An audio mixer is a crucial piece of equipment for recording studios and live performances, but it can be difficult to understand the difference between, for example, a mixer, an interface, and a preamp. For starters, an interface acts as a bridge between an analog signal and a computer, and a preamp helps amplify the signal into the amplifier which allows a signal to be strong enough to be received by an amplifier and speakers.
But a mixer is capable of more functions, which is why mixers typically have a lot of knobs and sliders. This can make mixers seem intimidating, but they ultimately perform a fairly simple function. Mixers take multiple signals from guitars, microphones, or whatever other sources, and turn them into one or more outputs.
Feeding all of the signals from instruments and microphones into the mixer allows you to easily control things like the volume from the mixer. Many mixers go beyond simply providing balanced sound, though. You can often use a mixer for artistic flourishes, such as creating effects like reverb and delay. Small mixers with effects can be great for home music recording, as well as live performances.
Beyond singing or playing instruments, mixers are handy for other applications. If you’re a DJ — whether live or on the radio — you’ll need a mixer to seamlessly transition between different tracks. Mixers are even handy in non-music situations, such as using a PA or for podcasting. Read on for some of our favorite mixers.
1. Behringer Xenyx 802 Premium 8-Input Mixer
This mixer comes with eight inputs, including ones that can be assigned for CD or tape recording. There are two mic preamps and an FX send control for each channel. Plus, all Xenyx mixers have high headroom (which prevents unwanted distortion) and warm-sounding EQs, or equalizers. This two-bus unit also features USB connectivity, making for easier connection to a computer without a separate interface.
Pros: Compact, sturdy, works well for different needs including streaming, home audio recording, live events, and karaoke.
Cons: No on/off switch.
2. Behringer Xenyx 12-input mixer
If you need multiple mic and instrument lines, this Behringer model comes with four mic preamps. The 1202fx has a built-in 24-bit Multi-FX processor, which comes with 100 effects. This allows you to add effects during a live recording or performance. This option also comes with a mic and XLR cable.
Pros: Works well with a variety of different instruments, including synths, keyboards, and violins.
Cons: Prone to overheating.
3. Maker Hart LOOP MIXER
This mixer from Maker Hart is very compact and well suited for small applications. There are five channels, and the accessories bundle helps to expand the capabilities of the mixer. There is a loop bus cable, allowing you to connect multiple loop mixers. The entire unit weighs less than 1 pound, making it easy to pack and take on the go. The unit can be connect to computers, instruments, or various other sources to easily control music on the go. Controls include balance, gain, and master and channel volume.
Pros: Highly compact option is easy to take on the go, and the accessories bundle allows you to connect the mixer to another mixer.
Cons: Lightweight construction is somewhat of a tradeoff for durability.
4. Yamaha Mg10Xu 10-Input Stereo Mixer With Effects
This mixer from Yamaha has 10 inputs, making it capable enough for performances and larger home studios. It also has built-in digital effects, high-pass filters, and three-band equalizers. There are enough features to precisely control the quality of the sound and add unique effects. Compressors are kept to a single knob, making it easier to maintain the quality of the sound. An added convenience is that you can plug directly to your computer using the USB output.
Pros: Has 10 outputs, making it capable enough for larger settings. Variety of built-in effects. USB output.
Cons: Can potentially overheat.
5. Mackie Mixer 16 Channel
For something with a little more oomph, consider Mackie’s 16-channel mixer. It has 10 mic preamps that are designed to reduce unwanted noise. This mixer features 16 built-in effects including reverbs, delays, and choruses. There are also different types of equalizers on the board, including seven-band graphic EQ and three-band EQ for each channel. If you need something bigger or smaller, this listing also lets you choose as few as four channels and as many as 30.
Pros: 10 Vita preamps for strong live microphone performance. 16 total channels.
Cons: USB may generate some unwanted noise.
6. Maker Hart Just Mixer Audio Mixer
If space and portability are your chief concerns, then it’s hard to beat this pick from Maker Hart. It has three stereo channels (two stereo inputs and one Aux) and one stereo output. Controls include gain, balance and channel and master volume controls. All of that fits into a package that’s smaller than most cellphones. To keep the unit as portable as possible, AAA batteries can be used to power the device. Alternatively, it can be powered via a USB cable.
Pros: Pocket-sized mixer that can be powered using batteries or a USB cable. Perfect for on-the-go performances or simple applications.
Cons: May generate some noise feedback.
7. Alto Professional 8-Channel Compact Mixer
This small mixer from Alto is small and lightweight enough to take on the go. But with eight channels, it’s capable of handling recording sessions and live performances. In addition to balanced sound, Alto’s mixer provides a variety of digital effects. Professional features include high headroom, which helps reduce distortion and the three-band equalization for each channel. Alto also considered live music and DJing when designing this board — knobs that vary in color and bright LEDs make it easier to see in low light settings.
Pros: Features two-bus design for convenience and control. There is three-band EQ on each channel. Compact size still accommodates eight channels. Provides phantom power.
Cons: The headphone channel is not separate.
8. Behringer Xenyx 502 Premium 5-Input 2-Bus Mixer
This is one of the most compact options, and it’s great if you only need one mic and a couple of other inputs. It still has most of the functionality of many of the other options on this list, including assignable tape/CD inputs and high headroom. It features an XLR mic input with a built-in preamp and two-band EQ.
Pros: Compact, works with phantom power mics.
Cons: No on/off switch, must be unplugged to turn off.