Audio Mixer Buying Guide

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Audio Mixer Buying Guide


Audio mixers are a useful feature for any home entertainment system. They offer a simple, all-in-one solution to film, television, music system, and video game audio routing.

This guide will explain not only the most important features of an audio mixer, but also how to achieve the best value for money by searching online.

What Is an Audio Mixer?

Audio mixers are a familiar sight with their multiple volume faders and their fluctuating light displays showing output levels. They can be implemented in many ways, though they serve one key function, namely to blend together multiple audio signals into one perfectly even output signal.

Audio mixers will, in general, conform to a standard layout, with large, vertical volume faders situated along the lower half of the unit and individual frequency controls and effects found along the top. Not every audio mixer will provide every feature, so it is up to the customer to decide which are necessary for the task in mind. For example, purchasing a sound mixer for the home, to act as an audio hub for film and music may not require extra effects dials or frequency controls. In a professional studio, however, these same features would be crucial.

Types of Audio Mixer

Selecting which audio mixer to purchase is largely influenced by how the mixer is going to be used. Ensure that the unit has all of the necessary functions needed to complete the intended task. From a simple, two-channel mixer to a state-of-the-art 32-channel mixing desk, the options and functions available are almost limitless.

First of all, consult the chart below, and decide on the primary function of the mixer.
 

Audio Hub (for home entertainment systems, etc):

The most straightforward uses require only the most basic sound mixer. Where multiple input devices (eg: a computer, a hi-fi, and a DVD player) need to be routed into the same set of speakers, a simple audio mixer is required to combine the signals. Key features will be a sufficient number of channels to allow for every input device to be connected simultaneously. For instance, if a home entertainment system includes a television, DVD player and video games console, and all three have sound sources requiring connection to a surround sound system, a mixer with three audio input channels will be necessary.

Party DJ:

Selecting a mixer for commercial use will require an additional set of features. An audio mixer that would best suit a travelling DJ working in pubs, wedding receptions and small parties can afford to include only two channels. This is because this type of use requires only the ability to switch from one track to the next, using two sound sources (eg two CD or record players). Additionally, a cross-fader control will be essential, as this allows the DJ to blend one track into the next, creating an effect of continuous music. Finally, a party DJ will require a microphone input and a headphone monitor output. The microphone input is crucial for making announcements, whilst the headphone monitor output will allow the user to cue up the next track in a way that the audience will not be able to hear until it is faded in.

Battle DJ:

”Battle DJ” is the name given to competitive Djing that is common in many urban music subcultures. Battle DJs require precision instruments with a number of unique functions. These include a robust cross-fader switch that will be used frequently, kill switches that help the DJ to isolate and blend together specific elements from multiple tracks, and a hamster switch. Traditionally, battle DJs will use two turntables, meaning they require only two channels. However, expert battle DJs have been known to use three, or even four, turntables at once, each requiring additional mixer channels.

Home Studio:

A home studio allows musicians to make rough, demo versions of songs before recording them in a professional studio. An audio mixer intended for home studio use should be versatile and allow for at least 8 channels of audio to be mixed simultaneously. A musician with a home studio may look for additional features, including auxiliary sends and multiple outputs. Auxiliary sends may be used to add audio effects to the mix, and multiple bus outputs provide the option for audio monitors to be used whilst recording as well as additional means of recording the overall mix; for example, on an external DAT tape or digital device.

Live Mixing Desk:

A sound console destined for use in a live music venue will have to be a versatile piece of apparatus. Different performers will have vastly different requirements, yet the audio mixer will always be the sound hub of every performance. Key features here will include a higher than average number of separate channels (usually above 16-channels, and ideally 32-channels), or the potential for expansion. Similarly, a live music sound board must offer a large number of separate audio outputs and buses.

Professional Studio:

A professional recording studio requires state-of-the-art equipment, and only the largest mixing console will be suitable. A large number of channels, sends, and audio buses will be required to ensure that the audio mixer can cope with any task. Professional mixing consoles are incredibly large, and incredibly expensive. It is unlikely that even the most enthusiastic musician would require such a device for home use.

Key Functions

Every audio mixer is designed with a specific function in mind. Nevertheless, it is important to check the functionality of any mixer before purchasing.
 

Mains Power:

Advanced sound boards and mixing consoles will most likely be routed to a power amplifier. Smaller units, suited for home use and fast set-up, will often require mains power.

Digital Outputs:

With the prevalence of virtual studios, where all sound recording is computer-based, many mixers will offer a digital audio output, which can be linked to a computer via USB. If a digital audio output is an essential requirement, it will be important to check the output quality and sample rate.

Channels:

Each channel will typically be presented on the mixer as a vertical fader to control the volume. The number of channels required will usually be amongst the first features that decide the suitability of a mixer. A DJ will require only two channels for example, whereas even the smallest home studio will generally require at least four or eight channels.

Cross-fader:

A cross-fader is a horizontal slider control. Its function is to smoothly and seamlessly fade from one audio channel to another so that the new channel fades in at exactly the same rate that the original channel fades out. Cross-faders are essential when a sound mixer is to be used for any form of Djing, or any situation where an even and continuous, output of music is necessary.

Microphone Input:

A microphone input which is separate to the channel inputs is often a useful addition to any audio mixer intended for events Djing or PA address systems. The microphone input differs from the usual channel inputs because it has a built-in override mechanism that compresses all other sound. This means that when using the microphone, all other audio (including music) will automatically decrease in volume without the need to adjust the faders.

Monitor / Headphone Output:

Monitor headphone sockets provide a separate audio signal to the operator's headset. This allows a DJ to cue up a new track whilst allowing the original track to continue playing uninterrupted.

Bus Outputs:

Bus outputs are separate audio signals that can be sent to external speakers. Bus signals may offer single-channel output or the complete mix. Bus channels are crucial for live performance audio mixing as they provide the signal which is sent to on-stage floor monitors. A separate bus output for every performer will usually be required.

Auxiliary Sends:

Auxiliary sends allow extra flexibility in an audio mix. They offer a pairing of inputs and outputs which can be connected to external effects and processor units. Once the effects have been added to the send output, they can be reconnected to the mixer via the input. The sound engineer can then use the mixer to blend the original signal with the processed signal.

Frequency Gain:

Frequency gains allow the sound engineer to boost or cut a specific frequency range (typically bass, mid, and treble) of each channel. This can be useful for blending together two tracks with contrasting mixes.

Kill Switches:

Kill switches are an extreme form of frequency control which are normally activated with buttons rather than potentiometers. Kill switches will completely cut a chosen frequency range (bass, mid, treble). This allows a DJ to blend together individual elements from separate tracks; for example, the drums and bass from one track with the mid-range vocals of another.

Finding Audio Mixers on eBay

Once a specific style or brand of audio mixer has been decided upon, it is best to research the various options for purchasing the unit. There is no easier method of buying electronic goods than across the internet.

One of the quickest ways to find effects pedals is to use the online marketplace eBay. To find audio mixers, a simple search should provide you with the required results. You can also use the categories for a more in depth search, as each vendor will categorise audio mixers in a different way, depending on their use. For instance, searching in the categories TV & Home Audio Accessories, or Home Audio & HiFi Separates will display mixers best suited for integration into a home entertainment system.

Similarly, searching Other Accessories/ Equipment subcategory of the Musical Instruments section will return audio mixers that could be suitable for home studio usage. Finally, there is a designated category for all Mixers, where there are listings for all mixers, from two-channel DJ units up to professional mixing consoles.

Lastly, it is often possible to save money by searching the eBay Deals listings.

Conclusion

The ideal audio mixer is always the model that performs the tasks for which it is intended reliably and intuitively. Choosing the right audio mixer is a balance of knowing what is required and ensuring value for money by not paying for functions that will never be used, and getting value for money means shopping around for the best deals. By using this guide and eBay's online marketplace, achieving all three objectives should be no problem at all.

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