How to Choose an Audio Interface or Mixer for a Studio

A recording studio isn’t complete without a mixer or an audio interface. However, with so many options on the market, choosing the right type of equipment can often seem overwhelming. Luckily, you can make a well-informed choice by learning a few key differences between these devices.

Choosing the right audio interface or mixer will depend on how you intend to use the device and what equipment you already have in your studio. When selecting an interface or mixer, consider the necessary inputs and outputs and the connections available.

Keep reading to learn how to choose an audio interface or mixer that suits your needs. Learn the difference between the two devices, how they work in a studio, and what features you need to assess to pick the right one.

Table of Contents

How to Choose an Audio Interface or Mixer for a Studio

The Difference Between an Audio Interface and a Mixer

Any studio can significantly benefit from an audio interface or mixer. The equipment you use in your studio can impact your workflow and the quality of your compositions, so selecting the right components is crucial. 

Below are key differences between audio interfaces and mixers:

Audio InterfaceAudio Mixer
Primary FunctionConverts analog audio signals to digital format to work with computer software.  It can also convert a digital audio signal into an analog format for playback on headphones or speakers.Manages audio signal routing and provides a wide range of adjustability to customize effects, equalization, and other settings
InputsTypically has an XLR input for the microphone.  It may contain more inputs depending on the model.Typically has several inputs for microphones and other musical instruments.
OutputsTypically has one output for headphones and studio monitors.  Some models may have more.Typically has several outputs.
Sound ProcessingUsually has gain and volume controls.  Sound processing is mostly done on a computer using a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation)Contains multiband equalizers and settings for reverb, delay, and other effects.
Ideal UseRecording, mixing, and remastering with a DAWBest for live performances where sound has to be tweaked real time.

Some studios have an audio interface and a mixer, but you may not need both. However, before you decide which is best for you or how to choose one, it helps to know the difference between an audio interface and a mixer. 

What Is an Audio Interface?

An audio interface converts analog signals from a microphone or musical instrument into a digital format your computer can understand. It can also convert a digitized signal back into an analog signal so you can hear it on speakers or headphones, which can connect directly to the audio interface. 

When an audio interface converts the analog signal into a digital format, you can use a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) to perform certain mixer functions. A DAW is music production software that allows you to record, mix, and remaster audio on your computer.

You can technically connect a USB microphone to a computer because the sound card can make the analog audio signal recognizable.

However, an audio interface will have better sound quality, and its preamp can increase the output signal of a microphone to make it more audible. Do Audio Interfaces Improve Headphone Audio?

What Is a Mixer?

Mixers take care of audio signal routing and allow you to fine-tune each signal. A typical mixer will have numerous input and output ports to connect several sound sources and speakers. It will also have innumerable knobs, sliders, and switches where you can control volume, equalization, and audio effects. 

Many confuse audio interfaces with mixers because they feature audio inputs and outputs. What adds to the confusion is that you can also perform the functions of a mixer using an audio interface and digital workstation.

Some mixers also have a built-in audio interface so you can connect them to your computer. 

Which One Should You Choose: Audio Interface vs. Mixer

An audio interface’s primary function is to send audio signals to computer software where they can be recorded, mixed, and enhanced. On the other hand, a mixer allows you to control the sound before it reaches the recording software. 

When To Buy an Audio Interface

An audio interface is necessary to send sound from various sources to your computer. Without an interface, your computer cannot interpret the analog sound signals transmitted by a microphone or musical instrument while sustaining sound quality.

Audio interfaces work with DAWs to access controls you typically see on a mixer. And with plugins, you get even more effects with a DAW than a mixer. So, if you mainly plan to use your studio for recording, an audio interface will give you everything you need. 

However, you have to tweak most of the sound from your computer because most audio interfaces only have basic gain and volume controls, making them less suitable for fine-tuning a live performance. 

When To Buy a Mixer

Mixers have multiple inputs where you can connect different sound sources. An array of physical knobs and switches allow you to control the sound from each input instantly and intuitively. 

Aside from adjusting the volume level and sound characteristics of each channel independently, mixers also allow you to control reverb, modulation, compression, and other effects before you start recording. 

Unlike audio interfaces, which suffer from latency since they have to convert the analog audio signal to digital and back to analog again before the sound is heard on studio monitors, mixers can play sound instantaneously. 

So if you plan on hosting live band sessions in your studio, a mixer would be hard to ignore. However, getting a mixer with a built-in audio interface will be your best option to record and remaster the live performance. 

Factors To Consider When Choosing an Audio Interface

Once you decide that an audio interface is what you need, the next step is choosing the right one. The number of options may seem overwhelming, but you can significantly narrow down your choices after considering how you intend to use the interface.

Below are some factors you should consider:

  • Inputs and Outputs (I/O): How many microphones, instruments, and speakers you’ll be using
  • Connection Format: How you’ll be connecting the audio interface to your computer
  • Hardware Specifications: How much sound quality do you want
  • Budget: How much you’re willing to spend

Inputs and Outputs

The inputs and outputs determine the number and type of equipment you can connect to your audio interface. Inputs connect sound sources like microphones, guitars, or electric keyboards. Outputs are for connecting devices like headphones and studio monitors. 

Therefore, you should list how many microphones and instruments you plan on recording simultaneously. If you plan on recording vocals and a guitar, you’ll be OK with two inputs, but adding more vocalists or instruments will require more inputs. A drum set may require up to 8 additional inputs for each drum component, i.e., snare, cymbal, kick drum, etc. 

Note that each sound source has a different connector type, so you must ensure your audio interface can accommodate all of your equipment.

Here are the different types of connections ports on an audio interface:

  • XLR: XLR connectors are commonly used for stage microphones and feature a cylindrical body that usually has 3 pins inside. If using a condenser or active microphone, ensure the mic input has phantom power
  • ¼ inch Jack: You can connect most electric and bass guitars using a quarter-inch jack that transmits a mono audio signal. 
  • Hybrid Port (XLR / ¼-inch Jack): Some audio interfaces have hybrid ports that connect sound sources with either an XLR or ¼-inch jack.
  • Line: Line-level connections usually come in RCA ports that allow you to connect any device that transmits a line-level signal, such as keyboards and mixers.
  • Digital: Some audio interfaces allow you to connect devices that transmit digital stereo sound, such as another audio interface, if you need additional inputs. 

Connection Format

Another essential factor is connecting your audio interface to your computer. Aside from securing a connection between your audio interface and computer, the connection format also affects how fast data is transferred from one device to the other.

Below are the different types of computer connections for audio interfaces:

  • USB: A USB is one of the most common ways to connect an audio interface to a computer because almost all computers have a USB port. The speed of data transfer depends on the USB version; USB 2.0 transfers data up to 480Mbps, while USB 3.1 can transfer data at 10Gbps. 
  • Thunderbolt: Available on Mac computers or PCs with Thunderbolt option cards. This connection is a gold standard for audio interfaces since it allows transfers of up to 40 Gbps with very low latency.
  • Firewire: Firewire is mainly used on Macs and offers a more consistent transfer rate than USB 2.0 at 800Mbps. You can use a Firewire connection with a PC with an expansion card, but only a few audio interfaces are compatible. 
  • PCIe: Internally installed audio interfaces connect directly to a computer’s motherboard via a PCIe slot. PCIe interfaces have high data bandwidth and low latency but are generally more expensive and cannot be used on laptops. 

Hardware Specifications

Since audio interfaces are primarily used for recording music, you should never overlook hardware specifications determining the sound quality you can expect from your interface. 

Sample Rate

Sample rates are measured in Hertz and indicate how many samples per second the audio interface takes from the analog audio signal sent from microphones or musical instruments. 

Higher sample rates mean more sound samples are captured, which usually translates to better sound. However, the human ear only hears sound frequencies between 20Hz-20kHz, so the difference between a sample rate of 44.1kHz and 96kHz might be negligible. 


Bit-depth refers to the amplitude or resolution captured for every audio sample. A 24-bit audio interface will capture more details than a 16-bit interface, more accurately representing the original sound. 

Dynamic Range

Dynamic range is measured in dB (decibels) and signifies the difference between the softest and loudest sound an audio interface can capture. A higher dynamic range translates to a more vibrant sound. 

Audio interfaces that capture more details from the audio signal have a higher dynamic range. So, a 16-bit audio interface will have a dynamic range of 96dB, while a 24-bit audio interface will have a dynamic range of 144dB.


The price range of audio interfaces is pretty extensive, from under a hundred dollars to well over thousands. Fortunately, being on a tight budget doesn’t have to translate to a compromise because many affordable audio interfaces can give you what you need. 

Below are two highly recommended audio interfaces.

M Audio Air 192|14 Audio Interface

The M Audio Air 192/14 Audio Interface (available on comes with 8 inputs and 4 outputs, featuring hybrid (XLR and ¼ inch) ports and other connections for different types of instruments and output devices. This 24-bit / 192kHz audio interface lets you capture all the details of your music while conveniently connecting to your MAC or PC through a USB or USB-C cable.

Wrugste Audio Interface

The Wrugste USB audio interface (also available on comes with two inputs and two outputs and provides professional audio quality at 24-bit / 96kHz. It also features hybrid ports that connect an XLR microphone or guitar with a ¼-inch (6.35 mm) jack. 

Factors to Consider When Buying a Mixer

Similar to audio interfaces, the number of mixers available in the market can make it challenging to pick the right one. Again, factoring in how you intend to use the mixer can help you develop a shortlist. 

Below are some factors you should consider:

  • Analog or digital: What type of mixer do you need?
  • Channels (I/O): How many microphones, instruments, and monitors will you connect to your mixer?
  • Buses and Signal Routing: Do you want to send input signals to specific output channels?
  • Sound Processing: How much control do you need in shaping the sound?

Analog or Digital

Analog mixers have physical circuits for every channel, which means the sound signal does not have to be converted. They also have knobs and switches you can move to adjust the sound instantly. 

Having hands-on control for every function has advantages, but analog mixers with multiple inputs and outputs can easily take up a lot of space. Analog mixers are generally more affordable and easier to use but will not offer the same programmability and onboard audio effects as their digital counterparts.

Digital mixers have analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters since they use digital audio signals. Since digital mixers do not have physical circuits per channel, they offer more functionality without taking up much space. 

Digital mixers usually come with an array of effects, advanced EQs, and sound processing tools you won’t typically find on an analog mixer.

Digital mixers usually come with various effects, advanced EQs, and sound processing tools you won’t typically find on an analog mixer.

The drawback of using digital mixers is that there will be slight latency due to the time it takes to convert the sound from analog to digital. However, the latency is not as bad as what you get from adjusting the sound through the DAW on your computer. 


One of the most important factors to consider when buying a mixer is how many channels you need. You must ensure the mixer has enough inputs to accommodate the number of instruments and microphones you intend to use simultaneously.

Moreover, check and see whether the ports are compatible with the connectors of your sound sources. How Many Channels Should Your Mixer Have?

Buses and Signal Routing

Depending on how you want to use the mixer, a mixer’s signal routing capabilities or the number of buses may also be important. Each channel contains an audio signal from a specific sound source, and you can group each signal into different busses or auxiliary outputs. 

Multiple aux outputs can come in handy if you want to isolate certain parts of the composition, for instance, hearing the vocals and guitars without the drums and keyboard. 

Sound Processing

It’s also important to consider how much control a mixer will give you over the sound. If you plan to use a DAW, you will not need your mixer to have many onboard controls. However, using a mixer with multi-band EQs, reverb, delays, and dynamics for live performances is best. 

Final Thoughts

An audio interface and a mixer can cater to all your studio recording needs. Before choosing between the two, you must determine how many microphones and instruments you plan on recording simultaneously and what type of connection works with your computer.

Juan Louder
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Juan Louder

I started SoundStudioMagic to learn how to record my own audiobook at home, and now I'm addicted to all the latest techniques and gear.

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