Purchasing the right digital mixing console can be quite a daunting task. That’s because, considering how expensive they are, you definitely want to purchase a digital mixer that is great for now and for the future.
My Top Picks for Digital Mixing Consoles
As a music producer, session musician, and worship keyboard player, I spend a lot of time in recording studios, the church, musician forums, and other musicians and audio engineers. And after many hours of conversations on mixing consoles, backed by hours of research, here are my top recommended digital mixers (click on the link to check current prices)
- Best overall digital mixer: Allen & Heath SQ5
- Best budget: Behringer XR18
Although these are my top picks for many reasons, and I highly recommend them, there are other mixing consoles that are definitely worth mentioning. Perhaps one of these may perfectly fit your needs and budget.
Presonus StudioLive 32SX
Allen & Heath Avantis
Best Overall Digital Mixer: Allen & Heath SQ5
The Allen & Heath SQ5 Digital Mixer (on Amazon) is, without a doubt, one of the best mixing consoles available today. This console is part of Allen & Heath’s SQ series digital mixing consoles.
There are three digital mixers in this series — the SQ5, SQ6, and SQ7. All three consoles have the same features and inputs/outputs. The differences can be found in the fader count, the number of local inputs/outputs, and soft controls.
The SQ5, however, has won the hearts of many audio and mixing engineers and myself for many reasons, which we will dive into shortly.
Before I even begin to talk about its features, workflow, and capabilities, I just want to commend Allen & Heath for making such an excellent digital mixer at a very competitive price point.
Why am I saying this? Let’s get into it.
What I like about the Allen & Heath SQ5
The first thing I like about this digital mixer is that it has 48 input channels, which is more than enough input channels for many live situations. 32 input channel digital mixers are the most popular options out there. And that’s because 32 audio inputs are just enough for many mixing engineers.
However, the 16 extra input channels on a 48-input channel mixer like the Allen & Heath SQ5 make it future-proof. This means, anytime you need a little more than 32 inputs, you will have 16 more inputs ready for the taking.
Also, because of the 48 inputs, the SQ5 is great for medium-sized concerts where many musical instruments and microphones will be used.
All of the 48 input channels have their own audio processing units you would expect in a digital mixing console such as Gate, Parametric EQ, and Compressor. And this allows you to mix every input channel to your preference.
Another thing I really like about the Allen & Heath SQ5 is that it has 12 stereo mixes in addition to the main stereo mix. This is really amazing for musicians that use in-ear monitors. Up to 12 musicians can get an individual mix in stereo. Why is this such a big deal for me?
Well, most digital mixers have 16 mono auxiliary outputs. And this means you can have up to 8 stereo mixes, which is fine. However, if you have more than eight musicians on stage, all of them can’t have stereo mixes. And honestly, I think 12 separate stereo mixes is enough for many band’s in-ear monitoring needs.
And the last thing about Allen & Heath SQ5 that literally blows my mind is the price. This mixing console is a bargain for the features, the number of inputs and outputs, and the overall build quality and workflow.
The Allen & Heath SQ5 is just a little above $3000. And that is the average price point for many 32-input channel digital mixers. The SQ5 is, without a doubt, the cheapest 48-input channel digital mixer available today. That’s because most 48-channel digital mixers are priced above $4000 and can go as high as $11,000 for the most expensive brands.
However, don’t let the price make you think this is a less capable mixing console. That’s farther from the truth, actually.
Besides the three things I personally like about the SQ5, here are some other features worth mentioning
- 7-inch highly responsive touch screen
- 32 input and 32 output audio interface built into the mixer that allows you to multitrack record selected channels
- Ability to record up to 16 channels of audio on a USB Drive
- Eight stereo effect engines. And each has a dedicated effect returns
- SQ4You and SQ Mix App allows you to mix from your Android, iOS, Mac or Windows PC remotely
What I don’t like about the Allen & Heath SQ5
The SQ5 and all the other mixers in the SQ series only allow you to multitrack record 32 input channels, although the console has 48 input channels.
As I mentioned earlier, 32 audio input channels are enough inputs for many audio engineers. This means many engineers will have no issue with being able to multitrack record up to 32 input channels from their mixing console. However, there will be times you’ll definitely want to record all of your 48 input channels. But this mixing console will only allow you to multitrack record up to 32 channels.
However, this is not a dealbreaker. That’s because there is a workaround to this. What do I mean? Well, I mean, there is a way you can record all of the 48 input channels of audio at the same time on an SQ5.
How is it done? Let me explain.
A USB port on the Allen & Heath SQ5 allows you to plug a USB stick and record up to 16 input channels directly on the USB stick. So essentially, you’ll record 16 out of the 48 audio input channels on a USB stick and then multitrack record the remaining 32 input channels using a DAW.
Honestly, this is not the most convenient way to multitrack record. But, in my opinion, this isn’t such a dealbreaker, especially when you consider the pricing of this mixer compared to other 48 channel digital mixing consoles.
Best Budget – Behringer XR18
The Behringer XR18 Digital Mixer (on Amazon) is one of Behringer’s most successful digital mixers available. The XR18 is an entry-level digital mixer for use in the studio and for live purposes. This digital mixer is very popular because it provides all of the essential features of a digital mixer in a portable rack-mountable form factor. And it is also inexpensive.
As you can already see from the image above, the Behringer XR18 digital mixer has no physical faders and knobs for mixing. All you can see on the unit is a Power On/Off switch, headphone volume knob, a Wifi antenna, and many different input and output ports. And you’ll get to know why in a moment.
What I like about the Behringer XR18
The first thing about the Behringer XR18 that I love so much is its portability. This unit weighs about 7 lbs, and that makes it very easy to transport from one place to another. You can also mount it in your audio rack, along with all of your other gear like amplifiers and such.
As I’ve already mentioned, Behringer got rid of all of the stuff that makes traditional digital mixers bulky such as the display screens, knobs, faders, and buttons. And this makes the XR18 very portable.
So if there are no controls on the Behringer XR18 for mixing, then how do you control it?
All you have to do is download the X-Air app for your computer, phone, or tablet, connect the device and digital mixer on the same network, and you’ll be able to control and mix from that device.
The X-Air app is where you’ll have access to all your controls such as volume faders, preamp gain, all the processing units such as EQ, gate and compressors, Pan settings, effects, and every other control you’ll need on a digital mixer.
This means the X-Air can be on stage with the musicians while you control and mix on the X-Air app at the venue.
I really like the real life review of this mixer made by the team over at Worship Leader Hangout. And you should definitely check it out below
I wrote a comparison article on the Behringer XR18 and Midas MR18 digital mixers. Feel free to check it out here if you want to learn more about this mixer.
What I don’t like about the Behringer XR18
The only downside of the Behringer XR18 is the built-in WiFi. As I mentioned earlier, you’ll need to connect the XR18 and your phone, tablet, or computer on the same network so that you can control this mixer. For this reason, there is a built-in WiFi on the XR18 which allows you to do that.
However, the built-in WiFi sucks, honestly. They are not reliable, and you’ll experience a lot of signal dropouts if you decide to use them.
So if you decide to go for the Behringer XR18, you should definitely get a dedicated wireless router. This is what everyone does in the industry. Check out my article where I reviewed the best wireless routers for digital mixers and pick the right one for your XR18.
Also, I wish there were more inputs on the Behringer XR18. 18 inputs can get the job done for cover bands and small outdoor events, but can be problematic if you need more than eighteen inputs.
That’s not a dealbreaker though. That’s because if you need more than eighteen inputs, you can certainly go for the Behringer X32 Rack (also on Amazon). This has similar features as the XR18 and the X32 console, but the X32 Rack provides you with 32 input channels in a rack-mountable portable form factor.