Mixing desks are an essential part of any live or pre-recorded musical performance. Whether you’re jamming with your band or recording a hot new track, or you simply want to have one place from which to control multiple audio sources, a mixing desk is essential. These are some of the best budget and mainstream models I could find online.
Behringer 12 XENYX 1202FX Analog Mixer
I’ve personally been through four different Behringer mixing desks over the years – which is both an endorsement and a black mark against the brand. In my experience, Behringer makes very capable desks for extraordinary prices. Sadly, my mixers never lasted as long as I would have liked.
That being said, things have changed over time and Behringer is making mixers from more modern components, which benefit from the same improvements in durability and performance as the competition.
The Xenyx is a very cheap mixer; incredibly cheap, given that it’s a 12-channel unit. You could hook up a small band without much issue here. However, this is probably better used for mixing live podcast recordings or for live video recordings featuring multiple people speaking. The EQ on this mixing desk has been tuned for a warmer sound rather than the more typical digital sound we’re all used to these days. If you’re doing small-scale home recording or making podcasts, or are part of a small live music group, this is a fantastic starter desk.
Allen & Heath ZED-6 Analog Mixer
Allen & Heath is one of the most respected names in mixing desks, although usually the name is more likely to adorn massive professional desks in concert halls and studios. Which makes it pretty cool that they also make small, compact desks like this. The price is not unreasonable, but of course for the same money you can have a 12-channel mixer from the likes of Behringer. So why is it worth paying more for half the channels?
The simple answer is that Allen & Heath promises its famous analog mixer sound in an affordable compact product. One of the most impressive components of this mixer are the preamps. According to user reviews, they are some of the cleanest you’re likely to find at this price or for significantly more. That makes this an excellent choice for home recording setups. The rule of garbage in, garbage out always applies. The better the source audio quality, the less work you have to do in post.
The mixer itself is absolutely gorgeous and minimalist; that warm analog sound is definitely worth much more than A&H is asking. It’s the one I would buy.
Mackie PROFX16V2 16-Channel Mixer
16-channel mixers are the dividing line between small home or indie equipment and more serious projects. Mackie is a well-respected name in live music, and the fact that they offer such a large mixing desk at a price like this is, quite honestly, surprising to me. It’s not cheap in absolute terms, but it’s very competitive in the world of mixers.
You should know right off the bat that this model is designed for use in live audio contexts. It’s not a good choice for home recording. Instead, this is what your band or venue should be packing. There are enough channels to mix the typical small band or performing group and enough outputs so that you can have several independent live monitors for the performers on stage.
One very nice feature is USB recording and playback. It lets you capture a pristine digital copy of the mix, which is perfect for later release or for rehearsal purposes. You can also play backing tracks from the USB device during a live show, which means you don’t need to perform everything live to give a kick-ass performance – a great starting point for up-and-coming artists.
Alto Professional ZMX122FX Audio Mixing Desk
The Alto desk costs about as much as the Allen & Heath model, but offers two more channels for your money, giving it a little more versatility. While live sound use is possible, this is really better for small home studio mixing and podcasting.
One standout feature of the Alto is its inclusion of 256 Alesis digital effects that can be applied to the audio being mixed. Alesis is a company famous for making rack-mounted effects equipment, and you can even connect a footswitch to the desk to operate the effects.
If you do want to take the Alto out for live performances, then you’ll either have to use it for small groups of performers or combine it as a submixer with other mixing desks. For example, you might mix only percussion and drums on the Alto and then output that mix to the main mixer.
However, the one thing I find most compelling about the Alto are the reviews by long-term users who praise its durability. Personally I have burned through many budget mixers and to hear people say their Altos are still going strong after 3 or more years is a massive endorsement.
Yamaha MG10 Stereo Mixer
Yamaha is one of the most quality-focused companies in the world. Its instruments and audio equipment go through the sorts of QA testing and inspection that would make other companies turn white in the face. It’s a brand I have always trusted, but also a brand that comes with a price premium. Except, in the case of the MG10, I don’t see that premium.
Yamaha is asking a very fair price for a 10-channel mixer. Granted, this is the more bare-bones standard model so it lacks the USB interface or effects of the fancier model. If you want to mix live events or add live effects, you’re better off buying the fancier one.
The thing is, for people doing recordings at home or in a small studio environment those features don’t matter much. You’ll have a computer nearby for digital capture anyway, and effects can be added in post, as you’d want in any case.
The MG10 is a fantastic little mixer and there’s a reason it’s a best-seller. I’d recommend this for anyone who wants to do great home recordings or who wants to mix podcasts in a home studio that has other equipment to capture audio and apply effects.
Allen & Heath AH-ZED60-10FX 6-Channel Mixer
Unlike the ZED-6 we looked at further up, the ZED-60 has far more bells and whistles. You can expect the same core sound and features from this more expensive model, so the real question is whether those bells and whistles are worth the extra moolah.
There is a big price difference between these two six-channel mixers. In fact, you could buy two of the cheaper model and combine them into what is effectively a 12-channel unit.
The ZED-60 has better faders, double the line inputs, USB, and a 3-band EQ as opposed to the ZED-6’s 2-band. It also has digital effects that use the same algorithms as the massive A&H models you’ll find in top studios.
If you need these features, then the ZED-60 is absolutely worth the asking price, but if not, you’ll be just as happy with the lower-end models, given that the company does not compromise on its core sound.
PreSonus StudioLive AR12c Digital Mixer
Now were getting into much more serious territory. The PreSonus comes at a much stiffer price than the mixers we’ve looked at so far. However, it’s really pushing much more up to date technology as well. The headline here is the inclusion of USB-C. This new USB standard has much more bandwidth than anything that has come before; it allows the PreSonus to send all 14 individual channels and the main mix to the software on your computer.
You don’t have to lug a computer with you when you take this mixer out to gigs either. If you’re happy to simply record the main mix, you can just stick an SD card directly into the mixer and record the audio there. Channels 13/14 even have Bluetooth!
It also comes with a wealth of software plugins for the included package, so you can immediately start building your digital recording workflow without spending more money. This is what the next-generation of mainstream mixers should be like, and I am very impressed with what PreSonus is offering here.
Behringer Xenyx 802 Premium
The Xenyx 802 pushed the price floor even lower than the 12-channel Xenyx we looked at above, but is the small saving in price worth it?
The loss of four channels and digital effects is definitely not worth saving such a small amount of money. I would find it hard to recommend the 802 to anyone when the 1202FX exists. In fact, even if this were half the price of the 1202, I would still strongly recommend going for Behringer’s higher-end model. Sadly, the 802 is effectively obsolete thanks to the other model.
Soundcraft Notepad-5 Analog Mixer
Holy moly, this is a small mixer. Just look at it. A cuter piece of audio equipment I have never seen. Limited to just five channels, this analog mixer still manages to pack quite a lot of tech into its small frame.
There are no faders in sight, so you’ll have to adjust each channel with a knob. Is that a huge deal? Well, that depends on how you mix. One of the big advantages of faders is that they are precise and that you can adjust more than one at the same time. If your mix is going to be a set-and-forget job it might not matter much. Which immediately makes me think of this mixer as being better for something like podcasting.
If we are being honest though, this is not much cheaper than then 6-channel Allen & Heath. That is like having a full-size mixer shrunk down. So you still have faders and the familiar design. However, the Soundcraft sports a USB audio interface as well, while still having analog sound. If space is at an absolute premium, as it might be in your podcasting booth, and you can’t abide sending analog line-out for capture, there’s an argument to be made for the Soundcraft. It’s way more desk-friendly and perfect for a desktop recording setup.
Mackie Mix 8-Channel Mixer
We end things off with another Mackie mixer, this time for a really rock-bottom price. It goes head to heat with the Xenyx 802 on the price front. However, unlike the 802 this doesn’t immediately lose out to the 1202FX.
A part of the reason is pretty subjective. My personal experience with Mackie gear suggests that this mixer will still be trucking long after the Behringers have given up the ghost. Of course, there’s no way to prove this, but it’s hard to shake a bad experience with a brand. So keep that in mind when reading my thoughts on it.
Mackie itself punts the ruggedized nature of the mixer as a selling point, and I believe them, if only because I have abused Mackie gear over the years with little complaint from the machinery. In terms of features, they are pretty much the same – barebones, 8-channel mixers that will get the job done. It’s just that I expect the Mackie to be a better use of my money, all things being equal. Behringer fans may disagree.
My Main Mix
Mixers are fantastically complex devices. Which is why it always amazes me that you can buy them for so little money. Picking the right mixer can be the difference between pulling out your hair and getting a final product that will put the professionals on notice. I really do hope that your perfect mixer turns out to be one of the ones featured above, but if not, I do suggest heading on over to my buyer’s guide for mixers.