Mix it Up
As the number of desktop synthesizers increase, the demand for compact audio mixers increases as well. In this product shootout we take a look at a few mixers specifically designed for portable music production and mobile devices.
If you are like me, you can’t get enough of the new desktop synthesizers that are on the market today, with their hands-on controls and built-in sequencers. Whether it is a drum machine, a bass synth, or a sampler, each one provides a unique addition to your sonic possibilities and offers an affordable way to increase your musical capabilities. But, as you begin to build a collection of these amazing devices, you’ll soon realize that you need a way to hear them all playing together. If you want to be able to take your desktop devices on the go, you will need a compact mixer. There are many compact mixers that provide standard mixing options, but manufacturers are now offering models that have been specifically designed to be used with these new desktop synths. They offer features that are convenient to mobile music producers, like power distribution, tempo sync, digital audio recording, and IOS interfaces. Many provide battery power or can be powered by USB. Some have bluetooth connectivity, while others offer built-in effects processors. With so many options available, we have chosen to review 7 compact mixers, each one offering something unique to the mobile musician.
The Korg Volca series had been extremely popular among mobile musicians because of their small footprint, extensive features, and standard options that make it possible to create professional quality music on the go. Korg developed their own compact mixer as part of the Volca series to allow users to connect up to 3 Volcas and mix their signals together. The Korg Volca Mix is more than just a compact mixer however, it also includes some features that help you integrate volcas into a complete system. For instance, the Volca Mix includes a power distribution system, which allow the Volca Mix and three other Volcas to be powered from one power connection. It also includes sync out jack and a tempo control so that the mixer can provide the master tempo. They also included a start button to allow all the Volcas to start playback at the same time.
A few years ago, Chicago based company Kvgear, launched a Kickstarter project to build a compact mixer called the Vixen. It was the solution for musicians who used Volca instruments, but were looking for a mixer that included more inputs than the Volca Mix. The Vixen is a great mixer, but sadly it has been discontinued. The VMIX-10 by Tangible Waves has taken over where the Vixen left off and provides many of the same convenient features as the Volca Mix, but includes more inputs, 2 effects sends and returns, and pan controls on the first 6 channels. By utilizing the channel inputs and the effects returns, you can mix up to 14 mono signals with this mixer. In it’s standard configuration, you have access to 6 mono channels and 2 stereo channels. Like the Volca Mix, the VMIX-10 offers a 9v power distribution system to power up to 4 more devices from a single power connection. It also offers separate headphones and main outputs with individual volume controls, a mute button on each channel, and pan, volume, and effects sends on the 6 mono channels. The VMIX-10 is the perfect companion to desktop synthesizers, like the Volcas, with it’s similar size and 1/8” audio jacks.
Go: Mixer Pro-x
The Go: Mixer Pro-x by Roland is a multi-channel compact mixer offering an assortment of connections and an integrated USB connection for mobile phones and tablets (see our January issue for our full review). It features 11 inputs and 3 outputs with several types of connections including, 1/4” instrument jacks, 1/4” guitar jack with a Hi-Z switch, 1/8” stereo inputs, an XLR-1/4” combo microphone jack with phantom power, an 1/8” smart phone I/O, a headphones/mic I/O and a stereo USB interface to connect to your mobile device. The Go: Mixer Pro-x has been designed mainly for pod casters and film-makers, who need to record high quality audio along with their videos, yet this mixer is a fantastic way to mix many portable devices and integrate them with your mobile device for effects, processing, or recording. It can be powered by batteries or USB, allowing you to use it anywhere.
The Bluebox by 1010Music is the most expensive mixer in our list. At $550 it my be more than a hobbyist might want to spend, but this mixer is more than meets the eye. In fact, the Bluebox isn’t just a digital mixer with 6 stereo inputs and 3 stereo outputs, it is also a multi-track digital recorder with built-in effects. It can record up to 12 mono tracks to SD card and features a touch screen, 3 effects processors including, reverbs, delays, and compressors, 4-band EQ per track, midi in and out jacks, and USB power. You can mix the recorded tracks with the incoming signals, giving you control over 24 tracks at once. You can save custom settings and projects to the SD card as well and load them up when you need them. With midi all of the tracks and effects processors can be synced to tempo as well. The Bluebox is such a powerful device you could use it as the command center of your portable rig.
Blender by TC Helicon, is another mixer that offers more than meets the eye. On the surface it’s a 6 input, 4 output mixer that allows you and three other musicians to listen to the mix in a silent practice situation, and if that was all that the Blender had to offer, it would still be pretty useful. However, Blender features 6 stereo inputs and 4 stereo outputs, allowing you to mix up to 12 instruments at one time. It also features a built-in talk-back mic, compressor, and mute per channel. Here is where the Blender gets interesting, it functions as an IOS interface that will stream 12 mono tracks to your favorite DAW or effects apps and will stream 2 mono tracks back out. TC Helicon provides an app that allows multiple users to configure the mix in their headphones and adjust the parameters of the Blender remotely. It is USB and battery powered, giving you the freedom to use it anywhere. With Bluetooth connectivity, a 12-in-2-out IOS interface, and 12 mono inputs the Blender is tailor made for the mobile musician, especially if you are using the iPhone or iPad as your portable DAW.
The MAMX2 by Moukey, is a straight forward, stereo mixer that allows you to mix up to 12 mono signals. It features 6 stereo inputs and 1 stereo output that are switchable between stereo and mono. It is USB powered and at a retail price of $30, is an inexpensive option if you need a rugged mixer that doesn’t have any whistles and bells.
The Dude mixer by Bastl, is another straight forward mixer built into a small form factor. It is the same size as the Kastle synth and Kastle Drum. It offers 5 mono inputs and 1 dual mono output, with mute, and +20dB volume per channel. It is powered by batteries or 9-12v power adapter. The Dude is an awesome little mixer for super compact portable rigs or anywhere space is at a premium. It is the perfect companion to the Kastl, but it feels right at home with other small devices like the Monotron, Pocket Operator, or phone.
The choice is yours
There are so many compact mixers on the market today. Most of them provide the standard features that we have come to expect in a mixer. But, as the number of desktop instruments increase, manufacturers are developing mixers that provide new options that fit the specific needs of these new instruments. The mixers we have included in this review are just a small sampling, but give you an idea of what is available for your particular situation. We have put together a table to provide all of the various options in one place to help you decide on the one that is the best fit for you. I hope you find this review helpful and informative. Visit the links below for more information.