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Home Recording Computer Control and Software Sound Mixers

Sound recording mixers come in a variety of types, two of these types are computer control and software sound mixers. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages for the home recordist.

Software mixer

If you want the flexibility of a digital mixer and don’t have an overpowering need to physically touch the faders and knobs, a software mixer may work for you. The software mixer is included with any computer audio or MIDI production software program. The advantage of a software mixer is that after you have the computer and audio software that you want, you have nothing else to buy.

Use your mouse and computer keyboard to control a software mixer.
Use your mouse and computer keyboard to control a software mixer.

Software mixers work much the same way as digital mixers. Because software mixers are digital, you have an almost infinite variety of routing choices that you can make without having to patch and repatch cables. Still, some people may not be too keen on mixing with a keyboard and a mouse instead of the more traditional knobs or slide faders.

For those of you who want the best of both worlds — high-tech computer software and tactile stimulation — you can find control surfaces that allow you to control the software’s mixer using real faders and knobs.

Computer control surface

If you end up with a computer-based system with a software mixer, you’ll have some knobs, buttons, and faders to play around with on the computer control surface, as shown in the following illustration.

Aside from being able to fiddle with knobs, you’ll find that a computer control surface is a handy tool if you decide to use a computer-based Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and want (or need) to control the virtual mixer with some hardware.

A computer control surface acts like a digital mixer for a computer-based system.
A computer control surface acts like a digital mixer for a computer-based system.

These controllers send MIDI messages — messages encoded using the Musical Instrument Digital Interface communications protocol — to the computer. These MIDI messages tell the computer which parameters to change. Programming a computer control surface to work like a separate digital mixer is easily done.

Not all software works with each computer control surface, so check with the software or computer control surface manufacturer before you buy to make sure that the computer control surface is compatible with your system.

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