Analog vs. Digital Mixers: The Pros and Cons Explained

Mixers are an integral part of television, podcast production, sound development, and more. You’ve probably heard of digital and audio mixers, but what’s the difference? They both offer excellent tools you can use, but beginners and experts have separate opinions about which is better.

Analog mixers offer simplicity and affordability, making them more beginner-friendly, but they’re also bulky and struggle to cut out white noise. Digital mixers are of higher quality and offer more customizations for professional use, but they’re also expensive and require more channel adjustments.

Throughout this article, you’ll also learn the following information about analog and digital mixers:

  • Which one is the best choice for your audio setup
  • Pros and cons of analog and digital mixers
  • Tips to optimize both mixers in case you have one
Digital mixer

Why You Should Choose Analog Mixers

Analog mixers are classic because they’ve been around much longer than their digital counterparts. If you prefer nostalgia, you’ll enjoy these devices. They have several benefits many people enjoy. You don’t have to be an expert to appreciate the simplicity of analog mixers, which leads us to the list below:

  • They are much easier to use than digital mixers. Analog mixers have very few buttons and customized features compared to digital mixers. This might seem like a downside (and it is for some people), but many others will appreciate how easy it is to set everything up.
  • They are simply designed for efficient, quick use. You don’t need to preset buttons, attach numerous devices, or worry about the digital audio transferring process with an analog mixer. It takes analog sound waves without converting to digital, which is the opposite of the other option.
  • They are relatively affordable. Since they don’t have as many customized features and they are not as precise as digital mixers, analog mixers can be found far cheaper. If you are on a budget, you can start with one of these, learn the ropes, and get a digital mixer down the road.
  • They produce a purer sound than most of the competition. The debate between analog and digital mixers comes down to convenience and customization, but don’t forget about analog mixers’ pure sound. It’s unchanged, so you’ll hear the original audio without new-age adjustments.
  • Beginners often prefer analog mixers for many reasons. Whether they’re seeking simplicity, fewer buttons, or a crisp sound, people starting their podcasting or musical journey can appreciate analog mixers. There are those who dive into the digital world, but it’s hard to beat an analog setup for ease of use.

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons someone would choose an analog mixer. They’re nostalgic but have more than enough inputs and buttons for many users. That being said, they’re not without fault. 

In the next section, we’ll discuss a handful of downsides associated with analog mixers.

Downsides of Analog Mixers

Analog mixers are slowly being phased down since they’re not as updated as most digital setups. They don’t have nearly the same amount or quality of features, making them hold podcasters back from their maximum potential. Let’s explore some of the reasons people avoid analog mixers.

  • They have a limited number of external device connections. If you want to connect several speakers, microphones, and other devices, you’ll have to get a high-end analog mixer or switch to digital options. Unfortunately, both solutions cost you more money, making big setups more expensive.
  • High-quality analog mixers are incredibly bulky. Since they offer more ports, it takes a lot of processing power to operate a top-notch analog mixer. They’re wider, longer, and thicker than digital mixers of the same quality. As long as you have a big table or desk, this might not be an issue.
  • They don’t prevent enough external noise compared to other options. This con can actually be a good sign for some people. You read the comment about pure audio in the previous section. Analog mixers don’t cut out enough white noise, which is why there’s a battle between those claiming it’s pure sound and those who dislike the unclarified audio.

Before you count analog mixers out of the equation, it’s essential to get both sides of the story. They have dozens of sought-after features, contrary to what many modern mixing websites would have you think. 

Digital mixers also have countless benefits, so let’s review the pros and cons.

Should You Get a Digital Mixer?

Digital mixers are much more popular. They’re more readily available since most people lean towards them. If you want clear sound without white noise and limitations, digital mixers are an excellent choice. There are many other reasons you should consider getting a digital setup for your audio kit.

So, why should you choose digital mixers?

  • You can connect quite a few devices to a digital mixer. They have plenty of ports, allowing you to connect your favorite devices in many combinations. If you have several hosts on your podcast or you’re recording multiple instruments simultaneously, you’ll enjoy the wide array of connectivity.
  • They allow for a clean, clear digital audio transfer. They process digital information, which avoids white noise, buzzing, and tick sounds caused by recording. This process is the primary reason many people claim digital mixers are far superior compared to analog variants.
  • They have far more capabilities than analog mixers. Since they operate through digital channels, you’ll have many more options at your disposal. Digital mixers are considered much more customizable, so creative people prefer their wide array of choices. Often they have many more effects, too.
  • You can program digital mixers before every use. Every switch and button can be changed to whichever function you prefer. This situation makes digital mixers great for music production or podcasts with unique sound clips and interviews. Set everything as you’d like, providing your audience with a better experience.
  • Digital mixers let you group several clips together. Instead of controlling everything individually, you can place input devices in sets and use bulk actions. It saves lots of time that’d be lost if you were using an analog setup with too many external sources. It’s also easier to change each group.

Digital mixers will almost always be the best choice, especially if you prefer WiFi connectivity. However, you should know why some people have trouble with them. 

If you’re curious about why some experts aim for analog mixers or why beginners steer clear of digital mixers, read on.

Downsides of Digital Mixers

Much like analog mixers, digital mixers are far from perfect. With more technological advancements come many more problems to deal with. Thankfully, most of them have been ironed out, but you’ll have to encounter a few significant issues along the way.

Here’s a list of problems you might have to deal with if you purchase a digital mixer:

  • Digital mixers are drastically more expensive than analog mixers. All of the modifications, customizations, and capabilities make digital mixers have a higher price. The cost sky-rockets when you’re considering brand-new, high-quality mixers because they have more ports and upgrades.
  • They’re extremely confusing for people who’ve never used a mixer. If you’ve never used mixers and other audio equipment, digital mixers are a bit of a curveball. They have all sorts of switches, buttons, inputs, and output that can easily confuse beginners. However, there are base-level digital mixers with fewer components.
  • You have to adjust each channel for a customized effect. While customization is an undeniable benefit, it also makes things a bit more time-consuming. You’ll have to go through each button until you create groups or designated sounds, etc. Fortunately, it’s not too bad after the initial setup.

Digital and analog mixers have their place in different recording studios. We’ve covered most of the pros and cons of each style, but you might have a few additional questions. 

If you want to narrow down the selection to find out which mixer you should get, proceed to the next section.

Which One Is Right for You?

Are you still having a tough time deciding which one you want to add to your recording setup? It’s difficult to know if analog’s simplicity is worth the investment or if digital’s customization justifies the price increase. Before you choose either of the mixtures, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you a complete beginner? As you hopefully read earlier in the article, analog mixers are much easier for beginners. However, there are a couple of simplified digital mixers to help you get your foot in the door. It’s up to you to decide if you can deal with new equipment without feeling over your head.
  • Do you have a budget in your mind? Most analog mixers are significantly cheaper than digital mixers because they don’t have as many internal components or adjustments. If you don’t have much money for the project, you can start with an analog mixer until you generate enough income to upgrade to a digital variant.
  • Can you work with newly-updated technology? Whether you’re a beginner or expert, there’s no denying the high level of tech involved with digital mixers. You might never be up to speed, so consider hiring someone to do it for you or get a simplified digital mixer. Many experts claim the pure sound and ease of use of analog makes it the better selection.
  • How many external devices do you have? Digital mixers usually have more ports than analog. Regardless of which route you go, ensure you have more than enough inputs for your connected devices. You never know if you’ll want to add another microphone or headset to the equation. One great tip is to multiply your current device port requirements by 1.25 to 1.5.
  • Do you have several hosts or guests? More hosts and guests mean more equipment. You’ll need more ports, but you’ll also have to worry about excess white noise. Lots of instruments and devices cause way too much white noise, so there will be plenty of editing for those who choose analog mixers.
  • Are you dealing with a high-production podcast? If you have a big audience, a popular company, or intend to appeal to thousands of listeners, digital mixers are almost always the best solution. The grouping and clear sound are unique to digital formats, so you won’t find them in analog mixers.

How Long Do Digital and Analog Mixers Last?

Mixers are a crucial part of audio recording, not to mention their expensive price tags. With these issues in mind, you’re probably curious about how long they last. Truthfully, there’s no way to predict how long your setup will last. There are countless factors that go into the equation, but you can preserve your mixer between five to ten years with some helpful tips.

Treat Your Mixer With Care

People often neglect to take care of their audio equipment. Once they get comfortable with the way things work, they forget the small things. For example, you should dust your studio gear regularly to prevent overheating. Another tip is never to rip cables or shove them into the mixer. Aggressive usage shaves years off of your investment.

Use Cooling Fans

With multiple devices in your mixer, it’s easy to understand why they’re prone to overheating. Heat is the primary enemy of electronics, so it’d be best if you kept a couple of cooling fans in your studio to prevent these issues. Otherwise, your mixer won’t last much more than two to three years.

Always Use Surge Protectors

It’s incredibly dangerous not to use surge protectors in your recording studio. Whether it’s at home or in an office, you should have protection from electrical problems. If the circuit shorts, it could ruin your equipment, costing you hundreds or thousands of dollars. Power outages can erase a digital mixer’s memory, too.

Don’t Overload Your Mixer

Check its electrical details before plugging in too many external devices. Also, ensure you’re using 220V or 110V, whichever is required for the operating computer. Simple steps can extend your mixer’s life expectancy. Since analog models often have fewer inputs and requirements, they tend to last a few years long.

Proper operation is another key component, but it’s far too detailed to discuss in a small portion. Digital and analog mixers have different directions, so you have to follow specific instructions. The good news is we’ve covered everything you need to know, including operational tips and tricks.

How To Operate a Digital Mixer

Digital mixers are quite tricky for beginners, especially if you’re starting a live performance or dealing with multiple bands, hosts, and so on. However, the initial difficulty gives way to much more customization, making it easier for those well-versed in audio mixing industries. Once you learn the basics, digital mixers aren’t too challenging.

Here’s a list of five steps to get started with a digital mixer:

  1. Turn everything down or off before plugging new devices into the mixer. It’s hard to know where every level is set if you don’t start them at zero. Lower everything to the lowest setting, plug-in every device you’ll use, then slowly adjust the faders and other components to achieve the desired results.
  2. Set group adjustments for each channel. You can bunch several adjustments, making it reusable for additional channels. For example, you can set the same list of modifications for Group A, then copy-paste it to Group B to have the same effect. It takes a little while to create the first group, but it changes instantly afterward.
  3. Change inputs to different channel groups. Once you’ve plugged everything into the mixer, you can set a channel for every input or group them together, as you read above. This customization streamlines the process by making each channel follow a dedicated line, which can be bunched together.
  4. Cycle through the pages to view meters, sets, and more. Most digital mixers have several tabs you can look through to change all of the settings. Check your meters to ensure you’re not blowing out the speakers or going out of the desired range. You can also review the groups you created and adjust them digitally.
  5. Assign new effects to each part of the digital mixer. Perhaps one of the best features of digital mixers is you can make a new effect or sound correspond with several knobs and buttons. You don’t have to stick with the default setup. It’s an excellent way to change between podcast episodes, performances, and more.

If you’re new to the scene, this might sound a bit confusing. It’s nearly impossible to sum up digital mixers in five steps, so don’t feel like you’re behind everyone else. Instead, check out this quick video tutorial by Sweetwater on YouTube:

Tips To Use an Analog Mixer

Analog mixers are undoubtedly the easier choice between the two. They don’t have digital screens, preset groups, and other functions that complicate the process. If you prefer to add them later down the road, you’re more than welcome to connect your analog mixer to external hardware.

Below, you’ll find several suggestions to make using an analog mixer easier for beginners.

  • Find out which inputs and outputs you have at your disposal. All analog mixers are different. Some have several inputs and outputs for everything you’re using, while others only have one for a microphone, headset, and instrument. Discover what you can access, then review the next tip.
  • Learn where gain, EQ, fade, and other adjustments are located. Once you learn wherever everything is located for the first channel, it’s the same for the rest of them. You don’t have to learn new settings for each channel, which is why many beginners find analog easier to use. Follow the cable to the channel, check the settings, and work from there.
  • Use external hardware for additional effects. Unfortunately, analog mixers don’t have the same capabilities as digital setups. You can add external hardware to achieve the desired effects, which isn’t too bad considering you saved quite a bit of money by getting an analog mixer instead of a digital one.
  • Take advantage of potential automation capabilities. Some analog mixers come with automation, which allows you to customize the way each channel will sound without getting too involved. Automation is much more common in digital installations, but modernized analog mixers have them occasionally.
  • Balance channel faders to make every input audible. WikiHow suggests lowering all of the faders before and after each session if you’re switching between settings. Those using the mixer for their podcast or similar setup that remains unchanged don’t have to worry about it since you won’t unplug everything after each recording session.

Knowing the basics of both mixers makes it easier, but it doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. Becoming an expert takes years of trial and error. You can expedite the process by getting the most out of your setup. 

There are several adjustments and advice you can learn in the following segment.

Getting the Most Out of Either Choice

Regardless of which mixer you choose, you can optimize how you set it up and use it to limit problems. You don’t have to switch everything each time you want to record. In fact, many people find they can set their mixer once or twice to achieve the desired effect (as long as they’re using it for one purpose).

So, how can you get the most out of your analog or digital mixer?

Connect it to a computer via USB ports or use an external power source rather than relying on batteries. You’ll soon discover a high-tech mixer that uses batteries or USB connections. Rely on the latter since it’s not limited to the battery’s lifespan.

Another suggestion is to use multiple headsets instead of relying on speakers to listen, record, and edit your audio tracks. You’ll hear everything much clearer through high-quality headphones than you would through speakers. There’s far less interruption from fans, neighbors, cars, white noise, etc.

Keep your mixer close to the rest of the equipment. Just because you have long cables doesn’t mean you should stretch them. Organization is crucial, so tie the cords together with zip ties to prevent tangling. The only cables that should remain untied are the ones you remove frequently, i.e., headphones, microphones, etc.

Which Analog or Digital Mixer Should You Get?

You know everything there is to know about both of these mixers, so it’s time to choose the best setup for your new recording studio. Podcasts, television stations, and many other businesses require digital or analog mixers. There are hundreds of options, but we’ll cover one of each, so you know what to look for.

The first entry will be a top-rated analog mixer followed by a highly-regarded digital mixer.

Behringer Xenyx 1002B Premium Mixer

Behringer is a well-known name in the industry, so it should come as no surprise they made the top-notch Behringer Xenyx 1002B Premium Mixer. You can run it through your computer or use an optional battery power mode. This setup has ten inputs with five microphones ports to use for multiple guests or instruments.

Another excellent feature of this analog mixer is the low-noise technology that limits white noise. Unlike traditional analog mixers, this one doesn’t cause excess humming, which is a massive benefit for live recordings. You can also use phantom power for condenser microphones.

Zoom LiveTrak L-12 Digital Mixer

The Zoom LiveTrak Digital Mixer has 12 inputs and 14 channels to use for various purposes. You can have one per host on a podcast or band in a concert. There are countless uses to this mixer, thanks to the customized groups and five headphone jacks. It also has USB connectivity for audio interfaces.

Customize each track and save it for future use. You can reapply the tracks, including EQ, gain, and more. Record all 14 tracks at the same time, so they’re perfectly overlapped without audio fog or break down.

Whether you choose the low-cost, beginner-friendly Behringer analog mixer or the mid-range, highly-customizable Zoom digital mixer, you’ll enjoy the outcome. Both options have more than enough inputs for starting a podcast or similar business.

Before you choose one of them, consider how many ports you’ll need, how well you know how to use digital and analog mixers, and your budget range. If you choose the inexpensive analog mixer, you can add modifications and external hardware later.

Conclusion

Now that you know the differences, downsides, and advantages of digital and analog mixers, you can decide which one is best for your equipment setup. While digital mixers are often referred to as the top choice, there’s no denying the ease of use and classic nostalgia of analog mixers.

Here’s a quick recap of what the post should’ve taught you:

  • Analog mixers have far fewer customizations than digital mixers.
  • Digital mixers typically have more inputs for external devices.
  • Professionals debate about the best, but digital often takes the cake.
  • Consider starting with analog and working up to digital.