To Mix or Not to Mix
No piece of gear is more closely associated with the recording studio than the mixing board. Historically that's where the engineer spends most of his or her time working. A mixing board is simply a device that takes many individual audio channels and mixes them to a stereo left and right output. Mixing boards also allow you to preamplify microphones and adjust EQ. Despite all this, mixing boards are no longer a necessity for everyone. But who needs one? And how do you benefit from having one?
Why You Might Want a Mixer
If you have a standalone recorder, you need a mixer. Standalone recorders only record and play back; they don't set levels, they don't provide EQ, they just capture sound. So you need a mixer to control audio levels. This is why the mixer is so closely associated with the recording studio. It's only in recent years with the studio-in-a-box and computer software that mixerless setups are possible. Traditionally every recording device was a simple record and playback machine; the mixer wasn't optional. Even as computer systems become more commonplace, some engineers still like having the control of a mixer in their hands, instead of mixing with a mouse.
If you combine two overhead microphones and the snare drum microphone into one channel, you lose the ability to control the volume of the individual signals. If you're going to do this, be
If you've had experience with a mixer in the past and you feel comfortable with it, you might want to use one. You might also want a mixer if your recording device has limited inputs. Suppose that you have an 8-track recording device but the maximum you can record is eight channels. If you're recording a live band that uses more than eight signals, you might want a mixer to pare down some of the signals. For instance, instead of a drum kit using four or more tracks of the mix, you can use a mixer for the drum tracks. You can take eight microphones on the drums and mix them down so they take up fewer inputs. The only downside to this is that whatever gets mixed into one channel is there for good.
Why You Might Not Want a Mixer
If you own a studio-in-a-box like the Roland VS (Virtual Studio) series or any of the comparable products by other manufacturers, you might not need a mixer: They contain inputs and mixerlike volume controls, EQ, and everything else you need for each track. All of the tape-based, 4- and 8-track recorders allow for mixing and EQ, so you won't need a mixer there. If you're going the route of the computer-based studio, you might not want a mixer because you've already got the flexibility that a computer's virtual mixer gives you. The choice is up to you.