So, you’ve probably got a lot going on. Why else would you be looking for a home studio mixer instead of an audio interface? Maybe you’re a singer songwriter and you have a ton of instruments on multiple channels to record but don’t have the right gear. Or you’re getting into live streaming or podcasting and need some flexibility when monitoring the whole process.
Either way, an essential piece of equipment for any home recording studio is a high quality analog or digital mixing console.
No matter what your needs are, having a mixer in your arsenal will give you a feeling of relief. I’m here to help you in finding the right one for your unique home studio setup. Let’s get into it…
My top 3 quick picks if you’re in a rush…
Allen & Heath ZED-12FX
Zoom LiveTrak L-12
Audio Interface vs. Mixer
There’s an important distinction between an audio interface and a studio mixer. They are similar in some ways, but each have a different workflow process to them. An analog mixer works as one solid console, giving you the ability to record several channels at once.
You can then monitor all of these channels as a whole. From there you can tweak EQ settings, effects processing, gain levels, and a whole lot more.
Conversely, a standalone interface isn’t necessarily designed to mimic an analog studio mixer in form. It is true that most audio interfaces have mixer-like controls over designated inputs and outputs, but you don’t have the same onboard control over effects processing.
Typically, in order to make changes to EQ settings or effects you’d need to access the audio interfaces recording software control panel. To some this might be right up your alley, but some people like a more hands-on approach. This is where an analog or digital mixer might be more suitable for you and your home studio.
Audio interfaces are also smaller than analog or digital mixers. So this difference comes down to form factor and how much space you actually have. Desktop audio interfaces are quite compact, and rack mounted interfaces can be stuffed conveniently in a home studio rack.
A mixer will likely sit on top of your desk or anywhere within reach. It will take up some space, but you’ll have all of your parameters at your fingertips.
Again, the main thing to consider here is what you like most. Do you want full onboard control of your channels? Then go for an analog or digital mixer. Or would you rather keep things more minimalist and rely on software control panels to access your parameters? Then an interface is the way to go. It’s all up to you.
What about home studio mixers with a built-in interface?
Well that’s a great question. In most cases, a studio mixer with a USB interface will be more suitable for live streaming or podcasting applications. This is due to the fact that these types of devices will only send the main stereo mix to your computer, not each individual channel.
This is convenient for a more streamlined workload, but not great for multitracking your band.
You’re going to want full control over your channels through your DAW if you’re tracking a lot of instruments. If you’re simply looking for controlling a single channel and your workflow is more basic, then a mixer with a USB interface will do just fine.
Otherwise, keep an eye out for whether or not a studio mixer has full multitracking capabilities.
How to choose the right studio mixer
Okay, so now we need to go over the different factors to keep in mind when looking at studio mixers like this. Let’s first take a look at the difference between analog and digital mixers first…
Analog vs. Digital
Analog audio mixers are usually a more ideal option for more basic home studio setups. They’re typically more affordable and are easier to use. They will have a more basic layout giving you a more user friendly experience.
Unfortunately, they will often lack flexibility and there will be less extra features than that of a digital mixer. That’s not to say that analog mixers are inferior in any way, they’re just a more baseline option.
Digital mixers are a more expensive alternative. They will be more flexible and include more features in most cases as well. That being said, this type of mixer can definitely be harder to use. You can find yourself getting lost in a sea of faders and knobs trying to find out what to do with each of them.
Digital mixers are powerful devices though. On some models you can save presets or create templates. You’ll also find that digital studio mixers are the variation that will have built-in audio interfaces too.
Again, this is another topic that’s up to you and your needs as well as your budget. In my list I will have both digital and analog home studio mixers, but I’ve tried to find the most practical options for all applications in any home recording studio.
Common things to look for
- Phantom power – This will give you the ability to use any type of microphone (condenser, active dynamic, etc.) Some mixers may only offer phantom power on one or two inputs.
- Types of inputs – Professional XLR inputs for studio mics are common. However, line-level I/O can be a mess. You can find yourself running into hurdles with balanced TRS jacks, unbalanced TS jacks, or unbalanced RCA jacks. As long as you’re matching mic-level I/O with line-level I/O via adapters you’ll be fine.
- Stereo and Mono – It’s a regular occurrence that manufacturers will amalgamate the number of mono and stereo inputs. For example, a 12-channel studio mixer may only have 2 mono channels for mics and 5 stereo channels for line-level. It’s a good idea to physically look at the devices panels to determine what channels you have to work with.
- Software Control – Usually a mixer with a built-in interface will not control software functions like the faders in your DAW. This is better done by a control surface with a built-in interface.
- Number of channels – You’ll definitely need to consider how many channels you’re going to need in your recording studio. If you’re a solo musician, you probably don’t need 32 channels. But, if you’re a recording engineer, the more the merrier. It’s something worth keeping in mind.
- Signal Path – Signal path (or signal flow) refers to the path an audio signal takes from input to output, and all of the components that interact with that path. In this case, that component is a mixer. You want to make sure that the device doesn’t interfere with the signal path by introducing distortion or humming. The quieter the signal flow is the better. I go over signal path in my article about DACs here.
Best Home Studio Mixer List
Mackie is known for making mixers that are “built like tanks.” The VLZ4 analog audio mixer series is no exception. This thing will certainly be resistant to almost anything you throw at it (or spill on it).
I’ve decided to include the 16-channel variation on this list because it’s a good middle-of-the-road option. There are a ton of other channel options available though. The series as a whole has a lot to offer for every application.
You’ll have access to 16 inputs in total, 8 of those being mono and 4 being stereo channel strips. The mono channels receive a 3-band EQ, and the stereo channel strip has a 4-band fixed EQ.
There are also 10 Onyx mic preamps, 2 stereo group busses, and 4 auxes with dedicated stereo returns. By the way, those Onyx mic preamps produce a beautiful sound quality. All in all, the real time analog connectivity is fantastic.
The 1642 VLZ4 does not offer DAW interfacing unfortunately. Also, the board as a whole can feel a little crowded. That being said, this analog mixer is a solid traditional option that does it’s job very well. It has a quiet signal path and has all the features you’d want in a mixer. These are all good enough reasons to place it at the top of my list.
The Allen & Heath ZED-12FX is the 12-channel variation in the well-known ZED series. There are a few other channel options available as well. I just find the 12-channel version to be quite versatile. It is a analog mixer equipped with USB connectivity and 16 onboard effects.
It also has a decent EQ section.
The build quality is what you’d expect from A&H with each rotary control fixed with metal nuts and metal chassis. This mixer is likely to give you many years of reliable use.
The ZED-12FX includes a Cakewalk SONAR LE effects bundle full of quality plugins. All of these features lead to a sound quality that’s hard to beat. This is also attributable to the high-end DuoPre preamps which use a two-stage design that allows careful control of each gain stage. The ZED-FX12 has a very clean signal path as well as unprecedented flexibility due to its USB routing capabilities.
Now, this mixer does have a built-in audio interface. Unfortunately, that interface is stereo only. It’s not the end of the world, but worth pointing out. Another small gripe of mine in the 48kHz sample-rate conversion limit. Again, this isn’t a huge deal, but it means that you won’t be able to play back any 96kHz audio.
Despite the minimal downfalls, this mixer has plenty of positives. It’s a very good option for those looking for a quality recording system that offers a lot of flexibility.
The Zoom LiveTrak L-12 is a digital mixer with a flexible audio interface built-in that features USB connectivity. This is a very capable device that integrates very well with most DAWs. This gives you loads of versatility for any recording scenario.
There are 16 onboard effects as well as 5 powered headphone outputs, each of which are customizable and savable. There are 12 channels in total, 8 mono and 2 stereo, with XLR or ¼” connectivity.
This device is on one hand a pure mixer, allowing you to record directly (up to 12 sources) as you see fit. On the other hand, you can output your audio for post-production tweaks. It does both of these jobs quite well.
It’s a 2-in-1 solution made for tackling efficient multitracking. This mixer can handle almost any workload without breaking a sweat and it’s pretty easy to use.
It’s worth stating the fact that the onboard mic preamps have some issues. There are reports of some slight humming from time to time. Also, some folks have run into hurdles with limited operations when working in the 96kHz setting. These are frequent issues, but they can happen.
In conclusion, this is a solid, high quality option for a number of studio applications. It will be a more than adequate addition to a home studio or even a rehearsal studio.
This wouldn’t be a proper list of best home studio mixers without the inclusion of a Yamaha device. I can guarantee that you’ve seen a Yamaha mixing board in someone’s garage before. The EMX5014C is a worthy representation of what a classic mixer is capable of.
It’s a powered analog mixer with 10 channels and 14 inputs, 6 of those channels have a single-knob built-in compressor. The EMX5014C also has a 80Hz high-pass filter out of the box for eliminating low-frequency rumble. If you’re looking for a truly traditional studio mixing console, look no further.
The signal path has no noticeable interference, even after extended use. Also, as to be expected from Yamaha, the interface is very intuitive and easy to use. You can easily mount this puppy on any studio or equipment rack if necessary as well.
The EMX5014C has the ability to double as a tabletop mixer, but it’s by no means compact. It weighs about 24.5lbs and is a little bulky. It will fit on your home studio desk, but make sure you have the room for it. That being said, it’s a rugged device that can take a beating.
Given the fact that this is more of a classic mixer, you shouldn’t expect a lot of bells and whistles. It’s a straight-forward recording system that does its job exceptionally well.
There are the popular SPX series effect processors onboard, so it really has all of the essentials you need. What else can I say? You can’t really go wrong with a Yamaha mixer in your toolbox.
Behringer is a noteworthy brand in the audio world. They typically put out mid-range, reliable equipment without sacrificing quality. There’s a reason why they’ve been a popular brand for all of these years. The X1222USB is a 16 input, 2/2-bus analog mixer with a built-in USB audio interface. Channels 1-4 each have dedicated knob compressors.
The 4 onboard Xenyx mic preamps are a wonderful addition offering a crisp sound definition. Also, this mixer is nice and compact. The X1222USB is a great option for those on a tighter budget but still want a good recording system.
The built-in USB audio interface gives you a level of flexibility that’s unbeatable at this price point. This mixer also has a 24-bit multi-FX processor with 16 digital effects. Honestly though, the effects are a little underwhelming.
They’re not completely awful, but you might want to handle your effects in post-production. The neo-classic “British” 3-band EQs do add a warm sound to whatever you use it for, but they’re limited in their operations.
A few users have run into problems with the mute switches sticking over time. It’s not ultra-common, but it might be a good idea to handle this device with care. The X1222USB has a great bang-for-your-buck feeling to it though.
This is a mixer that can handle at home recording, and maybe a little small-scale live recording. If that’s what you’re after, then this device is a pretty safe bet.
The best mixer in my eyes is the Mackie 1642VLZ4 for a few key reasons. The level of analog connectivity is a huge advantage, and the build quality is top-notch. It’s a good mixture of traditional capabilities and modern functionality. The signal path is also the cleanest out of the bunch. It’s an all around great option for users of all types.
All of the devices in this list have a lot to offer though. I hope this guide has given you some ideas and has helped you narrow down your search for the right studio mixer for your needs.