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Best Podcast Mixer: Audio Interface vs. (USB) Audio Mixer

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Best Podcast Mixer: Audio Interface vs. (USB) Audio Mixer

Should you get an audio interface or an audio mixer? And what is an audio interface or audio mixer in the first place?

As a podcaster (or future podcaster), we reckon that you probably have asked these questions before. Figuring out your podcast equipment setup can be very confusing. Even after deciding on a microphone type (unless you have chosen a USB microphone), you still have to look at podcast audio interfaces and podcast audio mixers? Jeez!

Well… it doesn’t have to be that hard!

Keep on reading, and we will show you the ins and outs of audio interfaces and audio mixers and the podcast audio equipment setup you truly need.

TL;DR (Summary)

You do need some sort of an audio interface (unless you use a USB microphone) for your podcast. However, you do not need an audio mixer to record your podcast. 

Yet there are situations where you may prefer using an audio mixer (either with an in-built audio interface or connected to an audio interface) instead of just a standalone audio interface, such as a live podcast.

How can this article help you?

  • This article brings you the most important information regarding audio interfaces and audio mixers.
  • You will understand the differences between audio interfaces and audio mixers.
  • You will learn whether you need an audio interface if you have an audio mixer.
  • You will be able to confidently decide what podcast mixer setup and audio interface setup suits your podcasting needs the most.

Ready to dive in? You can start by watching the video below:

What is an audio interface?

How is sound sent from your external microphone to your computer? As we mentioned in our article about choosing a podcast microphone, your microphone records an analog audio signal, and your computer needs to read that signal. The analog audio signal must thus be converted into a digital signal that your computer understands.

While some microphones (i.e., USB microphones) perform this conversion, there are also external devices that help to perform the analog-to-digital conversion.

An audio interface is an external device that helps perform analog-to-digital conversion

The Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio mixer
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

An audio interface is an external sound card. It converts the analog sound recorded by the microphone into a digital format and sends it to your computer. The signal is usually sent from the audio interface to your computer via USB, Firewire, or Thunderbolt connection. You can then edit your audio tracks in post-production with your favorite digital audio workstation (DAW) or your editing software in simple terms.

Different audio interfaces also have different numbers of analog inputs. This means that if you have a multi-channel audio interface with multiple microphone inputs, you may be able to connect multiple XLR microphones to your audio interface. If so, you will be able to send each analog input as a separate track to your computer. This means that you can edit each track in post-production. Cheers to getting a crisp and polished podcast with some clever post-production edits!

Ensure that your audio interface has enough of the correct inputs for your purpose. There are mic inputs, line inputs, and optical inputs. Manufacturers often count input channels regardless of the input type. Therefore, if you want to use your audio interface with more than one XLR microphone, make sure to check the number of mic inputs before purchasing the audio interface. Please do not forget this!

Some of the best podcast audio interface examples: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, Audient iD4, Tascam US-4×4

What is an audio mixer?

If an audio interface is a person that translates dialogue from one language to another, an audio mixer is a person that summarizes the dialogue.

An audio mixer takes different analog audio signals from your inputs and mixes them

The Behringer Xenyx Q1202USB audio mixer

The controls on the mixer will allow you to directly adjust the sound of each microphone (e.g., adjust microphone gain, apply EQ) as you are recording. You will be able to create monitor feeds and headphone mixers to monitor the sound of your recording as it is happening.

Best audio mixer examples: Behringer Xenyx Q1202USB, RODECaster Pro, YAMAHA MG10XU

Do you need a separate audio interface if you have an audio mixer?

It depends.

You can get either (A) a mixer with a built-in audio interface or (B) a mixer and connect it to a separate audio interface.

(A) Mixer with a built-in audio interface

Some audio mixers have built-in audio interfaces. You do not need a standalone audio interface with these, as the mixer will perform the analog-to-digital conversion for you. You can simply connect your mixer to your computer and start recording.

Can you edit individual tracks in post-production?

Once again, it depends.

Some mixers will only output one stereo track to your computer. 

This is generally not good as you will not make isolated adjustments to each voice during post-production.

Some mixers can perform multi-track recording.

Multi-track mixers will record individual microphones as separate tracks to your computer. Although typically more expensive, this is a better bet for you if you want to record on-premise with someone other than yourself and are also looking at doing post-production edits.

Examples: Behringer Xenyx Q1202USB, PreSonus StudioLive AR8c, Yamaha AG06

(B) Mixer connected to a separate audio interface

Mixers that do not have built-in audio interfaces must be connected to separate audio interfaces. However, for every input you record and want to keep as a separate track, you will need a different cable to connect a mixer to its audio interface. This can get messy with multiple cables if you have multiple guests and mean that you need an audio interface with the same number of inputs to connect to. This could thus significantly increase the financial outlay required for your podcast audio setup.

Should you use an audio interface or an audio mixer?

Are you doing a live broadcast with minimal post-production adjustments?

  • If you are recording a live podcast, an audio mixer for streaming will allow you to make adjustments as you record. You can also add music, sound effects, recordings, all in real-time. This would not only allow your listeners to hear your whole show with all its bells and whistles as you record but also significantly cut down your post-production time.

Are you doing a live broadcast without too many frills?

  • Unless you want to make a ton of adjustments or add other sound effects on the fly, a standalone audio interface is more than enough (and you can add a mixer in the future if you decide that your podcast still needs some adjustments in real-time).

Are you recording a non-live podcast?

  • An audio interface should adequately satisfy your needs, giving you the excellent audio quality to tweak via your DAW.

If you record with multiple people in the same space, do you want control of each voice track when you edit in post-production?

  • Suppose you would like to individually edit the different voices in post-production (assuming that each person has their microphone, which they should!). In that case, you will be looking for an audio setup that gives you multiple outputs for post-production. You can either go for a multi-channel audio interface or a multi-track audio mixer with a built-in audio interface that allows for multi-track recording (especially for live podcasts).
  • If you do not need multiple outputs for post-production, you can still go for an audio interface or a regular audio mixer connected to an external audio interface (especially for live podcasts).

Is budget your main concern?

  • Audio interfaces are generally cheaper than audio mixers. Note that you will have limited control over real-time adjustments to your audio as you record with an audio interface. This should not be a problem unless you include other sounds in your live podcast.

Do you only care about improving the sound quality of your podcast?

  • Save yourself the money and trouble of having to learn about the knobs and multitude of adjustments you can make with a mixer and get yourself an audio interface! It is plug-and-play and relatively hassle-free. We love it!

How much knowledge do you have or are willing to acquire in sound and audio engineering?

  • Effectively utilizing a mixer requires a great deal of sound and audio engineering knowledge. If you already have the expertise or are willing to spend the time to learn more about it, you can consider going for an audio mixer IF your podcast format calls for it. If not… consider saving yourself the hassle and money and get an audio interface instead.

Do you usually record in one location?

  • Audio interfaces are generally less bulky than audio mixers, and thus more ideal if you tend to switch locations when you record. Audio interfaces are also normally BUS-powered, meaning that they can tap onto electricity from a computer’s USB port, making them very convenient to bring around and use.
Diagram to help you choose whether to get an audio interface or mixer.


Audio Mixer Software

Another alternative to spending money on an expensive mixer is podcast mixer software. Instead of buying bulky equipment, you can use an all-in-one podcast mixer straight from your PC. Some of the best audio mixers online include Audacity, Adobe Audition, and WavePad, all available on Windows and Mac.

Note that some recording and editing podcast software also comes with valuable tools. For example, Riverside.fm has a live media board that allows you to add sound effects as you record. You can also adjust audio levels and suppress background noise. In this way, while Riverside is ideally podcast recording software, its live streaming capabilities and media soundboard can serve as great audio mixer software for streaming. You receive separate tracks for all 8 participants, and you can automatically merge tracks with our editor after recording. 

Instead of having to spend a fortune on audio equipment for your podcast setup, as a beginner, you can try out some virtual audio mixers for your PC, as well as other suitable software first.

Whichever setup you choose, we hope that we have helped make your decision-making process a little bit easier!

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