Recently someone emailed me asking what the “best” mixer was for his home studio.

I replied back and asked him, “Are you sure you even NEED a mixer?”

People get hung up on the fact that a recording studio needs a mixer, or a console. Back in the analog days, of course this was true. You needed some way to play back all those tracks from the tape machine.

Nowadays, though, a lot of the big studios may still have a big console sitting in the control room, but there’s a good chance they’re mixing everything in the box and only using two channels on the entire console.

Here are a few thoughts on mixers in your home studio:

Mixers Can Be Redundant

Your DAW already has a mixer. You know those faders in the mix window? Yeah…that’s a mixer. All your volume adjustments can be done within the software…AND they can be saved with your session. You can’t do that with a mixer.

Your DAW also has EQ, and unless you bought a really nice mixer, the EQ in your DAW probably sounds better. Again…redundant.

Mixers Don’t Need a Computer

This is actually a good point. If you like to just play your instruments, drum machines, keyboards, guitar effects processors, but you DON’T want to have to fire up your computer to do it, you can just run ’em all into a mixer and go to town.

Even if you just want to listen to music from an iPod or CD player…or vinyl…you can run it through a mixer to give you level control and some basic EQ, etc. No computer needed.

Mixers vs Control Surface

Something can be said for having something you can feel and touch. Using a knob to EQ is certainly more intuitive than dragging a knob on a computer screen. Some people simply hate making fader moves with a mouse, and I can understand that.

For people like that, a mixer might be the perfect thing, but remember…you still need an audio interface. Perhaps a control surface would make more sense, something that’s physical, but still controls the software. That way you don’t have to “reset” the board every time you pull up a new session.

As you can tell, there are plenty of reasons to use a mixer…or not use a mixer. You’ve just got to decide for yourself what suits your personality and workflow. Do you like the idea of summing your signal on an analog board? Of turning knobs and using something physical? Then by all means go for it!

Just remember that a mixer is a necessity as much as it is a luxury.

Okay, so spill the beans…do you have a mixer in your studio?

[Photo Credit]

24 Responses to “Do I need a mixer?”

  1. Elvin Lewis

    Love this topic. I’ve noticed virtually every mixer on the market, is designed for live use. New to the game, of course I thought a mixer w/DAW was the way to go. But the more I researched it, the more difficult I discovered it was to do. If there is no actual sound advantage to a mixer, it would be a waste of time. But, I am a hands on person, and as all of you know, that perfect pitch or pan, is sometimes a very tiny adjustment. I need that, so it appears a “control surface” may be my best option?

    • Joe Gilder

      Yeah control surfaces are cool, or something like a digital mixer, like the Presonus StudioLive, which is what I own. It’s not a control surface, but it gives you lots of options on the front-end, while keeping everything in the digital domain.

  2. Erick Enon Catalan

    I started off mixing beats way back in 2000 on a small Beringer with an MPC, Digital 8 track and a Roland Keyboard. My apartment was broken into and I lost all my gear and like 200+ beats…Life goes on… In 2004 I began doing live sound in the Church on a small 16 Channel Mackie, then we purchased a 40 Channel Allen & Heath running all outboard gear, compressors, limiters, de-essers ect.. (Beautiful piece of gear) and then I purchased Sonar in 2005, and started doing recordings at home with an firewire interface (Gave it away to a friend) and AKG Inception 400 (Sold that, but it was nice) and thats it..Fast Forward, today I run Sonar Professional and record on a Saffire Interface, external Preamp, mic ect.. and hey I want a controller to just get that feel of the knob and that’s it.. I don’t really need it because I’m getting paid to mix for other artist and the mixes are coming out great and no board..If I buy a controller for mixing it would be strictly “LUXURY” as you said.

  3. Tinku Saikia

    everything is practice… once upon a time i found difficult to work with a laptop’s touch-pad and i need a USB mouse, but now, i find it okay with the touch-pad…….
    the matter with mixers is also the same.
    but an audio interface is needed …..

  4. Justin Morales

    no mixer for this 21st century digital boy. my first recording endeavour 9 years ago occured in the box and in the box i have remained. my hand does cramp occasionally trying to mouse some tight adjustments.


    I have the TouchOSC app on my iPad. I love it as a control surface. Sure, it’s not like turning a knob, but it’s a step up from the computer.

  6. Justin Wells

    I use a mixer so I don’t have delayed monitoring from the daw. I have one with 16 direct outs, aux send to the talent (raw undelayed signal). And direct outs to my daw.

  7. Justin Wells

    I use a mixer with direct outs so I don’t have a delay in monitoring. Seems to work better with players/singers I record. I get direct audio to them (via aux send) and 16 channels of direct out to my daw. There may be a better solution now, this was it when I started.

  8. Andrew (cobaltaudio)

    Nice post, and a genuinely interesting question!
    A while ago a couple of colleagues of mine did a (not entirely scientific I admit) trial of mixes with faders vs mixes with a mouse, and about 90% of the time they could distinguish between the two. However, the same test with “the average listener” was much much closer to 50%.So I guess it’s also worth thinking about your genuine target audience. Do you want it to wow other mix engineers? -> probably need some faders. Are you mixing for the actual consumer -> then they’re probably optional.As you say, a control surface is usually a perfectly good compromise if you do NEED one.

  9. Stiansylta

    Have a 8channel yamaha and a 12channel mackie. Never use them after getting the third gen Mbox. I also have a Command8 control surface. THAT I use:)

  10. William DaFoe Alsup

    Never had a mixer.  I always thought I would need one… Then I learned better. I referred this to a friend of mine because  he was trying to say he NEEDED a mixer… I told him to get a control surface like a 003… Then we finally settled on him getting an interface an using the soft mixer with a DAW controller.

  11. Dave Chick

    I got rid of my mixer a couple of years ago as I moved to more softsynths and got rid of my hardware synths. I have a patchbay that I can route outputs of my audio interface to and from effects, but I don’t need a mixer.

    Even when I did have one, it was essentially a glorified signal router as I didn’t even touch levels or pots on it.

  12. Toth

    Great article! I’ve been producing for almost 20 years now and I have never had a mixer in my home studio. I often thought about it when I needed more inputs, but going for soundcards that have multiple I/Os made more sense. I don’t miss the experience of physically moving faders because I don’t even know what that feels like. However, I always wished that I had a huge and wide second screen on which I could display the whole mixer instead of just part of it, having to scroll to see the rest of the channels.

  13. Alan Russell

    I’ve had a couple of mixers in the past. One wee Tapco 4 channel mixer just for getting a DI’ed bass into Cubase (Man, that was a long time ago…) and an 80s Fostex desk off eBay that fed an 8-track 1/4 inch tape machine (also off eBay). That was a real affectation; that was the whole LCD Soundsystem “I hear you’re buying a synthesizer, and an arpeggiator, and are throwing your computer out the window because you want to make something REAL” phase. You all know what I’m talking about.

    Nowadays, yeah, control surfaces all the way. I could easily make do with a mouse, but I’m on a laptop, and trackpad mixing is just hideous. Plus the faders and flashing lights impress the girlfriend 😀

  14. Anonymous

    Great post, Joe – this was a confusing aspect when I began home recording because its natural to associate the word “mixer” with the word “studio”. But like you said, the DAW is your mixer in most home studios.

    I’ve got a control surface that I use mainly for fader automation and transport control that makes life so much easier than writing fader moves with a mouse. 

    Some of those hybrid units that can act as an analogue mixer AND a control surface are very cool too e.g. Focusrite Control 2802. Maybe one day…. 

    …but until then I’m happy with working ITB 🙂

  15. IVinnie Vincent

    I had a mixer, had to sell it for financial woes. I miss it horribly, even though as you say I can achieve all I need to achieve ITB (and its nice having…y’know…desk space!) I liked having that zazz factor that only 16 channels of faders and eq can bring.

    Also, I haven’t been able to hook up my turntable to my speakers for months, which is horrible as I’ve got some shiny new vinyls to listen to!

    For me, it was a luxury, and there were downsides as well as upsides – aforementioned lack of desk space, plus indescribable GAS for analog compressors (I have sixteen channels of inserts! I can’t insult the desk by *not using them*!). I do have more fun mixing analog, but the cost kinda puts it out of being reasonable for me right now.

  16. Toby Baxley

    I have a small Behringer mixer just to take the outputs of a couple interfaces and route them to my studio monitors. I have my interface on my audio production computer and another little usb interface from my laptop.

    I’ve tried to use the pre-amps on the mixer and route them to my interface, but the whole thing was too noisy.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *