Best Podcast Mixers: At-a-Glance
- You don’t need a mixer to podcast, but there are reason to want one!
- Increased control and flexibility in recording (be it locally or remotely) is one of them
- A mixer can help you cut down on your editing time too
- However, they do add an extra layer of complexity to your setup
- So do you need a mixer for your podcast? And if so, which ones are your best options?
- Read on to find out 👇
We often joke here that podcast mixers appear more in stock photos than they do in real podcast setups. They definitely look cool – l33t podcasting ahoy! – but are they really useful? Well, that’s a good question, because – unlike a microphone – you definitely don’t need a mixer to podcast.
BUT – before you go running off, there are still a few reasons why you might want to add a podcast mixer (or general audio mixer) to your podcasting setup. Or, at least add it to your “eventually” wish list for the day when your sponsors or your Patreon supporters justify it!
So let’s dig into the world of podcast mixers and find out how they can help you create better sounding content, save you time, and make you feel like a pro-radio DJ…
The Desire to Upgrade
It never takes long. It can be mere months into your broadcasting journey before ‘mixer dreams’ (yep, that’s a real thing…) start to creep into your mind.
You might not even have a reliable audience yet, but you’re getting some great feedback, you’re enjoying the recording, the equipment, the whole process. As so often happens, the fever takes hold and you want to get the best kit possible to really make your Podcast shine. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, and there are some really great reasons to get a podcast mixer.
My only caveat to the whole thing is this, though: don’t rush in.
Despite the advantages, mixers complicate the whole business. Wait until you’ve settled into a good mix of quality and reliability. Make sure you have people listening, and that they like your content. At that point, you know you’re in it for the long haul. It’s worth the money to buy a mixer and the time to learn how to use it.
Remember, once you need to learn, we have coaching and courses in Podcraft Academy for a whole bunch of the more complicated setups.
Now that we’ve made sure you’re in it for the long haul, we can think about a mixer.
I’ll start by saying that yes, a mixer will improve your audio quality. The pre-amps will be nicer and will really help your microphone shine. But, if you have a decent microphone already, then it’s not going to make as much of a difference. At that level, it’s certainly not something that’ll suddenly win you a load more listeners.
Audio Engineers buy mixers for the sheer audio quality, but Podcasters buy mixers for the options and the control that they offer, as well as the efficiency they can bring to our recording workflow.
Our 2019 podcast gear survey showed that around half of podcasters were using some form of mixer or audio interface. Many others will still be creating great sounding audio using a high-end USB mic and double-ender recording app though. In podcasting, there’s never one single right way to do things.
So let’s have a look at the details – here are the reasons why a Podcaster might buy a mixer:
1. Using Other Pro Kit
If you want to use professional quality microphones that work with XLR or other pro-type cabling, then to get the best out of them you’re going to need a mixer.
It is possible to get XLR > USB converters, but they’re not going to take as much advantage of the quality of your mic.
2. Multi-Channel Control
Having control over the individual channels of your audio is one of the simplest, but biggest enhancements that a mixer brings into your life. In your early days, you’ll be recording everyone on one channel. That means loud people are loud and quiet people are quiet. With a podcast mixer you can actually turn up those quiet folks, and turn down the shouters. Plus you can record them on different channels and have much more power in post-production. Excellent!
3. Inline Enhancements
Inline enhancements work hand-in-hand with the multi-channel capability and are great for improving your sound. They can also save you a whole lot of time in post-production. The ability to use a low-cut or high-cut filter, equalisation and gain on each channel individually is brilliant, plus some podcast mixers have compression and limiters too.
4. Backup and reliability
Podcast mixers don’t crash, unlike computers, and I’ve never seen a digital recorder do so either. You can cut out the computer component altogether, reducing noise and flakiness, or you can record using software and with the mixer as a backup recording, sending a second output to the digital recorder.
So, that’s 4 big advantages. To me, as good as they are, they’re all nice to have, but they don’t quite justify the cost for an average podcaster. What we need is a couple of game-changing features. Luckily enough, here are two just such things.
5. Live Production
Live producing means that you’re adding your music, your sound FX, phone calls, recorded messages, and anything else that goes into your show on the fly – it’s all going in live. You’re treating it like a radio show, so there’s no post-production at all. You simply hit record, do the show, and then stop.
Afterwards, you might do some compression or EQ in Post, but all of the audio you need is in there already. Editing is cut down dramatically.
It’s possible to do this through some types of podcast software. For example, the Spreaker app acts as a software-based mixer. But, software tends to be less tactile, less quick and more prone to errors. Instead, go the hardware route and plug a device into your podcast mixer to play sound FX and recordings on their own channel.
I use an iPad with the Soundbyte app for this – it just gives you a rack of buttons with the sounds and music attached making it very easy to play anything off the cuff. If you don’t have that, though, you can just use a laptop or a PC.
We have done this a fair bit in the past, and once you’ve got used to the kit, it makes Podcasting so much quicker.
And, not to forget, it’s fun! It’s great to hear your music playing at the start, get yourself hyped up, fade it down and enthuse your welcome into the mic. It’s great to play bumpers and stings and to react to them. Or to play FX when your co-host does something – for them to hear it too, and react. It makes podcasting quicker and more enjoyable, which to me, is the biggest reason for getting a mixer. Plus, I like to avoid editing if I can, or keep editing it to a minimum – I’m too much of a perfectionist so I end up adjusting stuff endlessly, wasting time….
6. Mix Minus
Mix minus ties into the last thing I mentioned above: working with a co-host. Mix-minus is a technique that allows you to do live production with a co-host while that co-host is remote, using something like Skype, or Zoom.
If you connect your normal recording setup into Skype so that they can hear you and the FX, then they’ll also hear their own voice back. It sets up a horrible echo. So, what you want to do is send them the full mix – your voice, music, etc – MINUS their own voice.
You can do this with any mixer that has an ‘Auxiliary Out’ or an ‘FX send’ on it, and a fader or a knob to control that output. In practice, you plug that Aux/FX into Skype, and then you turn down the Aux/FX knob on the Skype channel alone. That means they can’t hear themself on that channel, but can hear everything else. Easy!
Here’s our guide to setting up a mix-minus for your podcast recording.
Now that you’ve made the decision to buy a podcast mixer, here comes the difficult part. The range of mixers on the market is bewildering, and the choice isn’t made any easier by the ridiculous number of features and specs that are listed for each one.
The problem is that mixers are really designed for Audio Engineers, and those guys know a LOT about the technical details. Therefore, those that sell mixers plaster the tech specs all over the website.
As a podcaster, there are 3 things you need to worry about:
1. The Number of Channels
How many inputs will you use? My own setup uses 4 channels on a regular basis, but 5 or 6 on occasion.
This is made up of: 1. My own microphone, 2. a local co-hosts microphone, 3. Music and FX via iPad, 4. Skype input for interviews or other co-hosts. I’ll sometimes have a mobile phone plugged into another channel, and another local co-host on occasion, so I need a minimum of 6 channels, and probably 3 XLR inputs to be safe.
Many cheaper mixers will only have 1 or 2 XLR inputs, which limits the number of decent quality microphones you can use locally, especially if they’re condenser microphones that need phantom power (check out my microphone article for more details).
Buy something with enough channels to expand into.
2. Aux Out or FX Send
To achieve a mix-minus setup, you need that Aux Out or FX Send feature. Look for a stereo output socket labelled with either, and a volume control knob on each channel labelled the same.
3. Control Types: Faders or Knobs?
More often than not, cheaper mixers use knobs all over the board. Knobs are fine for those adjustments that don’t tend to change during a recording, such as Pan, EQ or gain. But, for your main volume control faders can be an advantage. A fader is a slider rather than a knob – you can see faders on the bottom of the picture opposite and knobs at the top. Faders offer more fine control than a knob.
You can get your music levels right every time with a fader, and ensure your recordings sound great. But, in saying that, knobs can do the job just fine, and tend to allow you to save a bit of cost if required.
4. Advanced Inline Processing Features
If you want to have fine control over your sound, reducing post-production, then you may be looking for extra inline features. The minimum you would generally expect are Equalisation (or EQ), a gain control and possibly a lo-cut filter. Beyond that, some podcasting mixers may have compression or limiter options, but don’t write it off it doesn’t
Choosing the Best Podcast Mixer for Your Budget
I’m going to offer a range of podcast mixers at a budget level and a high-quality level, but, I have to admit, I don’t hugely recommend the low budget options. I include them because I’m asked about them all the time, and people argue that they’d like to try a mixer at a low cost. But, the quality often isn’t amazing, and it’s not that much more to jump in with a really good mixer.
A quick heads up that we use affiliate links on the site to help support the masses of free content we put out. We’ll earn a small commission should you choose to buy through any of them – at no extra cost to yourself.
With that said, let’s start by looking at the best budget level podcast mixers:
I used to talk about sub-£100 mixers from time to time. Sadly, over the years, I’ve learned that they’re just not worth it…
The budget Behringer range, in particular, are a troublesome bunch. They’re budget in every sense of the word: hissy, loud noise floors and cheap components that break pretty quickly.
So, I’ve removed our recommendations here. Honestly, if you’re on a budget, do not get a mixer.
Instead, invest in a Samson Q2U, for now. It’ll work on USB right away, but has an XLR output which will plug into any mixer in future. That means you can upgrade in future, once you can budget for a higher-level device, and not waste your money right now.
Weirdly, my current favourite mixer isn’t technically a mixer… Thing is, it can do practically everything a mixer can do, but in a much more flexible package!
In December 2020, Zoom released this brand new device that really mixed up (pun intended) the mixer world. The PodTrak P4 is technically a handheld podcast recorder. Despite that, it really does replace a mixer, and do the same things in a simpler and more accessible way.
The device can take 4 XLR mics as inputs, so you can cater to a decent-sized group, and there’s individual volume control over every channel. Even better, there are headphone outputs for all 4, with individual volume control on each. This is more than you get on most pro mixers!
The Podtrak can also take an input from your phone or PC, so you can record calls right into the device. Add in a set of programmable soundpads on the front (just punch the button and it’ll play music or FX right into the recording) and it’s a tiny device that can do live production for a group of in-person presenters, plus remote guests.
Of course, that’s just the mixer-like features. Don’t forget this thing is handheld, so you can get out and about for recording anywhere. Plus, it can act as a USB device on your PC, to plug in any pro XLR microphone for general recording.
Safe to say, I like this little gadget, and you can see how much Matthew loves it over on his full review of the Zoom PodTrak P4 here.
The fact that it’s only $200 / £200 is a little crazy. To me, it strongly competes with the Rodecaster (below) on features, but is a fraction of the price. If you think you might record with more than 1 person in person, and you fancy some live production through the soundpads and remote call-ins, then this is a really great choice.
The Yamaha MG10xu
If you’re looking for something more traditional – an old-school mixer with all the knobs – then my favourite mid-range one comes in the form of the Yamaha MG10xu.
This Yamaha was a constant presence in our studio for a couple of years, up until we replaced it with the Rodecaster (below). It’s a brilliant little mixer with an amazingly quiet noise floor, especially at this price. The XU version is USB capable, for direct recording into your computer, and it has features normally found only on expensive units. These include in-built compression, and it also has Aux Out so that you can run a mix-minus setup.
As a bonus, it’s a small and hardy little unit, so it can even be taken out and about without too much worry. We’ve used this to record a number of events with great results.
The main limitation on this device are the channels. 4 might not be enough for some bigger recording setups. But, I’ve had such great results with this that, to be honest, unless you need the extra channels, I’d recommend this over the bigger Behringer unit below.
For a mini mixer, with more portability, try the Mackie 402.
This is a pro-quality bit of kit. One of the smaller, portable Mackie units. It costs about the same as the Yamaha and has fewer features, but many audio pros would argue that it’s better audio quality, simply due to the brand name.
To be honest, for all but professional recording environments, you won’t notice much difference between the two. But you might want to spend the money for the Mackie name and a tiny touch of extra audio quality polish.
Also, with the advent of the Podtrak, the portability of the Mackie, here, is less of a unique advantage. So, it might be a rare situation where this is best choice, despite it being great quality.
The Behringer Xenyx 1204
The Behringer Xenyx 1204 is a fully-featured mixer that’ll do the job for any podcaster out there that needs a lot more channels and the full set of mixer features.
You’re not going to run out of channels on this any time soon, with 6 fader-controlled channels, plus extra if needed. 4 of those are phantom-powered XLR channels so you can bring in a range of co-hosts on top quality microphones.
This comes in USB too so you can bring your audio straight into the computer for direct recording, or you can record out to a digital recorder if need be.
A good alternative that we’ve been recently playing with is the Samson MXP124FX, and you can take a look at that review for the details and some sound samples.
Best Pro-Level Podcast Mixer
The best player in this category is the Rodecaster from…. well… Rode! This is a unique little beast, and the only one here built specifically for podcasters. Check out our review of the Rodecaster here, for full details.
It’s great quality, as you’d expect from the makers of the ever-popular Rode Procaster mic, which we use in the studio here. But its real strength is its slew of features, aimed right at the podcasting market.
For example, take the sound cart buttons, designed for you to play music and Sound FX into your show WITHOUT the need for an external device. Ditch that iPad and load them into the unit itself. Then, marvel over the smartphone Bluetooth connection, so that you can record calls (or anything else really!) right into your show too, no cables required.
Finally, the Rodecaster even acts as a digital recorder, coming with memory card capture built right in. So, if you regularly get out, recording shows on the road, then that’s one less piece of kit to take with you.
The Rodecaster is not cheap, is not for everyone, but it could be perfect for some. It has a really strong contender in the Podtrak now, though. The Podtrak has most of the same capabilities, is much better value and a lot more flexible. Those massive light-up Rodecaster sound cart buttons do look cool, though…
The Mackie ProFX8
The Mackie ProFX8 is a professional level piece of kit, and something you can aspire to if you really want the best quality out there, and the utmost reliability.
The Mackie is similar to the Behringer above, but actually has one less fully controlled channel, so 5 main inputs, but still 4 of which are XLR. It has all the same inline features, except for compression – something which can easily be added in post-production in very little time anyway.
What the Mackie does have that the Behringer doesn’t is better pre-amps, reportedly better reliability and a 7 band EQ to really refine your sound in live production.
If you have the budget for it, this is a pretty great bit of kit.
Podcast Mixer Alternatives
Maybe the features and functions of mixers are attractive to you, but you don’t like the look of them, don’t have the room for one, or even, simply can’t afford one. What are some podcast mixer alternatives?
If you’re looking to run online convos with remote guests or co-hosts then software like Squadcast or Riverside might be the answer. They can do pretty much anything a mixer can do (and more), in a much simpler way, and don’t demand a big space on your desk!
Or, you might still want a tangible piece of equipment, but something a lot sleeker and less cluttered than your average mixer. If that’s the case, getting a USB audio interface might be the right move for you.
Conclusion: On Podcast Mixers
Whether you’re at the podcasting mixer stage or not, it’s always fun to look. There’s just something about all those dials and buttons 😍
Those same dials are the danger, though! Don’t jump in too early. There’s nothing worse than complicating your recording process before you’re ready.
Instead, the best option, for many, is a good USB microphone.
Read our best microphone picks here
But once you are, a mixer can really help with your process, improving your sound and speeding up your workflow.
Top Pick: The Zoom Podtrak
It’s really hard to look past this plucky little hybrid mixer-recorder device! What’s not to love? 4 input channels, individual headphone inputs, sound cart buttons, USB interface capabilities, super portability and an amazing price, considering what’s included.
That’s why my top podcast mixer pick, right now, is the Podtrak p4.
What Other Podcast Mixers?
If not that, then here’s what I’d recommend.
For a traditional mixer, mid-budget with great quality audio
> Get the Yamaha MG10xu here
For a Pro Podcasting setup, max control and ALL the bells and whistles
> Get the Rodecaster here
Check out our full podcast equipment guide if you’re still not sure what setup would suit you best. We’ll help you choose 😊
Beyond Podcast Mixers: Recording, Editing, & Publishing Your Podcast
Whether you’re using a podcast mixer or not, it’s worth checking out our ‘Podcast Maker’ tool Alitu which lets you record, edit, produce and publish your podcast from within its dashboard. Designed for folks who’re completely new, or just want to save a load of time, Alitu makes the entire process as simple as humanly possible. Try it out free for 7-days and see for yourself!
Let Alitu Take Care of Your Podcast Editing
Alitu is a tool that takes your recording, polishes it up, adds your music, and publishes the episode, all automatically.
Learn more about Alitu
Need More Help?
Need some support and coaching on setting up and getting the best from your new podcast mixer? Or maybe you don’t need a mixer at all, but you desperately want help with the editing, promotion, or monetisation side of things. Whatever your needs, we’ve got your back inside Podcraft Academy. That’s where you’ll find all our courses, downloadable resources, and weekly live Q&A sessions.