You can use a mixer with an audio interface quite easily and effectively. All you need is a TRS or TS cable connecting the stereo output of your mixer with two inputs on your audio interface. This connection can be reversed for a different effect.
Considering the struggles of many musicians to earn well, or let alone make a decent living, it’s no wonder we often try to find workarounds and save money wherever we can.
Getting an audio interface with multiple inputs and outputs can be quite an investment. Unfortunately, not everybody can afford it.
Luckily, by using a mixer with an audio interface, we can reap the benefits of having multiple inputs and outputs for various applications.
In this article, I’ll show you how you can do that and why you might want to do that in the first place.
How Can You Use a Mixer In Your Studio?
We all know that mixers are an indispensable part of a recording studio. However, owning a 24 track analog mixer just isn’t a reality for most musicians. Instead, we get our hands on the second best thing out there- an audio interface.
As much as audio interfaces are great and affordable, many producers may be frustrated with limited functionality, especially budget ones. Namely, you usually get two inputs, stereo output, and that’s it.
Although that is perfectly fine for many folks, people looking into recording more than two audio sources at a time may be in trouble.
There are many ways to use a mixer in your home studio. However, we’ll focus on a couple of the most common ways you’ll want to use it with your audio interface.
If you are a producer that relies on recording audio, plugging in more than two microphones at a time will sooner or later become a necessity.
This is especially true for recording drums- you usually want to have at least four microphones on the kit to capture the best possible sound.
How To Connect A Mixer To An Audio Interface
Here’s how to connect a mixer to your audio interface to enjoy having multiple inputs.
If you own an audio interface with two line inputs, you need 2 TRS cables.
Suppose your audio interface doesn’t have line inputs but instrument inputs. In that case, you’ll need 2 TS cables (that’s essentially the one you use for plugging a guitar into an amp).
The next thing you do is take one cable and plug it into the left output of your mixer. The other end of that cable should go to the left input on your audio interface.
We do the same thing with the right output of the mixer and the right input of the interface.
All that’s left to do is hook up your microphones, set the levels of each so that they don’t clip the audio input, and press record in your DAW.
Now, keep in mind that even though you can record more than two microphones (most cheap mixers have at least 4 or 6 inputs), there will be one major drawback. You won’t be able to control the level of each microphone later on in your DAW.
All you’ll get is a stereo mix of your recording (only two channels).
Luckily, by being resourceful enough, you can lessen the severity of this problem with a simple trick.
Since you still have two channels to work with, you can pan a couple of microphones, hard left or hard right. That way, you can at least separate a couple of microphones instead of all of them being in both channels.
A good example for recording drums would be to turn the pan knob on your kick, and snare channels on the mixer hard left, and a pair of overheads all the way to the right.
This way, you can make a nice balance of shells and cymbals.
It’s not a perfect scenario, but it can work quite well if you set the levels right.
It’s advisable to monitor the signal through headphones to better judge the presence of each element in the drum mix.
Alternatively, you can be even more resourceful and try recording a whole band this way. You can pan all the drum mics to the left and carefully blend the rest of the band in the right channel.
I’d suggest trying to make a nice balance of the bass and guitars (or whatever else there is in a band) and leaving vocals for later as an overdub.
By doing this, you’ll have all the drum mics in one channel and the rest of the band in the other.
Again, it’s not a perfect mixing scenario, but I’d say it’s absolutely doable. You can get great results if you get a nice balance right at the source.
More Routing Options
Another widespread reason people use mixers in their setup is to have more options for routing your audio signal.
Mixers usually have more than one output, which can be very useful in studio environments.
Also, you get complete control over how much of each channel you want to send to a specific output.
This can be pretty useful for live applications as you can set up a monitor mix for each member of the band while still having the benefits of computer technology through your audio interface.
The best way you can use this to your advantage is to hook up various speakers through which you can monitor your mixes. Most mixers (even the budget ones) will usually have two additional AUX sends that you can use to gain other monitoring devices.
This option is crucial in checking if your mixes will translate to other speakers.
Typically, the option to connect an additional pair of speakers is found on some of the pricier audio interfaces. Having a cheap mixer do the same thing is always welcomed.
Another reason you might want to use a mixer in your studio is to take advantage of its effects.
Some of the older mixers have tremendous EQs in there, and it would be a shame not to take advantage of that.
For that, you’ll need to set up a loop.
In other words, you take the output from your audio interface and connect it to a channel on the mixer. Afterward, you take the output from your mixer and send it back to your audio interface.
This way, you can apply EQ or compression (if your analog mixer has a compressor) and record that signal back into your DAW.
This may not be worth the trouble on some cheaper mixers. Still, it can perhaps add some attitude or make you think about mixing differently.
I would personally use it to add a different approach to my workflow and even add some unique analog color to my tracks.
The last common way mixers are used with audio interfaces is for live sound.
You can set up a quick monitor mix for each band member and even introduce backing tracks where needed.
Suppose your band relies on having a steady tempo throughout the performance. In that case, you can route the click track to the drummers’ monitor mix and spare the rest of the band the pain of listening to a metronome for two hours.
Otherwise, you can use a mixer to make rough recordings of your live performance. Not having control over each individual microphone won’t be such a limitation in that case, as you’re not going to release that recording for a major label anyway.
It’s helpful to have it for personal use or social media teasers.
Should you use an audio interface or an audio mixer?
Ideally, using a standalone audio interface would give you better results with much less hassle. However, interfaces with 6,12, or 24 channels can be pretty expensive and not affordable for many musicians.
What is the difference between a sound card, audio interface, and a sound mixer?
The sound card and audio interface are basically the same things. The interface is just an external sound card with added features. Mixers, however, is different from the two because it has onboard effects like EQ, compressors, and reverb.
Why would anyone choose an audio interface over a mixer?
Audio interfaces are built with having digital recording in mind. That’s the reason why they are superior to most mixers (excluding high-end analog consoles). You’ll generally get a better sound quality with less latency and noise.
Do you need a separate audio interface if you have an audio mixer?
If you’re looking to record music on your computer, then yes, an audio interface would be vital for your home recording setup.
If you’re mostly playing live, however, an audio interface can be a great addition, but not an essential one necessarily.
Which type of cable is best for connecting a mixer to a USB audio interface?
In most cases, you’ll either need TRS or TS cables. Some mixers might have different outputs.
It’s always good to have a spare XLR cable or even an RCA cable.
It’s best to check out the socket type on your output and buy cables accordingly. Sometimes you might need specialized cables for your specific units.
What’s better for podcasting, an audio mixer, or an audio interface?
Running both units is an excellent way for a podcast to include as many speakers as possible without sending too much money on an expensive audio interface with more outputs.
Audio interfaces are definitely a better choice, but they can get a bit pricy if you want more than two mic inputs.
Can you connect directly to the 3.5mm microphone jack on the sound card?
This isn’t the optimal solution for your recording, as you’ll get a lot of noise and also deal with latency issues.