As a streamer, you have probably already heard of all sorts of gear that many content creators use for their productions. You may have even seen some lists that streamers have put out about the gear that they use on a day-to-day basis.
One thing you might see on many streamers’ setup lists is mixers. You probably already know of at least one mixer: the famous GoXLR and its smaller version, the GoXLR Mini, as seen below.
However, if you’ve never heard of mixers before, or if you’re a newer streamer, you may be feeling mystified.
What exactly is an audio mixer, and why do streamers use them?
Why Do Streamers Use Audio Mixers?
The biggest reason why streamers use mixers is that these devices give content creators maximum control over their own sound.
At the end of the day, streaming is like running a production. Having great production quality and value can help you gain more viewers and keep them — and a major part of production value is audio. Many experienced streamers will tell you that if someone clicks on your stream and realizes your sound is horrible, they may never come back.
A good mixer can make a massive difference to your stream’s overall sound.
What is an Audio Mixer?
Mixers are devices that take signals from multiple audio sources and combine them into a single output signal. Usually, mixers are able to customize or enhance audio as well, which can help you in a number of ways:
- Mixers can help you adjust your volume levels for each source so your music or game audio don’t overpower your mic, and vice versa.
- Some mixers allow you to customize your equalizer settings, which means you can get your audio to sound exactly how you want.
- Mixers can help you adjust background noise and minimize it so it doesn’t get picked up in your audio.
- Mixers will allow you to mute or unmute your audio sources without having to worry about tabbing around your desktop.
Additionally, most audio mixers can provide phantom power to XLR microphones that are not self-powered. Many streamers also use mixers with their broadcast mics (like the Shure SM7B) to optimize their sound.
Do I Need a Mixer if I Want to Stream?
When you’re just starting your streaming journey, you can usually get away with using your headset microphone or a cheaper USB mic. Many streamers still use this setup because it works for them — so why change anything? You also don’t really need a mixer if you don’t intend to have multiple audio inputs. If you intend to use an XLR mic on your computer, an audio interface is often enough.
Additionally, there are free options available that function similarly to mixers, such as Voicemeeter Banana with VB Audio-Cable.
However, if your budget allows, you can splurge for a mixer — especially if:
- You think you might use multiple audio inputs one day
- You want to use XLR microphones
- You want more control over your audio, especially equalizer and individual volume adjustments
Difference in XLR Mix & USB Mic?
XLR microphones have analog signals, which is fine if you’re using an XLR mic with a sound system or something similar. However, if you want to use your XLR mic with your streaming setup, your computer will have no way of understanding the analog signals the microphone is sending.
Audio interfaces and mixers function as analog to digital converters so your computer can understand the signals coming from your mic.
This analog to digital conversion happens internally on USB microphones, which is why you can just plug them into your computer and have them work right away.
However, it’s worth mentioning that there’s no real difference when it comes to the components of USB and XLR microphones, which is why some models of microphone have both USB and XLR output, like the Blue Yeti Pro as seen below:
Are USB or XLR mics better?
Neither are inherently the “better” choice. The better option for you will depend on a few things:
- Your budget (buying a separate XLR mic then tacking the cost of a mixer on top of that can get pricey)
- Your desk space
- Your willingness to fiddle with and configure the audio for an XLR microphone
If you’d rather save money and space and not have to worry about messing with the settings on a mixer, a USB mic might be better for you.
Some may argue that XLR mics sound better than USB microphones which is true when you start going into the higher price ranges. However, many USB microphones have started catching up on quality and work fantastic as plug-and-play devices — just don’t expect them to beat out a ShureSM7B + GoXLR combo.
Audio mixers are useful tools in a streamer’s arsenal. They aren’t absolutely necessary, but they can be quite helpful for improving your stream’s sound. Mixers also allow for a bit of futureproofing in case you want to upgrade your XLR mic one day, since you can use your mixer with any XLR mic.
If you want to try using an audio mixer, just remember that you don’t need the most expensive ones — some of the more affordable options can do the job, too.
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