How to Buy the Best Audio Mixer

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How to Buy the Best Audio Mixer

An audio mixer is a device that is used for mixing sounds from different sources, such as CD players, record turntables, computers, and microphones. The main task of a mixer is to combine different inputs in order to produce one or several outputs that are known as the mix. Often, the audio mixer can add sound effects to the music. Audio mixers are used during the recording process or during live band performances. Many DJs and professional musicians use audio mixers to enhance their music, but home users can also experiment with audio mixers: there are models for all skill levels and requirements. Audio mixers are available in many sizes, with larger models equipped with more channels than their compact counterparts. Audio mixers are also known as soundboards, audio consoles, mixing desks, and mixing consoles. Audio mixers may be available in specialist music shops, but the simplest way to find them is to browse the selection at online auction sites, such as eBay.

Types of Audio Mixer

Audio mixers can be classified according to their size and the type of signal that they use: analogue or digital. Choosing the best audio mixer largely depends on the musician’s or home user’s requirements.

Analogue Audio Mixers

Analogue audio mixers convert input signals into analogue output signals. The analogue signal is easy to create and transmit and it spreads by the means of variations in air pressure. Although the analogue signal is valued for its character and warmth, its quality can suffer from tiny alterations and it can become distorted easily. In order to avoid this, it is best to use good quality analogue audio mixers. However, these can be expensive. Analogue audio mixers are preferred in live settings where there is no requirement for digital signals.

Digital Audio Mixers

Digital audio mixers use analogue microphone preamplifiers that strengthen weak signals, but their output is always digital and they also use digital circuitry. Digital signals exist in binary form, as zeros and ones, like all computerised information. When using a digital audio mixer, it is easy to transfer the mix to a computer or any other digital platform. In general, templates can be saved on a digital audio mixer, so recalling saved information is relatively easy. Digital mixers are best for studios, but they are also easy for beginners to use.

USB Audio Mixers

USB audio mixers are fundamentally analogue mixers, but they have an additional USB output that can be connected to a computer: the main output of USB audio mixers is still analogue, but the USB cable is able to transmit the main output in digital form. This makes recording the mix to a computer easy. USB audio mixers combine the character and warmth of analogue audio with the convenience of digital audio. They can be used during live performances where recording the mixes is essential.

Compact Audio Mixers

Compact audio mixers are small, practical, and suit mobile musicians, although they can be limited in some ways because they have fewer channels and may lack other features. Their desktop-sized design is great for home studios that do not have much space to spare.

Rack Audio Mixers

Rack audio mixers are mounted on racks and therefore are not very heavy. They offer many audio channels and make a good use of space as they do not require a table surface. They typically measure about 50 cm wide and their depth varies from 4.5 cm to 18 cm.

Firewire Audio Mixers

Firewire audio mixers can be connected to computers in a similar way to USB audio mixers. However, the way that they transmit sound data is considered more efficient than USB. Each input channel is streamed into the computer directly so that it can be edited separately from the rest.

Comparison of Types of Audio Mixer

To summarise, there are six different types of audio mixer classified according to their signal type and how they are connected to computers. When buying the best audio mixer it is also important to consider its size and how it will be used. The following chart gives the buyer a simple guide to compare the main characteristics of the types of audio mixer.

Type of Audio Mixer

Signal Type

Description

Analogue

Analogue

Audio valued for warmth and character

For live settings

Digital

Digital

Audio easy to convert

Templates can be saved

For studio use

USB

Analogue, but with digital output

Combines the best of analogue and digital

For live settings where recording is needed

Compact

Digital or analogue

Small and mobile

For home studios or on the move

Rack

Digital or analogue

Mounted on racks

Does not require much space

Firewire

Analogue, but with digital output

Similar to USB, but more efficient

Manufacturers may have their own ways of classifying audio mixers. The chart above can be used as a reference, as it summarises the basic characteristics.

Features of Audio Mixers

Regardless of their type, all audio mixers have some features in common. They all have several channels, volume control, buses, and effects.

Channels of Audio Mixers

The channels of audio mixers are its inputs that receive the sound from source devices, such as keyboards, DJ decks and guitar amplifiers. The number of channels depends on personal requirements, but any future developments should be considered: it is wise to buy an audio mixer with more channels than required. The channels are usually placed in strips. The sound enters from the back of the mixer, passes through the channel’s controls, and exits.

Controls for Audio Mixers

The most basic control on the audio mixer is the volume that regulates the degree of loudness of the output. The gain, also known as trim or sens, from sensitivity, is often mistaken for the volume button. However, the gain controls the volume of the input. If the gain is at a high setting, it is more sensitive to quieter signals. The gain sets the quality of the sound. Faders control the volume of the channel’s signal in the mix. In smaller audio mixers, they also function as volume control.

The EQ controls are responsible for the equalisation of the audio. By equalising the sounds, certain frequencies can be either cut or boosted in order to reduce unwanted noises or feedback to achieve a better quality of sound. Larger mixers have more EQs per channel than smaller models. They can be either basic with adjustments for low and high sounds or more complex, providing multi-band parameter settings for finer tuning. Auxiliary outputs, also known as auxes, control how much of the signal from each channel is transmitted to the output. They are often used for stage monitors, subwoofers that produce low frequencies, and reverbs, devices that mimic reverberation effects by prolonging the sound.

Buses for Audio Mixers

Buses are a routing system that assign channels to subgroups. For example, all drums connected to the audio mixer could be connected to one bus in order to control their volume and other features at once, without having to regulate numerous faders and other controls. The number of buses on a mixer can range from one to over ten. The number depends how many loudspeakers are connected to the mixer.

Effects for Audio Mixers

Effects can be integrated into the audio mixer or they can come separately as effects gears. Built-in effects provide convenience because fewer devices have to be carried around. This is less significant if the audio mixer is used in a home studio only.

Power Source for Audio Mixers

Audio mixers can be either powered or non-powered. Powered audio mixers are best for smaller venues where it is necessary to set the devices up quickly. Unpowered audio mixers can use powered speakers or amplifiers. If the audio mixer has an USB or Firewire connection, it can get power from a computer that it is attached to.

Audio Mixing Basics

The way that the audio is mixed largely depends on the venue and the instruments used. However, there are some basic rules that should be followed. These are particularly useful for beginners who have little or no experience with audio mixers. Listening to commercial records helps the buyer to understand the sounds produced by the audio mixer.

Before starting to work, the audio mixer should be put into neutral mode. All unused channels should be muted and unrouted. This helps to create a clear base on which the sound can be mixed. Once in the mixing process, it helps it the instruments are grouped logically into subgroups, also known as buses. It is important to try to separate different sounds so that they do not have to compete. This makes controlling the sounds easier because fewer faders are needed. Fewer effects are usually better because too many can sound cluttered and result in a noisy mix. The right balance can be found with practice and sometimes it helps to record the mixes and then listen to them away from the audio mixer because this helps the listener to detect imbalances in the mix.

Conclusion

Audio mixers combine sounds from different input sources in order to generate one or several outputs, known as the mixes. They are used by DJs and professional musicians, as well as people at home. Audio mixers help to create a musical track and are often used to add effects. Audio mixers are classified by their signal types. Analogue mixers add warmth and character to sounds, whereas digital mixers can record the mixes. USB audio mixers combine the best of analogue and digital, delivering analogue signals into a computer. Firewire audio mixers work similarly, but have a better way of dealing with input channels. Rack mixers and compact mixers are both space saving options.

All audio mixers have various controls, including volume, gain, EQ, and faders. Channels and buses are also present in all mixers. Effects can be integrated into the audio mixer or added as separate devices. The best audio mixer is the one that meets the needs of the buyer. By knowing the main features and types of audio mixer, buyers can find the best model conveniently on eBay.

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