Author Archives: Wessel Wessels
Home recording studio owner, music and audio enthusiast and researcher for 30 years. Always trying to stay on top of new development and news in the industry.
Author Archives: Wessel Wessels
Home recording studio owner, music and audio enthusiast and researcher for 30 years. Always trying to stay on top of new development and news in the industry.
Quite a lot of confusion reigns among new audio users as to what exactly the difference between a mixer and audio interface is. For many, they are one and the same device. Although this is partially true, they differ significantly in some key areas which will definitely help determine which one you should choose.
Apart from the clear physical differences between the two devices, each one has its advantages and limitations that are not so obvious. To really understand the differences between the devices, we need to take a quick look at their history.
During the 1960's and 70's mixing consoles really started to become popular. This coincided with the appearance of multitrack recorders. Before these recorders, all instruments and vocals were recorded on a single track. This means that with every single mistake or fault during the recording, the whole recording session had to be repeated over and over again. Anyone who have been working in the audio recording industry long enough, can tell you what a nightmare that can be.
Multitrack recorders, especially 8-track recorders changed all of that. Not only could the different sounds be recorded individually on each track, with the help of mixers each track could be edited and "corrected" post-production before the final track got released.
Audio mixers became an indispensable part of recording studios, saving valuable time and money and opened up options that was just not available previously. (Even before this revolution in the recording industry, mixers were already used during live events to mix all the different inputs from musical instruments, vocals and numerous other devices to make sure the desired sound traveled to the amplifiers and speakers.)
During the 1990's computer power and technology became advanced enough that mixing could now be done digitally. This signaled the birth of the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). More and more studios started changing to the new digital platform and today the vast majority of mixing is done on computer.
As mixers were no longer an absolute necessity, simpler audio interfaces started to become popular in many recording studios. By no means did this spell the end for audio mixers and they are still very relevant and widely used, as you will soon find out.
From this brief history lesson, you should be able to better understand how mixers and audio interfaces established themselves in the audio recording industry.
They have a lot in common. Both accept one or more microphone XLR-inputs, as well as line-level inputs for instruments in many cases. These signals get converted and send to a computer via USB, firewire or thunderbolt connections for recording and additional editing.
They both have control over the gain (volume) of the input channels, and most have the ability to send phantom power to condenser microphones as well. But that is where most of the similarities basically end.
As much as they have the same advantages going for them, mixers and audio interfaces also differ fundamentally in many ways, as you will see as each component's unique features and limitations get highlighted.
From the brief history overview, it is clear to see why mixers became so popular and widely used, and why they are still popular and serves a valuable purpose today. They have unique advantages and drawbacks, but what does it mean for the home recording enthusiast though? Having a look at its different features will help you better understand how it may or may not be suited to your needs.
From the example shown above, it is very evident that visually, a mixer seems to be a much more complex piece of equipment than the standard audio interface. The sheer number of various knobs and sliders can be overwhelming, but each one of them serve a purpose.
For a seasoned audio technician or sound engineer, the speed with which you can make changes in real time to the sound (gain, balance, bass, treble etc.) of each channel while a recording takes place, is invaluable.
If you look at the virtual interface of DAW software, the mixing interface on screen looks very similar to what you are seeing on actual physical mixers, simply because it serves to fulfill the same purpose.
It is easy to understand how the speed with which you can make changes with the twist of a know or shift of a slider, makes it a lot quicker and more convenient than trying to make those same changes as quickly and effectively on a computer.
There is handicap to all these advantages though. Even though you can mix and change multiple channels at once and very quickly, most of the time many analogue mixers can only output a single track at a time. This means you have no way of going back to you recording and change the original input channels individually on your DAW software afterwards. For a recording professional, this can be a real problem.
Then there is always the issue of price. Although you can get budget versions of both mixers and audio interfaces, when you compare a high-quality mixer and audio interface, a mixer is normally substantially more expensive. (Some high-end mixers can set you back thousands of dollars.)
Space is another factor that should also be taken into consideration. Simply due to its physical nature, mixers take up a lot more space than audio interfaces that can be very compact. Something to take into consideration if you have limited space available in your studio.
Finally, there is the debatable issue over sound quality. Due to the the amount of mixing and processing that takes place in the mixer, many specialists believe the resulting sound quality that gets outputted, is not as clean and pure as that of an audio interface. To the untrained ear, this may not even be audible, but to the specialist recording professional, this may be a concern.
As you can clearly see, mixers have some very clear advantages, but also limitations that may make it less ideal for your needs.
Just like mixers, they also have unique advantages and drawbacks. Having a look at its different features will help you decide whether an audio interface will be a better fit for you.
In general, audio interfaces are much simpler devices, as you can see from the example shown above. They may have one or more audio and line-level inputs, simple controls for the gain of each channel, maybe phantom power switches and a headphone jack. (In it's simplest form.)
For the home user solely focused on audio for recording purposes, the simpler and cleaner interface of an audio interface may be more convenient.
Probably the biggest advantage of an audio interface is its ability to output multiple tracks to the recording device for editing of each track later on.
Although much improved, the latency between audio interface and computer used to be pretty slow, making live digital mixing of sounds very difficult. (In the past, a delay of almost a second was not uncommon, which made digital mixing and editing on DAW software very difficult for "real time" results.)
As a home recording professional, live editing is not a priority and latency is not a concern. You can edit the recording with its different channels later on at your own leisure.
I already touched on the subject, and although this is not a big concern, audio interfaces in general provide a marginally purer and cleaner sound to the recording device than a mixer. If the best audio quality is you main concern, you may want to keep this in mind. (This difference in sound quality is very small and debatable, so should not be the deciding factor when making your choice.)
Also, as already mentioned, audio interfaces tend to be a lot more compact than audio mixers. For professional home recording where space can be limited, the smaller footprint of an audio interface can be ideal.
It should become obvious by now that, depending on your personal requirements, one of the two devices will be more suited to your needs
As I mentioned throughout this article, both devices have their own distinct advantages and drawbacks.
I normally don't try and choose for you when comparing two items with each other. As this website is dedicated to the home recording studio enthusiast however, this user is my primary audience which I am trying to assist in making an informed choice.
As a result I am leaning towards recommending the audio interface for a home recording studio. With its more compact design, multiple-track output support, clear output signal and budget friendly price, it is hard not to recommend the audio interface. They simply don't have the complexity and steep prices of modern analogue mixers.
This does by no means imply that mixers are inferior in any way. They still remain the equipment of choice in the broadcasting industry and many commercial recording studios. (Simply take a look at the control room of any broadcasting station.)
I hope this post helped you to better understand the differences between these two devices, as well as which one is best suited to your needs.
Feel free to leave me any comments or suggestions you may have. Remember to join my Mailing List to be informed whenever a new article is released, and share new developments and helpful hints & tips.
Catch you in the next article and happy recording!
Using your studio headphones for listening as you are recording, are perfect for picking up all the fine detail and imperfections. However, you need a set of quality speakers that will provide you accurate feedback as to what your recording will sound like filling a room. But what type of speaker should you choose?
Many artists and home recording professionals are faced with the same dilemma. You are starting out from scratch, and don't have your home recording studio build up yet and only your computer at your disposal.
You now have to choose between high-quality desktop speakers or dedicated professional studio monitors . In order to make an informed decision, it is important to first understand what the differences between the two are.
On the surface they may look the same and are in essence both speakers, but actually differ in a variety of ways:
One detail that often gets overlooked, is the different types of input ports your speakers can accept. Even though they may look very similar, studio monitors and desktop speakers serve very different purposes, and this is already evident when you take a closer look at the way you can connect to them.
Since almost all your computers have headphone and USB ports (that the majority of PC desktop speakers use), it is easy to connect almost any desktop PC speaker.
The majority of studio monitors however, use more professional RCA or ¼” TRS connectors. This not a problem if you already have an audio interface as part of your home recording system, as most modern interfaces have output ports build-in that will enable you to connect directly to studio monitors.
If you are just starting out though, chances are good that you only have the ports of your laptop or desktop computer available.
Most computers don't come standard with these professional ports studio monitors require. This problem can be overcome by a converter cable that uses the 3.5 headphone output from the computer and splits into left and right RCA inputs for the studio monitors.
It will definitely solve the problem but as with most converter interfaces, there is always the potential loss of quality in the sound signal. The additional cost and availability of purchasing conversion components should also be taken into consideration.
The biggest difference is the sound these two type of speakers produce.
Good quality desktop and home entertainment speakers are designed to produce a rich and crystal clear sound. They are designed to make any recording sound as good as possible, masking/hiding many flaws in a recorded soundtrack.
Studio monitors are designed to produce an accurate representation of the recorded sound. It may sound more flat and not as rich as desktop PC speakers, but small defects in recordings will easily be picked up, which is the the purpose of these speakers.
It can be best explained as follows: Desktop speakers aim to hide and mask faults in recordings, while studio monitors aim to expose them.
Traditionally, most studio monitors were passive which means they have no build-in power and therefore require an external amplifier to boost the signal and provide power to the speakers. Active studio monitors are more readily available nowadays, but they tend to be quite expensive.
The majority of good PC desktop speakers come standard with build-in amplifiers, as the signal coming from computers are in general too weak to produce high quality sound and volume. As a result no external component or power source is necessary for the speaker to operate properly.
Important Note: An increasing amount of modern desktop speakers and studio monitors are either active (powered) or passive (unpowered). As it is hard to visually tell the difference when glancing at them briefly, make sure of which one you choose. (When choosing a passive studio monitor/speaker and you don't have an audio interface or other form of amplification, you will end up spending a lot more than you bargained for to make them function properly.)
Although both PC desktop speakers and studio monitors are available in a variety of sizes, studio monitors are in general significantly larger than the desktop PC speakers. If you are working with restricted space, this may be something you want to consider.
Just keep in mind that the smaller size of PC desktop speakers may have a negative influence on audio quality. This will be especially evident in the accurate delivery of lower end (bass) frequencies.
PC desktop speakers are designed to provide the best sound quality in most environments. Professional studio monitors, however, need the specific surroundings of a purposely build professional studio to perform optimally.
I've heard of an instance where studio monitors were used in a standard "unprepared" office. The recording kept sounding flawed and distorted even though top-end equipment was used, from recording to output.
Numerous changes were made, from mixer and output settings, to changes in the DAW software and even cabling. As a last resort the recording with the studio monitors were taken to a colleague's professionally set-up recording studio. With similar equipment, the same recording and the same studio monitors, the recording sounded absolutely perfect. Yes, some studio monitors are that sensitive to its immediate surrounding, and a studio that is not properly setup can effect both the quality of recording and playback.
Now that you have a better understanding of what the major differences between studio monitors and desktop computer speakers are, many of you are already able to make up your minds as to which of the two will suit you best.
If you are still unsure, I created two scenarios, each of which should help you determine what type of speaker will be best suited for your needs.
You are a serious full-time recording artist. You do not have the time or budget to make constant use of a professional recording studio, but are willing to invest the necessary money on a professional home setup.
You also have a dedicated room available to accommodate all the equipment needed, as well as making permanent changes to the room to make it "recording friendly" (Install the necessary fixtures for acoustics, reverberation (echo) and other sound-deadening materials.)
You may not be a professional recording artist (yet), but want the best possible sound and feedback for your recordings, and realize you need more than a set of headphones to get a good indication of what your audio will sound like filling a room from a set of speakers,
You have a restricted budget and not an abundance of space available, where the compact dimensions of desktop speakers and their relative affordability (compared to high-end studio monitors) will make it an appropriate consideration.
(If you are a serious artist however, or sure you are going to expand your home recording studio in the near future, it may be worth your while to consider holding out for a set of studio monitors.)
Simply put, can desktop studio speaker be used to monitor your audio recordings, and can studio monitors be used for casual listening? The short answer is a provisional yes and yes.
But there are conditions though. Yes, desktop speakers can be used to monitor your recording, but not your normal budget home theater speakers. To get the quality and detail from the sound studio monitors provide, you must be willing to invest in a pair of real hi-fi (high fidelity) desktop speakers.
The purpose of true high-end desktop speakers is not just to provide you with exceptional sound quality, but to reproduce the recorded sound as accurately as possible. And it's this last function of these speakers that makes them suitable for studio monitoring.
The drawback of this approach however, is that you must be willing pay a premium for this exercise to work. A really good pair of high quality desktop speakers may set you back at least a few hundred dollars or more. Not exactly ideal for the home user just starting out on a shoestring budget.
In principle, studio monitors can also sound good and be used for "easy listening", but are more restrictive in terms of their environment. You simply cannot put a pair of studio monitors anywhere in a lounge or bedroom and get the same high quality sound desktop/bookshelf speakers will be able to provide.
As discussed earlier in this article, a dedicated pair of studio monitors require a room that is acoustically set up correctly to bring the best out of these specialized speakers. This is normally only achieved in a studio with acoustic treatment already applied correctly and all objects placed in position for optimal sound reproduction.
Off course nothing is stopping you from placing your studio monitors anywhere you want, and you will still be able to hear the sound as with any other speaker. The sound reproduced may even be more than good enough for you.
Just keep in mind that in order for studio monitors to provide the best possible quality and accurate sound, it must be placed in a specially prepared environment.
Armed with this extra information you should be much better equipped to make an informed decision on whether to go for a set of studio monitors or desktop computer speakers.
Just remember, the fundamental difference between desktop speakers and studio monitors is not necessarily the quality of sound they produce, but the way in which the sound is produced by each one.
If you are looking for the best possible feedback of what your recording really sounds like and you have the resources available (budget and space), studio monitors will always be you best option for your home studio.
If you are just starting out however, have a very limited budget and space (and you just need a general indication of what your audio will sound like over a pair of speakers), you will be well served by a pair of good quality PC desktop speakers.
I hope this make the decision making process easier for you when it comes to deciding between the two.
Until next time, feel free to leave me any comments or suggestions you may have. Remember to join my Mailing List to be informed whenever a new article is released, and share new developments and helpful hints & tips.
If you are asking this question, the short and straight answer is, yes. Now before your throat starts closing up, you glance at your bank balance and you feel like giving up before even getting started, relax.
A home recording setup can be surprisingly affordable. It can also be built up over time and expanded to even rival professional recording studios worth tens of thousands of dollars. The possibilities and options are almost endless, depending on your budget, personal requirements and your end goal.
Just take you smart phone and hold it in your hand. Do you realize what are you are holding there has the recording power and quality that would have been the envy of many small professional recording studios 50 years ago?
Does it mean you can fulfill all your dreams as a professional musician or podcaster by using what you currently have? Off course not, but it means you have somewhere to start.
And that is the point of this whole article. To help you establish exactly your current situation is, try and pinpoint what you goals are, and how you can use this to determine what you will require to fulfill your recording needs. Only then you can start to think about starting or expanding your own recording setup. But let's not get ahead of ourselves...
Ok, first things first. I know it may sound obvious to many of you, but the first step before even getting started, is to determine what you are currently already doing and how serious you are about it.
You may have a great voice or are very talented at playing a specific instrument. You may even be a group of musicians dreaming of starting your own band. You also also may be very passionate about a a subject and are looking at starting you own podcasting channel to share you knowledge which can potentially turn into an full-time online streaming audio service.
The one thing they all have in common is audio. Whether you are going to record your voice for singing or talking, or record an instrument you play, having access to audio recording equipment is a must.
Before you even start thinking seriously about recording equipment, ask yourself a few questions:
Have you already started recording and publishing audio content online? Do you still need to get started and have no experience in recording at all? Are you passionate and enjoy what you are doing, or is it simply a pastime for you? Do you already have access basic recording equipment like a smartphone or desktop/laptop computer?
These questions may sound silly, but is important to ask yourself to establish where you are currently at, and how serious about it you are. It will also help you decide how much you are willing to spend on recording equipment, now and in the future.
Your goals, more than anything else, will determine which direction you will go in equipment wise. As I already mentioned earlier in the article, you probably already have a recording device in the form of your smartphone or laptop. Many podcasters and vloggers (video bloggers) managed to build up huge audiences by just using these devices to record and upload their content. Some even manage to make a living in this way.
Although these devices are perfectly adequate for sound that will listened to on you iPod, MP3 player or laptop, they have several limitations.
This is where your goals come in. I realize this is something that may not be clear-cut for you at the moment, but having an idea what you want to achieve as an end goal will go a far way in helping you make decisions.
You may be a full-time musician seriously planning on pursuing a career as a recording artist. On the opposite side of the scale, you may just enjoy sharing your thoughts on a subject you enjoy on your podcasting channel in your free time.
In between you have people with a large mix of experience and expectations. You may find yourself to be one of them.
You are a music student with big dreams but unsure how far you will get. You have a great voice with huge potential as a vocalist, but need to get you voice "out there" to get the exposure and attention you need.
Many of you are sitting in a full-time job, but your real passion lies with your music or using your voice, which you can only do in your spare time.
In almost all these scenarios you have neither the time or budget for this passion. These things you can change over time, but one thing you have to try and figure out for yourself, is whether you are going to commit to this endeavor full-time or keep it as part-time hobby.
Always leave all options open, as things can change quickly, but knowing where you are headed will always help you in when making choices about equipment.
Obviously you need equipment, if you don't already have some. What exactly you need depends on a variety of factors and is a topic for another discussion, which I will address in the next article.
But before making any decisions on any equipment, you need to consider and try and have three factors in place.
This is a bit of catch-22 situation, especially if you have a full-time job. You have to spend enough time on your passion to grow it to a point where it can replace your income and you have the freedom of time to engage in this passion on your own terms.
At the same time you need the income of a full-time job, not only to make a living, but to be able to budget for the space and equipment needed for a home recording studio. This means 8 hours of your day is already spoken for.
If you are financially dependent on either parents or a spouse, time will not be such a big problem, even though you may have other obligations.
No matter what you situation, be prepared to set aside quite a few hours a day to focus on your passion/dream. Yes, it will definitely mean some sacrifice on your part. I can't tell you how much time or what to sacrifice. Just realize you have to set a fixed time aside and stick to it if you want to stand any realistic chance of reaching your goal.
Sound travels. This short fact has big implications. If you consider any kind of home recording studio, make sure you have a dedicated enclosed space (preferably a room) to set it up.
If you live in a house and have a spare room, perfect, If you live in a bachelor apartment or apartment where you share space with a roommate, you'll have to get creative.
Even with basic recording equipment, even the smallest sound can cause interference and ruin a recording. From the television, conversations in the area, dogs barking, to the moving of furniture, all will be picked up a by a quality microphone. Make sure your recording space is isolated and you have control over sounds in the immediate vicinity.
This a sensitive subject. Your budget is always an issue if you are a student or unemployed. Even if you have a job but can barely afford the basics, this will also be problem.
To be very honest though, if you are going to move into the home recording business, you are going to have to budget to have some funds set aside for equipment and accessories.
Even if you already own some basic recording equipment, you are going to need to expand a lot sooner than you might think. Don't worry, it doesn't need to be an experience that will break the bank, but having something tucked away for whenever you need that new piece of equipment always gives piece of mind.
Well done, you made it to the end. I hope this article not only served to help you answer your question, but also provide some guidance and direction as to what your next move should be.
Please don't be discouraged by the amount of information and all the "requirements" laid out in this article. It may seem a bit overwhelming and daunting, but this is just to help you prepare and remove potential stumbling blocks in order for you to focus on setting up and expanding you own setup.
In my next article we are going to look in more detail at how to set up a very basic home system that is a solid step up in quality and versatility from what you already have.
Until then, feel free to leave me any comments or suggestions you may have. Remember to join my Mailing List to be informed whenever a new article is released, and share new developments and helpful hints & tips.