While audio interfaces are mainly used for recording music and audio files using your computer, it has many functions that a mixer can do. Mixers, on the other hand, are primarily used for blending different audio sources.
You can connect your mixer to an audio interface and record the combined audio channels in stereo. For the most part, you’d have all those audio sources connected to the mixer as one track, which might be suitable for some applications.
If you’re a beginner or new to this topic, read on and learn more about how a mixer and an audio interface works and how to get the best out of both pieces of equipment.
What Is a Mixer?
A studio mixer is what you use to blend different signals and then combine them into one output signal. When you’re recording, various inputs are being used, such as those from bass guitars, drums, electric guitars, and other instruments. On top of all these, you also have the vocals from the microphone.
You will connect all these inputs to the mixer and then adjust the volume of each input using the controls, which are called faders. Different mixers have a varying number of channels or the number of signals that they can manage. Mixers can also be used to shape tones, as it has compressors, equalizers and other processors.
In doing its job, a mixer can take several audio sources, each one playing at the right volumes, and then add effects and attributes. These will be combined into a few outputs and then piped out a speaker, a PA system, or headphones.
What Are Audio Interfaces?
The typical home computer has an embedded sound card and outputs that allow you to playback audio files from your computer. This setup isn’t really adequate for music recording using your computer and your preferred digital audio workstation.
For one, the sound card your computer has might not be powerful enough to give you high-resolution sound. And there would be no ports to plug a microphone or your musical instruments in. And this is where audio interfaces come in handy.
Audio interfaces give you the ports that you can use to hook up instruments, microphones, and everything else so that you can send the audio signals to your computer and eventually work with the recordings with your digital audio workstation.
It also gives you the outputs to listen to the recordings using a computer speaker or headphones. Along the way, the analog signals are turned into digital and vice versa.
These devices act as an analog to digital converter as it processes signals from musical equipment and microphones. It also does the reverse, working like a digital to analog converter as well, as it can convert music files from your computer to the audio interface.
Audio interfaces such as the Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 USB Audio gives you two microphone or instrument inputs, L/R speaker outputs, and two stereo keyboard channels. Others may have different configurations.
These devices allow you to have high-quality inputs for recording analog sounds. It then converts the analog signals to digital and imports them to your digital audio workstation.
If it sounds like the work of audio interfaces is the same as mixers, you are not entirely wrong. A standalone mixer such as the YAMAHA 6-channel mixing console gives you inputs for microphones, guitars, stereo keyboards, and media players. That capability is shared by audio interfaces, which provide the same inputs for your computers.
For each of these mixer inputs, you will be able to control how loud each audio signal is. Some mixers will allow you to control the equalizer settings and panning, as well. Some mixers will include reverb, delay, compression, and a host of other effects that you can apply to the audio signals the mixer receives.
Once you have every audio source connected and set up, you can send the perfectly blended sound to speakers or headphones. Note how mixers can be used without a computer.
Connecting the Mixer to Your Audio Interface
However, if you want to send the mixer output to your computer and then eventually your digital audio workstation, you will need to connect the mixer to your audio interface. You do this by connecting the left and right output on your mixer to the line inputs of your audio interface.
As such, the perfectly mixed and enhanced mixer’s output becomes one of the channels being recorded by your audio interface.
The audio interface will take the audio signals from the mixer and then convert them to digital signals that your DAW can process. Doing so will mean that you are recording the stereo mix coming from the mixer rather than individual instruments or channels.
As such, there are three scenarios when you’d want to connect your mixer to your audio interface:
- When you want to record, a stereo output from the mixer and individual tracks are not needed.
- If you don’t like recording unprocessed audio because the mixer’s signal will have the EQ and effects already applied to the sound signals.
- If you need to record the mixed output using your computer.
Connecting your mixer to your audio interface is a sweet deal. The audio signals are already enhanced before you even turn on your computer to start recording. That means you don’t have to tinker with your DAW and just control the volumes, effects, and compression by sliding the faders.
But doing so, you don’t record the individual tracks, and therefore, you cannot manipulate these channels on your DAW. What the DAW sees is the combined stereo signal from the mixer.
How To Connect Your Mixer to Your Audio Interface
Depending on your gear, you might need to buy some cables to connect your mixer and audio interface. You may need one of the following:
- Hosa GTR-210 Straight to Straight Guitar Cable, which is a straight to straight connector.
- An RCA connector such as this Seismic Audio – SAPRCA1 Audio Cord.
- An XLR cable such as this Amazon Basics XLR Male to Female Microphone Cable.
Buying a Mixer With an Audio Interface Built-In
There are instances when it’s okay just to get the stereo mix recorded on your computer. For example, you might be recording for a podcast, or you’re planning to distribute the recorded tracks as streaming music.
Connecting your mixer to the audio interface will provide you with an easy way to manipulate your tracks so that it sounds great without having to go into your digital audio workstation to tweak and effect the audio.
However, for music production, you will want to have complete control of each instrument and vocals when you’re working on your song with your DAW. You might ask why not do away with mixers and work with an audio interface instead.
Mixers allow you to have an easy time manipulating each channel. All you have to do is to twiddle with the fader to get the sound level you want. It’s also handy to get compression, EQ, and effects right from the start. You get that polished sound even before you start recording.
Thankfully there are products to bring together the capabilities of a mixer and an audio interface, such as the Soundcraft Signature 12MTK Analog Multi-track Mixer. This multi-channel mixer also includes a USB recording and playback interface.
A multi-tracking mixer will allow you to record individual tracks coming from the mixer. This way, you get enhanced audio signals at the right level of volume getting into your DAW.
You can connect your mixer to your audio interface by using the appropriate cables to connect the right and left outputs on your mixer to the line inputs of your audio interface. Doing so will allow you to record the enhanced sounds coming from the mixer and work on it with your DAW.