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I am an absolute beginner at creating music, mainly interested in hip hop. I have been reading up on how to create music and websites suggest audio mixers, and others suggest using computer software such as FL studio. My questions are: are audio mixers still used, or are they being left in the past? Do they do the same thing that computer software can do? And can both audio mixers and software be used simultaneously? Thanks in advance!

  • If you're going to be working almost entirely in a DAW instead of doing a lot of recording, I personally would just rely on the DAW's mixing tools. But I don't have much experience with recording... – Kevin Nov 16 '14 at 22:57
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The main point of using an audio mixer over software is having good manual controls to work with.

To get the same with a Digital Audio Workstation, you need a digital control surface. To be useful for fine-tuning a mixed version, it needs motor faders as well (meaning that the software can also move the controls). Digital controllers with rotary knobs can just make the knobs "endless", so that the software working on the knobs can just do it in its imagination. However, that's quite less hands-on than motor faders.

An excellent used analog audio mixer will set you back a lot less money than they equivalent digital solution. It also cannot hang or show time lag. Since its settings are not readily available, it is not useful for incrementally working on some take: you do your work once.

In live performances, that may be all that actually counts (and good mixers have recording outputs after the preamps so that you can use the digital workflows offline on the live recordings).

Even when doing studio recordings, what you play into the monitor speakers and/or headphones does not necessarily need reproduction: you can work analog here as well.

For every setting that you'd rather want reproducible, digital controllers are advisable. If the money is there...

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Audio mixers in the most literal sense are a device for mixing sounds relative to each other to gain a good balance.

In days of old, these were physical devices with knobs and sliders to turn. However software audio mixers have software versions of the same thing - you would generally see a layout of a mixer on the screen, but to turn the knobs/sliders you use the mouse.

However an important part here is that the interface on a physical mixer (the part where you plug instruments/micropones in) which still has to be physical somehow for a software mixer: you have to be able to plug your stuff in!

So some software DAW packages come with an interface of varying complexity, allowing you to plug thiongs in.

These vary from just one input for say a guitar or mic, up to a bank of inputs which can all be recorded at once- thus simulating just the input part of a physical mixer.

The other part is what comes out : Physical mixers generally output as a stereo pair to some recording device (varies depending on era).

Software mixers can do this but also mix to a final output file on the PC.

Some packages include a physical mixer which is software controlled - motorised faders, etc, meaning that you use it much like you would a physical mixer but the software can also control what happens when. These tend to be expensive because the cost of producing the physical device is higher than writing to software once and then copying it.

Sitting in the middle are Digital Audio Workstation type devices which are a mixer with recorder built-in. These are excellent for getting started but can be limited on facilities, as the manufactureres generally skimp a bit on physical connections.

So far I've made it seem like there's not much difference between a physical mixer and a software one, but there are. Because sfotware costs virtually nothing to duplicate, some 'extras' become very easy to get hold of.

  • Effects Physical mixer: If you need say a chorus effect and three different types of reverb, and some compression then you'd gegerally ahve to go a nd buy those devices as separates and plug them in.

Software mixer : Often you can just download aplug-ins for all these effects and run them. If you wasn three differnet reverbs, you may be able to just use the same one with different settings.

  • Extra tracks Physical mixer: No option for extra tracks unless you buy another mixer and link them up (whcih isn't that hard)

Software mixer: You can normally extend the tracks as many times as the PC can handle

  • Copy/Paste: Physical mixer : Well really this is more about the recording device so the mixer itself doens't help.

Software mixer : Almost always, one of the major advantages is abiity to tweak sounds after they've been recorded - be that copy/paste parts of a song or amend nuances in the recording or autotune etc.

  • Repeating a mix ('trying again'): Physical mixer : May not be controlled by anything other than human touch so if you amend a setting, it's amended, and that's that.

Software mixer : Ability to save mixe & settings, abaility to amend a setting while the tracks are playing, and record that the setting was changed so it happens again next time.

In this area, software mixers (which I'm assuming here will include the recorder as the same bit of software) win out - you can do a lot much more easily using software.

Big advantage of physical mixers: Immediate ability to tweak things wihtout having to wonder through menus to find the right thing. If it can be changed,there's a knob for it. Some argue this simplicity helps loads with being creative- you don't have any technical challenge to wade through.

Big advantage of software mixers: Ability to save mixes Ability to save dynamic changes while mixing (eg dip the volume ointhe guitar for 3rd verse) Easy to move/amend/copy sound

Disadvantage of physical mixers: No ability to save mixes (unless you photograph the settings- which I have done, and it works well) Effects normally have to be separate devices

Disadvantage of software mixers: Complexity. This is a biggie - don't underestimate how art-destroying it can be to be wondering through menus trying to find some setting or other. When you finally find it, you've probably forgotten what you wanted to try. I have heard this said by several colleagues.

Lag/latency: Software takes a time to run, even if it's only nanoseconds. Sometimes this is appreciable and the stuff you've recorded may appear out of time. This goes for effects too- processing to compress a signal takes time.

Computers, generall : How annoying would it be to be getting a great mix together only to have your PC blue-screen at you ? horrible. If you go the software route, make sure your PC can do all you ask of it, nd either get a dedivcated one or switch off things like virus scanning and wi-fi-scanning whcih may pop up just to annoy you.

One final part is that some software mixers don't have to deal exclusively with sound - you can record MIDI and play that back too. this opens up huge possibilitiesd of being able to program drum machines or any midi device, or record what you've played and then tweak it seamlessly afterwards if you fluffed a note. That's only available with software mixers (or a sequencer as a separate thing).

I'd invite people to comment on other advantages/disadvantages of physical mixers vs. software mixers

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