Mixer vs interface recording, which is the studio device for you? We can talk about the differences between the 2 devices.
That will help you better understand the product and decide which one is right for the studio.
Compare mixer and interface recording
The audio interface allows you to record multiple pre-existing audio sources as separate tracks in your DAW or recording software.
But the mixer is used to mix the signals to the board itself. Then send them to one or more different output channels.
To better understand these two studio devices, let’s go into more detail.
What is interface recording?
An audio interface can connect to a computer via a USB, thunderbolt, or firewire cable. It then converts the audio from any connected device to digital and vice versa.
And, of course, any device that does that can be considered an audio interface. Such as a micro USB with a built-in audio interface, sound card on your computer. Even some preamps or mixers have built-in audio interfaces.
What is Mixer?
The mixer is a versatile device that can be used in live performances and recordings in the recording studio. Many people also call this device by other names such as Mixing Board, Mixing Console, or Sound Board.
At its core, the mixer takes audio signals, mixes them, and sends them to one or more output channels.
The audio comes through different input channels. Here you can adjust the volume, apply EQ, add effects, and create monitoring feeds for other members. The entire mix is then sent to your speakers or, in some cases, to your computer.
The mixer also comes with preamps, line and device-level inputs, and phantom power. In this regard, the mixer is like an audio interface.
Mixer with built-in USB audio interface
Most mixers available do not allow you to record directly to your computer. That means you need to add an audio interface.
But nowadays, many mixers have built-in USB interfaces. That way, you can record directly into recording software or a DAW on your PC using the mixer instead of adding a separate audio interface.
However, it doesn’t make sense since the mixer can have a built-in audio interface to record any track from different inputs.
Because of the average price, the device cannot offer all the mixer features and the audio interface. For instance, at around $200, you can just record stereo sound to your computer.
#1. Input Design
Because the functions and tasks of the 2 devices are different. So you can easily distinguish them by external design.
For the audio interface, the input would be:
- Mic or XLR
- Line: low impedance, such as a synthesizer
- Instrument: high impedance e.g. guitar
The mic inputs are usually located on the front panel and have a preamp. This design boosts the signal level enough to capture the most accurate sound.
To edit it, you just need to adjust the gain knob. In general, mics with preamps allow you to set the overall recording level of each input.
As for the mixer, you might panic at first when you see so many pretty similar controls. Although there are many knobs and faders, the manufacturer has divided these controls into simple groups. This is good news for mixer beginners.
#2. Channel strip
Regarding the number of channels, the audio interface supports 16 inputs. This is, of course, just the number of inputs fitted on the audio interface. Because SPDIF and ADAT digital inputs are also considered.
In addition, you can select the audio interface with the appropriate number of inputs. For example, if you want to record up to 8 different tracks simultaneously, get an interface with 8 inputs.
Because of its unique features, the mixer has a complete set of controls for each channel. These are called channel ranges like Gain, compression, EQ, AUX Sends, Volume Fader, etc.
You should know about the function of the controls in the channel. That should be enough for you to understand how all the rules for the other media work. So you don’t worry about learning about every button.
The differences between the mixer and interface recording
When you compare the performance of an audio interface with a mixer, you will see a clear difference. While the audio interface can record multiple tracks, the mixer mixes multiple audio sources into one way.
Specifically, the audio interface was born to meet the needs of recording multiple tracks in studios. Simultaneous recording of different audio sources is a great feature of this device.
You can then edit anything with your computer. In addition, you can also apply compression tools, insert effects, noise gates, equalizers…
Different from the audio interface, the mixer is used to mix multiple sources into a single track. Therefore, the mixer will give you more control when it comes to compression, effects, or equalization, etc.
However, the final mix is often locked. And that means you can’t edit after recording, streaming, or ending the event.
Mixer vs interface recording, which should you choose?
Whether you feel that a mixer or an audio interface is right for you, there are some points to remember before buying. Because they are all extremely valuable studio equipment.
So there are a few things you need to know before you buy such as phantom power, stereo, and mono channels, input types.
#1. Virtual power
You’d like to use microphones such as condensers and active microphones. Therefore, you need to make sure your interface or mixer has phantom power. This is a popular feature. However, some interfaces may only provide phantom power on one or two inputs.
Usually, manufacturers will combine the number of mono and stereo inputs.
In other words, a 12-channel mixer can only provide two mono channels with microphone inputs and another five channels.
The inputs will be useful for keyboards as well as music players. However, it is not useful for plugging in individual microphones.
#2. Input Types
On mixer and audio interfaces, you’ll generally find XLR inputs for your microphones. However, line-level inputs and outputs can be on a balanced TRS jack, an unbalanced TS jack, or an unbalanced RCA jack.
The speaker output can provide any of these outputs. It’s important to know that there’s nothing wrong with using an adapter plug or adapter cable to make things work.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Does the mixer improve the sound?
If your mixer can apply EQ and compression, it can also improve the sound. And, of course, as long as you have a suitable interface to record your signal.
- Can a mixer replace interface recording?
To some extent, the mixer can replace the audio interface. But be aware when you buy a USB mixer with stereo output.
Because the mixer doesn’t work like a multi-channel interface. So you can’t record multiple audio sources on separate tracks at the same time.
- Do I need a mixer when there is an interface recording?
With an audio mixer, you can record multiple audio sources with more inputs on the audio interface. An audio mixer can be a useful additional option for those in need. Because you can then record through your interface.
- I also have a USB mic and a USB MIDI keyboard. Where do they fit?
Micro USB is a microphone with audio. You also connect it to your computer as well as your mobile device. However, most micro USB cannot link to mixers or audio interfaces.
But now on the market, there are several products with dual functions that can do that. Such as Samson Q2U or Blue Yeti Pro – with XLR as well as USB output.
You can use Micro USB after creating a composite device on the MAC. By choosing to set up the track in the DAW to record from the audio interface or micro USB. The results will appear as 2 separate devices.
Meanwhile, a USB MIDI keyboard is a MIDI device. They are available in USB audio interfaces and mixers for recording audio streams.
Choosing an audio interface vs mixer for recording for the studio is not easy. We can only advise against buying cheap mixers.
It comes at a high price, you are sure to take advantage of all its modern features. Also, if you’re just starting or want to record yourself at home, an interface with 2 or 4 inputs should suffice.