The 7 Best Audio Mixers to Buy in 2018

From tried-and-true classics to cutting-edge consoles

An audio mixer is the centerpiece of any producer's gear arsenal. Whether you're working in the studio and need to mix several inputs into the same central unit, or just looking for a rugged, reliable console to take on tour, it's important to find the right unit for your needs. Your budget and priorities — the number of inputs, the range of capabilities and on-board features, and so on — will ultimately dictate your choice. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorites, from the all-around best to the shockingly small and super high-end. It all comes down to whether you’re looking for cutting-edge control, meat-and-potatoes functionality, or something that falls somewhere in between. 

Best Overall: Mackie ProFX22v2

The v2 of Mackie’s utterly dominant (and massive) mixing console is everything you could ask for in a live audio mixing unit. 22 channels of fully-moldable inputs? Yep. Four full effects buses with pads and loop blending capabilities? You bet. A seven-band graphic EQ on the output? You better believe it. Each channel offers you two options: a Hi-Z gain level for direct instrument lines, or reliable proprietary Vita preamps with 100Hz low-cut filters and optional 48v power. That means you’ll get clean, nominal mic inputs without that low-frequency noise hum.

The Mackie's build quality is nothing to sneeze at either, with a solid steel chassis and a classic look that says “I’m pro” even if you drop the thing a few times along the way. They’ve even included a USB output that works with your computer (via a driver) for seamless recording into the DAW of your choice. It isn’t the flashiest model out there, but when it comes down to core capabilities, you really can’t beat it.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Zoom LiveTrak L-12

Our runner-up pick may come as a bit of a surprise — Zoom is known for in-the-field recording and AV, but you might not think of this brand when looking for your main mixing rig. The LiveTrak L-12 came onto the scene at the 2018 NAMM show, bringing with it an impressive set of features. It offers eight discrete mono inputs with combo XLR/1/4-inch plugs, as well as two separate sets of line-level stereo inputs that offer line-level compression and gain control. Zoom has even chosen to clean up the look of the console by featuring a selectable EQ module that, depending on which channel strip you activate, can apply to any track. That programmability carries over into a resettable scene functionality that lets you recall up to nine screens at a time (essential for a live band set). There are even five separate powered headphone outputs, each with the ability to tap into the full mix. 

Best Budget: Behringer XENYX 802

Behringer has mastered the art of giving you just what you need without any unnecessary bells and whistles. The XENYX 802 is no different. Just like most compact units, this model has eight inputs, two of which are XLR. These are supported by Behringer’s middle-of-the-road XENYX preamps (although they did also throw in 48v Phantom power, which is an impressive addition at this price point). Each channel offers a three-band EQ, and there is some bussing capability via an aux send/return. The construction leaves a bit to be desired as it looks like a pretty standard modern mixer. But if you're looking for a solid budget option, this is one to consider. 

Mackie is back with an innovative little mixing console that provides you with an insane number of ins and outs for its size. It only offers two dedicated XLR ins, but makes up for it with six additional line inputs to give you extra room for live sources. Each XLR comes out of the box supported by Mackie’s tried-and-true preamps, and all of the channels are moldable via a three-band EQ, pan, and volume. There’s an aux send with stereo returns so you can set up a quick bus (something not usually seen in smaller format mixers). Plus, there is Phantom power available on both mic inputs so you aren’t limited to only dynamic mics. The whole thing comes in a very small package that, as expected, is built like a tank. 

Best for Computer Connectivity: Presonus StudioLive AR16

Most of the better mixers these days offer some sort of USB connectivity to live record right into your computer. And Presonus is one of the best brands for standalone audio interfaces. So, it’s natural that one of their hybrid “analog/digital” mixers is our pick for the best DAC-capable mixer. This unit has 18 fully-preamped mic inputs (some of them stereo-paired), and it's worth noting that Presonus’s XMAX Class A preamps are some of the best out there that aren’t standalone. Their AR8 three-band EQ (available on each channel) is a pretty well-lauded feature in the industry, too.

Presonus has loaded up this board with digital effects in case you don’t want to use outboard sound coloring. And if you do, there’s USB connectivity with standalone app functionality for seamless recording — they’ve even included Bluetooth so you can connect to your smartphone and use it as a remote controller. The StudioLive AR16 also has a solid-state drive built right in so you can record tracks directly on-device. It's a good way to create a backup to whatever you lay down on your DAW. 

Best Classic: Yamaha MG16XU

Yamaha’s MG mixing line is considered a classic for a reason — these guys have been putting out reliable, full-featured mixers for decades. The MG16XU brings that into the modern age with a ton of on-board features. Each channel has a three-band EQ, pan controls, and four separate aux mix options that allow you to bus through a ton of outboard effects. There are built-in SPX digital effects too, just in case you want to assign any of those and leave your outboard processors at home. There are 16 channels, all allowing for XLR or line inputs, and all featuring Phantom power and pad toggles that are optimizable for whatever input you’re feeding in. There are included compressors and a USB out. Plus, the metal chassis makes for a super durable construction.

Best Splurge: Presonus StudioLive 32 Series III

OK, we’ll admit it: Not everyone needs a behemoth board with 32 inputs and an insane level of control. But if you’re going all-out for your home studio or just want to make sure that a shortage of inputs won't hamper your creativity, then the StudioLive 32 might be your best bet. Each of those 32 inputs is fully digital and fully recallable, which means that they’ll respond to your DAW (or whatever digital processor you’re sequencing through), and act as a controller as much as a sound mixer. Each channel offers the classic XMAX preamps, 16 of which give you line level capabilities.

The sliders are touch sensitive and motorized for full control, and for those who desire even crazier levels, there’s a super-bright touchscreen that lets you further finetune each of your tracks. The StudioLive 32 offers three different modes of recording: straight into the on-board solid state drive, via the USB interface, or via the ultra-high-res AVB interface. They’ve even included a new Fat Channel processing mode offering vintage-style EQ and compression for that intangible warmth your mixes might be missing.

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