Hardware mixer recommendations for band practice

(anarcat) #1

hi!

I’ve been looking at mixers for our practice room, something along the line of a Mackie ProFX12v2 and the like. You know the basic live mixer: plug a bass/guitar/voices/drum in a few ports and jack that into a laptop through USB.


(Not an actual Mackie ProFX, that’s all Wikipedia commons had on hand… :wink: )

I’ve read in another post (multitrack recording hardware) that USB is limited to 4-track recording. Is that still accurate in the days of USB-2? How about USB-3? That’s with latency with USB setups, a problem? That post, it must be said like many hardware commendations on the forum, are starting to show their age so I wonder if it’s still accurate.

Note that I don’t mind 4-track, as long as it works reliably: it’s a good start. I feel bad treating Ardour as a vulgar 4-track recorder, but I think it’s actually a great start to do simple demos and check your stuff before a real recording session. Plus once you got multitrack in, even if it’s just a few like this, you can start bouncing around stuff and do interesting things already.

My problem is I can’t find recent advice on a good mixer that would be compatible with Linux, let alone Ardour. I would assume that if it works in ALSA, it works in Ardour, and that’s what the requirements docs say, but I’m not sure where to go next. It seems that low-end Behringer mixers like the Q802USB are supported by ALSA but what about the beffier stuff like the 12-port Xenix X1222USB? How do I find out if a mixer is “class-compliant”? Manufacturers websites aren’t exactly clear on that…

I see a bunch of setups using Firewire, but that’s not really possible from some random used laptop I’m going to live in that crummy room. Besides, it’s becoming less and less common…


(Not the actual band, but notice: no mixer!!)

What kind of mixer would you use for a simple, semi-portable recording setup like this? My specs is more or less:

  • at least 6xXLR in, the more the merrier
  • preferably USB out, must work in Linux
  • at least 4x channels out
  • sliders! i want sliders!
  • preferably less than 800$USD

By the way, it’s been years since I’ve last used Ardour and I’m really glad to see you folks are around. I recorded demos and mastered albums on this thing, and I’m really grateful to have such professional software available on Linux, and as free software. Kudos to everyone who’s still around rocking it hard.

(Michael Willis) #2

I keep thinking that if I ever do live recording like this, I would probably buy a Focusrite Scarlett 18i20. It is reportedly class compliant enough for basic features to work, and somebody is currently developing a driver to make its advanced features available on Linux.

It doesn’t have EQ like the mixer in your post; I would just use plugins in Ardour to do that.

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(anarcat) #3

So I saw a bunch of USB devices like this, but they’re all tiny devices with round knobs that are kind of annoying to use on a day to day basis. The idea of sliders is they’re much easier to move around in a pinch… Most of the time the mixer will be used to control voice mike levels, not fine-tuning stuff for recording, so easy access is key.

I mean I could live without sliders if it means I get Linux support which I wouldn’t get otherwise, of course. But that Focusrite doesn’t even have mute buttons… :wink:

Sure, IQ are totally superfluous and can be done in post-prod, especially since they probably apply to all tracks anyways.

(Bhurley) #4

This is a bit more expensive than your target, but there are a number of live mixers that offer recording features as well, no need to connect to your computer. You import the files into Ardour when you’re done and you mix them from there. Examples include the QSC Touchmix series (8, 16, and 30 input models), which record to an external SSD or hard drive and can even do overdubbing without using a computer), and the Soundcraft Ui-24 (which is totally wireless, you control everything over wifi via a tablet, phone, or laptop). Presonus has a few models as well, at least one of which records direct to SD cards (https://www.presonus.com/products/StudioLive-AR8-USB); those are likely to be the most affordable of anything I’ve listed so far. I personally almost never record direct into my computer; for one thing I don’t have a laptop and my desktop machine isn’t in a great-sounding room, so I always record into a separate recorder and import the files into Ardour (I’m actually using Mixbus these days) for mixing afterward. It also simplifies things because Linux compatibility isn’t an issue – these mixers record .wav files. You just want to be sure it records the ISOs (individual channels, one for each mic or other input) rather than just the stereo mix, but the mixers I mentioned above with the possible exception of the Presonus all do that.

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(roithamer) #5

Behringer Xenix X1222USB seems to play nice with Gnu/Linux:
https://linuxmao.org/Behringer+Xenyx+X1222

(Vasakq) #6

There are more than a couple of mixers compatible with Linux around. Don’t go for Behringer Q802USB or any of the Xenyx series because you will get stereo (2 channel) USB interface only. The real mixers with multichannel USB interface by Behringer are the likes of Behringer X18, X Air XR16 or X Air XR18, all of which have a native control software for Linux. There is also popular Behringer X32 Compact, but it is priced some 50% above your budget.

Some members of this forum had success with Presonus StudioLive AR12 USB and Linux and there is also some new addition from Zoom, the Zoom LiveTrak L-12 which a member of Harrison Mixbus forums reported to work on Linux with some instructions:

Sthauge wrote:

PC and L12 powered of
Switch the “Class compliant mode” to “ON” on the back panel
Select the preferred bit rate on the switch on the back panel
Plug in the USB cable that came with the L12
Power on the L12 and then power on the PC
In “JACK” select the same bit rate as on the L12
In “JACK” select the L12 as audio in and out
Specify 14 channels(12 + 2 master ch.) in and 4 channels out.
Restart “JACK” and you ready to go tracking/recording

There is a lot of choice for the band recording, I hope you find some of it adequate.

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(anarcat) #7

Those are all excellent references, thanks! The Xenix was one of the devices I was considering but I wouldn’t want to be stuck with a 2-channel output, that’s not much better than a RCA plug… :wink: The Zoom and Presonus devices look really interesting, although I don’t know those brands at all and have no idea how reliable they would be. A little above what I was hoping to pay, but still reasonable for the functionality…

How about good old Mackie? Don’t they do anything right?

What’s a trusted hardware mixer brand these days?

… and for the record, those “tablet controlled” things are out of the question for me. I want something that’s as close to hardware as possible here. :slight_smile: In fact, it’s a fundamental requirement that the thing works without a computer so I really like the idea of having the possibility of recording straight from the mixer as well. Thanks @bradhurley for that suggestion!

(Bhurley) #8

It’s fashionable to trash Mackie but a lot of their products are quite good. There’s a famous classical music recording engineer in the UK (Marc Aubort) who reportedly uses a stock Mackie VLZ compact mixer these days. I think one of their mixers has recording capabilities; the ProFX model. You’d have to look at the user manual online to see if it only records the stereo mix (bad) or also records the ISOs (good). You want the individual inputs to be recorded as separate files so you can mix them afterward in Ardour.

(roithamer) #9

Zoom LiveTrak L-12 and Presonus StudioLive AR12 looks really interesting. I’m nearly convinced that I need one of these :slight_smile:
Sadly as for Presonus I’ve found this:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yoArGca5gq0

What about XENYX UFX1604? Is it also stereo only as audio interface?

(anarcat) #10

It is?? Dang, times change… it used to be a standard in reliability when/where I am from. :stuck_out_tongue:

FWIW, I haven’t listened to the whole thing, but the first few seconds show a “buyer beware” in all caps with problems like “very low volume”, “little headroom”, “controls not responsive”, “sliders noisy” and so on. That’s exactly the kind of stuff I’m worried about with nameless brands like that…

(Bhurley) #11

I used to own one of the Presonus AR mixers and the fact that I got rid of it says something. I was not impressed.

As for Mackie, I’ve actually seen sound specs from musicians that specify “no Mackie.” See http://www.iarla-o-lionaird.net/Iarla_-_Sound_Specifications.pdf for example. I’ve owned quite a few Mackie products over the years and had no real complaints.

Although they’re expensive, I’d recommend checking out the QSC Touchmix mixers if you want to record without using a computer. I have the Touchmix 8 and it’s awesome: note that it’s a touchscreen interface, so you don’t have physical faders, but you do get physical analog trim knobs. It has a load of built-in effects (which you wouldn’t apply to your recorded tracks but useful for live sound or practice), and you can record both the stereo mix and the ISO tracks. Decent preamps, and you can even do overdubs. My only complaint is that the ISO files aren’t really organized in any logical way that I’ve been able to figure out, so it can take some time to figure out what’s what when it comes time to bring them into Ardour. But I’m really happy with mine. It’s about the size of a large laptop, but unlike laptops it doesn’t have a fan so you don’t have to worry about it making noise in quiet moments. Plus as a bonus, its operating system appears to be based on either Linux or Unix (software updates are tar.gz files).

Hey, and also check out the Zoom LiveTrack mixer/recorders: https://www.zoom-na.com/products/production-recording/live-sound-recording/zoom-livetrak-l-12

(Vasakq) #12

XENYX UFX1604 has got multitrack 16x4 USB and Firewire interface, but I doubt it is of a higher quality than the Presonus. And while I agree that you almost always get what you pay for, the one thing in the “buyer beware” video is hardly a fault: 3/4 of available gain setting for a dynamic microphone - for a rather quiet talk - is something to be expected and it is not a fault as long as there is no background noise. I am not saying that the other faults this lady described are negligible and I am first to admit that, if I had 5000€ available for the interface, I would order Merging Hapi, or something in that class, right away.

(anarcat) #13

So what’s the best deal for those of us who can’t yet afford five grand (euros!) on such a golden piece of equipment? People mentioned the Zoom ones, are they better than Behringer?

#14

The Mackie ProFX12v2 only records the 2-track mix in 16-bit via USB and returns 2. The Behringer UFX1604 records 16 individual tracks in 24-bit via USB and returns 4. If you want a mixer for recording, you are going to have much more flexibility with the UFX1604. You can also go without a computer and just plug a blank USB drive into the back of it and have it function as a 16-track HDR, which I imagine would be nice for practice sessions or live performances.

(Vasakq) #15

This is very difficult question to answer, maybe some dealer who has got a lot of different mixers in stock, and tried all of them, might have an opinion on the subject that would be the closest to the truth. All of us who don’t run professional business (and even some who do!) use low end gear and get good results (or at least as good as our audio engineering capabilities permit). If I had to chose between Zoom LiveTrack and Behringer UFX1604 i’d go for Behringer - it is cheaper, it is longer around and generally receives good reviews, and it is known to work with Linux without additional steps (plug&play). Sound differences are probably marginal. Just pick a dealer who offers the longest warranty and handle with care. This is just my opinion, it is very difficult to make decisions for someone else so do some more research.

(Seablade) #16

It is a standard line on most professional riders that ‘No Mackie, No Behringer, No Presonus’ actually. A brief summary of why:

Mackie: Single Board construction is the norm, if something fails there is no chance for repair and little chance to work around. Mackie in the 1980s or so was known for good reliability, that hasn’t really been the same since then though. It isn’t that you can’t get a decent usable sound, it is that there have been enough failures that people are shy about them especially given the lack of repairability. Add on to this that in the mixer cases especially they are being left behind a bit in functionality.

Behringer: Until the X32 line came out the standard was ‘If you buy one, buy two and consider it disposable’ In fact this still applies to many of their products, failures weren’t just common, they were expected. Early products would be direct ripoffs of other existing products from notable manufacturers, including Mackie IIRC, as in the products were purchased by behringer to scan the circuit and recreate it nearly exactly. Add on to this piss poor audio quality in many of their products, and most people didn’t ever want to touch them. Since purchasing Midas/KT/Turbosound/etc. they have released some good products, most notably the X32/M32 line, though I know some people using the XAir(And Midas equivalent) line I haven’t seen them in common usage enough to comment. The X32/M32 was a standout product from them, but because of their deserved reputation for poor quality and very shady business practices, that ‘standout’ product from them really is about the same as everything else out there, which was amazing at the time from Behringer. It did however drive the entire cost of the market down as they did it cheaper than most at the time.

Presonus: The hardware UI of their mixers as mentioned is awful, they have some stability problems in their firmware, and questionable choices about scene recall in the first several generations made them useless for live audio past the very basic stage where scene recall wasn’t used along with the lack of motorized faders in many of their mixers meant they were treated as analog mixers with less stability, not a good combination. Their ACP88 was great at the time, but as time goes on I see more and more stability problems from them across their lines to the point of I don’t use them much if at all these days and they are steered away from in the ‘professional’ world.

   Seablade
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(anarcat) #17

That’s awesome documentation, thanks! That’s what I remember of the 80s (90s really) as well: Mackie was the shit and Behringer was crap. Oddly, it seems the tables are somehow turning now.

I wish bands would put “please X” instead of “no Y”, then we’d have something to recommend here… :wink: Those who say “no Mackie”, don’t they say what they want instead?

I haven’t heard trash talk against Zoom or Mee Audio yet, for the record…

(Seablade) #18

Not really turning as much as equalizing slowly, both of them considered ‘low tier’ in my world.

They do, but most of the ones i deal with I doubt you want to spend the money on what they tend to request as those consoles start in the 5 figure range:) Mackie and Behringer are specifically called out in riders as unacceptable along with others, but it is also an indication that they want about a certain quality level that those brands are considered a part of.

Can’t comment on Mee Audio as I never see them in my world. Zoom you wouldn’t see in my world ever, but for your purpose may not be horrible I suppose. You also have options like the Tascam Mixer, but I can’t speak to Linux compatibility in either case personally, which is why I have tended to stay out of this. I know a lot about mixers, but those that have audio interfaces built in I can’t speak much about Linux compatibility right now sadly.

    Seablade
(Bhurley) #19

So now that you know a bit more, I think you need to rearticulate your goals, because in the beginning you were looking for a mixer that could record direct into a Linux computer and then later you said you definitely don’t want to be recording directly into a computer. Clarifying that point will make a difference. If you’re in a studio, recording direct into a computer is the most efficient, but if you’re going to be recording in “field locations” like a living room or at gigs, then recording into a computer isn’t always necessary or even a good idea especially if you’re recording on a noisy laptop with its fan running and you need to be in the same room as the laptop. If you won’t be recording into a computer, you don’t need to worry about Linux compatibility at all. You just need a mixer/recorder that can help you mix your band for its live practices while also recording individual channels pre-fader and pre-effects.

You also need to omit mixers that only record the stereo mix post-fader, because what sounds good in the room or at a gig rarely sounds good in your stereo mix recording especially if you’re using drums and if you are putting the mics for electric guitars/bass in front of their amplifiers.

On the other hand, a mixer with a class-compliant interface that will record into your laptop might be cheaper than some of the mixers that offer to record to an SSD or SD card. And it sounds like you already have a laptop and Ardour.

Once you clearly articulate what you want and need now, think ahead to what you might need for the future; you don’t want to invest in something now that turns out to be not what you need in a few years.
Be realistic about what’s likely. Do you want to build a home studio? Or do you want to keep doing what you’re doing? All those factors will play into your decision.

(anarcat) #20

I said that? What I originally said was that I only wanted to record on a (Linux) computer, but then I said I was open to the idea of recording directly on the hardware device because I found the idea interesting after all.

I didn’t consider that to be a real option, to be honest: I like simple machines that do one thing, so the idea of having recording in the mixer seems totally backwards to me. But then maybe that’s an expected feature if you get USB output anyways… :wink:

I have at least one laptop to spare, and I feel confident I’ll be able to setup the JACK/Ardour chain when the rubber meets the road. :slight_smile:

Do you want to build a home studio?

Not really, not yet. The setup is a basement where I practice with a band. Nothing serious, far, very far from being a studio in any shape or form. But I like the idea of being able to do some home recording as well in the future. But I know what I’m getting into now: I’m not setting up a pro or even home studio. I just want a mixer that I can plug into something.

Thanks for all the advice anyone, it’s been very useful and helped a lot in clarifying everything. No easy answers of course, but I feel I can go ahead with something. I will report back here my findings when I got them of course…