When it comes to blending some sounds together to create beautiful masterpieces for others (and yourself, of course) to enjoy, grabbing a solid audio mixer will always be a wise investment. We’ve seen a wide range of musician’s and performers use mixers for quite a few applications: some DJ’s and MC’s, other musicians who perform live (who may as well be attempting to build their own PA system), and not to mention those in a studio (home or professional) adding to their recording equipment arsenal. Even if they aren’t digital like many go for today, and most just use music software as technology grows, analog mixers are also a popular choice.
They’re a bit similar to multitrack recorders, and when researching around in terms of what’s best for who, it all really depends on your uses and preferences. In sum, a multitrack recorder is for recording up to 1 or more pieces of audio at once, while mixers are for adjusting the levels of each track before recording (or doing some more processing before combining the individual tracks) or performing live. You may even take a liking to the best control surfaces out there if you already have your software and want a little bit of both DAW control as well as digital mixing capabilities. Regardless of the route you go, you’re getting more of an important factor when it comes to music making (whether it’s in the studio or live): control.
Picking the best audio mixer
- Your budget – The best pro audio mixers have a very large range when it comes to price points. We’ve seen some of the higher quality budget-friendly models range within under $200 or around there, while some go up into the $1,000 mark and beyond. It all depends on how much money you have to invest in your audio mixer.
- Analog or digital? As Musician’s Friend’s mixer buying guide explains, there are two precise directions you have to make up your mind on: analog or digital? This also depends on what your current setup is geared towards. Otherwise, if you’re buying from scratch and a mixer is the first piece of gear you’ll be buying, this may be something you’ll still need to figure out. We listed a few of each so you get a feel of which type you may want.
- Live or studio? This as well is probably something you already know, depending on who you are and what you’ll be doing with your mixer. There are specific mixers for those needing equipment for performing live or recording in their home music studio (we found a few that is great for both, if you fancy each choice). However, a lot of these are quite applicable to both uses.
- Channel count – These are literally signal paths for your mixer, and how many you need depends on preferences and uses here. If you aren’t going to be connecting a bunch of gear (microphones, guitars, other instruments as well as additional preamps and processors) to your mixer, grabbing a 4, 8 or 12-channel model will be more than feasible.
The top 10 best mixers for the money
Mackie ProFX Series
Up first, we have one of the best audio mixer series in the market right here when it comes to overall affordability, channels, ins\outs, as well as other features that are considered essential in one of these pieces of gear. Mackie’s ProFX series that just came out a little bit ago, and it already has quite a lot of highly rated reviews on various channels around the net. With the mixers, you’re getting options from 4 channels all the way to 30 (the price goes up, of course), some high-quality mic preamps to hook up your microphones in there, excellent FX engine (16 of them, ranging from reverb to delays and more), as well as a 7-band graphic EQ to help you monitor your sound.
When it comes to the best mixers for audio, Mackie comes up time and time again (of course, they’re famous in the DJ mixer realm as well). What’s cool with this series is you’re able to select from an array of channel counts, so you’re not limited to what we have right here and can pick what’s best for you (or what is within your budget). The Mackie Pro FX Series is the best option for those looking to grab a mixer with highly desires specs\features and not break their wallets completely.
Allen & Heath ZED-10FX
When it comes to music gear, especially consoles for mixing in the DJ and performance realm, Allen & Heath takes the cake in the high-end department. This particular audio mixer is great for both live sound and recording, and when it comes to affordability, we’re still within the affordable price range (at least when it comes to mixers). With the ZED-10FX, you have a very solid and stable portable build, configurable USB in\out, two stereo inputs, 4 mic and line inputs, two of them equipped with a Class A FET inputs. 2 XLR’s, great monitoring section, and of course, some nifty FX to add to your tracks. Another mixer with just the essentials and a few extra features to boot.
There aren’t as many channels (there are 10 in here) as some others, but most will call that more than enough for most applications (for both recording or studio). The Allen & Heath ZED-10FX is another one of the best audio mixers out there, especially if you wanted something affordable and weren’t feeling the previously listed Mackie model. Sound On Sound’s ZED-10FX overview explains a bit more in-depth.
This is when the price of audio mixers starts to increase quite a bit, but for good reasons if you have the money to invest. It’s also when we start to see some more advanced features that once you learn how to use them, will really separate your mixing from others. You’re getting a whopping 14 inputs, 10 channels (single-knob compressor on the first 6), stereo master faders (with AFL and PFL monitor switches), 80 Hz high-pass filters (helps with rumble), a Feedback Channel Locator system (helps you locate and eliminate feedback), and great power with its amps (500W, 200W or 75W per channel).
What stands out with the Yamaha EMX5014C are the single-knob compressors, which will really help you control vocals or keep the bass tight. The interface is also user-friendly yet advanced for being able to monitor audio very closely (9-band graphic is assignable). Also check out their Yamaha EMXS12C for a different option.
Behringer XENYX 1202
We love Behringer for the super budget-friendly audio gear they provide the market with. This particular audio mixer is one of the cheapest we were able to find worth looking at, and if you wanted a simple solution without any bells and whistles that give you a few of the needed features to get your mixing endeavors going, check it out. There are 12 inputs, 4 mic preamps, a post fader FX per channel, 3-band EQ’s for some great sound (they call them “British”, but we’re not sure why), CD inputs, and some great high headroom and low noise sound.
The preamps aren’t ground-breaking or anything (we don’t expect much because of the cost), but they get the job done, especially if you’re geared towards performances in smaller environments. The 48 volts of phantom power will help with any mic you have, and the EQ (again, “British” is stating they’re a bit “warm” and “detailed”) will help give you a sound worth showing to others. The Behringer XENYX 1202 is the best audio mixer for those wanting a very simple solution for smaller applications.
If you wanted one of the best audio mixers in the market that’s super digital (connects to your iPad with Lightning connector), offers 16 channels and some high-quality 24-bit audio quality, here’s another Mackie model to keep in mind. It has a whopping 16 mic preamps (their “Onyx” build), wireless mixing function, and some essential effects (compression, reverb, delay). Oh, it also has a 4-band parametric, 31-band graphic master bus. As you can see from the photo, it’s got a nice look and feel to it, as well as a sleek design for great portability for those who travel to record or perform.
What’s also impressive is you can connect up to 10 wireless iPad connections at once with its 6 aux sends (we’re not really sure who would do that and why — we could see maybe a few, but 10?). This is a pretty precise mixer for a specific group of performers or recorders, but if it sounds like it’ll fit in your studio or performing rig, the Mackie DL1608L may be the perfect mixer to buy.
PreSonus StudioLive 16.4.2AI
Now we’re talking top-of-the-line. If money didn’t exist, this is by far one of the best audio mixers in the market. If you do have the cash to invest in something huge to really separate your mixes from the rest of the music recording and performance world, the StudioLive series by PreSonus should be taken seriously. With this particular model (and there are others in this series that offer more features, but we liked this one the best for most), you’re equipped with 16 channels, a FireWire 800 audio interface, 16 microphone preamps (they’re XMAX – an advanced build of the internal parts of the amps), wireless remote control, and “Fat Channel” processing (4-band fully parametric EQ, numerous dynamics, etc.).
It also comes with their Studio One 2 Artist DAW software, so if you were interested in grabbing some help when it comes to recording and performing, that’ll help you out. For some additional channels, you can also check out the 24.4.2AI or 32.4.2AI (albeit for some more cash, of course). The PreSonus StudioLive 16.4.2AI mixer is for those who are serious about their sounds.
Peavey XR 8600D
This is one of the best powered mixers out there. Peavey is a brand we’ve heard before when it comes to more analog, old-school types of music gear. For mic preamps, you have 8 of them as well as 10 line outputs to give you some options. There’s a 3-band EQ on each channel (with a monitor send on each), 25dB pad on the first 6 channels, a dedicated 7-band EQ for main/monitors (with FLS), and 16 presets with parameter control. For power in the amps, there is 600W per channel which is quite feasible for most applications out there. It also has its own Feedback Locating System like we’ve seen in other popular mixers to help you pin-point what’s causing some fuss, which is especially useful for those performing live.
A lot of the mixers in here aren’t powered, so if you wanted one that isn’t completely digital and plan on using yours to perform live, the Peavey XR 8600D is a great option if you can afford it.
Soundcraft Si Expression 1
Here’s one of the best digital mixers that really dominates others when it comes to the overall quality of sound and capabilities it brings. It’s great whether you’re performing live or recording in a studio (home or professional). The Express 1 has 16 channels and mic pre-amps (re-callable), 4 line ins, 4 internal stereo FX returns, and the ability to use up to 66 processing channels (with the expansion slot of 64 x 64). Each channel also has its own dedicated processing (high pass, delay, gate, compressor and 4-band EQ). What justifies this mixer’s advanced ways and overall price is the fact that the processors are very advanced (Lexicon FX processor and an EMMA DSP processor for sound quality — in other words, some costly digital processors that really stand out when it comes to quality vs. normally priced mixers).
They state it’s recommended for broadcasting, churches, music venues of most sizes, band practices, recording in the studio, and theaters — so really, any application you can see yourself stumbling upon — this one is very versatile. The only thing that will steer you away from the Soundcraft Si Expression 1 is a price tag, or if you’re just starting out, the inflated features may merely be too much for you. For 24 channels you can check out their Si Expression 2 or for 32 of them their Si Expression 3, for more money of course.
Behringer XR18 X Air
Up next we have another highly rated Behringer mixer that isn’t necessarily budget friendly but a model that may be perfect for your needs. The XR18 has a bit of a different look as you can see, and it’s 18 channels, 12 buses and 16 gain-programmable preamps (‘midas’ build) are more than enough for a lot of musicians and performers out there. It has an integrated Wi-Fi module (see that antenna?) to hook up seamlessly to your smart devices or laptops, a multi-channel USB audio interface built-in and six aux sends. The build is also great because it has rack ears and protection bumpers, which is great for stage boxes and rackmount chassis. The channel processing is high-quality and you have 100-band RTA for all channels and bus EQs.
The Behringer XR18 X Air is great for those who are at venues, not only because of the convenient build but the numerous features it has geared towards those back stage to make their jobs a lot easier — you’re basically getting complete remote control over a lot of the features a mixer usually has, which is never a bad thing behind the scenes.
Up last, and certainly not least, we have one of the most famous lines of mixers out there — the Mackie VLZ4. There’s a reason why they’ve made more than one appearance in this best audio mixer shopping guide — not only do they give us numerous options in different shapes, sizes and channel counts, but have received a lot of great feedback on their builds and quality. The 1604VLZ4 is a solid mixer to check out, since it has 16 channels, 4 buses, 16x Onyx preamps, 3-band EQ, an LED meter and super compact size to help with portability and travel. It has a high-headroom and low-noise design, and quite a few additional features that may really you steer in this direction: things like improved RF rejection (for broadcasting), the mic preamp build, 4 stereo returns, 4 aux sends, level, pan and solo overload as well as mute LEDs on each channel, and rack-mountable design if that’s how you plan on fitting it into your repertoire.
The Mackie 1604VLZ4 has stood the test of time when it comes to longevity and user reviews backing up the mixer being well worth the money.