A mixer (also called a “mixing console” or “mixing board”) is necessary if you record with more than one input, like two microphones or a microphone and an instrument. It can be intimidating to start, so let’s just look at the basics.

XLR

XLR inputs on mixer

The XLR inputs are where you plug in your microphones.

Gain

Gain knobs on mixer

If you’re interested in a slightly technical discussion, this is a great article about the difference between gain, volume, and loudness. The oversimplified explanation is: gain is the volume of your audio coming in to the mixer. Adjust it so that the audio signal is loud enough, but stays in the green (20, 0) and doesn’t go into the yellow or red (6, CLIP).

Signal LED indicator on mixer

With this board and the mics listed in the last article, I put the gain almost all the way to maximum.

Phones

Phones knob on mixer

This knob controls the volume coming into the headphones without changing the volume of the audio going into the computer.

The rest

You can read about and experiment with the other settings, but to start you can leave everything else at the default:

Mixer
  • COMP at 0 (left)
  • EQ at 0 (center)
  • FX at -8 (left)
  • PAN in middle
  • LEVEL at 0 (center)
  • AUX RETURN at -8 (left)
  • TO PHONES/?CTRL ROOM button depressed (up)
  • TO MAIN MIX button depressed (up)
  • Phantom power (red button) depressed (up)
  • MAIN MIX at 0 (center)

That’s all

Sorry if you wanted more in-depth explanations of the settings, but I’ve only experimented a little and have ended up sticking with defaults. My main point of confusion was not realizing how high the gain had to be (almost to maximum with my setup). Hopefully I saved you a few minutes of confusion.