Mixer, Interface or Standalone Recorder: Why Not All Three?
In case you’re a house recording musician or any type of audio engineer, there’s that one query that you just’ve undoubtedly confronted originally of your recording journey. “What instrument am I going to truly use to permit me to file music?”
On the finish of the day, we’re all capturing sound of varied types onto some type of medium the place it may be listened to by discerning ears. And what precisely that medium is has largely been some type of digital audio workstation for the big majority of house recordists or skilled engineers, by means of some type of audio interface that’s performing as an A-D converter.
Years in the past, there was once a handful of standalone transportable hard-disk recorders, however low cost arduous drives and the decrease costs of laptops have made these all however out of date. In case you needed to file digital audio, some type of audio interface and pc wanted to be concerned.
However issues have gotten a bit extra fascinating with this equation up to now few years, as just a few firms have ventured to take away the pc from the equation all collectively and permit customers the power to file digital audio straight to an SD card that may then be used to switch these information to a DAW at a later time.
It sounds too good to be true—and it virtually is in a method, as a result of there are a really small variety of merchandise that really do that very factor: file to SD card with some flexibility. (Spoiler alert: one of many merchandise talked about under doesn’t truly file to SD card, however we’re together with it as an honorable point out).
Most of those merchandise are a mixture analog mixer with some type of audio interface connected, in addition to an SD recorder and playback machine. A few of these work purely as audio interfaces as effectively. Which of the next mixers you select might be going to return right down to your individual preferences and particular person wants.
Is portability going to be most vital to you? Decreasing litter in your studio? Function set? Or primarily simply ease of use? Every of the next mixers goes to excel in considered one of these areas, as the reality is they’re all extremely succesful recording units and a step up in sound high quality from the kind of arduous disk recorders that had been distinguished 20 years in the past. Let’s dive in!
Tascam Mannequin 12
Tascam clearly is aware of one thing concerning the house recording market, given their lineage of Portastudios that at the moment are thought of traditional studio instruments, not just for their sonic high quality but in addition their hands-on method to manipulating tape. When the Mannequin 12 was introduced again in 2020, many claimed that this was the product they’d been ready on Tascam to make for years—a totally featured analog mixer, connected to an SD card recorder, with the power to play again from the cardboard or file stay on a per-track foundation.
A number of totally different variations of this mixer can be found, together with the Mannequin 12, Mannequin 16, and the Mannequin 24, every with the variety of channels that you just’d count on based mostly on the title. It’s potential to file 12 (10 tracks plus stereo grasp) straight to SD card at 24-bit decision. The Mannequin 12 also can perform as a 12-in, 10-out audio interface, so if you wish to work together with your favourite DAW and bypass the SD recording altogether, you possibly can. This hybrid workflow offers the Mannequin 12 legs and plenty of have already made the Mannequin 12 the centerpiece of their house recording workflow.
Every channel encompasses a lengthy 60 mm channel fader, three-band EQ (with a sweepable mid), two aux sends, and a inbuilt, one-knob compressor, which is kind of usable. Additional sound shaping will be performed with the three-band grasp EQ, one other good contact on the Mannequin 12. The tilted up display make the ergonomics of utilizing the Mannequin 12 a bit simpler than different fashions on this record. Moreover, all the enter and outputs are on the again of the unit, leaving the highest much less cluttered and simpler to include into tight areas.
General, the power to work each as audio interface and standalone mixer/recorder is ace and makes this the product to beat on this class. The built-in results are good to have as effectively, even when they aren’t of the best high quality. The truth that every observe is a button-click away from both recording or enjoying again already-recorded audio results in a fairly speedy workflow.
By way of cons for the Mannequin 12, some may not dig the retro look and vibe, because the fake wooden sides do make it look a bit dated. Moreover, the display is a bit low-resolution by right now’s requirements. It’s additionally barely expensive in comparison with different entries on this record, and if it issues to you, the digital decision on the recording aspect solely goes as much as 24 bit/48khz. Lastly, it’s a bit heavy for a way massive it’s, so it’s not that cellular.
Zoom Livetrak L-12
Zoom can be no stranger to the house recorder market, as their handheld recorders have been mainstays in studios and bedrooms internationally alike. The Livetrak L-12 (and its little sibling, the L8) are absolutely featured recording units and interfaces that file straight to SD card and also can act as audio interfaces. The L-12 options 12 tracks (therefore its title)—8 mono tracks and two pairs of stereo tracks. There are 16 results to select from, in addition to built-in compressors per channel.
The L-12 takes a little bit of a unique method to the Mannequin 12 in that it makes use of a ‘channel-strip’ workflow. This primarily means you choose a observe, after which use the three-band EQ, impact ship, and pan knobs to make adjustments on a per-track foundation. It’s a bit extra ‘one-at-a-time’ than the Mannequin 12 nevertheless it’s as absolutely featured. Notably, there are 5 headphone outs, every with a configurable combine.
This channel strip-like workflow implies that the interface is a bit much less cluttered and your entire unit will be smaller in consequence. This makes it simpler to see the L-12 as a transportable, straightforward to convey recorder as in comparison with a few of the different entries right here. As talked about, an unprecedented 5 pairs of headphone outputs means you possibly can actually flip off your screens and do some high quality recording with no bleed. The truth that every headphone output can have its personal customized combine has proven that Zoom have actually considered how this unit goes for use. The one-knob compression out there per channel, mixed with the wide range of built-in results make the L-12 a really usable recording machine.
There’s additionally a card reader mode that permits you to straight switch information to the pc, in addition to a two second recording buffer in case you didn’t fairly hit file quick sufficient. All of those considerate options, coupled with the truth that the L-12 is pretty compact and light-weight and it makes a compelling case to your subsequent studio instrument.
What are some downsides to the L-12? Effectively, regardless that it will also be seen as a professional, the channel strip-like workflow means it’s a bit much less arms on than opponents just like the Tascam. Additionally, the audio interface connectivity is extra restricted—14 simultaneous inputs however solely 4 outputs, accessed by way of choose buttons on tracks 9/10 and 11/12.
Mackie’s earlier technology of Onyx mixers relied on the Firewire protocol however they had been one of many first sequence of merchandise to mix the mixer/audio interface right into a single product. Because the Firewire protocol turned much less standard and fewer utilized in studios, these boards slowly pale off, however Mackie revised them final yr with the announcement of the Onyx8, Onyx12, Onyx16, and Onyx24, giving house recordists loads of measurement choices. This new line of Onyx mixers additionally characteristic the power to file on to SD card in addition to act as audio interfaces to your host DAW. Nonetheless, not like the Tascam, that is solely a stereo recording of the principle output, not every particular person channel. The Onyx12 options, as you may need guessed, 12 channels with 24bit/96 khz recording functionality. There’s a three-band “Perkins” EQ with switchable bypass and Onyx Preamp with 60db of acquire on every channel 1-12. There’s additionally an extra channel, labeled 13/14, with the power to connect with a Bluetooth machine, or join straight by way of an ⅛” jack on the highest of the mixer.
Mackie’s up to date search for the Onyx sequence is skilled to a T—clear matte black, with massive, straightforward to seize mute and solo buttons, sturdy faders, and durable knobs. This evokes confidence in utilizing the Onyx straight away. All inputs and outputs on the again of the mixer make the highest much less cluttered, similar to the Tascam. There are inserts on the primary 4 channels, plus separate outputs for management room and monitor sends, which means there are many routing choices. The primary outs come on each balanced XLR jacks and ¼” outputs. Moreover, the assorted measurement choices means it might probably enchantment to a greater diversity of musicians and producers. Mackie definitely has model loyalty in relation to mixers, and whereas this new Onyx vary hasn’t fairly taken off but, I may see it rising in recognition.
By way of negatives for the Onyx12, there aren’t any particular person meters per observe—only a grasp meter and clipping stage indicators on every channel. As talked about earlier, recording to SD card is simply the principle stereo output. On an analogous be aware, it’s solely potential to get the principle stereo return from the pc, not like a few of its opponents. The Onyx12 can be barely on the larger and heavier aspect, so that you’re in all probability not going to need to be transferring it backwards and forwards out of your studio to your follow house, regardless of what the literature can have you consider.
The Presonus AR12c, just like the AR8c, I reviewed again in 2020 in a extra in depth report, is one other mixer within the SD recorder/audio interface class. The 12c options 12 tracks and a built-in 24 bit/96khz SD recorder, although it’s value noting that not like the Tascam (and just like the Onyx12 I simply talked about), this solely information the stereo output of the mixer and never every particular person observe. The entire enter and output jacks are on the highest of the mixer versus the rear, and the AR12c encompasses a vibrant and daring design that’s going to enchantment to some and probably flip others off.
By way of execs for the AR12c, it’s very good that the FX return and each aux 1 and a pair of get their very own full faders. The so-called “Tremendous Channel” combines 4 stereo inputs without delay, so one channel can be utilized for quite a lot of playback units, which means you don’t must sacrifice priceless channels simply to have mp3 playback-useful for venues and bars. This channel additionally options bluetooth connectivity as effectively. Trying on the sign path of every channel, it’s clear to see that Presonus have put a variety of thought into the design. For instance, it’s additionally extremely helpful that every channel is provided with a excessive move filter. As talked about, the AR12c works as a 14-input/4-output audio interface at 24bit/96khz as effectively, so you’re lined in case you do need to go the DAW route.
Sadly the SD card solely information seize of the Stereo output, not like the Tascam which information every particular person observe to the SD card. This positively makes the PreSonus much less helpful. The highest loaded design means cable litter could possibly be a risk, and never everybody goes to like the very blue-centric design method. I additionally felt that the knobs really feel a bit cheaper and flimsier than a few of the different entries on this record. It’s additionally value mentioning that phantom energy is international solely, the consequences will not be tweakable and sound a bit low cost normally, and solely tracks 1 and a pair of characteristic inserts.
Soundcraft Signature 12 MTK
Final however not least, we now have the Soundcraft 12 MTK, one other digital/analog mixer hybrid from a model well-respected for its extra premium mixer choices. The 12 MTK is the one providing on this record that doesn’t have the power to file to SD card, so if the necessity to have the ability to file actually computer-less is excessive in your record of priorities, you possibly can cross off the MTK sequence, which is available in each 12-channel and 24-channel variations.
Nonetheless, what you do get with the 12 MTK is a really versatile 14-in/12-out audio interface, as every observe encompasses a button to modify from stay enter (no matter’s plugged into that channel) or the corresponding digital observe out of your pc. This makes it very straightforward to mix recorded and stay inputs without delay. The 12 MTK additionally options the extremely revered Ghost preamps and a built-in impact panel from Lexicon, so there’s quite a bit to love even with out SD recording.
The 12 MTK appears like a extra premium providing at a lower than premium value, given the model’s heritage. Despite the fact that it doesn’t have SD card recording, it makes up for it by working as a totally featured audio interface with 10 return outputs, as every observe generally is a digital return channel. The built-in results even have two editable parameters (although not saveable). Moreover, the group 1, 2 bus makes it straightforward to manage the degrees of a number of devices without delay. Soundcraft have given customers a excessive move filter and sweepable mid-range frequency on channels 1-10, and inbuilt one-button limiter on channels 1 and a pair of. The lengthy 60 mm faders really feel good for this value vary (and normally). The 12 MTK feels pretty reasonably priced given the excessive I/O depend.
As talked about, there isn’t a SD card recording on the 12 MTK or its bigger sibling, so should you completely want to have the ability to file with no laptop computer, cross these off your record. On the mixer aspect of issues, there aren’t any devoted inputs for aux returns, so you will need to sacrifice an enter channel to listen to these aux buses. There are just a few small ergonomic points as effectively. For instance, the mute buttons are pretty small and arduous to get to rapidly since they’re surrounded by different buttons that you just don’t need to press by chance. Like just a few entries on this record, it’s a high loaded mixer so cable litter could possibly be actual. Lastly, it feels a bit flimsier than you’d count on given the Soundcraft title. The knobs look good however they really feel a bit flimsy to the contact. Moreover, the design and total look is a bit dated in comparison with a few of the different choices.
Leo Maymind is a producer, DJ, and author residing in Los Angeles, CA. He’s obsessive about sound, and you may attain him at [email protected].
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