If you record audio on your computer for any reason, you’ll likely have looked into adding a sound mixer into your setup. Audio interfaces essential, but they are just that; interfaces, and they often lack many of the capabilities needed for things like live recording (see the differences and similarities). At the same time, many mixing boards cannot be connected directly to a computer or portable device in such a way as to provide the high bandwidth, low latency required for audio production.
A combination of the two can usually meet all of these needs, but it’s not as easy to set up as you might think. Here’s how to connect a mixer to an audio interface.
Know Your Cables
If you already have an audio interface and mixing board, then your choice of cable will be limited by the outputs and inputs available in your hardware. If you have yet to buy your equipment, it’s worth knowing the differences between the various cables before you do. There are three different types of connections you will have to choose from, with each one having different properties.
In terms of quality, a standard 1/4″ jack is at the bottom of the pile. It has the advantage of being simple to use, however. It is often one jack for a stereo connection and requires no additional power. On the other hand, it is prone to picking up interference over long runs, and the cheaper the cable, the easier it will pick up interference.
In terms of quality, RCA is not much different from using a 1/4″ jack; it will still pick up interference over long runs. Where there is some advantage, however, is that RCA connections are compatible with a lot of older hardware. They are also often split into left and right, which could be a good thing or an unnecessary hassle depending on your setup.
XLR is the best option commonly available right now, and the cost of XLR components and cables reflects that. XLR cables do not pick noise up as easily as other types of wire. However, the balanced signal that gives XLR its reliability is only effective if all the components involved are also XLR.
Connecting Your Board to Your Interface
Once you have the right cable to connect your mixing board’s main output to one of your audio interface’s inputs, you’re ready to go. We’re connecting the output of the mixer to the input of the interface because that is the most common setup.
You would generally be hooking your various gear (microphones, instruments, soundboards, etc.) to your mixer. Then you would get your levels just the way you want them, and finally, output that to your interface where it can be transported directly to your DAW or broadcast software.
There are situations where you might want the audio from your computer or device to be fed into your mixer. One example would be DJs using their laptop to play a track which can then be fed into the mixer before being outputted to the venue sound system.
Whichever way round you are running your system, connect it up, and you’re ready to go. If you want to monitor your audio interface through your mixer, you will have to make sure there is a way to isolate that audio as just feeding it straight into the mixer can create feedback.
Turn the Levels Down
Before turning things on, you should always turn all the levels down. It not only prevents you from unintentionally deafening yourself with a sudden pop from the speakers, but it also eliminates the rare possibility of damaging hardware from that pop.
And that’s all there is to it. Connecting a mixer to an audio interface isn’t nearly as hard as it might first seem; you just need the right cables. If you have any questions about this or a related topic, feel free to leave a comment below. Now let’s sum up those steps one last time.
- Determine which cable you need
- Connect the cable to the main output of the mixer
- Connect the other end to audio interface input
- Turn levels down
- Switch everything on
And when all that’s done, go make something cool sounding.