If you are starting out with your home recording studio, you might be wondering what the differences between an audio interface and mixer are and which one you should get for recording.
The key difference between an audio interface and mixer is that a mixer offers more customization options such as built-in sound effects, EQ and volume faders, while an audio interface simply connects your microphones to your monitors and DAW. Audio mixers are better for “on the fly” customization and are very useful if you need to make immediate adjustments to your sound, particularly if you are recording live performances or live broadcasts.
In short, a mixer offers all the functionality that an audio interface provides, plus plenty of customization options for your music such as EQ, faders and sound effects and the option of adjusting of all these quickly using the dials, sliders and onboard controls.
If you are just starting out with recording music in your home studio, we highly recommend going with an audio interface first – this is because you can capture the tracks independently and adjust everything on your DAW after recording. With a mixer, you will have to get the right settings on the mixer (i.e., gain, effects, fader, EQ) before you start recording and mix your tracks on your DAW – which may take more experience with fine tuning your audio tracks.
What is an Audio Interface?
An audio interface is simply the interface that connects your microphones or source inputs to your studio monitors and DAW. An audio interface is equipped with microphone or instrument inputs that convert an analog signal to a digital one, and then pass them on through the interface outputs to your recording equipment.
Very often, audio interfaces also come with microphone preamps which supply phantom power to your microphones (particularly if you are using a condenser mic) so that your microphone signals can be recorded and heard. A simple audio interface such as the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 supplies +48V of phantom power and provides gain options for each input channel to adjust the volume.
They also come with instrumental inputs for you to record guitar, bass or other line-level devices.
Some audio interfaces do come with limited “mixer” functionality such as the PreSonus AudioBox USB 96, which allows you to adjust the gain on inputs and playback so that you can monitor your music.
What that said, if you need “on the fly” customization for your sound, considering going for a mixer.
What is a mixer?
A mixer is essentially an audio interface with plenty of customization options and functionality to adjust your sound settings on the fly. You can connect your microphones and instruments to the mixer and adjust the gain, sound effects and EQ directly with the on-board controls, making recording very convenient.
Generally speaking, a mixer is only necessary if you are recording in a band and need to make immediate adjustments to your recording sessions (e.g., adjust the volume or gain on the guitar or bass). For live performances or broadcasting, a mixer is definitely necessary because you will need the ability to adjust your sound settings on the fly – you can’t do this on a DAW while streaming live, and an audio interface offers very limited customization options. Need to adjust the effects or fader? Simply turn up the dial or knob on the mixer and you’re done.
The key advantage that a mixer has over an audio interface is the level of customization options and EQ settings that it provides, as well as the ability to adjust the sound effects on each channel quickly. Mixers usually have more channels (a standard mixer such as the Yamaha MG10XU has 10 channels) and includes sound effects such as SPX digital effects.
Most audio mixers also come with EQ options and high pass filters which provide more control over your audio mix. They also come with knob compressors which allow you to adjust the sound to be much livelier with tighter bass lines and cleaner vocals.
In addition, mixers almost always come with microphone preamps to supply phantom power if you are recording with a condenser mic.
Mixers are therefore much better if you are doing multi-channel recording in a band (and you probably need one for that).
To learn more about the best home studio mixers for music production, check out this post:
Should you get a mixer or audio interface for home recording?
It depends on how many input / output channels you need and whether you need to adjust the EQ and sound effects on the fly. If you use mainly plugins and record with little to no outboard gear, an audio interface will work fine. It is also much easier to record individual tracks with an audio interface and then mix them in your DAW.
If you are recording in a band at home, we recommend going for a studio mixer because you can adjust the sound effects for each input channel while recording – and you can do this without having to reach for your DAW software to adjust the sound effects. With that said, it takes some experience to get the right balance for each individual channel if you are using a mixer. Every setting on the mixer has to be fine tuned before you can start recording, which takes time and effort particularly if you are recording in a band.
For live performances or broadcasting, an audio mixer is definitely required because you will need the ability to adjust the sound immediately – which is something you can do by turning up a dial or knob on the studio mixer.
Generally speaking, studio mixers come with more channels than an audio interface. A multi-channel mixer is best if you are recording in a band so that you can connect all your microphones, instruments and other equipment at the same time. The mixer acts as a centralized system where all your inputs and outputs can be consolidated in one place.
Having said that, a studio mixer cannot completely replace the level of functionality that a full-fledged DAW has to offer.
Can a studio mixer replace a DAW?
A studio mixer offers limited amount of sound effects, filters, faders and gain controls. However, it cannot fully replace a DAW such as Pro Tools or Cubase where you can truly edit, mix and master your music. A studio mixer is only useful if you need some reinforcement and on the fly adjustments to your sound recordings.
For beginners starting out with home studio recording, it is much easier to record individual tracks with your audio interface and mix them on your DAW.
Should I start out with an audio interface or mixer?
If you are just starting out with your home recording studio, you should definitely start out with an audio interface. An audio interface comes with multiple input and output options for multiple channels, and comes with sufficient controls for recording solo (if you are just recording vocals and acoustic guitar, for example).
A studio mixer is generally required if you are mixing on the fly in a live performance or broadcasting setting, where you need the ability to make immediate adjustments to your audio as doing so on a DAW is not going to be possible. If you are recording in a band, an audio mixer has the advantage of allowing you to adjust each individual input channel on the fly – without requiring you to reach for your DAW. This can provide a lot of added convenience if you are recording in a large band and want the ability to customize each individual channel. It provides nice sound reinforcement and effects, together with multiple channels for studio recording.
Ultimately, an audio interface is probably the only thing you will need to record in a home recording studio setting. An audio mixer, while providing nice effects, gain, EQ and filters, will not be a sufficient substitute for your DAW software where you will truly edit and mix your music.
To learn more about how to set up your home recording studio and the equipment that you may require, check out these posts: