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How To Connect a Non-Powered Mixer To a Powered One

I had to teach myself everything about home studio recording, and over the years, you get into situations that you need to be able to handle, but you don’t actually know if you can, or whether the equipment you have can handle it. I have had to connect multiple mixing desks together (powered and non-powered). So here is an article on exactly why you would and how you would connect a mixing desk to another one.

You connect a non-powered mixing desk to a powered one by routing with cables. Depending on whether you choose to use the non-powered desk for specific applications (such as effects sends or additional channels), you would insert audio cables into different inputs and outputs of each desk, resulting in your needs accomplished.

We will briefly look at powered and non-powered mixers and then if they would be likely to interfere with one another. We will then look at different scenarios where joining 2 mixing desks would be applicable, and then lastly, I will explain to you how we join the desks together using those 2 scenarios.

Powered mixers

Powered mixers are mixing desks that have on built amplification. This means that there is a powered amplifier built into the mixing desk. The amplifier inside the mixer drives the PA speakers or monitors.

Powered mixing desks are built so that there is no need to purchase additional amplifiers for your sound rig. This makes it easier when purchasing equipment, not to mention there is less gear to carry when you are out and about on the job.

Pros

There are a few pros and cons to having a powered mixer. Some of the pros, as we said, would be portability and the requirement of less gear. You can also purchase passive loudspeakers instead of active ones (active speakers have powered amplifiers built into them).

Cons

Some cons would be that the amplifier, because it is built within the mixer, sometimes has to sacrifice power for the sake of compatibility. Another con is that if something is broken or damaged on your mixer, you will have to send the whole device in to get repaired, and then you are sitting without an amplifier.

Phantom power

Because powered mixers have an onboard powered amplifier, the need for an external power source to drive any microphones you may have with phantom power is not needed. Phantom power can be obtained using the powered amplifier inside the mixer, and there is usually a little switch you can press to power it on and off.

Non-powered mixers

Non-powered mixers are mixers that do not have a power amplifier built into them. You will need to purchase a powered amplifier separate to your mixing desk and then connect it to the desk to run any loudspeakers you may have.

Pros

Some pros of a non-powered mixer are that they are light and easy to carry (some mixing desks may be large). They still have all the other features and functions of a mixing desk with a powered amplifier such as sends, returns, effects, and so on. Also, if some feature, component, or function deteriorates or goes faulty on the desk you can send it in as a standalone device and you won’t have to worry about any other equipment being out of commission.

One thing to note is that a powered amplifier is not the only way to have phantom power on your mixing desks. Mixing desks also come with pre-amps to adjust signals to line level, and some also come with phantom power options.

Cons

As we said, you would need to purchase a standalone powered mixer separately from your mixing desk. These amplifiers could be large and heavy to carry and would make your 2:00 am gig pack up just that little bit more tedious.

Watch Sweetwater discuss and explain what is a mixer and what does it do.

Situations that a Non-powered mixer is best suited for

Like a powered mixer, you will have to look at what situation you are in to determine your needs. However, a non-powered mixer can be used in the same situation that a powered mixer is used for.

I mean, technically, they do exactly the same thing (this obviously depends on your model and brand of mixing desk). You will use mixing desks to mix sound whether it is for a church band or choir, setting up equipment in your recording studio and checking levels, even at a stadium level where you have to mix 10 bands.

Scenarios where you would use two or more mixers (non-powered)

Well, let’s say that you started out buying a desk with 4 channels on it. It is a non-powered mixer, but you just needed it cause it had some cool effects, it had the correct number of channels you needed, and then you were using dynamic microphones, so you did not need to purchase an amplifier. You needed this setup for announcements at your bi-annual fun day that you organize.

You then started up your own home recording studio, or you got additional gear so that you could play with your band live. You then went and purchased a 16 channel powered mixing desk with all the works; however, you discovered that if you could use your additional non-powered mixing desk, then you could get the additional channels you require for a live setup or you want to use the desk because it has a cool effect that your other desk just does not reproduce well.

These are the main reasons you need an additional mixing desk, so let’s take a look at these 2 scenarios.

Effects sending

In this scenario, what you would do is have the non-powered mixing desk act as an effects unit, and you would need to set up the routing correctly for the non-powered desk to send and receive the audio signal from your powered desk.

You may want to have a channel or channels on your powered desk to have separate effects from the effects that come with your non-powered desk. You could then essentially have, as an example – one microphone with effects from the powered desk and one microphone with effects from the non-powered desk. You can see how this could be beneficial in a variety of ways regarding sound setup.

Channel sending (more channels)

In this scenario, the drummer has his own mics and his own 6 channel desk for his drum kit, for example. What you could do is then set up the drum kit how the drummer likes it (utilizing his non-powered mixing desk and “micing” up all the channels for his kit) and then send the signal of that mixing desk to a channel or 2 channels (stereo) to your powered mixing desk.

There are other scenarios where you would use another desk. Perhaps your main desk only has 8 channels, and you require more to set up additional instruments such as the oboe or trombone (the possibilities are infinite).

One thing to remember is that a non-powered mixing desk will most likely have a pre-amp built into it so that you can adjust the audio signals to the line-level. You need not worry that the non-powered desk’s pre-amp will interfere or damage the amplifier or pre-amp of your main desk. It will not.

How to connect a non-powered mixer for effects sends

You will first need a stereo jack (depending on what the sends/returns input/output is on your desk). This jack cable will be a TRS connector (read more about cable connectors in my article – here). So, you will have one end with a single stereo connector (the TRS connector) and then the other end will be split into 2 mono 1/4 jack connectors.

You will take the TRS end of the cable and plug it into your “sends” output of the channel you would like to use located on your powered mixing desk. Then you will plug the one mono jack audio signal (you may have to check to see which wire has the audio signal on it) into the “insert” channel of the non-powered mixing desk you would like to use.

You then take the other mono jack and plug that into the non-powered mixing desks “control room” out.

What will then happen is that the powered desk will send the signal to the non-powered desk and then the signal will run back to the powered desk via the control room send cable.

You can then adjust all the features on the non-powered desk and have it come through on the powered desk.

How to connect a non-powered mixer for channel sends

This is a bit easier than the effects sends. All you need to do is look at your non-powered desk and see the main output connections. You could possibly have more than one set of main outs (you could have monitor sends or even RCA outputs). Choose the one you would like and then purchase the appropriate cable.

What you will need to do is have the one end of each of these cables be the correct connection type that your powered mixing desk has as “channel inserts.”

So the cables (main outs are stereo so you will need 2) you will need to have the connection types of your “main outputs” of your non-powered desk and then the “channel inserts” connection type of your powered mixing desk (usually these will be jacks and XLR inputs and outputs for both desks).

Then all you do is plug those cables in accordingly. You can have separate channels for your left and right outputs (from your non-powered desk) on your powered desk, and some desks even have stereo built into 1 channel, so you would be able to plug both cables into one channel effectively.

Watch expert island explain how to connect a mixing desk to another, explaining and demonstrating these two scenarios.

Conclusion

We find that all you need are a few cables to join to mixing desks together effectively. Some scenarios would suit the desks’ needs in specific ways, such as effects sending and adding more channels.

Both of these scenarios are dealt with pretty easily, and understanding how the two desks can be connected together is not that difficult. It’s just about where the audio signal flows and which way it flows.

Finally, you don’t have to worry about features, functions, and components from one mixing desk influencing the other because, in all rights, they should not.

Devlon Jarrod Horne

I am passionate about everything I undertake with music being my first love! I started playing guitar and singing at the age of 13 and have toured extensively throughout the UK, SA, and the UAE, playing and recording in original bands, cover bands, theatres, shows, and productions. I graduated top of my class at Damelin College of Music in South Africa and have his graded classical theory and composition from the Royal Schools Of Music in London. I have taught privately, for schools, companies, and online since 2006, and have founded Master Music Talent Academy where I employ and share my love of music with some of the top pro players, performers, and teachers in the South African music industry.

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