Sound Mixers for Beginners

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If you’re a musician who is thinking about taking your show on the road, a sound mixer may be on your wish list. If you don’t know where to start, I have some good news—you’re in the right place.

What’s a Mixer Anyway?

In simple terms, a mixer allows you to blend or “mix” multiple audio signals together from different sources, such as microphones, guitars, and keyboards, and you can polish each sound independently with tools such as equalizers, and effects like reverb and echo. You can then send that audio to external devices, such as powered speakers, or a portable audio recorder.

Depending on what you want to do, whether it’s setting up a PA system for rock band practice, street performing on the go, or sound reinforcement for a small venue such as a bar or restaurant, there are several types of mixers to consider, each with various strengths and weaknesses.

Analog Mixers vs Digital Mixers

Analog mixers and digital mixers have a lot of similarities, but also some key differences. On an analog mixer, each fader and knob has one dedicated function, and all the controls are out in the open and easy to find. If there are effects, they are typically simple, usually only allowing for use of one effect at a time. This makes analog mixers great for beginners who are still getting comfortable with signal flow. Analog mixers also come in convenient varieties such as powered mixers, which include integrated power amplifiers and can be connected directly to passive speakers, and portable PA systems, which include a mixer, amplifier, and one or more speakers in an all-in-one package.

Radial Engineering MIX 2:1 2-Channel Audio Combiner & Mixer
Radial Engineering MIX 2:1 2-Channel Audio Combiner & Mixer

Digital mixers are operated in generally the same way as analog mixers but are more complex and powerful. They are generally pricier than analog mixers, but they usually feature far more advanced functionality, such as setting recall, advanced routing, and per-channel effects. Many also feature modern amenities, such as touchscreen, and the ability to be controlled remotely with a smartphone or tablet.

Allen & Heath Qu-Pac - 16-In/12-Out Compact Mountable Mixer
Allen & Heath Qu-Pac - 16-In/12-Out Compact Mountable Mixer

That’s a brief background on the different types of mixers; now let’s take a look at some common uses and solutions.

For Bands

If you’re looking for a PA system for band practice and small gigs, you want to make sure that your mixer has enough inputs for each member of the band, and I would recommend going for a model with built-in effects like delay and reverb, so you don’t need to fumble around with outboard effects processors. A powered mixer like the Yamaha EMX 5 12-Input Powered Mixer, along with a pair of passive speakers like the Behringer B215XL, is often a great way to go. This model also has a stereo recording out for hooking up a digital recorder to capture rehearsals and live gigs.

Yamaha EMX 5 12-Input Powered Mixer
Yamaha EMX 5 12-Input Powered Mixer

For Solo Performers and Small Acts

If it’s just you, your guitar or keyboard, your voice, and the open road, a super-portable PA system like the Behringer Eurolive B205D may be the best route to explore. If you need more inputs, or plan to be playing to somewhat larger sized crowds, check out the Fender Passport Portable PA. These models don’t have all the bells and whistles that you’d find on a stand-alone mixer, but they still sound great and can be unpacked and set up very quickly.

Behringer Eurolive B205D Active PA and Monitor Speaker System
Behringer Eurolive B205D Active PA and Monitor Speaker System

For Venues

For permanent installations in restaurants and small clubs, an analog mixer with onboard effects usually fills the bill. The Behringer XENYX series is available in a wide variety of channel counts, comes with built-in effects, and has a USB connection for recording to a computer. For larger clubs and houses of worship, analog mixers still work well, but digital mixers like the Behringer X32 can come in extremely handy due to features like being able to group tracks and save routing presets, EQ and effects presets with multiple effects per track, remote control for making sure your mix sounds good at different vantage points in the venue, and much more.

Behringer X32 Compact 40-Input, 25-Bus Digital Mixing Console with 16 Microphone Preamps
Behringer X32 Compact 40-Input, 25-Bus Digital Mixing Console with 16 Microphone Preamps

Last Call

Thanks for reading this brief introduction to sound mixers. Are you putting together a live sound system for your band, venue, or house of worship? Learn more about these models and others on the B&H website, or at the SuperStore, if you happen to be in New York. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have in the Comments section, below, and an expert from our pro audio team will be in touch to help.

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