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Equipping Your Home Recording Studio - A free download from Audio Masterclass

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Q: Should I use a mixer as a preamp before recording into my DAW?

An Audio Masterclass visitor just happens to have a mixer standing around doing nothing. But he could use it as a preamp, couldn't he?

There comes a time when you just have to say that the past is the past. And mixing consoles are indeed the past. If you have one, sell it quickly on eBay before everyone else realizes.

But you think I'm kidding, right? Oh no I'm not. For 99% of home recording studio owners, there is no point in having a mixing console. You are not going to get a more accurate sound if you have a console, the damn thing will get in the way, and it has a significant acoustic footprint too.

So what do I actually mean?

I actually mean that the mixing console, for most people, ought to be a relic that is set firmly in the audio history books, and not in the present in your working space. Clear?

Now that I have set forth my thoughts on mixing consoles as unambiguously as I can, I will say that there are a few exceptions...

  • You are making a live or 'as live' recording straight to stereo
  • Some people like mixing on physical faders
  • You can adjust two controls at the same time and play them off against each other
  • Some consoles have their own 'sound' which some people might like
  • Physical consoles have an immediacy that can be useful to some. This immediacy is invaluable in live sound and broadcasting, but I confine my comments here to recording, and home studio recording in particular.

So if you find any of the above attractive, then use a console. Do what works for you.

The problem I face however is that all kinds of people come to me and tell me they want to make better recordings, then they propose all kinds of solutions that really are not going to help at all.

There's no point in having an expensive tube mic, 'boutique' preamp, thousand-dollar plug-ins, summing mixers or any of the exotica of audio until you can make a recording that stands up as a professional product. If you can't yet do that, then unusual or exotic equipment will merely confuse you more, and confuse your sound along the way.

And using a mixing console as a preamp, when there is a perfectly good preamp in your audio interface would be madness, unless you had already mastered the art of making recordings of a good professional standard.

Anyone who has crossed the barrier into professionalism will recognize that we all have to learn; no-one is born with audio skills. But learning is easier and faster with equipment and software of a straightforward basic professional standard.

And after that, exotic and unusual equipment can be fun and add extra tone colors to your palette. But for starters keep it simple and remember the "Three C's" of recording...

Clean, Clear, Crisp.

If your equipment and software can achieve that, then that is all the equipment and software you need to reach a good professional standard in your work.

P.S. My vocation in life is to help people learn how to make professional-quality recordings. I do recognize however that a lot of people record simply for fun. In that case, do whatever gives you the most fun! With my blessing :-)

By David Mellor Wednesday March 2, 2011