Spruce up your home studio by picking the best USB mixer for your needs and budget
Our Top Picks
Best for home studios: Mackie ProFX6v3
“Decent preamp and onboard effects make this a winner for small studios”
Best value for money: Behringer XR1
“The XR1 packs in a ton of I/O options into an affordable digital mixer package. Good performance. Great value formoney”
Best analog mixer: Soundcraft Signature 12MTK
“If you want to go the analog route, the Soundcraft 12MTK is an affordable choice”
Most portable: Allen & Heath ZEDi
“A great audio interface/mixer combo for performers”
Most affordable: Behringer Xenyx Q802USB
“This ultra cheap mixer is great for podcasters and absolute beginners”
If I was writing this in 2006, I would probably start by talking about how USB has “revolutionized” music production and how, eventually, all mixers will be digital and USB.
But this 2020 and your studio setup likely runs entirely on USB and/or Thunderbolt.
In fact, USB has already revolutionized music production so much that you can get a basic mixer for under $100. And it would be competent enough for the vast majority of hobbyists and casual users.
This makes choosing the best USB mixer a lot harder. The number of options has exploded. Every popular brand like Behringer has literally dozens of models to choose from. And the differences between individual models are minuscule – practically every mixer in the same price range boasts similar features.
That’s why I put together this guide to help you buy the best mixers for your needs. Below, I’ll look at the top offerings across categories and share my pick of the best USB mixer for your specific budget and needs.[toc]
The Best USB Mixer for Every Budget
Here’s a closer look at our favorite mixers for different needs:
Mackie presented the FX6v3 among the three-series classics with useful upgrades. In addition to the new design, there are now Onyx microphone preamps, 2 × 4 USB recording, 24 practical GigFX effects, and an extensive software package for download. The Mackie ProFX6v3 is a much smaller version of the series.
This compact mixer offers six channels of which the two mono inputs 1 and 2 are equipped with combo sockets. Microphones can be connected here. Line signals can also be fed in using 6.35 mm jack plugs. Channel 3/4 is a classic stereo line-in with large jack sockets. Channel 5/6 also works in stereo but has a 3.5 mm stereo socket ready for its line signals.
The small format of this so-called mini jack is becoming more and more popular. It, for example, allows playback from smartphones, MP3 players, or digital recorders in an uncomplicated way.
While the stereo channels offer no other options apart from a single volume control (rotary potentiometer), the mono channel strips are more extensively equipped.
This mixer has Onyx preamplifiers. It is already printed on the metal surface of the small mixer. These low-noise preamps are not only known for their good sound.
They also offer up to 60 dB gain. They, thus, also help dynamic microphones with low output on the jumps. And yes, condenser microphones can also be connected, because 48-volt phantom power can be switched.
With the compact dimensions of the Mackie ProFX6v3 of 74 x 191 x 213 mm (H x W x D), you can’t expect a fader. So, rotary controls ensure the desired mixing ratios.
With 24 GigFX effects, Mackie offers an impressive collection for polishing up the sounds throughout the new series. You can choose from, for example, reverb, chorus, delay, overdrive distortion, and more.
The USB interface offers good added value. This mixer can be used as a 2 × 4 audio interface. To do this, however, you should download the appropriate driver from the Mackie website. The interface works with 24 bit/192 kHz and offers very good sound quality. The stereo signal can be recorded in a DAW via USB and two independent stereo streams from the computer and can be fed into the mixer.
What I don’t like
There is no tap function for delay. Also, there is no fader or graphic master equalizer.
Best for Small Studios: Yamaha MG12XU
With the MG12XU, Yamaha’s compact mixer series “MG” is now in its third round. In order to offer the best sound in the smallest of spaces, high-quality microphone preamps from Yamaha’s high-end studio consoles are used in the small mixers. And, last but not least, the MG series mixers are equally suitable for live and studio use.
These are, of course, quite high demands when you look at the retail price of the device.
The USB-compatible small mixer is delivered in a sturdy cardboard box. Two styrofoam molded parts ensure the safe transport of the device and the (non-slip) storage of the print material. Surprisingly, the MG12XU did not come with a power cable. But the real star of the package is not just wrapped in plastic. It is wrapped in a soft bubble bag that is gentle on the surface of the device, and that is also recyclable. The product also includes a download version of the Cubase AI DAW software.
The mixer includes a maximum of six microphones or twelve-line inputs, the latter of which are divided into four mono and four stereo inputs. There is also a group channel. The whole thing is rounded off by two aux channels, which also include an internal effects engine. The “SPX processor” offers 24 effect programs, which the manufacturer advertises as “high quality”.
The inputs of the mono channels 1-4 are designed as combo sockets. This is why both XLR and jack plugs can be plugged in to feed in microphone or instrument signals. Channels 5/6 and 7/8, on the other hand, are available in stereo. They are consequently fed with left-right signals either via a symmetrical XLR socket or two additional non-symmetrical jack sockets.
A pad circuit is available for channels 1-4, which lowers the input signal by 26 dB. Also, channels 1-8 have a high-pass filter working at 12 dB octave. It cuts off frequencies below 80 Hz.
The channel-wise level adjustment is made using the gain control. It ranges from +20 to +38 dB or from -6 to +38 dB with the pad function switched on. The integrated single knob compressors of channels 1-4 are a specialty. Neither ratio nor threshold nor attack or release times need to be set here. Instead, it is simply a matter of turning the corresponding potentiometer up or down, and that’s it! The switchable 48V phantom power of channels 5/6 and 7/8 also enables the use of condenser microphones.
A special feature of the UX version of the MG mixer is its USB interface. This offers two additional inputs and outputs in 24-bit, 192 kHz quality. The mixer thus also functions as an audio interface.
What I don’t like
The MG12XU did not come with a power cable. Also, the USB port is not placed well.
Best Analog Mixer: Soundcraft Signature 12MTK
Preamp design from Soundcraft, effects from Lexicon, and Dynamics from dbx: that sounds like an enticing compact mixer. Especially since the Soundcraft Signature 12 MTK is generally not expensive at the friendly music equipment dealer. It even has a 14-channel, bidirectional USB interface on board.
The steel housing is robust; all connections are screwed and accessible from above. While my eyes are still wandering, it captures many nice details. These include three aux busses, pre/post switches, and an effects device with two-parameter potentiometers. And if you remove the plastic side panels, the mixer can also be placed in a rack using the optional mounting kit.
The Soundcraft Signature 12 is a twelve-channel compact mixer that can mix input signals “in two in two”. Of the twelve advertised channels, eight have an almost identical structure. The 60-millimeter faders are accompanied by two buttons with which the signal can be routed to the master and subgroup. There is also a PFL button and a mute button, the activity of which is acknowledged by a red LED. If the channel is not muted, the lamp shows overload.
It continues with three aux sends, with the third one being routed to the internal effects device and the aux socket. This is followed by a three-channel tone control with semi-parametric mids and the mandatory potentiometer for the input gain.
Channels 7 and 8 each have two jack sockets because they are combined mono/stereo channels. If a microphone is plugged into the XLR socket or the left jack, the channel works monophonically; if both jacks are used, it is a stereo channel.
Two further differences can be seen: For channels one and two, simple on/off limiters from dbx can be switched on, channels five and six also have Hi-Z levels at the touch of a button. I think that’s a clever distribution of the goodies. This way, I can prevent two microphones from clipping and still supply the electric bass and electric guitar.
What I don’t like
Its USB output is too low. You can only get a maximum of -32db from the computer.
Best Portable Mixer: Allen & Heath ZEDi
The British manufacturer is gradually expanding its range of ZED consoles. After the series with the ZED-6, the ZED-6FX, and the ZEDi-8 was rounded down, the ZEDi-10 and the ZEDi-10FX now follow.
The ZEDi-10FX has four mono and three stereo inputs, an effects processor, and a USB audio interface. The USB2 interface offers 4 inputs and 4 outputs and that at 24 bit, 96 kHz. There is also Cubase LE from Steinberg for Mac and PC and the Cubasis LE app for iPads from version 2.
Also included are two power cables, a USB cable, and operating instructions. Also, there is the Cubase LE download info with serial numbers and a leaflet about the software with the upgrade information.
The four mono inputs each have an XLR socket for microphones and a jack input for line signals. The first two channels have a Hi-Z option so that guitars (and basses) can be connected directly. A PAD switch with -20dB is available for channels 3 and 4. The rest of the equipment is identical for the four entrances: gain, a three-band equalizer, aux, and FX send, panorama, and level. Finally, there is a PFL switch on each channel.
The stereo channels are structured quite differently. With the ST1, the signal is fed in via two jack sockets. The tone control is only equipped with high and low in two volumes. Gain, Aux, FX, Balance, and Level are available, and the PFL is not missing.
The main outputs of the ZEDi-10FX are available as balanced XLR sockets. While all other level controls are designed as potentiometers, Allen & Heath offers a 60 mm fader here.
The recording works straight away without any problems. There is the possibility to record up to 24 bit, 96 kHz.
Conclusively, with the ZEDi-10FX, Allen & Heath offers a small mixer in proven quality. The 4 × 4 audio interface, the very good microphone preamps, and the good sounding effects processor are the highlights of the equipment.
What I don’t like
There are some inconsistencies such as the noisy instrument inputs and the sometimes inflexible routing.[/su_column]
Best Value for Money: Behringer XR1
Behringer’s X Air XR18 digital mixer is making use of a current trend: wireless remote control via tablet computer. Coming straight out of the box, the Behringer X Air
XR18 turns out to be a rather inconspicuous slide-in module. You can make it 19-inch wide with the help of two included adapters. The front panel of the metal housing is densely populated with sockets. Meanwhile, the connection for the power cable, the main switch, and ventilation slots are located on the sides.
The XR18 is completely convection-cooled and therefore silent. But it produces plenty of heat, and the case becomes significantly warmer than lukewarm. Therefore, when mounting the rack, make sure that there is some distance to neighboring devices, and there should be no heat build-up in the case.
The XR18 comes with a fully parametric four-band equalizer. Each +/- 15 dB gain is possible; the filter quality varies continuously between 0.3 and 10. Optionally, all filters also work as high-pass filters or shelving. As a bonus, the EQ has an analyzer (RTA) that provides information on the frequency mix of the signal with the help of 100 bands.
Behringer has 61 plug-ins to choose from. This ranges from reverb and delay to modulation effects, graphic equalizers, exciters, and transient designers.
The six aux buses and the main sum also have compressors and fully parametric four-band equalizers. These are transformed into graphical 31 bands at the push of a button. It is not possible to delay channels and buses. This is perhaps a little too much to ask for a “musician’s desk”, but it would definitely be nice to have.
What I don’t like
It is not possible to delay channels and buses. This is perhaps a little too much to ask for a “musician’s desk”, but it would definitely be nice to have.
Best for Beginners: Behringer Xenyx Q802USB
With the Xenyx series, Behringer has brought nuanced products onto the market. The Behringer Q802USB mixer is a comfortable, simple, and practical device to create your recordings and play them with your colleagues. This console was created to enhance and refine audio recordings and create a noise-free single track.
The Q802 USB Mixer, the big brother of the Q502, is an all-in-one solution for young musicians or musicians. One could use it for quick tape recordings/demos.
Two mic preamps/line-in (combination jacks) are each equipped with a compressor, 3-band equalizer, FX, and pan potentiometer. An external analog device can be played as an effect via dedicated jack sockets. And its intensity can be regulated for each channel. The preamps are okay for this class, but certainly not “high-quality.”
After 12 o’clock (potentiometer setting), it is of course noisy.
Beginners will enjoy the one-knob compressor and the existing EQ. But please do not expect anything majestic as advertised on the manufacturer’s website. Channels 3/4 and 5/6 have jack inputs (6.3mm), 2-track in and out in stereo chinch. The signal is digitized via USB.
Although a power switch is missing, Behringer has to compensate with the phantom power supply. The condenser microphones can also be used.
Although this mixer is not one of the smallest in its range, it is very comfortable and practical to add to your desk. You can easily move to other places to make recordings with other colleagues.
The input configuration allows you to adjust and integrate sounds like bass for better quality. Thanks to the sound meter, the frequency and intensity of the sound can be clearly seen on the PC, laptop, or tablet.
The microphone reduces excess noise. The console has a button that allows you the ability to control external noise once you have included the microphone.
What I don’t like
This mixer is only used to connect headphones or small speakers. You can only connect it with small accessories. So if you are thinking of using this device in a large event, it is better that you start looking for another model.
Over to You
It’s a great time to be in the market for a USB mixer. The prices have come down and you can get pretty competent offerings for under $200. Hopefully, this list will help you find the best USB mixer for your needs.
For more suggestions and recommendations, email us using this contact form.
Check our other recommendations
- See our favorite digital mixers on this page
- If you’re a DJ, you should check out our list of the best DJ mixers