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Audio Interface Vs Mixer – What’s the Difference

One of the first things you must purchase when setting up your home recording studio is something to record your microphone, guitar, drums, and any other instrument using your computer. The simplest way to do this is to use a mixer or audio interface. Both can record and deliver audio data to a digital audio workstation (DAW) or audio editor, although they do so in different ways. However, there has been a conflict going on for some time, with artists and audio engineers trying to figure out which equipment best matches their needs.

In this article, we’ll dive into each and every detail about audio interfaces and audio mixers including their purpose, features, differences, and pros and cons to help you determine which one is better suited for your needs.

Audio Interface and Audio Mixer: Overview

Most people hold the view that audio interfaces and mixers are similar. Although they share a few characteristics, mixers and audio interfaces are not the same thing. 

Delve into the article to know more about audio interfaces and audio mixers. 

What is an Audio Interface

An audio interface is a device used in music creation (or) audio engineering to record sounds from any audio sources and save them to your computer, where you can manipulate them using a DAW (or) audio editor. In simple terms, an audio interface transforms audio signals from digital to analog and vice versa.

  • They actually deliver more professional sound quality than your PC, Mac, or tablet’s sound card, which is often inexpensive and of poor quality. 
  • These audio devices include multiple inputs to connect and record your guitars, synth, or keyboards, as well as Thunderbolt (or) USB outputs for connecting speakers, studio monitors, computers, or headphones to hear what you’re recording and edit sounds in your digital audio workstation.
  • Moreover, they also have built-in preamps to boost your microphone’s audio signal for recording and mixing. 
  • In fact, they come in various forms and sizes, with wonderful studio-quality ones being significantly larger to accommodate more inputs.

Why You Should Get an Audio Interface?

Here are some reasons to get an audio interface.

Audio Interface devices take up less room and can be carried easily. They can also be placed beneath your monitor, next to your desktop, or bring it with you if you need to record somewhere other than your studio.
You can just connect it to your PC via USB, plug in microphones and musical instruments to the device’s inputs, click record on your DAW, and start recording. 
You can record as many instruments as you like according to the given inputs and listen to your input signal with almost zero latency.

What is an Audio Mixer?

An audio mixer, often known as a mixing console, is a music device that has several microphone inputs, line level inputs, and various audio inputs from which you can control volume, apply EQ, compression, and other effects such as delays, chorus, and reverb. keep in your mind that, with a mixer, you can perform the same thing that you would do in a DAW while recording with an audio interface. 

  • Moreover, it is a basic device for mixing engineers who work with live music. They can change the output in seconds without disrupting the concert, and they can do it numerous times during the performance.
  • Further, they are extremely preferred for live performances and other circumstances where the audio from several microphones and instruments has to be modified to create a clear, cohesive mix. 
  • Nowadays, most mixers come with built-in USB (or) Thunderbolt, eliminating the need for a separate audio interface. There are also additional music production programs that provide virtual mixing without the need for hardware.
  • However, many professional music producers prefer to use standalone devices in order to have additional inputs, effects, higher-quality preamps, filters, and so on. 

Why You Should Get an Audio Mixer?

Here are the reasons to use an audio mixer.

You have immediate access to each input’s settings and effects. Some mixers still require the computer to bring VST from your DAW, but after that, you have complete control.
You can set up everything in advance and record everything in one session without spending too much time editing in post-production.
Audio mixers tend to have more inputs to record a full band with multiple mics and instruments.

Audio Interface and Audio Mixer: Comparison

Feature Audio Interface Audio Mixer
Purpose Connects audio devices to a computer for input (or) output Combines and processes multiple audio signals
Phantom Power Includes phantom power to deliver direct current to microphones Includes phantom power to deliver direct current to microphones
Power Supply Offers different kinds of power connectivity options such as USB etc Offers different kinds of power connectivity options such as USB etc
Audio Quality Furnished with high-quality analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog for producing wonderful sound quality The audio quality may vary depending on the model and built-in components
Input Channels Usually, they contain 1 to 32+ input channels Have multiple channels for connecting various audio sources
Output Channels Stereo (or) 5.1/7.1 surround sound Stereo (or) multichannel output options
EQ Controls Contains basic EQ adjustments  Has extensive EQ controls for each input channel
Low latency Monitoring It provides real-time input monitoring Typically includes zero-latency monitoring
Preamps Built-in microphone preamps are supplied for mic inputs Equipped with integrated preamps for microphones and instruments
Digital Connectivity Seamlessly connected via USB, Thunderbolt, FireWire, PCIe, Ethernet, etc Can be connected through USB, FireWire, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi connectivity
Analog Connectivity Supports XLR, TRS, RCA, MIDI, etc Supports XLR, TRS, RCA, and other audio connectors
Compatibility Compatible with various recording software and DAWs Works with DAWs (or) as standalone units
Built-in Effects Usually, all the models don’t have built-in effects while some models offer basic effects Offers a wide range of onboard effects, including EQ and reverb
Mobile Recording Portable options for on-the-go recording Some mixers are portable, but larger models are stationary
Sound Reinforcement Limited functionality for live sound mixing Designed for live sound mixing and performance
Footprint They are sleek and portable, occupy very little desktop space They are big and take up more space
Cost It is budget-friendly and more affordable Its cost can vary widely based on channel count and features

Audio Interface and Audio Mixer: Which is Better?

Answering this question is quite confusing and complicated too. But we recommend you go with an audio interface if you primarily focus on recording and want a user-friendly, budget-friendly solution. on the other hand, if you require real-time mixing and extensive control for live performances or more complex audio productions then choose an audio mixer. 

However, before making a purchase, evaluate the unique features and capabilities of both audio interfaces and mixers of individual models and brands listed below. 

Audio Interface and Audio Mixer: Features Comparison
Audio Quality
  • Audio interfaces are well-known for their high-quality analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog conversion, which ensures precise and clear signal processing for recording and playback. \
  • The audio quality of audio mixers varies depending on the model and built-in components, but they excel in real-time audio mixing and processing capabilities.
Input Channels
  • Audio interfaces generally include a limited number of input channels including an XLR port as well as a 14 in (0.64 cm) line port that are ideal for directly connecting microphones and instruments to a computer. 
  • Audio mixers, on the other hand, have several input channels that allow users to connect and control different audio sources in real-time.
Output Channels
  • Audio interfaces often provide stereo or surround sound output for monitoring sounds through speakers or headphones. 
  • Audio mixers, on the other hand, have several output channels that allow users to send the mixed audio to multiple destinations at the same time, such as speakers, headphones, recording devices, and live sound systems.
EQ Controls
  • Audio interfaces often provide basic EQ controls, as well as tone changes for inputs. 
  • Audio mixers, give complete EQ adjustments for each input channel, allowing for fine and detailed sound shaping to obtain the desired audio mix.
  • Audio interfaces can be easily integrated into diverse audio production settings since they are compatible with various recording software and Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs). They frequently support various operating systems such as Windows and macOS and communicate via common interfaces like USB, Thunderbolt, or PCIe. 
  • Audio mixers, which are primarily built for live sound mixing and may lack a direct interface with recording software, may not have the same level of software compatibility.
  • Audio interfaces do not come with many effects. This is because they record directly to a DAW, where plugins may be used. Some interfaces have a high-pass filter, and specialist ones, such as the Universal Audio series, include preamp modeling and compression circuitry, although this is not the standard.
  • Audio mixers have built-in effects such as EQ, compression, reverb, delay, and modulation. This allows you to comprehend the sound before it reaches the ears. This is essential for streaming, broadcasting, and live sound, but less so for recording unless it’s a specific creative choice. 
  • Audio interfaces are often slim and portable, taking up minimal desktop space. 
  • Audio mixers, on the other hand, are larger and take up more room. 
Intended Use
  • Audio interface is the gold standard for connecting microphones and instruments to your computer to record. If you want to the ability to record high-quality audio from a single source, or maybe just a few sources simultaneously, an interface is the best bet.
  • Audio mixers are used in broadcast, streaming, and live sound reinforcement applications. They allow you to blend and “mix” several sound sources. Onboard effects are also provided by mixers for a slightly polished, direct-to-audience sound. You can use a USB mixer to record to a DAW, but be sure it has the functionality – check for “USB audio interface” someplace in the tech specs.
  • Audio interfaces come with built-in microphone preamps, specifically designed to amplify the low-level microphone signals and ensure clean and balanced audio input. This feature is essential for achieving professional-quality recordings.
  • Audio mixers also have integrated preamps for microphones and instruments, but their focus is more on real-time mixing capabilities rather than dedicated preamp quality.
Analog Connectivity
  • Audio interfaces often contain XLR, TRS, RCA, and other audio connections for connecting microphones, instruments, and other analog audio sources. 
  • Audio mixers are well-known for their wide analog connection, with several XLR and TRS inputs for a variety of audio sources, as well as additional connectors for output to speakers, headphones, and other devices. 
Digital Connectivity
  • Audio interfaces enable users to connect to computers and other digital devices via a variety of digital connectivity methods such as USB, Thunderbolt, FireWire, PCIe, Ethernet, and more. 
  • Audio mixers may include some digital connectivity possibilities, particularly in higher-end versions, but their major concentration is on analog mixing and signal processing.
Mobile Recording
  • Audio interfaces are ideal for mobile recording setups and they can often be easily connected to computers or mobile devices, allowing artists and entertainment makers to capture high-quality audio on the road.While some audio mixers are portable, many bigger ones are immovable and better suited to fixed installations or studio use.
Sound Reinforcement
  • Usually, audio interfaces offer limited live sound capabilities, their primary focus is on recording and post-production chores.
  • Audio mixers excel at live sound reinforcement. They are specifically designed with faders, pan controls, and built-in effects to manage audio source mixing in real-time during live performances or events. 
Low Latency Monitoring
  • Audio interfaces include low latency monitoring, enabling real-time monitoring of inputs without noticeable delays. 
  • Although certain audio mixers may offer low latency monitoring, it is not as common as in audio interfaces, where it is a key function for recording.
Set Up
  • Audio interfaces are well-known for their simple and user-friendly designs. They are frequently plug-and-play devices with basic controls that are straightforward to set up and operate, even for individuals who are new to audio production. 
  • Audio mixers, particularly more modern versions, provide a plethora of controls, settings, and routing choices that might be complicated and need a greater grasp of audio engineering fundamentals.
  • Audio interfaces are frequently entry-level options for home studios or beginning artists, with pricing ranges to suit a variety of budgets. 
  • Audio mixers, on the other hand, can vary greatly in price, with bigger, feature-rich mixers being more expensive and aimed at professional users or live sound engineers.

Audio Interface and Audio Mixer: Major Differences

Here is a quick run down of some of the key difference in between audio interface and audio mixer.

  • You can only add EQ after recording with the audio interface whereas you can adjust each input’s EQ, compression, and reverb before recording begins with a mixer. 
  • A mixer gives you quick access and control over the settings and effects of each instrument, but an audio interface relies on the computer for anything you wish to change during live shows. 
  • Generally, interfaces rely on DAWs for post-production, but audio mixers provide everything you need to process your audio.
  • A digital mixer cannot replace a DAW in terms of effects, because DAWs have many more effects than a mixer.

Audio Interface Vs Mixer – FAQs

1. Do I need an audio interface if I have an audio mixer?

Ans: You don’t require an audio interface if you solely use your audio mixer to mix sounds without recording them. If you wish to record music but don’t have a USB mixer, you’ll need an audio interface to convert the analog signal to digital and save it to your DAW.

2. What is a Mixer with a built-in Audio Interface?

Ans: A mixer with an integrated audio interface combines the features of an audio mixer and an audio interface into a single device. It enables real-time audio mixing while also enabling high-quality audio conversion for recording straight into a computer.

3. Can I use a Mixer as an Audio Interface for recording?

Ans: Yes, you can. Usually, some mixers include built-in USB (or) digital interfaces that allow them to operate as audio interfaces for recording. However, not all mixers have this capacity, so verify the mixer’s specs to determine if it enables direct recording to a computer.

4. Does a digital mixer sound better than DAW?

Ans: No, a digital mixer cannot match the sound quality of a DAW. Mixer effects are restricted, they are only suitable for use in live sound or broadcasting situations. Working with recorded audio in a DAW allows you to achieve much more. There, you have access to hundreds of third-party plugins that may be used to edit the sound in a variety of ways.

5. Do audio interfaces have built-in headphone amplifiers?

Ans: Yes, most audio interfaces have built-in headphone amplifiers, which allow for direct monitoring while also providing adequate headphone loudness.

6. Is a USB mixer the same as an audio interface?

Ans: Audio interfaces convert a digital audio stream to an analog audio signal and vice versa. USB mixers have a built-in audio interface, however, they cannot record multi-tracks into your DAW or recording program, unlike standalone audio interfaces. They carry out similar tasks in various ways.

7. Which is ideal for live recording and bands?

Ans: A mixing console is an excellent choice for audio professionals and bands seeking professional line-level audio instruments that enable real-time audio monitoring and tuning. You’ll be able to record your live performances professionally and with the quickly available settings necessary in this type of circumstance thanks to the stereo line level inputs included in most USB mixers.

8. What are the disadvantages of using an audio interface?

Ans: You won’t be able to accomplish much with just the audio interface; you’ll need recording software or a DAW, as well as knowledge on how to utilize it if you want to get the most out of your audio interface.

9. What should I consider when choosing between an audio interface and an audio mixer?

Ans: Think about your primary use case whether it’s for recording, live performances, or both, the amount of audio sources you need to handle, your budget, and the level of control and complexity that your audio setup requires. Analyzing these things help you make a better decision between an audio interface and a mixer. 


Finally, before purchasing an audio interface or a digital mixer, consider what you will use them for. In a nutshell, if you need to add effects, equalization, compression, and mixing after recording, you should invest in an audio interface. If you’re working on something like a podcast and only want to perform one initial setup and don’t intend to change anything afterwards, a mixer is the ideal option. If you need to fine-tune your audio later, you can purchase a second audio interface.

I hope this article was informative and helped you understand the difference between an audio interface and a mixer. Now go make some music and have fun!

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