Do you need a mixer?



Pioneer Mixer

Sure you’re not just looking for a way to plug your microphone into a computer? 

If this is the case there are much easier and cheaper ways of doing it!

So, if you haven’t bought any equipment yet, hold your horses and let’s make sure you’re buying one for the right reasons…

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I want to record my podcast on a computer…

Then you, my friend, just need a USB microphone.

If you need more than one microphone this might not be the right option because plugging in more than one USB mic takes some configuring.

But if you show involves you and your guests talking to you remotely via Skype or Zencastr all you need is a microphone that plugs directly into your computer.

Best podcast microphones


I’ve already got an XLR microphone…

If you’ve got one of these mics and you want to record on your computer you’ll need a way to turn the analogue signal into a digital one.

A mixer can do this but it might be a bit of overkill if you don’t need it.

A digital audio interface (DAI) is a simpler version of a mixer and is a piece of tech that connects your XLR mic to your computer via the USB port.

You could purchase one of these or you could buy a Zoom recorder which is a DAI and also a portable recorder.

What’s the difference between USB & XLR microphones?


I want more control over the audio I record…

Then you probably DO need a mixer.

Mixers come with a lot more bells and whistles than your standard mic or recorder and you can play around with things like EQ and low pass filters.

If you don’t know what any of those things mean or don’t know how to use it, it’s potentially a waste of money.

But if you do have decent audio skills or you just want to experiment it can give you more control.

How to make editing easier when you’re recording your podcast


I want to add a lot of audio elements to my show…

You can definitely do this using a mixer.  You can also do it more simply, by recording your voice tracks and including things like music and sound effects in the edit later.

If you’re just starting out I’d definitely advise going down this route rather than trying to mix your show while you’re recording it.

If you’re a beginner you’re better off getting comfy behind the mic, improving your presenting skills, being in the moment with your co-host or working on your interviewing rather than getting lost in the knobs and faders of a mixer.

Adding audio elements like sound effects and music while you’re recording is a distraction that can make things unnecessarily complex.

If you’re a pro at recording audio go for your life, but if you’re just starting out, focus on putting together the best possible content and put all the fancy stuff in later.

Do you need a podcast intro and outro?


My podcast is a live show…

This is the one scenario you’ll definitely need a mixer.

This is because you’ll want everything to play out live as you’re recording e.g. you might play your intro music and start talking over the top of it then fade it down as you start the show.

You might want to play a clip of a video to talk about, or take a phone call if that’s what you do on your show.

To do this you’ll need a mixer because that’s what takes all of these separate audio elements and “mixes” them down into one audio file you can record.

How to record a podcast


Still keen on a mixer?  Here’s some things to consider…

Don’t buy a cheap one

One of the annoying things about cheap mixers is they tend to come with a feature no one wants – a hissing sound.

Every time you add more technology into the mix you’re adding more potential for hums, buzzing, hisses and general noise.

It goes without saying these will annoy the heck out of you and your audience so don’t be too stingy.  You don’t have to buy a mixer worth thousands of dollars but I’d avoid any under $100-150 (unless you get a good recommendation).

Faders give you more control than knobs

Faders are the long sliders you’ll often see on mixers.  Generally speaking these are going to give you more control over the volume of your different audio elements.

It’s not a deal breaker if it’s a matter of budget but it’s just something to think about.

Not all mixers plug into your computer

If you want to record your podcast directly onto your computer and you want a mixer make sure you buy one that has a USB attachment.

If you don’t you’ll need another audio interface in between your mixer and your computer to connect them up.

So, there are some things to consider if you’re thinking about using a mixer!

Remember, simpler is always better when you’re just starting out!

Got a burning question you’d like answered on the podcast? Send me an email.

Want to start your own podcast but need a little help?  Download my “How To Start A Podcast” guide or sign up for my online podcasting course, PodSchool.

Got some time on your hands? Read the full episode transcript

Hello and welcome to the show. I'm wondering whether there's something in the podcasting waters at the moment because I've received quite a few emails over the last couple of weeks about mixers from people who are just starting out with their podcast. Some of them have purchased mixers, some of them are wondering if they should. So, I thought it might be a good time to do an episode on mixers to tell you a little bit about what they do and why you would need one.

There's only a few reasons you might need a mixer. The first is if you have analog microphones. Those are the microphones with the XLR plugs - the three pronged plugs rather than a USB cable. If you're recording into a computer not an external recording device that has an input for your XLR mic you need to get the sound from your mic into your computer. You can't plug the little three prong plug in there. So often people will use a mixer as the bit in between and you can plug that three-pronged plug into the mixer. And then plug the mixer into the computer. There's also a thing called a digital audio interface which can be just a simple way of getting the sound from your analog microphone into your computer. But if that is all you are using a mixer for I would advise you get an audio interface or alternatively that you get a recording device like a Zoom where you can record directly on it. It also allows you to have control over the levels of each of the microphone but you don't have to have the complexity of a mixer.

The other reason somebody might use a mixer is if they want to have multiple channels of inputs. So maybe you want a whole bunch of different microphones. The limitation of using a USB microphone is that you can only use one even if you've got multiple USB ports. To get more mics to register you've got to do a bit of audio configuring so what a mixer can do is allow you to have multiple microphones. You can also use the channels to plug other things in, so you might want to use one channel to plug in an iPad that you use for sound effects as you're doing a show. You might want to use another one to plug your phone in so that you can take phone calls or have Skype there. You might want another one to plug your PC so that you can play YouTube videos as you go. The reason you would do that is if you were doing things a bit more live. So, this is actually a good thing to have if you're doing your shows live on stage in front of an audience. There are not going to just record the raw audio of you or you and your cohosts talking and then edit stuff in later. If you are doing a live show you're going to want all of that stuff to actually play live.

So, if you had intro music that you wanted to play and then you were going to start talking over the top of that intro music and then halfway through you play an audio clip that you're going to refer to and then maybe you take a call from somebody. If you wanted to put all of those elements into your show and record it as it's happening, you would certainly need a mixer. A mixer will allow you to have all those different things on different channels and play them at the same time and record the output of that.

Chances are if you're just starting out you're not going to need anything that complex. So, if you bought a mixer or you're just thinking about buying a mixer because you think that's how you plug a microphone into a computer that's not actually the case. As you're getting more comfortable with audio and if you want a bit more control over what you do and you want to run things a bit more "live" e.g. play your intro music and talk over the top of it as you're recording then that's when you'd need a mixer. Or maybe you want to play audio from a YouTube clip and comment on it in the show. Again, that's where a mixer would come in handy.

If you get to the point where you want to do that sort of stuff a mixer will certainly come in handy but I advise when you're just starting out to record your audio cold and put those elements in, in the edit. Because what having a mixer does is that it adds a level of complexity that means that your mind is on the mixing panel rather than on your show.

When you're just starting out it's always better to be in the moment with your co-host or your guest and then worry about all of those bells and whistles later.

Of course, one of the other reasons to have a mixer is to have control over the audio. You'll notice there are a lot of knobs on the console and they'll give you control over things like EQ but if you're just starting out that's more of an audio engineer’s domain. As you start to get more familiar with audio you can play around with that kind of stuff but when you're starting out it's much easier to just use a USB mic.

Alternatively, if you already have an analog microphone or that's what you want to purchase and you're going to be out and about doing interviews it might be best to buy a portable recording device like a Zoom. Then you can plug your XLR mics directly into that and either record on the device or plug it into your computer.

If you desperately want a mixer there are some things you should consider. The first is don't buy a cheap one. One of the things I've noticed a lot online is that people who've bought cheap mixers say there's a "hiss" that comes along with it. So, when you plug your microphones in there's a base level of sound and you want that to be silence. But often with cheap mixers there'll be a hiss you can't get rid. So, you don't want to scrimp when you're buying a mixer.

The other thing to think about is faders (the sliding things on the console) will give you more control over the audio than knobs. Now there are a bunch of other things you should think about as well so make sure you do your research. But the other thing you should be mindful of is that not all mixes have a USB plug. If you want to record onto your computer, you'll need a mixer with a USB cord otherwise you'll need to buy another device to hook your mixer up to your computer and then you'll have 700 pieces of equipment when all you needed was a microphone.

So, those are some things to consider if you're thinking about using a mixer. Don't over complicate it. At the start, really you want to focus on the content, learning how to present, getting comfortable behind the microphone, working well with a co-host or nailing your interviews. To focus on these things, it's best if you don't have the distraction of a million faders in front of you. Having a mixer can add a level of complication that you don't need when you're a beginner.

If you're thinking of recording a live show you might need a mixer because you'll want things to play out live but if you're just recording things to put online it's easier to record your audio and then edit in the bells and whistles later.

Thanks so much for joining me for this episode. If you're finding these tips useful I would love it if you left me a review in your favorite podcast app. You can find the show notes where I'll put links to microphones that I recommend at PodSchoolPodcast.com. Just type "mixer" into the search bar and they'll pop up. I'll see you next week and until then, happy podcasting.

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