Types of Sound / Audio Mixers

(Last Updated On: October 8, 2020)
DJ playing with the audio mixer.

The audio mixer is also called the “Soundboard” or “Mixing Board.” It comes with various knobs and controls. You can use it to get a better grip on the control levels of the different audio inputs. Thus, with the audio mixer at hand, you can balance sounds. 

If it is your first time, however, to see an audio mixer, you might be taken aback by the sheer number of controls and knobs. Yet, with a bit of patience and curiosity, you would get the hang of its use. If you are patient enough, you can quickly learn how to operate an audio mixer. 

You need to route the audio signals you want to mix to the audio mixer. These audio signals include those coming from mics and instruments. Then, you should adjust the inputs, specifically, the volume until you get the sweet spot or the right mix for the different audio inputs.

Categories & Major Types of Mixers

Depending on the type of mixer you are using, a mixer can control digital or analog signals. So, if you haven’t bought a mixer yet, you are often confronted with the choice between analog and digital mixers. Let me discuss with you the difference between analog and digital mixers?

1) Analog Mixers

The analog mixer is the usual mixer used when doing a live performance. Yet, you can also use this mixer when you do recordings. The analog mixer has been here even before the PA systems and audio interface have become popular. Moreover, the analog mixers of old were huge.

The old but ever-faithful analog mixer comes with many controls or knobs. Each control performs a function. A cursory look at the analog mixer will daunt you. Yet, it is easy to use. You can adjust each control or knob to find the right mix for the different sound inputs. 

Compared to digital mixers, analog mixers are less expensive. Since they are less expensive, they lack the programmability and the automation of the digital models. These properties, of course, are more often necessary for complex recordings and shows. 

Moreover, analog mixers don’t have a wireless remote-control feature. Hence, you should be there in front of the mixing console to manage the mixing of sound inputs. 

Another thing is that the analog mixers have less audio effects as compared to digital mixers. Thus, you might be compelled to buy additional outboard equipment to avail of some advanced effects. 

Pros of Using Analog Mixers

Even with the increasing popularity of the digital mixers, the analog mixers still stay relevant. The reason for this is that analog mixers are less expensive. Plus, they are more intuitive. 

The analog mixer is also easy to use. You can manipulate its controls, switches, and faders to get the best mix for your sound inputs. Besides, you can get the hang of its use after a couple of usages, allowing you to resolve any challenge that you encounter in the signal’s flow. This is because you see the feedback in the analog mixers.  

Cons of Using Analog Mixers

The analog mixers are larger in dimensions. This is because they have physical knobs, faders, and switches. Their significant built becomes a disadvantage if you are going to use it inside a cramped stage or home studio. Moreover, it would require a physical routing of wires. 

Some analog mixers can be expensive, especially if you are going to set up your mixer with all the best parts. It can be more expensive than digital mixer. 

Lastly, most analog mixers do not have a recall or preprogram feature. It a bit exhausting, therefore, to use the analog mixer because you will be required to create new sounds again every time you engage in a new mix.


2) Digital Mixers

With the advent of great open-source platforms came different types of software. One such software is the digital mixer software. The digital mixers make use of digital computers to mix sound signals. Using digital mixers, you can route, combine, and change the equalization, dynamics, and relevant properties of different audio signals. Moreover, digital mixers allow you to gain access to a range of digital controls in mixing your audio input signals.

Digital mixers, of course, are more difficult to master than analog mixers. Yet, they allow you to recall and save setups. This makes digital mixers great if you want to make fast changes in theatrical productions. 

Another great thing about digital mixers is that they allow for remote access and control. This gives the operator of the digital mixers greater mobility when mixing audio inputs. Hence, if you are the operator of a digital mixer, you can stay among the audience or move around while you mix the audio input signals.  

Moreover, in using a digital mixer, you are enabled to tinker with more audio effects. You can also apply more audio effects to each channel without needing to invest in another outboard effect units. Digital mixers, of course, are electronic devices. These devices mix multiple audio signals from different audio sources. 

A digital mixer exhibits three distinct phases of functionalities. First, it is capable of mixing various inputs. It makes use of a basic algorithm for processing information via the assigned summing amplifier. The second phase is the routing. This phase allows you to channel source audio to external effects processing or internal buses. Lastly, it can handle processing through compression and equalization modules.               

The digital mixer is a valuable and significant piece of equipment for sound engineers. You can use it for designing sound for film and television, recording music, and mixing audio signals for actual or live performance.   

Pros of Using Digital Mixers

The primary advantage of the digital mixer is its capabilities to save audio inputs, mix audio signals, and to recall those mixes. Most of the digital mixers make use of an internal memory or USB flash drives for storing past settings. This facilitates the setting up of the configuration at any venue. With its ability to recall past setups and mixes, you can save time, especially during sound checks. 

You can also preprogram mixes on your computer. This lets you get rolling in a gig. With very few fine-tuning and tweaking, you can achieve the sound that you want. Moreover, there are digital mixers that have motorized faders. These motorized faders respond readily to configurations that are saved.

The digital mixers are unbeatable when it comes to changing signal routing. It is also flexible and provides extensive signal dynamics. Plus, it offers a wide array of effects. Moreover, it enables you to have greater control and flexibility when it comes to effects and preprogrammed routing.  

Cons of Using Digital Mixers

The disadvantage of using digital mixers is not a real disadvantage. It is borne out of its great flexibility and versatility. Because it is very much flexible, you need to spend more hours learning and mastering its use. You can’t master it in a single sitting. You need to tinker with it now and then to learn its different functions. Yet, you don’t need to learn all its functionalities. But if you want to master it, you should spend more time learning about its different effects and functions. 

Another thing is that you will sometimes find it a bit hard to do some changes with the digital mixer as compared to the analog mixer. With the analog mixer, you simply need to adjust the knobs and controls manually. With the digital mixer, on the other hand, you sometimes need to make use of the touchscreen to toggle through different menus, before you can make any adjustment. You also need to preprogram changes if you want to alter many settings. 

Your speed in mastering the functionalities of a digital mixer usually hinges on how intuitive and user-friendly the user interface is. You can widen your knowledge, however, of the digital mixer by reading forums and watching tutorials and demos of the experts.  

Digital Mixer VS Analog Mixer


Other Types of Mixers

Aside from the analog and digital types of mixers, there are secondary mixers that you should consider. Here are two of these secondary teachers:

1) Software Mixers

With the onset of open-source platforms, there has been an unprecedented increase in apps. One such app is the software mixer. You can easily use the software mixer to record and mix your audio outputs. You simply need to download it into your computer or phone, and you can get into the mix without necessarily needing those space-consuming analog or digital mixers. These apps allow you to engage in simple audio mixing. 

You can also use these software mixers to integrate instruments (physical or virtual), drum loops, samples into your music productions. These software mixers can also work with DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Moreover, they can work with MIDI functions. These capabilities allow you to expand your recording possibilities. With its use, you can create your recordings even with the utilization of a MIDI controller keyboard.

2) Summing and Line Mixers

Another type of mixer that addresses the line-level signals is the line mixer. This mixer comes with a simple analog design. It also comes with single volume control for each channel. You can connect this mixer to multiple players. You can use this in live settings. The line mixer can provide music between sets while freeing up the main mixer’s channels. 

Summing up, mixers, on the other hand, mostly come with analog designs. You can use it in the studio for consolidating and tweaking your final mixes. It does this by injecting a palpable warmth into the so-called “cold” output of the ultimate digital mixes. Additionally, you will often find high-end summing speakers with tube technology. This technology restores the warmth concomitant with previous or older recording consoles.


Classifications of Mixers Based on Usage

Mixers have different usages. You can use them for public address systems, recording, reinforcing sounds, broadcasting, nightclubs, film post-production, and television. The setup of mixers often includes different mics that are connected to the amplifier, which in turn is connected to the mixer. 

The stage mixer for nightclubs, for example, usually comes with 24 channels. This 24-channel mixer allows for mixing different audio signals from instruments and mics for vocals. The DJ mixer, on the other hand, comes with two channels. This two-channel mixer allows the DJ to mix two record players. 

You will also see mixers in coffeehouses. Most of these mixers only have six channels. The professional recording studio’s mixing console, on the other hand, comes with many channels. Some may have up to 96 channels. Here are the different classifications of mixers based on usage:

1) Powered Mixers

You can find analog mixers that come with 2-amp channels. These mixers are called “powered mixers.” These mixers are portable and very compact. They come with one monitor and one main speaker. A monitor, of course, is the speaker on the stage that lets the band or performers hear themselves. 

Since it is a compact unit, it packs everything that you need in a single unit. It even includes power for the speakers. Moreover, it allows you to quickly set up whatever you need to perform. 

If you usually move your PA from one gig to another, you don’t want to carry multiple pieces of equipment to assemble before the gig. You want something portable and compact. Hence, you would surely like to have a powered mixer. A powered mixer is a great piece of equipment that is easy to set up and gets you ready fast.

You can use the powered mixers, for example, if your monitor and main speakers are not powered. When you use it, you don’t need to separately bring power amplifiers to drive your main speaker and monitor.

Another thing about powered mixers is that they come in different configurations and sizes. They are also designed to handle all types of gigs and setups. You can use a powered mixer, for example, if you are a solo acoustic guitarist. You can also use it if you have a band with an array of instruments and mics. The powered mixer can handle multiple audio inputs and can power your PA speakers and monitors onstage. 

The good thing about powered mixers is that they have all the features that you would find in an unpowered mixer. They also come with routing options, EQing, and effects processing. One caveat, however, is this—you need to know the outputs and inputs that you would need together with the required power for driving the PA speakers and monitors.


2) DJ Mixers

DJs also use mixers when they engage in deejaying. They need a mixer because they have CD players and multiple turntables that they need to operate simultaneously. Yet, DJs have their setup needs that are different from other setups. They need a setup that would let them play music seamlessly. They also need the right equipment and inputs for handling their gears and integrating the club systems and PA systems. 

The mixers used by different DJs, however, differ from each other. If you are an ordinary DJ, you simply need a mixer with a maximum of three inputs and outputs along with basic crossfader and volume and EQ controls. This simple setup should allow you to mix outputs from CD players or turntables. 

On the other hand, some DJs make use of sophisticated mixers. These sophisticated mixers come with hamster switches that let you reverse the operation of the crossfader channel. They also come with a kill switch to let you quickly control the frequencies. Their mixers also have metering that shows clipping and output levels. Moreover, they come with mic inputs along with talk-over switches that let you readily communicate with your listeners.

Some DJ mixers also let you connect to your computers and laptops. These mixers let the DJs expand their capabilities using DJ software platforms. These high-end mixers also come with sophisticated effects, EQ controls, control of light and video, and even have the capacity to slice and dice beats.

3) Live Sound Mixers

The live sound mixer enables you to blend different sound sources during a live performance. You can use the live sound mixer to mix voices and instruments that the microphones pick up. The mics are then routed to the live sound mixer. You can also use the live sound mixer for recording even pre-recorded material like a digital audio player and CD player. 

In using this mixer, you can equalize and adjust the treble and bass response of individual audio sources. Then, the adjusted bass and treble response are routed to the effect processors. Afterward, the processed signals are amplified and then, reproduced through the loudspeaker system.  


4) Recording Studio Mixers

The recording studio mixers, of course, is different from the DJ mixers. This is because the needs of the recording studios are different. When recording, you need to combine multiple signals into mixed output signals. You need to combine the outputs, for example, of the guitars, drums, and vocals. You also need to input these signals into the mixer. Then, you adjust each signal using the faders. 

Moreover, studio mixers usually come with different numbers of channels. The channels, of course, vary depending on the instruments and vocal inputs. 

To shape the signals, the studio mixers often come with tone-shaping processors like those of the equalizers and compressors. Once you were able to mix the audio signals, you then route the combined signals to the recording device. Studio mixers also have outputs that let you listen to the recorded combined signals.

Most contemporary studio mixers are connected to DAW software. Besides, some analog mixers also come with digital outputs. Thus, you can also opt for an analog mixer for your home studio. 

Studio mixers can also be virtual. Many audio interfaces, for example, come with internal virtual mixers. These virtual mixers can route signals to and from your computer. The virtual recording software also comes with an audio mixer that lets you adjust each volume level of every track. 

You can also use a summing mixer along with your digital mixer to come up with fantastically mixed stereo signals.


Conclusion

A mixer is vital to any working sound system setups. It is very important in sound reproductions and recordings. It is also valuable in reinforcement systems. The mixer can be an electronic device that combines sound inputs of different audio sources. These audio sources include microphones of the singers, acoustic instruments, and percussion instruments like drums. 

The mixer’s primary function is to control digital or analog signals. It modifies these signals. Then, these modified signals are summed to create the combined audio signals that you can amplify or broadcast. 

However, mixers are not only mixers of signals. They can also give phantom power for microphones like condenser mics. They also have pan controls that alter the position of the sound as you listen to the sound. They also have filters and equalizers for improving sound. 

Mixers also feature a dynamic range of compression for increasing the system’s overall gain without reaching the system’s dynamic limit. They also are capable of routing signals from one device to another. They can also rout the signals to headphones or loudspeakers. Lastly, your choice of mixers should depend on your intended usage and needs for it.

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