How to Hook Up a Mixer Board for Podcasting

By Tee Morris, Chuck Tomasi

If you’re looking to have more people in studio or you want to entertain guests on your podcast, you need more than just a good microphone. (Otherwise there will be the passing back and forth of a mic, and that’ll get distracting after a while.) You also need inputs for more microphones and full control over these multiple microphones.

Along with good microphones, you will want to invest in a mixing board. What a mixing board (or mixer) does for your podcast is open up the recording options, such as multiple hosts or guests, recording acoustic instruments, and balancing sound to emphasize one voice over another or balance both seamlessly.

You see mixers at rock concerts and in behind-the-scenes documentaries for the film and recording industry. They come in all shapes and sizes; Check out the Behringer Q1202USB mixer. For under $100 you can connect four microphones and several additional stereo inputs and feed them directly in to the USB port on your computer.

Behringer Q1202USB
The Behringer Q1202USB, a reliable and fantastic mixing board for podcasting.

Before you take your mixer out of its packing, make sure you have room for it somewhere on the desk or general area where you intend to podcast. Something you’ll want to consider is how close you want to be to the mixer. An ideal reach for your mixer is a short one. Whether it’s you recording yourself or balancing the levels of those around you, clear off a section within a relaxed reach. You’ll be happier because of it.

The anatomy of a mixing board

The easiest way to look at a mixing board is as if you’re partitioning your computer into different recording studios. But instead of calling them studios, these partitions are called tracks.

A mixing board provides mono tracks and stereo tracks, and you can use any of those tracks for input or output of audio signals. No matter the make or model, mixing boards are outrageously versatile. If you’re podcasting with a friend, you can hook up two mics through a mixer so you won’t have to huddle around the same microphone or slide it back and forth as you take turns speaking.

Multiple microphones are the best option when you and your friends gather around to record. A real advantage of the mixer is that it allows you to adjust the audio levels of those multiple inputs independently so they sound even.

You may also be wondering about all those wacky knobs on a mixing board. Some of the knobs deal with various frequencies in your voice and can deepen, sharpen, or soften the qualities of your voice, and perhaps even help filter out surrounding background noise (which is the sound of an empty room because even in silence, there is noise). The knobs on the mixing board that are your primary concern are the ones that control your volume or levels, as the board labels them. The higher the level, the more input signal your voice gains when recording. If one of your tracks is being used for output, the level dictates how loud the playback through your headphones is.

Heavy-metal legends Spinal Tap may prefer sound equipment that “goes to 11,” but cranking your mixing board way up and leaving it that way won’t do your podcast much good. The best way to handle sound is to set your levels before podcasting. That’s what’s going on when you see roadies at a concert do a mic check. The oh-so-familiar “Check One, Check Two, Check-Check-Check …” is one way of setting your levels, but a better method is just rambling on as if you were podcasting and then adjusting your sound levels according to your recording application’s volume unit (VU) meter.

Now that you have your desk cleaned off (mind the dust bunnies!) and a perfect place for the mixer, set your mixer where you want it. And then make certain you can see the following items:

  • Your USB or FireWire mixer
  • A power supply
  • A USB or FireWire cable

Before hooking up the new mixer, check the manufacturer’s website for any downloads (drivers, upgrades to firmware, patches, and so on) needed to make your digital mixing board work.

USB and FireWire mixers are so similar in setup that you can use the same steps for both kinds of mixers. Regardless of where you fall in the Mac/PC debate, you can follow these steps to hook up your mixer board:

  1. Shut down your computer.
  2. Connect the power supply to the back of the mixer and to an available wall socket or power strip.
  3. Find an available USB or FireWire port and plug your mixer-appropriate cable into the computer.
    If your computer’s ports are maxed out, you will want to invest in a PCI card that gives your computer additional USB or FireWire ports. Do not run your digital mixer through a hub because that will affect the quality of the audio.

    A direct connection between your mixer and computer is the best.

  4. Plug the USB or FireWire cable into the back of your mixer.
  5. Connect your input devices (microphones, headphones, monitors, and the like) to the mixer.
  6. Power up your mixer by turning on the Main Power and the Phantom Power switches.
  7. Start your computer.
  8. Install any drivers your USB/FireWire mixer may need.

Follow the instructions according to the manufacturer’s enclosed documentation. Restart your computer if necessary.

Mackie Onyx 820i
Power switches for the board and for phantom power can be found on the backs and channels of mixing boards, depending on model (Mackie Onyx 820i, pictured here).

And that’s it! You’re ready to record with your USB or FireWire mixer. Now with headphones on your head and some toying around, you can set levels on your mixer good for recording.

Before filing away the reference manual that came with your mixer, be sure you know how things work. Buttons like the Mix to Control Room suddenly make sense to you as opposed to being “that button that needs to be down when I record.” Getting a grasp of how things work on your mixer only makes you a better podcaster, so keep that reference manual close by and set aside a few pockets of time to clock in some reading time with it.