I did mention in the article ..."unless you really know what you are doing," which you clearly do. Thanks for the comment!

  18. Hi Ken,

    I am just the kind of musician you described in your article, in terms of technical ability. Thankfully, I have no mixer. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But I'm still stuck, and wondering if you have any insight to offer.

    I have a guitar and mic plugged into a Roland Rubix 22 USB audio interface, which is then plugged into my laptop. The interface sound goes into OBS. It's a great set-up for livestreaming my music. But now I want to do some casual recording and am having trouble.

    I want to be able to hear a background track through the same USB audio interface headphones through which I hear my guitar and mic, so that I can record the latter two using OBS, in proper time with the background track. That way the background track, guitar and mic can kept separate while recording, then be mixed together later by my son, in FL Studio.

    But so far, no luck. I only seem to be able to hear the background track through my laptop speakers. And this presents a feedback problem, as the background track sound is then picked up by my mic. I have tried selecting a different audio output source, other than my laptop speakers. One option is actually "Speakers (Roland Rubix 22)." But that appears to make no difference. I have also tried to have my "desktop audio" show up on OBS, but that hasn't made any difference either.

    Do you have any thoughts or suggestions for me? I'm about to resort to having one earbud from my interface in one ear, and another earbud from a phone playing the background track in another. ๐Ÿ˜› But, needless to say, that would be a less than ideal solution. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Thanks so much if you can assist.

    Warmly,
    Tiffany Clark

  19. Hi Tiffany. If I followed all that correctly, it sure sounds like yo ought to be able to do what you wish if you use the right multitrack software. I use Reaper as my default for that. I'm not familiar with the Rubix, but a glance at it online looked like it is more than capable of doing what you want. I am not, however, familiar with OBS. What is that?

    In Reaper, you set your interface up as the default playback device. You can then listen to the layback through headphones when recording one (or 2) tracks while listening to already recorded tracks. That way nothing bleeds through from playback into your mic(s). Dos that sound like what you are trying to do?

  20. Hi Ken,

    Thanks. ๐Ÿ™‚

    OBS stands for Open Broadcaster Software (https://obsproject.com/). It's free open source software perfect for broadcasting, but it also works for simple recording. It's not a program I would use to mix different tracks, as it sounds like Reaper is. My son does that on FL Studio, so I would just pass my individual recorded tracks off to him. I'm hoping to keep my recording part simple by using OBS for that (at least at this stage), because I already have everything working seamlessly with OBS for broadcasting/livestreaming, which I do every weekday. So I want to avoid a lot of frequent setting/software changes. Right now, all I have to do to record is click "Start Recording" v. "Start Streaming" on OBS, when I want to record. ๐Ÿ™‚ So it would be great to get my background track issue resolved in a way that allows me to use OBS for recording.

    Anyway, what you've said about setting your interface as the default playback device feels a bit like what I tried to do with selecting a different audio output source on my laptop, other than my laptop speakers, namely โ€œSpeakers (Roland Rubix 22).โ€ But, sadly, that didn't work. ๐Ÿ™

    Well, I'll check back again, to see if you have any follow-up thoughts. Meanwhile, I'll keep futzing around and check in again at some point if I have a follow-up question as well.

    Thanks for helping people like me Ken! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Warmly,
    Tiffany

  21. Thanks Tiffany. I'm not familiar with OBS, but it sounds like it is not set up to record over another audio file. Hence, the problems you're having. Yes, Reaper is similar to FL Studio in that it IS set up do record multitrack stuff. But that doesn't mean it has to be hard. In fact it's like you say with OBS - you open the program, double-click on the space where tracks go, click on the red button and talk. It really is that easy.

    Here is a video I did a couple of years ago, but it is exactly the same thing today - https://www.homebrewaudio.com/reaper-audio-recording-demo-video-updated-for-2015/

    If you feel like you would like to do a half-hour (or however long) call to get you able to do this pretty quickly, I offer coaching calls (I use Zoom so we can share screens, etc.) for $50 per half-hour. If you decide you want to do that, just let me know.

    Cheers,

    Ken

  22. Hi Ken,

    Thanks for the coaching call offer. Very cool. I will definitely keep that in mind.

    On Reaper v. OBS, perhaps you are right at that is the difference.... I'd rather not pay for a mulitrack software program for just this one part though. But perhaps that's where I am. So much to consider. ๐Ÿ˜›

    Well, I'll keep mulling on this and may be in touch again. Meanwhile, thank you!

    Warmly,
    Tiffany

  23. Tiffany,

    Iโ€™m not affiliated in any way with Reaper. But I just want to let you know that Reaper has a 60-day free, fully functional trial. And if you need more than 60 days, you just get a notice that it isnโ€™t (technically) free and you should consider paying for a license, which is only $60. Itโ€™s pretty insane. They then say that if you go on to start making money (like serious - 20-K per year money), you never need to pay the โ€œcommercial license of $225. And the software is the same for all 3 levels! I know of no other company that does anything like that - the honor system, essentially.

    Just thought Iโ€™d let you know that.

    Cheers!

  24. Hi Ken,

    Wow! That's great to know! I will definitely look into that. ๐Ÿ˜€

    Thanks again so much.

    Warmly,
    Tiffany

  25. The problem with interfaces is "latency" also known as delay. The analog-to-digital interfaces are slow, and both USB and FireWire introduce delays. The result is an echo in the headphones and a delay between playback tracks and record tracks so that they don't match up. Here's my solution: Instead of a mixer, use a multu-channel pre-amp. That will provide phantom power for condenser mikes and allow you to bring the levels up to line level so that your crappy sound card won't add hiss (they all do). Then use a bunch of external sound cards so you have a channel for each mike. If they have stereo inputs, you only need half as many cards (4 cards will do 8 Mike's, etc.). Then use multitrack software like ProTools or Audition to record each channel separately.

  26. Thanks Ken. While technically true, most decent interfaces in 2019 have latency that is basically negligible, unless you have a driver problem or a problem with your computer. And if you monitor using the headphone jack in the interface, you can effectively have zero-latency monitoring. If you do have a few milliseconds of latency that becomes noticeable, it is quick and easy to fix that in the multitrack software (DAW). That would be my suggestion. It seems more expensive and involved to try to hook up external sound cards directly to your motherboard. I actually did that back around 2003, before USB interface units were so good and affordable. Never looked back.

    What kind of preamp and external sound cards do you recommend for your suggested method?

  27. Ken, Thank you for clearing this up. I have been doing this setup for years with my budget studio. I used to use an alesis io26 as my firewire interface, and chained a behringer ultragain ADAT extender onto it, effectively giving me 16 digital tracks to work with. I would monitor using its headphone outs and into headphone mixers etc.. After years of doing it this way, and upgrading to a Presonus Saffire pro 40 and an additional ADAT extender, I can do 24 tracks digitally now, but I'm getting to the point in my mixes where it just sounds too "clean" and stale, I spend more time using saturation plugins and playing with compression and EQ settings to get a more punchy sound. So i've added an 8 track analog mixer and an 8 track reel to reel machine that I can bus tracks into and sum them down into analog tracks for mastering. I feel like in a pro studio situations, they have a "sound" they have been using for years, which usually includes a mic/preamp chain of some sort before it goes into the interface. Some places you may see a mic paired with a standalone preamp, then into another analog mixer/eq, then maybe additional analog compression, then into tape, then from tape played back into pro tools. What would your advice be for a home/budget studio trying to add analog processes into the workflow? Am I on the right track by buying a vintage mixer, which has 8 individual analog preamps, pumping them into tape for a bit of saturation. Instead of buying maybe a standalone preamp like a avalon or something botique that I can only run 1 or 2 mics into??

  28. Bill. If you need to have each mic go to its own track, then you'll need to look into an interface (or interface combo) that allows you to record 11 tracks simultaneously. That's beyond what I have need for, so I don't have first-hand experience there. You can connect two Focusrite interface units together via ADAT to increase your inputs. But however you do it, you'll need 11 separate channels. You can't just use a mixer with 11 channels because the output would be mixed down to 2 channels (main outputs) usually. If you have a digital mixer, things get more do-able, but you have to make sure you send 11 separate streams into the computer and not have them summed to 2 or 4 or 8, etc.

  29. Mothy, that is WAY more complex than I ever bother with. to be honest, I've never gotten a feeling that digital is not "warm" or "analogue" enough. I don't understand it when people say that. But you certainly sound like you know what you're talking about. I don't know why you'd want to got to analog tape and then to digital. It seems like you're reducing fidelity that way. But there are no real "rules" if you end up with the sound that you like. I think you know more than I do about doing that :-P.

  30. With a small analog mixer, your advice is well-taken. A full-size analog mixer, however, will likely provide an insert jack on each input channel. With this you can route an individual preamplified (and pre-eq as well) signal from each channel to a multi-track computer interface, while st the same time using the mixer as usual to provide a control-room stereo mixdown. An even better choice these days is a compact digital mixer, most of which can handle up to 16 input channels. The advantage here is that a digital mixer can act as a multichannel interface with your laptop networked directly to the mixer. The individually digitized channels are transmitted over ethernet, directly to your laptop, eliminating the need for a separate multi-track digital interface.

  31. Lish - all true. One thing I did say in the article was "unless you really know what you're doing...." Someone who knows the things you mentioned above definitely sounds like you know what you're doing :-). So yeah. You can make it work for you for sure. But most folks I work with aren't audio techies in any way. They just want to record quickly - typically just vocals - and they don't have the experience or audio technical knowledge that you do. So it's much easier and faster and less fraught for them to simply use a standard interface. Thanks for that info though!

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