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Wondering on what all things would one miss, for a hobbyist home-studio if one were to go with a single-channel audio-interface, that is fed by an analog mixer, as against a multi-channel USB interface. The constraint in my case is that I already have a single-channel USB audio-interface, and thinking of buying an entry level analog 4-channel mono mixer (for unbalanced mics), i.e. has inbuilt preamp. It does fit my budget pretty well, but wondering if it'd be worth spending about 10x on a USB multi-channel mixer.

In case of multi-channel USB interface, is it true that each instrument channel would be recorded on an independent track (by the workstation software), played simultaneously ? And in case of the single-channel USB interface fed by a multi-channel mixer, every instrument is recorded to the same track ? I have read some Q&A on music.SE that indicate that even though theoretically multi-channel USB audio interfaces can record multiple tracks simultaneously, but in reality, it is a struggle.

Kindly note that, I might need to record up to 5 channels simultaneously. Three of them being dynamic mics (1 vocal, 2 for drums), one guitar and one keyboard. I would however start with 2 channel simultaneous use (guitar and vocals mic). Of all of the channels, only the keyboard is line-level, and everything else is mic-level (including the passive pickups on guitar).

  • 4-channel mono mixer for unbalanced mics? Frankly, there's no way to make a good recording with that, unless you're doing minimalist lo-fi electronic music. You could get better result with a cheap mobile recorder with built-in mics, provided you record in a decent-sounding room and use good instrument- and mic placement. – leftaroundabout Jan 17 '16 at 17:45
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With a multiple input interface, you can record each input to its own track, so you have more flexibility in editing/mixing/mastering.

If you go with a summed output from a mixer that is the only mix you'll be able to work with when it comes down to the mix down/mastering/editing.

Also, in general, overdubs are pretty much only possible when each input has its own track that it's recorded to.

This all only applies to instrument you'll be recording at once. If you intend to record instruments one-at-a-time, then you can get away with a single input interface.

  • Thanks Shawn. In a home-studio -- basically a 12'x10' room, with rather basic type of DIY sound-proofing i.e. carpet, wall-to-wall curtains, which tightly fits 3 instruments i.e. drum (obviously the loudest), an acoustic (or electric guitar with a 15W personal amp), and a keyboard, is it practical to hope for clean individual tracks, that can be overdubbed ? Perhaps the drum sounds would be loud-enough to be inadvertently summed-into the other mic channels, no ? – icarus74 Jan 17 '16 at 16:58
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    Most definitely they will, to a degree. Depending on what mic you have its more apparent than others. Isolation screens can help a bit. – user6164 Jan 17 '16 at 17:52
  • Thanks. Wasn't aware of these things called isolation screens - will check them out. However from both of the answers, I seem to be arriving at a verdict that for now, a 1-channel interface + analog mixer, might be enough when recording as a band (without overdubbing). Upgrading later, is always possible. – icarus74 Jan 17 '16 at 17:56
  • Sure, whatever is available for you now is always best. With audio routing on modern operating systems you can still use the single input interface in conjunction with others. For example, in OS X there's a utility called Audio/MIDI utility that allows you to virtually configure interfaces, and any professional DAW will allow you to select through a multitude of inputs. – user6164 Jan 17 '16 at 20:11
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Shawn said it very well.

To put it another way - if you want to record several instruments playing simultaneously (say a band) so that you can capture the live interaction, and later be able to edit those instruments individually, you will want to use an interface that is capable of recording each instrument on a separate track. Otherwise you will only be able to process and alter the entire mix as a whole.

In many home recording studio scenarios, you will get a better and tighter end result with less need to overdub or edit each track, if you record each instrument one at a time. Using that method you might first record the rhythm guitar track over a drum track (to establish a steady even tempo), then record the main vocal while monitoring the guitar/drum in headphones, then add bass guitar, lead guitar, and any other instruments you want in your mix.

By recording each part one at a time (while monitoring the preceding parts in headphones), you will only need one input on your interface and will end up with each instrument/part on a separate track so you can adjust relative volume, EQ, dynamics, effects, and so forth using your DAW software during post recording mixing and mastering.

So what you need depends on how you intend to use it. To record the whole band simultaneously in a live type performance while maintaining the ability to edit individual tracks - you will need a multi input interface.

To record a demo of your music one instrument at a time to get a cleaner more error free radio ready recording - a single input interface will work just as well and save you some money on acquisition cost.

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Why not buy an "all-in-one" by getting an analog mixer of sufficient size with a Firewire interface? I seem to remember that recent Mackie Onyx models come with Firewire interfaces by default (on my own one, I have to take the recording outputs into my audio interface more or less manually) but I've also seen some Heath&Allen on eBay which had a USB in/out (though it looked like only one channel pair so would seem not useful for multitrack recording of a take).

There's also the possibility of getting a digital control surface and let some computer do the mixing, but there are more ways in which you can lose control then: probably not all that desirable in a live setting.

  • Actually, I got some of my mixer knowledge from Mackie websites, but I'm afraid that most of the Mackie mixers are way above my budget !! – icarus74 Jan 17 '16 at 17:08

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