At the heart of countless performance venues, recording rigs, practice spaces, and broadcast facilities, you’ll find analog mixers. For any music project that involves more than one or two simultaneous mics or instruments, a mixer can be of great use. With a mixer, you can balance levels between multiple sources, sweeten your sound with the mixer’s built-in EQ, and feed the stereo (or mono) mix to the PA speakers, monitors, and/or your recording device. If you prefer a small, simple setup, and you don’t need digital bells and whistles like recallable presets or wireless control from a tablet — an analog mixer may be the right tool for the job.
In recent years, we’ve seen a slew of modern analog mixers that include multi-channel audio interfaces, making them useful as both home studio front ends, and as live gig boards that you can plug into a computer to record your performances. In this post, we’ll look at a few examples of analog mixers with built-in multi-channel USB audio interfaces: the PreSonus StudioLive AR series, Soundcraft Signature 12 and Signature 22, and Tascam Model 24 mixer.
PreSonus StudioLive AR Series USB mixers
As the more affordable cousins to PreSonus’ family of StudioLive digital mixers, the StudioLive AR series are analog mixers, but they all include multi-channel audio interfaces that let you record each analog input individually to your computer’s DAW software via a USB cable. (In fact, “AR” stands for “Analog, Recorder.”) That’s why PreSonus calls them “hybrid” mixers: If you know you need an audio interface for your home studio, plus you’d like to have access to a mixer to take out on gigs, the StudioLive AR series kills both birds with one stone.
The AR series currently comes in four sizes — the AR8, AR12, AR16, and AR22. Which size is right for you depends on how many simultaneous channels/mic preamps you need, and how much space you have. If you’re keeping your setup small, the StudioLive AR8 fits into a 12-inch-square footprint on your desk. All four AR models are packed with useful features, such as a Super Channel that can receive stereo audio via USB, 1/8″ TRS cable, or Bluetooth streaming. All four models also include built-in effects (reverbs, delays, echos) you can use to sweeten your live sound. Last but not least, each AR mixer has a built-in stereo SD card recorder. If you don’t want to bring your computer for a full multi-tracking setup, and you’d prefer a super-easy way to record the main stereo mix right on the board, this handy feature should put the StudioLive AR series mixers at the top of your list.
Soundcraft Signature 12 MTK and Signature 22 MTK mixers
For sound quality and features for the price, the Soundcraft Signature MTK mixers are tough to beat. The Soundcraft name deserves its reputation for quality, and both the Signature 12 MTK and 22 MTK live up to that reputation with their transparent Ghost preamps, musical Sapphyre EQ sections, and recording-worthy Lexicon effects.
One specific feature that sets these Soundcrafts apart from the PreSonus StudioLive AR series is the Soundcrafts’ high playback channel count. For example, the StudioLive AR12 has a 14×4 USB interface, meaning it can send 14 inputs to your computer, and receive 4 outputs from your computer. The comparable Soundcraft Signature 12 MTK has a 14×12 USB interface, meaning it can send 14 inputs, and receive 12 outputs from your computer. Same story with the 22-channel versions: The StudioLive AR22 has a 22×4 USB interface, and the Soundcraft Signature 22 MTK has a 24×22 USB interface. In practice, this means that if you’ve got a big multi-track recording project sitting in your DAW, you can play back all 12 or 22 channels out to a Soundcraft MTK board, and “perform” your mixes on the Soundcraft’s physical faders, old-school-analog-console-style. That’s a specific use case that not everyone will want to take advantage of, but with the Soundcraft MTK boards, you have that option. Plus, with 5 aux sends on the Signature 22 MTK, you can build lots of monitor mixes.
Tascam Model 24 mixer
Of the mixers we’ve looked at in this review, the Tascam Model 24 offers the most channels, the most complete feature list, and the largest footprint. But “mixer” doesn’t begin to cover everything it can do — and this sizeable investment is worth every penny as the centerpiece of your studio and live rig.
What makes the Tascam Model 24 so versatile is its ability to function as a standalone Portastudio-style unit, thanks to its built-in SD card multi-track recorder. Pop in an SD card, and you can record/playback/punch in on all 22 individual channels plus a stereo mix right within the board — no external computer required. Of course, you can transfer the .WAV files on the SD card to your DAW later for editing. And if you prefer to do all your recording/editing on your DAW to begin with, the Model 24 has a 24-in/22-out USB audio interface — the highest channel count we’ve seen in this category.
Another handy feature: if you’re running sound for live gigs, you’ll be happy to see that the Model 24 has a graphic EQ on the main stereo outs to help you shape your sound and notch out feedback. And like the other mixers we’ve covered here, the Model 24 has built-in effects. But the killer app for the Tascam Model 24 is definitely its ability to multi-track record as either a standalone Portastudio or as a 24×22 USB audio interface. There aren’t many other mixers that can do this — the Zoom LiveTrak series digital mixers are a solid runner-up, but they can’t match the Tascam Model 24 for playback channel count.