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Home Recording Mixer Basics

For the home recordist, mixers come in several varieties: the analog desk, the digital mixer or computer control surface — with or without sliding faders and fader banks — and software mixers controlled by your computer mouse and keyboard.

Your choice of mixer mostly depends on the other equipment that you use in your studio and on your budget. Here’s the lowdown for the three basic types of recording systems:

  • Studio-in-a-box (SIAB) system: These all-in-one units come with a digital mixer — just plug in your instrument or microphone and you’re ready to go. Most mixers in these units offer quite a bit of flexibility in routing your signal, so you’ll likely be able to do quite a bit with little hassle.

    The features of the mixer in each SIAB system vary, so look at the specs of the unit that interests you before you buy.

  • Computer-based system: All recording software includes a digital mixer that’s controlled by your keyboard and mouse. Most of these programs also allow you to connect an external bit of hardware called the computer control surface. This gives you real knobs and sliders to tinker with as you work.

  • Stand-alone components: Because everything is separate in this type of system, you need to buy a mixer before you can use your recorder. Here you can choose between an analog or digital mixer, and you need to invest in the cords necessary to make the proper connections (this alone can get expensive).

    The type of mixer you choose will partly be based on your budget, but it will mostly be based on your working style and whether you prefer analog or digital mixing.

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