When spending some time around audio enthusiasts or shopping for audio equipment for your home studio, you may hear the terms ‘audio mixer’ and ‘audio console’ used interchangeably. Let’s explore what the difference is between the two.
Many professionals use the terms audio console, audio mixer, soundboard, or audio mixing console interchangeably. All these terms essentially refer to a device that can process multiple audio signals and combine them. A large audio mixer mounted on a desk is may be referred to as an audio console.
There are, in fact, numerous other terms that audio mixers and consoles may be referred to, such as a soundboard, mixing desk, audio production console, or mixer. Let’s look at what features you would typically find on these desks and in which situations you would use them.
Examples Of Audio Mixers And Audio Consoles
Here follows a list of different brands of audio mixers or audio consoles. Note how the words ‘console’ and ‘mixer’ are used interchangeably.
- Mackie MIX 8 8 Channel Mixer
- Mackie MIX 12FX 12-channel Mixer
- Syntronics 7 Channel Professional Mixer Console
- Soundcraft Vi 7000 Digital Live Sound Console
- Mackie Mix Series, 5-Channel Compact Mixer
- Allen & Heath SQ-6 48 Digital Mixing Console
- Solid State Logic SSL Live. L55 Digital Mixing Console
Scenarios Where One Would Use An Audio Mixer
The function of an audio mixer is to take audio signals from various sources and route them, adjust the level, change the dynamics and combine the different signals into a new sound (or mix). There is a range of different setups and environments where an audio mixer would be required.
For instance, when a live band is performing, the guitar, piano, vocals, and drumkit may all be signals routed into an audio mixer/console. Each of these signals is plugged into/routed into a channel on the audio desk.
The live sound engineer would then process that signal by changing the level, applying EQ, and even applying effects.
All the different signals would then be combined to produce the overall sound and then be routed (or sent) to the front-of-house speakers.
The studio environment is another scenario where an audio mixer can produce an original music track or record a single vocal as a voiceover for a movie. Signal inputs such as midi instruments and microphones for live instruments and vocals are routed to an audio interface, sending audio to your computer on different channels.
It is then possible to record all of these signals on audio software such as Ableton, Protools, Cubase, etc.
Many audio interfaces allow you to record a certain number of inputs without using an audio mixer. For instance, you can record up to 4/8 input signals such as instruments and vocals without an audio mixer. Here you would have to assess whether adding a mixer would be beneficial.
Considerations here would be the number of signals you want to record and whether to process the signal before recording.
Size Options For Mixers
Audio mixers or consoles come in various sizes, some so small that you can pack them into a flight case and travel to different locations with them. These mixers are suitable for situations like live sound for a small conference or school assemblies.
Higher-end mixers are so large that they need to be permanently set up in a sound studio and are generally extremely expensive.
Selecting The Correct Mixer
Selecting an audio mixer depends entirely on what you would need to accomplish. A mixer used for the public announcement (PA) audio differs vastly from a mixer used for music production.
Things that may differ on an audio mixer would be the number of channels, onboard effects, a parametric equalizer section, and the number of auxiliaries (or aux sends) available.
Familiarize yourself with all the different functions on the mixer. Doing this would help you to assess which mixer would be best suited to the job. One of the ways auxiliaries can be used is to send audio to in-ear monitors for artists, for instance.
A parametric equalizer would allow you to change the frequency range and dynamics of individual signals.
Make sure to check whether the mixer can accommodate all the requirements for your particular situation. Consider how many input channels, auxiliaries, and outputs you would need for your project. Would you need onboard effects? You can then select a mixer fit for your task.
Digital And Analogue Mixers
Many audio engineers still prefer analog mixers to their digital counterparts because the easy access to all the different functions is easily accessible as physical buttons or knobs. The quality and ease of use for digital audio mixers or consoles have improved in leaps and bounds over the last decade.
Most audio mixers are now more digitally oriented.
There may not be a physical switch or button for certain functions on a digital mixer. Making the change from an analog-based mixer to a digitally based one is not that complicated as all the basics of audio production stay the same. All of the features available on an analog audio mixer are mimicked in a digital audio mixer.
Audio Interfaces, Mixers, And Digital Audio Workstations
Once you know terms used to refer to an audio console or mixer, two more terms may confuse you, such as ‘audio interface’ and ‘digital audio workstation’. These two pieces of equipment are entirely different from an audio mixer.
Audio interfaces convert microphone and instrument signals into a format your computer and software recognize. The interface also routes audio from your computer out to your headphones and studio monitors. The Focusrite Scarlet Studio 2i2 would be an example of an audio interface.
A digital audio workstation refers to the software used to record audio, such as Protools, Fruityloops, etc. Digital Audio Workstations (or DAW’s) also have many features a physical mixing desk may have, such as audio channels, Equalisation, and effects.
The difference between an audio mixer and a DAW is that a DAW can mix, record and master a music track. DAWs are software-based, while audio mixers are hardware.
If you are newcomer to the field of professional audio, all the different terms may start to get confusing. Whether you are shopping for equipment or just having a conversation with a fellow enthusiast, it helps to clarify what specifications the audio console or mixer has.
You can then distinguish in what scenario the particular desk would be most suited.
Most modern mixers have a preamp built-in (you can learn more here).
You can learn about some of the best cheap mixers available here.
You can learn about the difference between an audio interface and a mixer here.