The Best Digital Mixers for Getting the Most Out of Your Studio

Take control over your studio and live gigs with the best digital mixers you can buy in 2020.

Our Top Picks

Best overall: BEHRINGER X32 Rack
“Exceptional I/O, great features, and a decent price tag make this the best digital mixer for most people”

Best mixing console: Midas M32R
“Excellent build quality, I/O options, and decently small form factor make this a great mixing console for serious producers”

Best for home studios: Soundcraft Ui16
“Integrated WiFi, smartphone compatibility and a good price make this perfect for home studios.”

Best for live gigs: Presonus Studiolive 32SX
“Enough firepower to work well in the most demanding of live gigs”

At this point, I thin it’s safe to say that the digital vs analog war is mostly settled.

Sure, analog gear has a characteristic warmth that digital still can’t replicate faithfully. But as more and more music production moves entirely to the digital realm, going with analog gear, especially mixers, makes little sense.

Digital mixers tend to be more expensive than their analog counterparts. But they give you so much more for the money. Many will include signal processing capabilities onboard, saving you from the tyranny of carrying around separate reverbs, compressors, etc. You’re also not limited to the input channels for controlling inputs (since all signals are digital anyway). Plus, the reduced noise of digital circuitry is always welcome.

Plus, the workflow with a digital mixer is simply smoother. For live gigs, this alone is worth the extra upfront expense.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re running a home studio or live gigs, a digital mixer is simply superior.

On this note, let’s take a closer look at the best digital mixers on the market right now, and what to consider when buying them.

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The 6 Best Digital Mixers in 2020

Here are our six favorite digital mixers for different budgets and ndeeds:

BEHRINGER X32 Rack

Behringer doesn’t have the best reputation in the music world. It’s often derided as the “store brand” making affordable but poorly built gear. Its mixers are a big exception, however, and the X32 is the best example. Behringer upended the entire industry by offering an extremely competent digital mixer at an analog mixer price point. While the competition has grown since, the X32 still remains one of the best digital mixers for most beginners and intermediate users.

In 2012, Behringer made a second foray into the digital console market. If Behringer’s competitors had already guessed what this competition would mean for their own products at this point, the product managers responsible would probably have had many sleepless nights.

The Behringer X32 has features on board that were previously unthinkable in this price range. The market leader in this price segment was Presonus with the StudioLive console.

And now Behringer was in the starting blocks and went one step further in every discipline. It offers motorized faders, storage of all parameters, more channels, more buses, matrix, large color display, USB-2 recording. It also made it compatible with Windows, macOS X, Linux, iOS, Android, and even the Raspberry Pi. All that would probably have left many Behringer haters cold!

It has always been easy to create recordings with the Behringer X32. A simple DAW, a USB cable, and a laptop with a USB 2.0 interface are sufficient to record (or play back) 32 channels simultaneously. It’s even easier (and safer) with the X-Live card.

The operation is no more difficult than that of a cassette recorder (who still knows it?) and can also be done using a tablet. It is important that the routing of the card is prepared accordingly.

The Behringer X32 platform is not an old hat, even years after its appearance. The recent price cuts have made the consoles more affordable than ever.

What I don’t like

When you compare the X32 Rack with the M32R from Midas, you’ll see that the former’s build quality pales to the latter. Also, the interface isn’t as Intuitive as the M32R. True audiophiles wouldn’t be impressed by the preamps either.

Recommended for: It’s recommended for anyone who has previously relied on analog mixing consoles. People who held back from the digital for reasons of cost or fear of the hurdle to switch can now finally dare to go digital without having to forego features for price reasons. 

Best for Home Studios: Soundcraft Ui16

The Soundcraft Ui16 is a digital mixer in the form of a stage box. It featured all the connections required to be able to gather a small band on stage. However, the device itself has hardly any controls, it is completely controlled via a computer, tablet, or smartphone. To do this, the Soundcraft Ui16 is either connected to the PC/laptop via an Ethernet cable or you can use WLAN for tablets and smartphones. In both cases, the web browser serves as an “input mask”.

The connection sockets are all from Neutrik, so pretty much the best you can get. The device is also extremely light and extremely chic.

Soundcraft states that up to ten musicians can access the device simultaneously via WLAN. But I don’t necessarily see that as an upside when ten people fumble around in the mix! On the contrary, that would be a huge mess if the “person responsible” does not block everything beforehand in the Ui16 that is not supposed to be accessed. These blocks can be made in a separate menu.

The “More Me” function is an advantage here. When I turn the tablet/iPad 90 degrees, I see the mix previously defined “for me” in the proportion with the rest of the band. This proportion can then be unmistakably adjusted and there are no problems with “many people in the mix”.

Due to the low price and the good name, many small to medium-sized bands and lineups will consider buying it. But you have to deal intensively with the device in advance because something like an analog mixer with its dozen of buttons is not here. Despite the very successful implementation of the control software, you should definitely have set everything BEFORE the performance so that it then largely fits during the performance.

The overall sound is in the upper-middle class/budding upper class, which is already a good thing for such an inexpensive product. The background noise behavior bothers me a little. You always have a certain “clock pumping” on the stereo sum, albeit quite quietly.

For a sound engineer who has to mix different bands three times a week, I would rather advise against the Ui16. This is because the sole operation via tablet or computer does not allow very spontaneous operation.

What I don’t like

The background noise behavior could be better. But you should always evaluate this point in connection with the low price.

Recommended for: With the Soundcraft Ui16, small to medium-sized bands and line-ups can have an extremely powerful and good-sounding overall package for a relatively little price. It’s the best digital mixer for home studios and small live acts under a $500 price tag.

Best Mixing Console: Midas M32R

With the Midas M32R, at first glance, it reveals a relationship with the Behringer X32. This is hardly surprising since Midas has been taken over by the Music Group and the Behringer X32 is a joint development.

Since the Midas M32 and Behringer X32 are identical in terms of software, I will forego a description of the operation in this article. Instead, I’ll consider the differences between the two consoles and the compatibility with each other with accessories such as the S16, DL16, and the cards that are now available for Dante, Madi, or ADAT, which can be plugged into the console as an alternative to the factory-installed USB sound card. And I’m trying to answer the question of whether this is just a Behringer mixer with Midas label or whether the additional price is justified by added value.

When unpacking, the first thing you notice is the slightly higher weight. The controls are arranged very similarly to the X32. So, the experienced X32 user does not need time to relearn. The design of the desk is dead chic. Faders, switches, and encoders feel very high quality.

The incline makes the mixer very clear. Only the display and the LCD strips above the faders have remained unchanged from the X32. Whether the selectable colors match the rest of the design of the desk is a matter of debate. The legibility from a side perspective, unfortunately, has its limits. The lighting of the buttons is quite subtle. Only the change from white to blue light shows whether a channel has been selected.

The Midas M32 is an excellent console, both in terms of operation and sound quality. Anyone who knows a Behringer X32 will find their way around immediately. Others will need a few minutes.

The price difference compared to the X32 is absolutely justified by noticeably better mechanical workmanship. There’s also an increase in sound quality thanks to higher-quality preamplifiers and AD or DA converters from the Midas PRO series (PRO1/PRO2). In contrast to the X32, the built-in faders are original Midas faders.

What I don’t like

The sonic production offered by the Midas mixer is professional-grade. But at around 5 grand, this is not a cheap digital mixer.

Recommended for: Choose the M32R if you are looking for a reliable desk console that can also be rented out or dragged to live shows. It is made for live and studio performances. For serious producers, performers, and engineers, this is one of the best digital mixers on the market currently.

Best for Live Gigs: Presonus Studiolive 32SX

When marketing the Presonus flagship, the DAW mode is repeatedly referred to. Ideally, you start your DAW (Studio One, Logic X, Ableton Live, etc.), press the DAW button and the mixer acts as a control unit for the DAW.

The StudioLive 64S also has touch-sensitive motorized faders. This means that in the case of automation, you can manually grip the controller and influence it – the mixer will overwrite the automation with your intervention at this point. As soon as you let go of the fader, the set automation takes over again. A fine feature!

With the latest generation of Presonus Mixers, you also have adjustable user profiles with access control. You can only give User A access to Mix 1 and there, too, he can only use up to 80% master volume. Or you can personalize your profile and save it with a password. Two clicks in the display and the profiles are programmed. This makes a lot of sense, especially with a complex console like the Presonus StudioLive 64S that often has several people working on it.

The Presonus StudioLive 64S weighs just under 17 kg. It is comparatively compact with 82 x 58 x 16 cm (WxDxH) for a 64-channel mixer. The 64S can only process 64 channels internally (actually even more than 70). But its housing is similar to the 32-channel model. To use the full power of the multicore DSP console, you can, for example, connect two Presonus NSB 16.8 stage boxes and enjoy the full 64 channels. Then you can control up to 43 mix buses and 526 simultaneously-usable effects processors. A sound card is also on board. As with Allen & Heath, they limit themselves to sample rates of 44.1 or a maximum of 48 kHz. It’s a shame, in some environments, you would want higher resolutions.

Mixing is a matter of habit. A bit more level here and the compressor a bit thicker there. Define the appropriate free frequency range on the EQ and give the voice a little more reverb. You can do that in your sleep after some training period.

What I don’t like

The touchscreen is not very easy to use. You’ll have to press a menu item two or even three times before the desired function appears. Unfortunately, there is no calibration. There are certainly displays on the market that would work better here. But apart from these downsides, I can only give a very positive judgment on the hardware: Presonus really didn’t mess up.

Recommended for: Anyone who wants the best digital mixer for live gigs. It’s powerful, has plenty of I/O options, and as one of the best proper digital mixers on the market, has been refined endlessly for a smooth, error-free gigging experience.

Most Portable: Allen & Heath Qu-Pac 

The market for digital consoles is attractive and increasingly offers connections to the world of tablets and smartphones. With the Qu-Pac, Allen & Heath have now made a faderless version of their Qu-32 mixer available. So they’ve gone with the hardware slimming trend and deliver a small, compact mixer without the user having to forego any features.

It has a cleverly balanced housing that offers enough space for the inputs and outputs as well as the front panel at a comfortable working angle.

The front panel impresses me with a touchscreen. There’s also a single digital rotary encoder (in addition to the two analog controls for the headphone amp and the alternative output) and various buttons. Some of these buttons have status LEDs, but otherwise, the control elements are not backlit. There is a standard 4-pin connection for a gooseneck light on the back of the device.

The hollow space under the angled front panel not only offers a relaxed place to rest your hands when operating. You also have a nifty, almost well-camouflaged hollow space that the live sound engineer should be happy about. Bunch of keys, cell phone, wallet, a roll of masking tape, black marker… everything fits underneath!

There is also an Ethernet connection to connect the desk to a WLAN router. This enables the iPad/iPhone operation via WLAN. A USB2 port allows the Qu-Pac to be connected to a Mac or PC. It also provides bidirectional streaming between the computer and the console. Thanks to the Class Compliant Standard, you don’t have to manually install a driver on an Apple computer. Unfortunately, for operation on the PC, it doesn’t work here without a driver installation.

The alternative output has its own rotary potentiometer for its output level on the front below the headphone connection. This can be used in live operation for side fills or for a separate pair of speakers at the mixing desk.

An AES/EBU digital output is used for connectivity to corresponding remote stations, such as digital recorders or PA processors with the corresponding input. In addition, Allen & Heath gave a Kensington lock to the Qu-Pac. The box is so small and compact that it is better to secure it somewhere with the help of a suitable anti-theft cable with a Kensington system. Well thought out, Allen & Heath!

What I don’t like

Thanks to the Class Compliant Standard, you don’t have to manually install a driver on an Apple computer. Unfortunately, for operation on the PC, it doesn’t work here without a driver installation.

Recommended for: The A&H mixer offers a remarkable range of services in the smallest of spaces. This should make the Qu-Pac a good option for tight stage setups or rehearsal rooms. It also seems to be a good solution for work beyond the borders of the stage because of the flexible remote control via WLAN. The small size and A&H’s proven sound quality makes this one of the best digital mixers right now.

Best Under $1,000: Behringer XR18

With dimensions of 333 x 149 x 140 mm, the Behringer model is just about the size of a shoebox and weighs 3.2 kg. It is the slightly larger version of the XR16.

The housing is made of sheet steel. The side parts are surrounded by rubber for edge and slip protection. Brackets are supplied for rack installation. Two bow handles make it easier to transport the tiny thing.

All connections are on the front, only the power switch with an IEC socket is located on the right front. On the front panel, there are 16 microphone inputs with combo sockets, 1 and 2 of which also function as Hi-Z instrument inputs. A stereo line input with jack sockets is also available.

On the output side, there are six auxes in addition to the main out, all as XLR sockets. A phones-out is also available, as well as the only control on the device, the volume potentiometer.

Four effect units are implemented, which are by default on the four FX sends. In addition to various reverbs and delays, there is also the whole range of modulation effects and some multi-effects. A number of emulations of hardware classics from the areas of EQ, Compressor, De-Esser, Pitch, Psycho-Acoustics, and Tube Sound are also offered. Even some Behringer classics were emulated.

With the XR18, Behringer has developed an ultra-handy 18-channel console at an affordable price. It leaves nothing to be desired in terms of equipment.

What I don’t like

The workmanship and sound quality are great. But the manufacturer could still improve the various versions of the control software.

Recommended for: The X18 is suitable for musicians who are always on the move. As one of the best digital mixers in the mid-price range, it is also suitable for home studios and intermediate producers.

Over to You

Digital mixers are becoming increasingly more popular and substantially better than their analog counterparts. Use this guide to zero-in on the best digital mixers you can buy right now.

For more suggestions and recommendations, email us using this contact form.

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References:

Changelog
  • October 21, 2020: Article first published

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