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Published Oct. 4, 2021

Audio mixers are an essential piece of sound equipment that comprise the control center of every professional sound system, from live performance venues to recording studios. The best audio mixers excel at combining signals from a number of sources like microphones, keyboards, and guitars, and blending them into a cohesive mix that’s clear, balanced, and easy for listeners to enjoy. The audio mixer then sends the finished audio signal to speakers, recording media, and other audio gear. While most audio mixers typically consist of hands-on control components including knobs, faders, and a variety of switches, some contemporary models offer stripped-down digital controls. 

Audio mixers come in a wide range of sizes and capacities, with the smallest and most basic models aimed at project studios or podcasters with minimal needs, and larger models suited for use in concert halls and venues. In this guide, we’ll go over the best audio mixers available for today’s most common creative needs, and break down exactly what to keep in mind when shopping for the best audio mixer for your next project.

How We Picked These Products

Methodology

Audio mixers all perform the same basic duties, but there are many permutations within the product category that result in a wide range of user experiences and overall usefulness. Here are a few of the key factors I assessed when compiling this list.

  • Number of Channels: The needs of a live venue or performance space are naturally different than those of a small content-creation studio, so it’s important to select an audio mixer with a channel count that can accommodate the range required by your creative projects. Generally speaking, twelve to sixteen channels is a broad enough number for the fluctuating needs of most average operations. Podcasters, streamers, and traveling users will probably prefer the one or two-channel mixers on this list, which are much smaller and suited for quick setup and portability.
  • Connectivity: All of the mixers on this list feature at least one XLR input, which is the industry-standard connector for microphones. This is by far the most essential type of connectivity for audio mixers and encompasses live sound and recording environments alike. Many of the mixers on this list also include dedicated line-level inputs, which are required for adding keyboards, drum machines, samplers, and other high-volume audio sources to the mix.
  • USB Compatibility: Every audio interface on the market is technically a mixer, but not every audio mixer is capable of wiring to a computer and functioning as a digital audio interface. This list includes a handful of audio mixers that are capable of doing just that. This functionality can be incredibly helpful by allowing users to record performances as they happen and eliminating the need to acquire a separate dedicated interface for digital tweaking.
  • Form Factor: Most of the audio mixers on this list follow classic design principles and consist of box-shaped construction with physical knobs, switches, and faders. This time-tested design allows for easy visibility and user access to all functions. The one exception from this list is the Behringer XAIR X18, which consists of a stripped-down input panel and a tray for storing a remote-control tablet.

The Best Audio Interfaces: Reviews and Recommendations

Best Overall: Yamaha MG12 12-Input 2-Bus Mixer

Flexible Size

The MG12 is small enough to be portable while offering generous I/O, three-band EQ, and rackmount compatibility. Yamaha

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Why It Made The Cut: This 12-input, 2-bus mixer from Yamaha is small enough to fit in most project studios and small venues, yet offers enough connectivity to be expandable should the need arise.

Specs: 

  • Channels: 12
  • Inputs:
    • 4 x XLR/TRS combo, 2 x XLR, 4 x TRS
    • 2 x RCA (stereo)
  • Outputs:
    • 2 x XLR, 4 x TRS (main)
    • 1 x 1/4-inch headphones

Pros:

  • Built-in one-knob compressor for fast sound shaping
  • Multiple outputs for headphone amps, PAs, monitors, and more
  • Great combination of size and functionality

Cons:

  • No built-in effects or USB connectivity
  • Lacks expandability for larger venues and studios

The MG12 hits the sweet spot for value and flexibility, making it one of the best audio mixers available at its price point. It features a total of 12 inputs that can accommodate a combination XLR microphones, TRS line signals, RCA line signals, and TS instrument plugs, each with its own fully-adjustable channel strip of controls. Despite offering professional features like three-band EQ on nearly every channel and several routing options that include two auxiliary groups, the MG12’s design feels very accessible and user-friendly without being crowded, which makes it easy to use without limiting users’ options.

A standout element of the MG12’s feature set is its one-knob compression tool on the first four channels. This knob offers quick access control of dynamic range and leveling without the need to make micro-adjustments, which makes the MG12 a solid option for critical recording situations as well as live sound scenarios where time is in short supply. The mixer’s preamps are designed to be transparent and clear without needlessly altering the sound of the source material, making it easier for users to dial in accurate tones without needing to compensate for the mixer’s idiosyncrasies.

As flexible as it is, the MG12 may not be the best choice for medium-to-large venues or recording studios. It’s limited to six XLR microphone inputs, four of which are shared with line inputs, so while it is expandable to a point, there is a real limit on what it can handle. If there’s a chance you’ll need to accommodate larger ensembles, a mixer that features 12 dedicated XLR and line inputs like the Soundcraft EPM-12 may be more fitting. Bear in mind that the MG12 also lacks USB connectivity and built-in effects, which are features that typically come with both a learning curve and a hike in price in the 12-channel range.

Best Small Audio Mixer: TC-Helicon GoXLR Mini

Perfect Streaming

The GoXLR Mini makes it easy to control gaming audio, headset volume, and a microphone, so you can create the perfect audio mix every time.
C-Helicon

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Specs: 

  • Channels: 4
  • Inputs:
    • 1 x XLR, 1 x 1/8-inch TS
    • 1 x TRS (stereo)
    • 1 x USB Type-B
    • 1 x Optical
  • Outputs:
    • 1 x 1/8-inch TRS (main)
    • 1 x 1/8-inch headphones
    • 1 x USB Type-B

Why It Made The Cut: The GoXLR Mini is built to deliver a customizable experience for streamers, gamers, and content creators who want to keep their eyes on the action and off of their equipment.

Pros:

  • Simple, intuitive interface with easy-to-use controls
  • Built-in digital signal processing offers compression, EQ, and noise gating
  • Phantom-powered microphone input accommodates condenser and dynamic microphones

Cons:

  • Requires Windows-only software download for access to all features
  • Limited to a single microphone input

This portable and flexible streaming mixer from TC Helicon is one of the best small audio mixers available for streaming and content creation purposes. The GoXLR Mini features customizable LED lighting and a host of easy-to-access controls, including faders, mute buttons, and a novel “bleep” button, allowing users to have complete control over the game, system, microphone, and chat volumes independently within arms’ reach. The mixer measures only 6.6 inches on its longest dimension and weighs in at a miniscule 1.5 pounds, making it as portable as it is flexible. It also features a host of useful I/O including a dedicated phantom-powered XLR input for a studio microphone and an optical audio input for connecting game consoles. Add in the fact that it sends audio via USB at a high bit rate and depth of 24 bits and 48 kHz, and you’ve got one powerful and portable audio interface.

If you’re streaming, it’s hard to beat the GoXLR Mini for its size, audio quality, and feature set, but bear in mind that you’ll be limited to a single microphone. This makes the mixer an unviable choice for podcasting and other scenarios where recording multiple microphones are required. It boasts its own built-in compression, equalization, and gate functions, which are essential for audio production of broadcast-ready quality, but to access these features, users must download companion digital control panel software from the manufacturer’s website. Also, this software is only available for Windows, meaning that the full potential of the GoXLR Mini is off-limits to users of other operating systems.

Best Digital Audio Mixer: Behringer XAIR X18

Robust Space Saver

Bring your own tablet and access a full suite of mixer controls from anywhere in the room. Behringer

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Why It Made The Cut: The Behringer XAIR X18’s futureproof and minimalist design offers users freedom of movement while taking up much less space than traditional audio mixers.

Specs:

  • Channels: 18
  • Inputs:
    • 16 x XLR/TRS combo
    • 2 x RCA (stereo)
  • Outputs:
    • 2 x XLR, 2 x RCA
    • 1 x USB Type-B
    • 1 x 1/4-inch headphones

Pros:

  • Wi-Fi and tablet compatibility allow users to move freely
  • Host of built-in effects including reverb, delay, and compression
  • USB connectivity allows the mixer to function as an interface

Cons:

  • Bring-your-own-tablet
  • Feature-rich product offers a learning curve

Traditional audio mixers can be bulky and cumbersome, and the Behringer XAIR X18 aims to solve this problem by taking the flexibility and functionality of audio mixers and moving the entire suite of controls to a touchscreen interface. This allows the unit to take up less space in a room than its traditional counterparts. Users get to adjust the mixer’s sound from anywhere in the room, which can drastically improve mix quality, translate into a more well-rounded sound, and bring the perks of a large-format console into smaller venues. The XAIR X18 packs a built-in Wi-Fi chip for tablet connectivity, USB compatibility for audio interface functionality, and a host of built-in effects, including a 31-band equalizer, tube-style compression, and a variety of reverb emulations, all of which are adjustable via the companion tablet app.

Because it can function as an audio interface, the XAIR X18 may be a viable option for recording studios looking to minimize their footprint and get high mileage out of less equipment. Bear in mind that unlike other audio interfaces, the X18’s reliance on a tablet app limits its ability to be controlled directly via computer. The mixer also requires users to provide their own tablet for full functionality, which can drive up the introductory cost of the mixer. The companion tablet app itself is relatively intuitive to use, but the plethora of functions it makes available requires users to spend time learning the ins and outs of the software to avoid needing to troubleshoot issues during a live performance or recording session.

Best USB: Alesis MultiMix 4 USB FX

Podcasting Power

The MultiMix 4 USB FX takes up hardly any desk space while offering built-in analog-to-digital conversion, allowing it to function as the perfect crossover between a podcasting interface and a mini mixer. Alesis

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Why It Made The Cut: At once feature-rich and stripped-down, the MultiMix 4 USB FX provides everything you need for a two-microphone podcasting setup and nothing that you don’t.

Specs: 

  • Channels: 4
  • Inputs:
    • 2 x XLR
    • 4 x 1/4-inch TRS
    • 1 x USB Type-B
  • Outputs:
    • 2 x TRS
    • 1 x 1/4-inch headphones
    • 1 x USB Type-B

Pros:

  • 16 onboard effects for flexible sound
  • Compact form factor for portable sound rigs
  • Plug-and-play USB interface

Cons:

  • Sound-shaping limited to two-band equalizer
  • Limited I/O; not expandable

The MultiMix 4 USB is one of the best USB audio mixers for podcasting thanks to its compact design and easy-to-use controls. It features two phantom-powered microphone inputs that allow users to connect high-quality studio condenser microphones, and it sports four line inputs for adding a variety of sources, including backing tracks, system audio, and more. The mixer boasts 16 onboard effects including delays and reverbs for further tone-shaping, making it a versatile option for creating both spoken word and musical content alike.

Because it features USB connectivity, the MultiMix 4 USB FX functions as its own audio interface. This allows users to easily connect the mixer to their Windows or Mac computer and enjoy instant 16-bit/48 kHz analog-to-digital conversion straight to their recording or broadcasting software of choice without the need for extra equipment or software installations. For this reason, this mixer is a good choice for users who want to streamline their setup and take up minimal space.

Due to its small form factor, the MultiMix 4 USB FX lacks some of the nuts-and-bolts expandability of larger models. For example, its equalization is limited to two bands, which is adequate for rough tone-shaping but lacks the granularity of three-band EQs. The mixer’s small size also limits it to two XLR inputs and four line inputs, which is adequate for two-microphone productions, but isn’t expandable beyond that. If you’re looking for the benefits of the MultiMix 4 USB FX’s digital connectivity but want a few more inputs, its larger sibling the MultiMix 8 may be just what you need.

Best Value Audio Mixer: Pyle PAD10MXU 2-Channel Audio Mixer

Back to Basics

A compact and affordable option for mixing a single microphone or instrument and line-level signals on a budget. Pyle

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Why It Made The Cut: This two-channel mixer from Pyle Audio packs RCA I/O, audio interface functionality, and phantom power into a budget-friendly package.

Specs:

  • Channels: 2
  • Inputs:
    • 1 x XLR/TRS combo
    • 2 x RCA (stereo)
    • 1 x USB Type-B
  • Outputs:
    • 2 x RCA
    • 1 x 1/4-inch headphones
    • 1 x USB Type-B

Pros:

  • Offers USB connectivity on a budget
  • 48-volt phantom power on a single XLR input
  • Ultra-compact

Cons:

  • USB output limited to one channel
  • Despite USB connectivity, more useful in live sound applications

If you’re looking for a basic cost-effective audio mixer on a budget, this two-channel design from Pyle deserves a look. It sports intriguing design features typically found on mixers more than double its price, including USB connectivity for computer recording and playback, phantom power for compatibility with pro studio microphones, and two-band equalizers for tone shaping. It’s very compact and can easily fit in a backpack or book bag, so it’s also a good option for traveling light and taking your audio rig on the road.
Users who are looking to use a single microphone or instrument to perform with backing tracks from RCA or USB sources can particularly benefit from this mixer’s setup, as it seems to be geared toward live performance more than recording. The primary reason for this is the mixer’s inability to send its line input to the computer, which prevents users from recording backing tracks or other stereo line-level instruments. An onboard toggle allows the computer’s system sound to be fed back to the mixer, which can in turn send the signal to a speaker system or other amplification source. Thus, while the PAD10MXU works well for recording a single microphone signal in a pinch, it’s not the best choice for recording music.

Things to Consider Before Buying an Audio Mixer

Equipment Compatibility

The best audio mixers offer compatibility with microphones, line-level audio sources, and instrument connections. Before buying an audio mixer, take care to ensure that it will include the appropriate number of inputs and types of connectors that your equipment requires. For example, streamers and podcasters may require a dedicated game console input in addition to a studio-quality microphone input. On the other hand, a venue with eight microphones and a dedicated monitor setup will require a mixer that includes multiple stereo outputs and an adequate number of channels.

Portability

Audio mixers aren’t known for being portable, but some new models are specifically designed to fit in a bag and save space, which makes them ideal for traveling musicians and content creators. Bear in mind that if you’re looking for a portable audio mixer, you may be limited to one or two channels due to the nature of the hardware, as it tends to become larger as its capacity for inputs increases.

USB connectivity

Audio mixers with USB connectivity may very well be the holy grail of audio products. This is due to their dual ability to function as a traditional live sound mixer and a recording interface. USB-compatible audio mixers also allow users to play audio from their computer without the need to connect a separate audio interface, so they’re ideal for live-music scenarios in which performers use a computer.

FAQs

Q: What does an audio mixer do?

At its core, an audio mixer is the routing center of every audio system. Mixers combine multiple audio signals from a variety of sources and send them elsewhere, to recording systems, amplifiers, and more. These origin sources can include microphones, guitars, keyboards, and other sources of audio. Many mixers offer functionality beyond basic mixing, including creation of subgroups, sending audio to more than one place, equalization for tone shaping, volume controls, effects, and so much more.

Q: Are audio mixers worth it?

Any system that combines multiple sources of audio requires an audio mixer of some kind, so they’re not just worth it—they’re essential. Performance venues would not function without some form of audio mixer at the center of their amplification system, and recording studios would be limited to a single microphone. Basic audio productions such as streaming and podcasting studios often require only one or two microphones and can be managed with a small audio mixer that requires little initial investment. However arger, more expensive audio mixers are an inescapable expense for bigger venues and studios.

Q: What is a good cheap audio mixer?

The best value audio mixer is the Pyle PAD10MXU, which offers extremely basic two-channel functionality that’s geared toward live performances and busking. If you can afford to spend a little more, the Alesis MultiMix 4 USB FX offers some of the best bang-for-your-buck thanks to its 16 built-in effects and its USB based,computer audio interface functionality.

Final Thoughts

The best audio mixers on the market feature easy-to-access controls and practical connectivity to make audio routing easier for the smallest studios and the largest venues alike. A twelve-channel audio mixer like the Yamaha MG12 will meet the needs of most average-sized venues and production studios thanks to its variety of I/O and relatively compact form factor. Users looking for portability should consider the USB-compatible Alesis MultiMix 4 USB FX, while streamers, in particular, may prefer the content-creation-specific functionality of the TC-Helicon GoXLR Mini. For venues and recording studios who want to save space and enjoy the benefits of cutting-edge technology, a digital audio mixer like the Behringer XAIR X18 is one of the best options that money can buy.

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