Even though you can plug microphones and instruments directly into your audio interface, there are often times when the number of inputs and outputs present in the device may not be suitable for your application, such as live performances.
Say, for example, you are doing a concert and want to record it, but your audio interface only has one line input. A great solution is to connect the in-house mixer to your recording device, which will give you a much better sound quality than if you were to record it with a handheld recorder, for example.
This technique is also great if you want to capture conversations or interviews using multiple microphones, with the added benefit of many audio mixers having built-in equalizers and effects that may save you time during the mixing process.
In this article, we will cover how you can connect a mixer to audio interface while getting the best possible audio quality. We will go through topics such as which type of cables to use and the best recording software to use for the task.
Tip: If you’re still searching for the perfect audio interface, make sure to check our Best Audio Interface article, where we review nine of these devices to find out which one is the best for each particular use case.
Table of Contents
- What Is The Difference Between a Mixer and an Audio Interface?
- How to Connect a Mixer to an Audio Interface in 3 Steps
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Difference Between a Mixer and an Audio Interface?
Before we proceed, we would like to address a topic that many people often ask themselves: “what is the difference between a mixer and an audio interface?” The difference between these devices can be quite confusing since they are somewhat similar but differ in a few aspects.
Audio/sound mixers are designed to be an all-in-one solution. Unlike an audio interface, a mixer will often have features such as built-in equalizers, effects, individual volume sliders, and usually a larger number of outputs and inputs than an interface. Because they don’t require a computer, they’re widely used in live settings.
Audio interfaces are often compact and designed to be used in a home recording studio. These devices are usually a box with not much more than a few inputs and outputs, gain knobs, and USB connectivity. Due to these characteristics, they’re intended to be connected to a computer’s USB port and be used with a digital audio workstation software.
Common Situations Where You May Use Both
- To connect your audio interface to a PA system so you can directly record a live performance.
- For recording multiple instruments at once if your audio interface doesn’t have enough inputs. The only downfall is that all the signals will be recorded on the same track.
- For recording multiple microphones, especially for interviews and live streaming.
- To use specific onboard effects available in the mixer.
How to Connect a Mixer to an Audio Interface in 3 Steps
What Equipment Will I Need?
Apart from the mixer and audio interface, two balanced ¼ or an RCA cable, depending on the type of output in your mixer, and a laptop or a computer running a digital audio workstation software to connect your interface to.
Step 1 – Find The Line Output on your Mixer
The line stereo output may be labeled differently depending on your audio mixer model: “ctrl room out”, “alt output”, “auxiliary outputs”, “monitor line output”, etc. It is usually located near the main outputs.
On most audio mixers, these are presented in the form of two ¼ balanced connection jacks: one for the left side and one for the right side of the stereo signal. However, they may be present in the form of RCA connectors, especially if you’re using an analog mixer. In that case, the best option is to use an RCA to ¼ cable since most audio interfaces don’t offer that type of connection.
Here are some examples of how to find your line outputs:
In the case of the Mackie ProFXv3 Series audio mixer, the line level outputs are called “Control Room” and located under the main output, as you can see highlighted on the image.
In the case of the Yamaha MG12, the line level output jacks are labeled Monitor Out.
Bonus: Can I Use an XLR Cable?
While not ideal, XLR cables may be used if that’s your only option. The only issue here would be that XLR outputs will give you a mic signal, which is louder than the line level output, so you would have to manually bring the volume of the recording down.
Step 2 – Connect It to your Audio Interface’s Line Inputs
After you find the proper line output, simply connect the audio cables to your audio interface’s line inputs. If your audio mixer has two outputs (one for the left side and one for the right side of the audio signal), you will need to use two channels at once on your audio interface.
Also be aware to bring your interface’s gain to zero (as to disengage the preamps, which will not be necessary here) and set the inst/line switch to line (if it has one).
The line level input is pretty easy to find on most interfaces. In the case of this M-Track Duo, two are present in the front as combo XLR jacks in the front. You may need to use the two inputs: one for each side of the audio signal. Also, notice the inst/line switch (be sure to set it to line). Some audio interfaces will present the instrument input separately.
Step 3 – Set Up Your Audio Software
Now, open your DAW of preference on your computer and create an audio track (two, if you’re using separate inputs for the left and right signals). Set up the inputs accordingly and you’re ready to start recording.
Be sure to adjust the levels on both the audio mixer and the audio interface before you start recording.
Tip: If you’re still unsure whether you should use an audio interface or a DAC (digital to analog converter), our Audio Interface Vs DAC may come in handy.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I Need To Use a Balanced Cable When Connecting a Mixer to an Audio Interface?
Yes, it is advisable to do so. Balanced cables will ensure the least amount of noise possible and a clean signal between the mixer and the audio interface. It is possible to use unbalanced cables like the RCA type on an analog mixer, but it will be noisier than the TRS kind.
What Is The Difference Between Line, Instrument, and Mic Level?
As we discussed before, you can use XLR cables to connect your audio mixer to your audio interface, but this practice will probably give you a signal that is way too hot for this application.
There are three types of audio input/output levels: line, instrument, and mic. A line in/out is intended, as the name implies, for line-level audio signals such as keyboards and an audio mixer. An instrument input will work best with gear such as guitars and basses. Mic level in/outs are usually served by XLR unbalanced cables and connectors, designed for plugging in a microphone.
Each of these different inputs/outputs are tailored to match the audio signal level of their specific sources. If connecting your mixer to your audio interface via XLR cable is your only option, make sure you manually bring the volume down on both devices.
Can an Audio Mixer Replace an Audio Interface?
While these devices are similar but made for specific applications, you can use your audio mixer as an audio interface if it has a USB output/sound board. Some mixers even have a built in audio interface for extra usability, such as the Alesis Multimix 4.
What Is The Best DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) For This Kind of Use?
There are several DAWs on the market, such as Logic Pro X, Pro Tools, and Studio One. Most of them are paid, but if you’re on a budget, there is a free version of Pro Tools called First. While this version has some limitations, it will be more than enough if the only purpose is to record your audio mixer signal into your audio interface.
Hooking up a mixer to audio interface is a fairly easy task. You just have to locate the line output in your audio mixer and connect it to the line input of your interface using balanced TRS cables. If you’re using vintage gear, you can also hook up both devices using an RCA or an XLR cable, even though the signal will probably be noisier.
Also remember to turn down the gain on your audio interface (so as to disengage the mic preamps), check the levels of the signal going out of your mixer; And set up the inputs on your DAW or digital recording software correctly.We hope this article was helpful. Make sure to read our related articles about audio mixers and interfaces and feel free to ask any eventual questions!