The 10 Best USB Mixers
This wiki has been updated 27 times since it was first published in September of 2016. It's remarkable how today's technology has enabled just about anyone to create a professional-quality performance space and recording studio these days. Our comprehensive selection of USB mixers is a great example of what can be done with just a little bit of gear and a decent computer. We've ranked them for you here by the quality of their preamps, built-in effects, and durability. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
August 06, 2021:
Most of our previous offerings are still available and great choices, so we haven't made many changes. The one important change is actually the new #1, the Allen & Heath Zedi Series, because we wanted to highlight a compact, capable, and high-quality option that's reasonable for one- and two-person projects. The Zedi is an especially good choice for solo musicians and hosts of small podcasts.
July 15, 2020:
While the level of mixer a person needs is going to correspond to the environment in which they're using it and the instruments or vocals their amplifying or tracking, there are a few things that every mixer — from the little bedroom audio interfaces to behemoth professional studio models — ought to be able to claim. Foremost among those is signal cleanliness, as hum and hiss can ruin church services as easily as they can rock albums.
The Presonus model on our last list was renown for that cleanliness, but we've upgraded it to the PreSonus StudioLive AR16C, which has added USB-C connectivity, where most other models still rely on Type B. We also saw some upgrades to the offerings from Allen & Heath, with the Allen & Heath QU-16C and the Allen & Heath SQ-5 Digital. For most users, the QU-16C is going to be the smarter choice, as you get more bang for your buck and a lot of the same features. But anyone looking to cut down on pedal clutter or eliminate the need for a rack full of mounted effects and equalizers will appreciate the size and functionality of the SQ-5's touchscreen with its endless plug-ins.
Personally, I still like a studio overflowing with racks and cables, with as many pulsating lights and tempting analog interfaces as possible. I'll even take a 1/2-inch reel-to-reel if you're offering, which is why I'm a big fan of the Mackie ProFX30V2 4-Bus. It doesn't rely on any built-in screens to provide visual feedback for sound shaping, so budding engineers will actually have to use their ears for a change.
May 01, 2019:
The Behringer U-Phoria previously included has been upgraded from its single-channel model to the dual-channel. After all, without more than a single channel, a device ceases to be a mixer and is merely an audio interface. The Numark DJ mixer has been completely removed, as upon further consideration it didn't seem to fit the category as exactly as the rest of the mixers included. We also needed to make room for the exceptional Presonus StudioLive 16 with its intuitive layout and impeccably clean audio signal, making its debut here at number one and unseating the Behringer X32. That Behringer model took a big dive despite its superb preamps and colorful, easy-to-follow layout, mainly because its iPhone jack is too far outdated to be considered very useful.
RodeCaster Pro Designed with podcasters in mind, this unit features a set of eight effects pads you can load up with things like intro and outro music, or even advertising spots. It also has a feature that lets you use it to take phone calls and adjust the volume of the caller, making it great for remote interview work. It's simple, intuitive, and surprisingly inexpensive. rode.com
Roland VR-50HD If you need to mix both video and audio sources, this is one of the simplest and most direct ways to do so without buying separate components for each. Its seven-inch touch-sensitive preview monitor allows you to see the feeds your switching clearly. The only things holding it back, however, are its price and its inability to handle 4K video. roland.com
The Convenience Of A USB Mixer
More often than not, some bit of the quality of your signal would be sacrificed.
Whether you operate a professional music studio at a designated commercial space, or you have built out a home studio the likes of which may rival some professional setups, you’re well aware of the fact that any studio can quickly become a hopeless tangle of wires and cables.
One of the most crucial connections in any modern studio is the one that runs between your mixer and your computer. In the early days of digital home recording, as software like ProTools was on the rise, this connection point usually consisted of a stereo signal carried across a pair of XLR cables and into an intermediary — the now defunct M–Box in the case of ProTools — and from there into a computer via FireWire cable.
This extra step in the process served to condition your signal in a way that many engineers found excessive. In order to get the analog information converted into digital media for manipulation within editing software, there was a trade off. More often than not, some bit of the quality of your signal would be sacrificed.
In the decades since then, digital signal conversion has become significantly more sophisticated, and many manufacturers of mixing tables have incorporated high-quality signal conversion into their mixing boards. For you the consumer, that means one less piece of hardware to purchase, as well as the likelihood that the conversion taking place is designed with the specific timbre of your board in mind. That should result in a cleaner overall signal, that’s much more faithful to what you originally captured on the analog side.
Now, connecting your mixer to your computer is as simple as using hard drive or any other piece of USB connected Hardware. You'll find that in modern models, latency and noise are at an all-time low, while clarity and flexibility are higher than ever.
What To Look For In A USB Mixer
Purchasing a USB mixer is a process that operates along the same lines as purchasing any mixer, so comparing these items should be relatively straightforward. You will find, however, that there are certain features, capabilities, and other specifications that deeply distinguish one model from the next, and a faithful understanding of those differences is the only way to ensure that you'll be truly happy with your purchase.
In some other cases the mixer will offer equalization on the first two or four channels, but not on the entirety of the board.
The most obvious divider between one mixer and the next is its size. When we talk about size regarding the mixer, we're not necessarily talking about its physical dimensions. Instead, we are referring to its number input of channels, as that will have a great deal to do with how flexible your recording setup is. For example, if you are a solo folk artist who only needs to track guitar and vocals, there's a good chance that a USB mixer with only two channels will be enough for you to create an entire album. An indie band with three or four members will need more inputs, especially if they want to track their songs live. Doing a proper job of miking a drum set, before you even begin to set up microphones for guitar amps or vocals, requires at least four microphones to begin to sound right.
The more people and instruments involved in a live recording, the more inputs you're going to want. Even if you choose to track a single instrument at a time, the ability to put a microphone elsewhere in the room for a little touch of natural reverb and ambiance may take your recording to the next level.
In terms of your control over the sound, integrated equalizers on each channel will give you the ability to fine tune the specific characteristics of a signal before it reaches your editing software. Some mixers will only provide their equalizers to the unit's outgoing signal, while others will apply them individually to each channel. In some other cases the mixer will offer equalization on the first two or four channels, but not on the entirety of the board.
The last thing that you want to take a close look at, without going too deeply into the specs of other pieces of internal hardware, is a given board’s compatibility with different audio editing software. Ideally, if you're looking for the most professional interface possible, you want to find a board that can totally integrate with your software, creating a digital mirror of itself on your computer screen that's so deeply connected to your editing process that if you move a fader on the screen, its correspondent fader on the board moves in real time. This level of integration and automation isn't always possible, but if you find a board designed to work in concert with your preferred software, that might make your recording and editing experience go that much more smoothly.
Other Home Studio Essentials
For people who don't understand much about the recording process, it wouldn't come as a surprise to them if there was a big, red button in every recording studio labeled Studio Magic. With a button like this, even the least talented artists could stroll into a recording studio, screech for a few hours into a microphone, and come out with a top 40 hit. And while this image is certainly far from the truth, there is no denying that a litany of technological advances have made the recording process far more forgiving to both artists and engineers alike.
This is essentially a modified shelving unit designed to hold rack-mountable effects, and in some cases, pack them up for portability.
To give yourself the kind of advantage that professional engineers enjoy in their studios, you'll want to invest in a handful of additional implements that can interface with your new USB mixer and create an environment conducive to creating top-quality audio.
One of the best investments you can make in your studio isn't actually a piece of technology, but is rather designed to hold many of those pieces. We're talking here about an effects rack. This is essentially a modified shelving unit designed to hold rack-mountable effects, and in some cases, pack them up for portability. Once you've got a rack, you can outfit it with everything from vocal processors and compressors to power conditioning units and more complex and comprehensive equalizers.