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The convenience of a USB mixer
One of the crucial connections in any modern studio is the one between the mixer and the computer. Whether you work in a professional studio or have set up your own home studio worthy of a professional setup, you will be well aware of the fact that any studio can easily turn into a trap of wires and cables.
In the early days of digital recording, when software like ProTools was on the rise, this connection generally consisted of a stereo signal passing through a pair of XLR cables and an interface – in the case of proTools the now defunct M-Box – and from there to a computer via FireWire cable.
This extra step in the process, however, affected the signal in a way that the technicians thought was excessive. To convert analog data into digital media for manipulation through editing software, there was a price to pay: often some bits of signal quality had to be sacrificed.
Since then, over the decades, digital signal conversion has become significantly more sophisticated, and many console manufacturers have incorporated high-quality signal conversion into their panels. For the consumer, this translates into one less purchase to make, but also the possibility of processing the conversion in consideration of the specific console stamp. This results in an overall clean signal, much more faithful to the original acquired from the analog side.
Right now, connecting the mixer to your computer is as simple as using any hardware connected via USB. In addition, latency and noise are reduced in modern models, while clarity and flexibility are higher than ever.
What to look for in a USB mixer
Buying a USB mixer is a process that follows the same guidelines as buying any mixer, so comparing products should be relatively straightforward. However, there are certain features, capabilities and other specifications that deeply distinguish one model from another and an accurate understanding of these differences is the only way to really be sure that you have made the right purchase.
The first criterion that divides the mixers is obviously the measure. When we talk about measurements in the mixer we are not necessarily talking about the physical dimensions: we are referring instead to the number of input channels, as this has a lot to do with the flexibility of the recording equipment. For example, if you are a solo folk artist who only needs the guitar track and choir, it is very likely that a mixer with only two channels will be enough to record an entire album. An indie band with three or four members will need more input, especially if they want to track their songs live. To do a good job and properly connect the mics to the drums, before you even place guitar amp and choir mics, you will need at least four mics.
The more people and tools involved in a live recording, the more input you will need. Even if you choose to track only one instrument at a time, the ability to place a microphone anywhere in the room for a touch of natural reverb and ambience can take your recordings to the next level.
In terms of control over the sound, built-in equalizers on each channel will allow you to fine tune the specific characteristics of the signal before it reaches the editing software.
Some mixers only offer their own equalizers to the unit’s output signal, while others will apply them individually to each channel. In still other cases, the mixer will offer equalizer to the first two or four channels.
The last detail to be evaluated, without delving too deeply into the specifications of other components of the internal hardware, is the compatibility of the panel with the different audio editing software. If you are looking for the most professional interface possible, you need to find a panel that can fully integrate with the software you use, creating its own digital mirror on your computer screen that is connected to your editing process to the point that if you move the fader on the screen, the corresponding fader on the panel moves in real time. This level of integration and automation isn’t always feasible, but if you find a panel built to work in synergy with your favorite software, your recording and editing experience will be much smoother.
Other essentials for the Home Studio
For people who don’t understand much about the recording process, it won’t come as a surprise the big red button in every recording studio labeled as Studio Magic. With a button like this, even the less talented artist can walk into a recording studio, strum a few hours into a microphone, and come up with a Top 40 Parade song. While this image couldn’t be further from reality, it cannot be denied that a sequence of technological evolutions have greatly simplified the recording process for both artists and technicians.
To get the edge that professional engineers enjoy in their studios, you might want to invest in some additional tools that can interface with your new USB mixer and create an environment conducive to creating top quality audio.
One of the best investments you can make in your studio isn’t actually a tech contraption, but rather something designed to hold some of these contraptions. We are talking about an Effect Rack: it is essentially a “library” designed to contain rack-mountable effects and, in some cases, prepare them for transport. Once you own a rack you can equip it with anything from voice compressors and processors to power conditioning units and other more complex and detailed equalizers.
The best audio mixers for podcasts and music with USB interface of
In consideration of the fact that the choice of a podcasting mixer can vary according to your needs, how many people are involved, your experience with audio equipment and several other factors, we have decided to break our personal list of recommendations in two. parts: those that work well for one or two people maximum, and those suitable for three, four or more conductors.
The first thing to keep in mind when choosing this type of audio mixer is that you will need an XLR input for every person in the room or studio. Even if you’re recording a podcast as a solo artist, you may want a guest to join you live later, and in that case you’ll need a spare input and an XLR mic. We therefore recommend that you look for a mixer that has more inputs than you actually need to get started.
For example, if you are going to create a two-voice podcast, you should consider the mixers in the multi-voice section. Some people may only ever have guests through Skype or over the phone, but you never know.
In this list we have only included those mixers that include USB connection so you don’t have to worry about how to connect them to your computer, nor will you have to buy additional tools to transfer your recordings to the laptop you use for the podcast.
USB audio interfaces are also a very popular option for recording to the computer, or for connecting to the mixer, but then you wouldn’t have the advantage of being able to control EQ, levels, gain, etc.
You can also consider purchasing a multi-channel headphone amplifier, which will allow you to connect multiple headphones, as most mixers are equipped with at most two headphone channels. The two models we recommend are the Behringer HA400 and the ART HeadAMP4 – both of which allow you to control the volume of each headphone separately, but you’ll also need to connect them to a balanced TRS cable.
To make things even easier for you, here are the top 3 mixers by price range:
The best mixer under 100 euros: Behringer Xenyx Q1202USB (4 XLR Inputs)
The best mixers under 200 euros: Mackie ProFX8v2 (4 XLR Inputs) or Yamaha AG03 (solo)
Best mixer under 500 euros: Allen & Heath ZED-12FX (6 XLR Inputs)
The novelty is the RODE caster Pro Podcast Studio (B&H Video) which is equipped with 4 XLR Inputs, sound pad, automatic mix-minus and much more.
The best mixers for solo or two-voice podcasts
We’ve included a wide range of products in this selection, but unless you have a sizable budget, you can also skip the first two and possibly take a USB microphone instead.
Behringer Xenyx Q502USB – See price or buy
This is the more expensive alternative for solo recording. However, it only supports 15V of phantom power, so not the 48V that many microphones require. In addition, this product severely limits your possibilities for improvement if you intend to continue using the mixer.
Behringer Xenyx Q802USB – See price or buy
This product is equipped with USB output and input, includes 2 XLR inputs, 3-band equalizer and single selector compressor for the first two channels. It’s still an expensive model, but it’s still a small step up from the single XLR alternative. Further down the page take a look at the Q1202USB, which is affordable and comes with more inputs and options.
These two are the best mixers for solo or duo podcast, gaming, and livestreaming. They really have an edge over the Xenyx: they include a “loopback” function to add audio files from your computer to your mix.
They also feature ¼ ” and 1/8 ” headphone jacks. Compression and EQ are in a single button and preset to standard level but editable via the computer. One detail to keep in mind is that phantom power is only available on the first channel, so a condenser mic wouldn’t work on the second channel with the AG06. It is still a great product, take advantage of it!
Allen & Heath ZEDI-8 – See price or buy
Allen & Heath is a famous name in the world of audio equipment and the ZEDI-8 is a great choice in the double XLR range. The latest version, dated 2016, has very low noise, 2-band EQ and 2-in and 2-out USB interface.
This isn’t exactly advice, however the PAD10MXU is probably the cheapest mixer on the market. If you’re on a tight budget you might want to consider it, but in our opinion you’d better spend a little more and get the Q502USB, or a cheap USB microphone.
Best multi-voice podcast mixers
If you have three, four or more people involved in your podcast, and all in the same room, you will need a mixer with at least four Mic-Level XLR inputs. The alternatives are many, as each one has a preferred brand or looks for specific characteristics.
Rode Rodecaster Pro – See price or buy
The new Rodecaster Pro is an impressive mixer that includes Bluetooth for voice calls, soundpads to integrate pre-recorded sounds, automatic compression and many other amazing features. It features 4 headphone inputs, 4 XLR inputs, faders, 8 soundpads, touch screen with tons of features, integrated micro-SD slot, and much more.
Behringer Xenyx Q1202USB – See price or buy
It’s the best 3-voice podcast mixer or more in the under $ 100 price range, but we suggest you take a look at the 1204USB below. It is also suitable for those who are not particularly familiar with audio tools.
Behringer Xenyx 1204USB – See price or buy
It is the improved version of the Q1202USB with a price increase of around 50 euros, and is one of our favorite mixers for beginners. It is equipped with faders instead of knobs, which are much more precise and easier to use to correct the volume.
Yamaha MG10XU – See price or buy
Operation is very similar to that of the Xenyx 1204, but the Yamaha MG10XU has the disadvantage of using knobs instead of faders. The alternative would be the Yamaha MG12XU which also has 6 XLR inputs but whose price increases due to the higher quality components. Either way, both are equipped with quality preamps and have built-in effects that allow you to create a lot of live mixing. They are a great choice for recording vocal and instrumental audio. The version without built-in effects does not include a USB connection, so pay attention to this detail if you choose to buy one of these Yamaha mixers.
Mackie PROFX8 V2 – See price or buy
An excellent mixer suitable for both recordings and live performances. Equipped with 4 XLR inputs, 3-band EQ, Aux / FX, Compression and Panning control, and faders. It also has a 100 Hz high pass filter button. Each channel features 60mm faders for easy level correction.
Another great feature is the ability to switch between Line-Level and Hi-Z in the first channel. Hi-Z stands for high impedance and allows you to connect a guitar or bass directly to the mixer without the need to go through a DI box. Ultimately we recommend it to you as the best podcast audio mixer in the under 200 euro price range.
Note: Do not take the small 4 channel version as it does not have USB input / output.
Mackie PROFX12 V2 – See price or buy
It is basically the largest version of the PROFX8. If you need a ton of input, this model will surely satisfy you.
Allen & Heath ZEDi-10 – See price or buy
The larger version of the ZEDi-8 includes 4 XLR inputs, 3-band EQ, potentiometer knob for compression. What makes this product truly unique among mixers in its price range is that it has the USB interface with 4 inputs and 4 outputs. This means that the audio editing process on your computer is made easier by being able to connect each microphone to a channel separately.
Allen & Heath ZED-12FX – See price or buy
It comes with professional 100mm faders, 6 XLR inputs, L / R faders for main mix, 4 AUX sends and of course USB input / output. It also has built-in FX and great preamps. The sound is clean and clear, it is a long-lasting instrument, and we recommend it as the best mixer in the price range under 500 euros.
Soundcraft Signature 12MTK Multi-Track Mixer – See price or buy
Last, but not least, this tool allows you to record each track separately. Equipped with 8 x 3-pin XLR inputs, with Soundcraft Ghost mic preamps. Bonus detail: comes with Ableton Live!
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