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Equipment can be a make or break thing for most podcasts. Budgetary restraints don't allow you to own all the equipment you would want. So why would you want to spend money on a mixer? There are many reasons.
The simplest reason to get a mixer is to mix things and have more control. But mixers can make many tasks much easier for podcast production.
The 10 Best Reasons to Use a Mixer With Your Podcast
The most basic concept of a mix-minus is to allow you to input multiple sources of audio into an audio mixer (your microphone, sound cart, phone messages, Skype, etc.) and then send that audio back out to Skype, minus (without) the Skype caller's voice.
You can achieve this by using an auxiliary output to selectively send certain audio out of the mixer. If you send all the audio from the mixer back to Skype, the person on the other side will hear a feedback loop of their own voice. This is why we must exclude (minus) Skype's audio (the person's voice) from being sent back into Skype.
There are many tutorials available on how to create a Skype mix-minus with your mixer.
Multiple In-Studio Co-hosts
The best way to get multiple microphones recording at the same time is to use a mixer or preamp. The mixer can plug straight into your PC to input directly to your recording software or you could record to a digital recorder and then input that file into your software for editing later.
This type of setup going into something like Audacity will not allow you to record your own individual tracks.
It is possible to record multiple microphones simultaneously on Audacity as independent tracks, but finding the right hardware/soundcard combination is difficult and many external devices that helped to make this work are no longer on the market.
You can definitely record just 2 microphones into Audacity with a special device. Using a USB device like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 with 2 XLR mics plugged into it and setting your recording to “stereo” inside Audacity will record one mic onto the left side of the track and the other onto the right. Later you can split these into 2 mono tracks.
If you want to play sounds–music, sound clips, voicemails, etc.–into your podcast as you record, you will save lots of post-production time. Instead of editing your sounds into your recording, you can simply play them into the recording with the mixer.
If you don't record these directly into your show during the recording session, you have to go back and insert them later. This changes the entire dynamics of your show because your co-hosts and your guests don't hear the sounds and you miss their reactions.
If you are seeking to play sounds as you record your podcast, a mixer is going to be essential.
You Have More Control
What if you have a really quiet co-host and need to raise their volume? What if you want to fade out your music while you're talking? Do you want to quickly mute while you or your co-host coughs or adjusts a mic? None of these issues
Having a mixer gives you more control over the audio in your recording. You can mix, mute, solo, adjust volumes, etc. It is all done live while you are recording. This makes the process seamless.
Connecting Professional Gear
USB microphones and headsets are very popular ways for podcasters to get started. The problem is that they are usually cheap equipment and produce poor audio. If you want to step up your quality you will likely get a microphone with an XLR plug. This becomes no problem when you are using a mixer.
When you use a mixer you can connect almost any other audio device: RCA, 1/4″, stereo, mono, XLR, balanced, unbalanced, inputs and outputs.
An investment in a good quality mixer means you can continue to upgrade all your equipment while keeping the same mixer for many years to come.
Having a mixer also allows you to connect with almost any other audio device: RCA, 1/4″, stereo, mono, XLR, balanced, unbalanced, inputs, and outputs.
This type of flexibility is valuable. It enables you to get whatever equipment you need. Why worry when you have a mixer available to handle the connections for you?
Much Higher Quality Mic Preamps
Every microphone requires a preamplifier. This is what powers the microphone and amplifies the signal to a level that can be used. Youc an get XLR-to-USB adapters or use other XLR inputs. However, if the preams are cheap, you are going to record a constant hiss into your recording. This is not good!
Professional mixers above the $100 price range usually have moderate-quality preamps that will raise the volume of your microphone without adding the hiss.
It should be noted that a preamp is an essential part of any studio setup. These help you boost low signals and improve the tone of the audio. Post-production can only improve so much of your audio. Why allow a bunch of noise into your recordings if you don't have to?
Real-time Audio Enhancement
The majority of mixers give you at least a basic set of equalization control for highs and lows. Many professional mixers offer 3 or 4 bands for equalization and real-time special effects processing.
You might not use special effects often, but the EQ is a great way to give subtle enhancements to your voice. By doing this as you record, it saves time later.
If you want to jazz up your audio, look for mixers with built-in effects. Echo and reverb are the most common They are found on DJ-style mixers. Most mixers have effects inputs and outputs for use with external effects units. Just remember that you should use effects sparingly and as appropriate. If you overuse them, they make your audio sound amateurish.
A mixer with an equalizer allows you to make adjustments to incoming sound. You are able to control the tone of a sound by increasing or decreasing selected frequencies. Imagine you are documenting a hurricane. As you narrate the action around you, the wind picks up, overpowering your narration.
With the EQ feature, you can clean up most of the noise from the wind.
Connecting a Phone for Live Calls
With a simple $7 (or less) iPod AV cable, you can connect almost any modern wireless phone to your mixer for easy phone calls. No software and no fancy hacks! The output from the phone is usually on the red and white lines while the input is usually the yellow line.
Once the equipment is in place, phone calls can be recorded as part of your show. This adds to the quality of your show. People love to be able to call in.
Depending on your mixer and recording setup, you may have the easy option to record you and your cohosts into separate audio tracks to make editing and post-processing much easier. This could be a simple left and right split, or as elaborate as a USB 2.0 or Firewire mixer that outputs more than stereo.
We all know the importance of having separate tracks and a mixer will help you with this goal.
More Output Without Software
Not only do mixers have a lot of inputs, but they also offer a lot of outputs! You can use one output for Skype mix-minus, another for a wireless phone mix-minus, another for recording, another for headphones, another for live-streaming, and many more options.
This is all done without the need for additional software. The mixer handles it all for you. This makes things much less complex.
Mixers We Recommend
I like and recommend a small list of mixers.
- Behringer Q802USB
- Behringer X1204USB
- Behringer X1832USB
- Mackie ProFX 8
- Mackie ProFX 16
- Mackie 802-VLZ4
- Mackie 1202-VLZ4
- Mackie Onyx 820i Firewire
- Mackie Onyx 1220i Firewire
Any of these mixers would be a great choice for you.
Wait! What about a Digital Audio Interface?
Some of you may be wondering why a mixer and not a Digital Audio Interface? What are the differences anyway?
At the most basic level, both mixers and a DAI perform the same basic functions. That is to take sound from a microphone and convert it to a digital signal that our computers can understand.
Beyond these similarities, there are some differences in the capabilities of the two options.
DAIs are simple units that consist of 2-4 XLR microphone or instrument inputs, a few level knobs and perhaps a couple of other buttons.
If you are using an XLR microphone, a DAI is the simplest way to hook it up to your computer or digital recorder. They are barebones in terms of features, but they produce higher quality sound when compared to similarly priced mixers.
Mixers are more complex and that means you are going to have many more features at a comparable price point. Many cheap mixers introduce nocse.
As far as extra features, you can expect to find more XLR inputs, additional types of inputs for your phone, Skype, or other computer audio sources. There will also be a host of options for customizing these things.
Keep in mind that not all mixers feature USB connectivity, meaning that you would need to output the audio from the mixer directly into a digital recorder such as the Zoom H4n Pro. In that case, you’re going to have a lot less flexibility in post-production such as adjusting individual levels of different speakers or sound sources.
The first question you should probably be asking yourself is how many live, in-person inputs am I going to need?
Basically, how many people are you going to be recording in the same physical space. You want to have enough inputs to accommodate one mic per person, and you can often be limited by DAIs.
Most DAIs have either 2 or 4 mic inputs, so while a 4-input unit should cover most podcast scenarios, a 2-input unit may not.
The thing is that the vast majority of podcasters conduct their interviews over Skype or similar internet calling platforms, and only really need one input for themselves. For this reason, and the fact that DAI’s are so much easier to get your head around if you’re new to audio, I almost always recommend new podcasters to go this route.
Don’t forget that with a DAI, for the same price as a mixer, you can also expect better audio quality, which everyone cares about, right?