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How To Choose A Mixer For Your DAWless Setup

By Matthew Vultaggio

October 26, 2020

When creating my own DAWless setup, it became clear I needed a mixer as I added more DAWless gear to my setup. So after researching how to find the best mixer for my particular DAWless setup, I learned a lot and figured I’d write about my findings here for you.

When choosing a mixer for your DAWless setup, the top 3 things you need to look for are the amount of inputs, if it needs to be portable or not, and if you need to record your DAWless jams or not. Once you have clearly figured out your needs, it becomes a lot easier to choose the right mixer for your DAWless setup.

There are a lot of choices for mixers out there, to the point where it can be overwhelming. So I’m going to stick to the top 3 things you need to consider and then go into detail with 3 of the best mixer recommendations based on what you need out of your DAWless setup.

ProductTypePrice
AmazonBasics 5-WayBest Portable/BudgetCheck price on Amazon.
Yamaha MG06XBest All-aroundCheck price on Amazon.
Zoom LiveTrak L-8Best multi-track recordingCheck price on Amazon.

Let’s go, my friend! 🙂

Choosing The Right Mixer For Your DAWless Setup

When it comes to choosing the right mixer for your DAWless setup, here are the top 3 things you need to look for:

  1. How many devices are in your setup? This will help you decide on how many inputs your mixer will need.
  2. How portable does your setup need to be? This will help you find a mixer that is ideal for studio sessions, live sessions, or a blend of both.
  3. Do you need to record your DAWless jams? This will allow you to find a solution that can record or, instead, keep your costs down.

If you don’t know the answer to any of these questions, you may first want to figure out how to go DAWless in the first place.

With that out of the way, let’s dive into each of these a bit deeper. 🙂

How many devices are in your setup?

The amount of devices in your DAWless setup will determine how many inputs your mixer will need. The more inputs your mixer has, the more flexible it will be but the more expensive it will ultimately be.

Keep in mind that your DAWless devices may be stereo or mono. If they are stereo they will require 2 inputs and if they are mono they will only require 1 input.

  • Stereo devices = 2 inputs (left and right)
  • Mono devices = 1 input

Also remember: you should make an effort to future-proof your setup a bit here. If you currently have 1 drum machine and 1 synth, but you’ve been eyeing a new groove box, you may want to consider getting a mixer with enough inputs that you can grow into.

If you need some ideas on what equipment to get, I put together a list of the best gear for Deep House and other electronic music (that I actually use) for you. 🙂

Now on to the next question!

How portable does your setup need to be?

When answering this question, you are essentially answering these two questions:

  1. Will you be taking this mixer out for live shows or will it be a permanent studio fixture?
  2. What physical space do you actually have available in your DAWless setup?

The benefits of a portable mixer are pretty obvious: they take up less space and they are easier to carry around. So why wouldn’t you want to go for portability?

Great question, my friend! 🙂

There are two potential downsides when it comes to mixers that are portable:

  1. Portable mixers can be more expensive. Cramming everything into a smaller box can be more expensive to manufacture and produce.
  2. Portable mixers can have less features. Companies may sacrifice quality or features to keep the size down.

However way you end up using your DAWless setup, live or studio, make sure that you take a good look at what physical space you have available for your mixer before making a purchase.

A simple method to do this is to simply measuring things out: look at the tech specs of the mixer and then take a measuring tape to your setup to see how it can fit in.

Do you need to record your DAWless jams?

The last big question you need to ask yourself when deciding on the perfect mixer for your DAWless setup is whether or not you need to record your DAWless jams.

When it comes to recording your DAWless jams there are two options available to you:

  1. Multi-track recording or having each of your inputs recorded individually to their own audio file.
  2. Single-track recording or having 1 stereo output of your jam on 1 audio file.

If you need the flexibility of multi-track recording so that you can mix and arrange your jam later, the big downside is that this feature will make your mixer much more expensive.

If you only need to record the stereo output of your jams, the good thing is that, although most mixers won’t have this feature built-in, it is very easy to purchase a separate audio recorder and send an output from your mixer to it.

Personally, I found it useful to be able to record my jams so that I can then later mix, master, and then release them as Best Friends Club on Spotify and everywhere else.

This is important because releasing music frequently is the key to making sure you’re not in a position wondering why your Spotify stream count went down.

Price & Budget For A DAWless Mixer

The one thing that we haven’t really discussed so far is setting a budget for the mixer you are looking to add to your DAWless setup.

When it comes down to budget, this is really up to you. It depends on what your personal situation is and what you are comfortable with spending.

With that said, the range in which you can expect to spend on a mixer for a DAWless setup is between $50 and $500. The price will mainly depend on the amount of inputs and features the mixer has.

There are outliers here of course. For example, in my recommendation section just below, I have found a pretty awesome portable mixer for less than $15.

On the other end of the spectrum, something like the Elektron Octatrack, is well over $1,000. However, this beast has a whole ton of features, effects and flexibility that it offers.

So how do you pick a budget?

When it comes to setting a budget for the mixer you are looking to add to your DAWless setup, simply make sure you weigh your needs against your personal situation / what you’re comfortable with.

Now that we have a good idea of what we are looking for and what our budget is, let’s take a look at some of the best mixers for DAWless setups.

Top 3 Mixers For DAWless Setups

From scouring the web for the ultimate mixer for my personal DAWless setup, I found a lot of great mixers that a lot of people recommend.

And let’s face it. Your DAWless setup is probably pretty unique and, just like your setup, your needs are pretty unique. So here are the top 3 mixers for DAWless setups broken down by:

  • Best portable DAWless mixer
  • Best all-around DAWless mixer
  • Best DAWless mixer with on-board recording

The best portable DAWless mixer

The AmazonBasics 5-Way Multi Headphone Audio Splitter Connector is easily the best portable and budget DAWless mixer. I actually own this little guy and it does a lot for very little.

Here are the pros and cons:

Pros

  • Incredibly cheap
  • 5 inputs
  • Each input can be used as an input
  • No need for power

Cons

  • No volume controls
  • No EQ controls
  • The output can distort if you have too many inputs at high volume

Click here to check out the latest price on Amazon.

The best all-around DAWless mixer

The Yamaha MG06X 6-Input Compact Stereo Mixer is what I would say is the best all-around DAWless mixer. I own this mixer and it is a good balance between features and value.

Here are the pros and cons:

Pros

  • 6 inputs
  • Solid Yamaha quality
  • Nice and compact size / shape
  • Comes with a handful of reverb and delay effects
  • Multiple outputs and output types

Cons

  • Only 2 inputs have EQ controls
  • Only 2 inputs can have the effect applied to them
  • No flexibility with the effects (just dial in the amount only)

Check out the latest price on Amazon.

The best DAWless mixer with multi-track recording

The Zoom LiveTrak L-8 is best DAWless mixer with multi-track recording capabilities. I don’t actually own this (yet) but I’ve been eyeing it a lot lately as I am really wanting to add the ability to record my tracks individually so I can mix/master later.

Here are the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Ability to multi-track record (SD and to computer)
  • Can double as your computer’s audio interface
  • 8 inputs
  • Can be battery powered
  • Multiple outputs

Cons:

  • More expensive
  • Has some unnecessary and extra podcaster-specific features
  • No EQ controls for the inputs

Check out the latest price on Amazon.

What Next?

Once you’ve got some jams under your belt, you might want to look into recording them and getting them up on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music.

Thankfully, it is actually 100000X times easier to do this than it was 10 years ago.

Sure, when you look at how much Spotify pays per stream, it is not too much but it can definitely add up. Plus, it’s pretty cool to have your music available where everyone can hear it and it takes your musical project to the next level.

After recording and polishing up your DAWless jams, you will need what is called a “music distributor” to get your music uploaded to all the popular streaming services and stores.

My top suggestion for a music distributor is definitely DistroKid because you get unlimited song uploads for a small annual fee (it’s also what I personally use).

With that said, I’ve compared DK to other popular services if you would like to search around first to find the right digital distributor:

Or, if you would like a more detailed look into what DistroKid has to offer, you can check out my big fat DistroKid review. 🙂

P.S. If you also want to learn about music publishing and make sure that you are not leaving any money on the table with your music distribution setup, I’d recommend checking out these 2 articles:

Related Questions

What do I need to go DAWless?

Great question! The main 3 things you need to go DAWless is a synthesizer, sequencer/sampler, and drum machine. To read more about how you can get started with DAWless jamming, click right here.

How can I sync my DAWless setup together?

Another great question! There are two main ways to sync your DAWless setup together, with MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) or with CV (stands for Control Voltage). To read more about how you can get started with DAWless jamming, click right here.

What does DAWless mean?

Another great question! DAWless means to make music without a computer’s Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Essentially making DAWless music means to make music without a computer.

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