5 Characteristics to Look for in an Audio Mixer

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5 Characteristics to Look for in an Audio Mixer

Audio mixers are an important piece of equipment when it comes to creating and altering sound, as a mixer is the control centre and the heart of the system. Finding the right audio mixer is vital if good music is to be produced, and there are certain characteristics that make up a good-quality unit. Since there are so many available on the market, to a beginner, the prospect of making a purchase can seem quite daunting. Follow the guide below on the 5 characteristics to look for before making any purchase of an audio mixer.

5 Characteristics to Look For

1. Instrument Ins

Are there enough available?

2. EQ

Is there enough flexibility in the adjustment?

3. Powered or Unpowered

Consider other pieces of equipment owned.

4. Mono or Stereo mains

Personal opinion dictates the choice here.


Numbers required depend on where the output is going, how many monitors, how many effects are needed.

1. Instrument Ins

The number of instrument inputs required of an audio mixer will vary according to who will be using the equipment and what their needs are. It is the role of an audio mixer to accept whatever the various signal sources are, set the levels of those inputs and route them to the appropriate location. Microphones, keyboards, effects units, graphic EQs and so on can be connected directly to the mixer, however, electric guitars and basses should be connected via a Direct Injection (DI) box. This is because the sound directly from those instruments will not be at a premium otherwise.

2. Check the EQ

Knowing how to use the Equaliser is a skill with using an audio mixer that takes time. Equalisers filter the loudness of sound under specific frequencies, so the same note from the same instrument can sound completely different if the equaliser is not balanced correctly. A professional or advanced user will need more flexibility in the balance of sound than a beginner user, and this option should be thought about carefully when making a purchase.

3. Powered or Unpowered

This choice between either a powered or unpowered mixer is done to the presence of other pieces of equipment. If there is already an existing powered speaker system or a set of speakers with a power amplifier attached, an unpowered mixer is all that is required, meaning the mixer does not possess a power amplifier. If this equipment is not already owned, a powered mixer is needed. Unpowered mixers are generally cheaper to purchase since the main bulk of the equipment is already owned.

A powered mixer is useful for small to medium usage, as they are compact enough for smaller locations. The cost of a powered mixer is similar to that of a power amplifier, which makes the powered mixer a good choice as purchasing a power amplifier will still require the added purchase of a mixer anyway. This type of mixer is also portable and requires a lower level of knowledge in order to connect that than a separate mixer and amplifier system. Some audio mixers will have added features which mean even less added components need to be bought.

4. Mono or Stereo Mains

Mono is a more traditional approach (for example, the Beatles preferred their mixes in mono), although stereo is now much more popular. A combination of both can also be used, as mono takes some skill to use properly, and too much use of stereo can cause the user to over rely on the stereo effect sound. The choice of either can be a personal decision, although some professionals prefer to use mono when playing live and stereo for recording purposes. It helps to be able to use and have access to both.

5. Outputs

Similar to the inputs, the number of output lines will, again, be reliant on the requirements of the mixer user. Typical outputs will be via studio monitoring (hi-fi amps, speakers, visual monitors, and so on), headphones, effects units, and so on. The compatibility of output units should also be looked at before any attempt is made to attach them to the mixer.
Sometimes the choices made between the various characteristics are dependant on the skill level of the individual using them, so these are explored in more detail below.

Audio Mixers for Beginners

For newcomers, a palm-sized, portable 4-channel audio mixer should be sufficient, and will be relatively inexpensive. It would be unreasonable to expect affordable models to have the capabilities of bigger, more expensive sets, but models should still be able to fulfill the 5 characteristics. Other characteristics to look for are the capacity to use flash cards (so unlimited memory usage), and a USB (Universal Serial Bus) port for easy transferral onto a computer to create the final product.

Audio Mixers for Professionals

Professional or advanced sound engineers will require a greater capacity than models on the cheaper end of the mixer spectrum, so all five characteristics must be covered, but, of course, added features will come at a higher cost. 8-16 digital track models will usually have greater editing choice (although always conduct sufficient research before purchasing just to be sure). The most expensive models will contain a mixer, recorder, and burner all in one, which enables the user to carry out the whole process, from creation to burning, all on one piece of equipment that is smaller and lighter than the average laptop.
A 24-track audio mixer is generally only used in studio production as it has more power than the majority of sound engineers will need in their work. Of course, these types of units will cost considerably more than others.
Once the number of input devices has been decided, which leads to the number of channels required, the numbers (if any) of other existing sound equipment should also be made known, as per the characteristics requirements noted above. If a powered speaker system or speakers with a power amplifier have already been bought, an unpowered mixer is all that is required.

For Professionals

For advanced or professional users, a separate amplifier and other components will still need to be purchased. When looking for a mixer of this sort, consider the following extra characteristics:

1. 'Phantom' Power

This power supply operates condenser microphones and other devices by providing 48 volts. Many devices require phantom power, such as podium microphones, so it is a useful feature for a mixer to have.

2. Gain, Trim, and Sensitivity Controls

These should be present on at least some of the channels. These controls are designed to match the levels of the various devices as the signals reach the audio mixer. Being able to adjust these levels does two things; firstly it avoids overloading the circuitry from signals that are too strong, and secondly it amplifies weak signals where needed. The gain control may not be fully adjustable, but there should be at least a fixed button that can alter the signal by around 10 decibels.

3. Auxiliary Outputs

These are outputs that allow a signal to be adjusted to a different mix such as a sound system. This is a must for stage performances. All small mixers should have at least one auxiliary output, so the stage monitors can be connected and controlled independently. This is vital for musicians so they are able to hear the sound they need. Monitor outputs are also able to avoid any feedback issues.

Where to Find Audio Mixers on eBay

In order to find audio mixers on eBay, head first to the homepage. From here, using the links available on the left hand side of the page, select All Categories, and then select Musical Instruments. This will then load the Musical Instruments section of eBay. From here, go to the category of Pro Audio Equipment and select Mixers.. The resulting listings can be narrowed further according to suitability, brand, powered/non-powered, analogue/digital and other options.
Alternatively, use the search engine on the main homepage to find listings of audio mixers using desired terms.


Audio mixers have many different characteristics that can be implemented and used; primarily the decision of a purchase is down to the skill level and needs of the user. Mixers required in professional performances will of course need more features and be of higher quality, costing more than a mixer used in the home. However there are 5 main characteristics that should be looked for when making a purchase of an audio mixer at any skill level.

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