Live Sound

The Best Live Sound Unpowered Mixers

 As musicians begin to require more power in their live performances, it is harder to rely completely on a live powered mixer. This is because as an engineer, you have less accessibility, less power, and fewer options. Alternatively, an unpowered mixer will provide all three of these features and more.

Integrating an unpowered live mixer into your audio equipment will allow you to maintain the highest levels of power and quality for all of your clients, or if you are a musician, it will provide the highest level of accessibility and customization for your performance.

Top Pick: Allen & Heath GL2400-32

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The features on this unpowered mixer are unmatched. With four groups, you can easily sequester each instrument to their own group, giving you easy processing and manipulation capabilities.

Why Should You Trust Us?

I am currently a student studying audio technology (B.S) and computer science (B.S) at the best school in the United States for audio production. Apart from my studies, I have worked on a wide assortment of audio applications ranging from circuitry planning for microphones, digital audio signal processing software, and reactive audio signal processing.

I utilize the state-of-the-art studio at American University to record, mix, master and produce several records each year. I have worked as a live monitor engineer at two venues, assisting both audio engineers and musicians alike with various tasks and troubleshooting situations.

I have learned how every type of audio equipment interacts with one another and I continue to learn how to optimize entire audio systems.

What Is A Live Sound Mixer?

A live sound mixer is crucial to any serious music performer’s arsenal of equipment.Whether you own the system or one of your employee’s own the system, it is vital to your live performance to be familiar or employ someone who is familiar with the chosen live sound setup.

A live sound mixer is a system that converts, manipulates, and effects an audio signal before it reaches the live sound monitors. The mixer will allow you to integrate as many audio signals as the machine allows into one cohesive, non-distorted/peaked audio image.

Doing all of this, you can manipulate the audio levels based on certain parameters, the moment you are in your song or any other reason you may need to make a change. There are many specifications and components you should understand before purchasing your unpowered mixer, the first being whether an unpowered mixer is right for your situation.

Unpowered vs. Powered

There are main types of mixers on the market, unpowered and powered mixers. Both serve a specific subset of purposes.

Powered Mixers

A powered mixer is usually lightweight and contains fewer components and features in comparison to an unpowered mixer. The powered mixer contains an amplifier within the mixer, making the machine highly mobile, but it can be heavier.

This mixer is usually marketed towards the gigging musician or audio engineer who has either just began their career or desires a backup machine in the case of an emergency.

High-end machines will give medium-to-high-end unpowered mixers a run for their money. However powered mixers will usually be less desirable for a musician playing in a theater or arena setting.

Unpowered Mixers

On the other hand, an unpowered mixer utilizes an external amplifier, providing more room for engineers to extend the capability of the machine. The unpowered mixer is marketed towards the musician who maintains the highest standards for their live show or the audio engineer who wishes to provide the utmost in power to their clients.

An unpowered mixer, as stated above, has an external amplifier, more features, and effects, giving the consumer the idea that these machines are lighter weight, however, when you include an amplifier in your calculations, the unpowered mixer will be heavier.

Analog vs. Digital

Before the advent of Avid’s Pro Tools and the mass adoption of the technology, many professional audio engineers utilized analog mixers.

In fact, before Pro Tools, a digital mixer would have been impossible because we simply could not process audio at a rate that would make a good experience. As the technology developed, the discussion between analog and digital mixing has become highly polarized in the audio community.

Why Choose a Digital Mixer?

Digital mixers are the future. Although analog has sporadically become popular, it later recedes into obscurity for the majority of engineers. The invention of digital mixers has not only made the job of an audio engineer easier, it allows for a seamless integration between the studio and live setting.

In the studio, an engineer is able to create increasingly complicated signal paths, ultimately reshaping an audio signal that was originally played and recorded by an analog transducer.

When utilizing a digital signal, you can contact the studio engineer to send you the signal path (the means of transfer is different based on the manufacturer and plugins used) and your live mix will be much closer to the original track.

Why Choose an Analog Mixer?

On the other hand, the audio that is produced from an analog medium is very hard to replicate in the digital world. Instead of dealing with 0s and 1s (computer language), you are utilizing circuitry and electrons to produce an audio signal.

Many audio engineers prefer this method because it creates a warmer, more vintage, and distinct tone for their musicians. The only downside to this type of mixer will be the lack of accessibility and manipulation provided by the mixer itself.

Alternatively, if you are relatively educated in the sciences of electrical engineering, you can modify, enhance, or completely change the entire system as long as you maintain a high standard of modification.

How Many Inputs and Outputs Do You Need?

A live mixer is hard to get right the first time. As a musician, your demands will be completely different in two to three years based on your new music or employment. Because of this, it is hard to make a purchase today that will suit you for many years to come, especially in a live setting.

Therefore it is important to be objective when choosing a live mixer because you want a mixer that will have enough inputs for your current music and the music you will be creating in five years.

Based on these requirements, you should pay attention to the amount of mic/line inputs, stereo inputs, and whether or not your mixer provides phantom power to some, all, or none of the inputs. Many contemporary mixers will provide phantom power to strictly line level inputs, whereas other mixers will provide it for the stereo inputs.

Compatibility

Continuing on the subject of inputs and outputs, I cannot stress how important compatibility is in these situations.

If you are building an entire live sound network, purchasing the right mixer with the wrong monitors will leave you in a tough predicament at your first show. For these reasons, be wary of what monitor types, brands, or specifications are needed for your live sound unpowered mixer.

Buses, Sends, and Signal Chains

As mentioned previously, music is evolving into a more complex art form as the audio industry creates higher-powered systems. For these reasons, it is vital to pay close attention to the capability of your product choice in handling signal chains.

There are many mixers that follow the “what you see is what you get” model, where you simply have inputs and outputs without any level of audio signal processing.

This form of a mixer is completely accessible and maintains the ability to complete multiple shows, however, if you incorporate effects, dynamics processing, and other components into your music that require more than simple in and out audio, be wary.

Alternatively, there are many digital mixers that include buses, sends, and modifiable signal chains that can do almost as much or more signal processing than the best studio mixers. Live sound mixers such as these will include a wide assortment of effects like reverbs, compression, choruses, delays, vocoders, phasers, etc and can help you minimize the amount of equipment you require while on tour.

Monitor or Auxiliary Busses

An important thing to note is the integration of monitor and auxiliary buses. Larger, more expensive monitors will include these features that allow every band member to personally effect their playback levels.

This is an important feature for many musicians because it can diminish their reliance on a monitor engineer or front of house engineer by giving them full domain over the important aspects of each song.

If you plan to record any of your live performances, these features can be used to send the audio mix to a third party recording device, allowing you to sync professional audio with any visual material.

Peak and Meter Monitoring

In the old days, audio engineers had to listen closely in order to hear whether a band’s audio was clipping or not. Nowadays, we have peak and meter monitors that give this information based on the signal coming in and leaving the board.

Unfortunately, this technology is not universal in mixing boards, in fact, it is often left out of many lower tier mixers. Although it is not crucial, this feature will greatly help you or your engineer ensure that the band’s levels are consistent, even, and not distorting or clipping.

Insertion Or Direct Output Features

This feature is primarily available on unpowered mixing boards due to the lack of an internal amplifier. The insertion or direct output feature will provide you with a higher level of customization in comparison to the live sound powered mixer mentioned earlier in this article.

An insertion or I/O feature is different than the previously mentioned number of inserts on a mixer because the I/O allows you to connect outboard processing gear or further audio effects.

For example, you can connect an outboard compressor, a noise gate, or another mixer with direct outputs for each specific channel for the aforementioned live recording you may want.

The Competition

After hours of testing and research, here's the final competition.

InstrumentRatingCurrent Pricing
Allen & Heath GL2400-32
an incredible amount of features will allow you to use this console for the rest of your career$2,499.00
Mackie VLZ4 Series 24
Allows for USB integration, provides EQ on both stereo and mono channels, can playback audio at +21dBu$1,149.99
Yamaha MG16XU
phantom power, an option pad switch, EQ and HP filters, sends, and groups
Behringer Xenyx X2222
a clear audio signal rivaling mic preamps in consoles worth several thousands of dollars
Avid S6 M10 8-5 Console
Primarily designed for in-studio applications
Great budget mixer or backup mixer for any audio engineer or musician$606.77
Allen & Heath ZED-14
vertically mounted circuitry make this console more robust and durable than any of the consoles above$399.00

Top Pick: The Allen & Heath GL2400-32

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After considering all of these features, the prime candidate for the best live sound unpowered mixer is the Allen & Heath GL2400-32 live console. The board features 32 inputs, with option phantom power on each individual track, four groups, six aux inputs, left and right mixes, multi-source stereo channels, and an aux-fed sub capability.

In short, this mixing console is built with an incredible amount of features that will allow you to use this console for the rest of your career if you wished to do so.

The features on this unpowered mixer are unmatched in comparison to many contemporary models. With four groups, you can easily sequester each instrument to their own group, giving you easy processing and manipulation capabilities. This feature is great, especially if you are working for, or are a part of a four piece band.

The six aux inputs offer the high level of customization mentioned earlier in the article. With six aux inputs, you can record the performance, send monitoring capabilities to each of the four band members and still use another input for an external processor.

The left and right mix function will give you domain over where each instrument “lives” in the audio playback. Many engineers like to use this in an attempt to create a “bigger” sound from the perspective of the audience.

The multi-source stereo channel provides you with the ability to create a stereo channel using two different sources (or the same source) which can create interesting sounds in your performance.

The aux-fed sub capability can help you enhance sub and lower frequencies during your performance. This feature can truly distinguish your performance if you have a DJ or bassist.

The Allen & Heath board provides so many features that this whole article could be written completely based on what is provided. Apart from the previously mentioned features, some more notable capabilities are the assignable talkback function, balanced XLR outputs with +26dBu drive, an option internal power supply (making it both powered and unpowered based on your needs) with a backup supply, 4-band sweep EQ, 100 Hz HP filters, visual metering, 1kHz oscillator and pink noise generator, low noise floor, and console linking.

All of these features allow for this console to be used as either a live console or, if you really wanted to, you could use this as a studio console because of its headphone and local monitor output capability.

Unfortunately, this machine will not come cheap as it is usually priced between $2400 to $3000. However, if you are looking for a machine to last you the rest of your career, this is a small price to pay for such longevity and versatility.

Runner-Up: Mackie VLZ4 Series 24-Channel Mixer

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Finding the best live sound unpowered mixer was not an easy task with all the processing capabilities on the market today. A runner-up that must be mentioned is the Mackie VLZ4 Series 24-Channel Mixer for a variety of reasons.

The most important reason for choosing this runner-up console is the price, at about half the cost of the Allen & Heath, you receive a huge level of processing capabilities for about $1100-$1200.

The Mackie console allows for USB integration, provides EQ on both stereo and mono channels, and can playback audio at +21dBu. The preamps on this console are second to none, providing for a great audio signal playback.

Unfortunately, this console does not provide the extensive features that the Allen & Heath does like the LR power, buses, sends, and aux capabilities. However, the Mackie automatically routes odd channels to the left and even channels to the right. All channels are assigned to the main mix and the board provides 20Hz-20kHz bandwidth.

Both of these boards can serve any musician from the beginner all the way to the professional, giving that you do not need more than 24 inputs (Mackie) or 32 inputs (A&H)

Honorable Mentions:

Yamaha MG16XU

The Yamaha MG16XU is a great and affordable unpowered mixer for the beginner musician or show promoter. With 16 inputs, the user of this console can provide audio playback for smaller venues.

The Yamaha console provides phantom power, an option pad switch, EQ and HP filters, sends, and groups. All of these features are packed into small USB powered mixer, making it perfect for a gigging musician who sets up their own audio system or a gigging duo. The Yamaha MG16XU can be found for $500-$650.

Pros

Portable
Powerful for the price
Aux sends, groups, and effects

Cons

USB powered so it might be slower than desired
One onboard compressor

The Behringer Xenyx X2222

Credit: BEHRINGER

Like the previous Yamaha console, the Behringer Xenyx X2222 is also powered bar an external USB cable. The Xenyx line of live sound unpowered mixing consoles all contain the same mic preamps, which are known by many club audio engineers as a great value.

These mic preamps produce a clear audio signal that can be rivaled with mic preamps in consoles that are worth several thousands of dollars. The Behringer X2222 is an analog mixer that maintains several effects, EQs, and one knob compressor, providing flexibility in your signal processing. The Xenyx X2222 can be purchased for $240-$275.

Pros

Great bang for your buck
Amazing preamps
Ultra-low noise floor

Cons

USB-powered so it can be slow

Avid S6 M10 8-5 Console

The creator’s of Pro Tools decided to enter into the live sound market and created a seamless studio-to-live system. This console is for the gig, company, or professional audio engineer.

In the price range of $20000-$25000, this is not for the average hobbyist. The S6-M10 is primarily designed for in studio applications.

It is also utilized by the 930 club in Washington DC as their primary live console. It is worth mentioning that the 930 club was mentioned as the best venue in the United States by Rolling Stones magazine.

Pros

Ultimate studio and live sound mixer
Seamless studio to live system
Multi-platform accessibility

Cons

Expensive
Primarily focuses on Avid products

Alto Live 2404 24-Channel Mixer

The Alto Live 2404 mixer is a great budget mixer or backup mixer for any audio engineer or musician. With four buses and onboard DSP, this mixer can fit within the majority of requirements needed for a live performance.

The 2404 can be used as a USB audio interface for musicians who desire a 2-in-1 experience. The aforementioned DSP effects are created by Alesis, a company that created great beginner to intermediate electronic audio equipment. The Alto Live 2404 can be found for $500-$600.

The Alto Live 2404 can be found for $500-$600.

Pros

2-in-1 mixer
24 analog inputs
Portable: only 18 pounds

Cons

Alesis DSP can be low quality depending on the effect
No automation capabilities

Allen & Heath ZED-14 USB Mixing Console

Like many of the previous consoles, this Allen & Heath console utilizes USB as a connection in an attempt to appeal to beginners and intermediate users. This does not take away from the power and accessibility provided by this machine.

The A&H Zed utilizes vertically mounted circuitry that makes this console more robust and durable than any of the aforementioned consoles (aside from the Avid S6). The A&H console provides phantom power, six mono channels, four stereo channels, four aux sends, two stereo returns, and the inclusion of the DAW Sonar LE, designed by Cakewalk.

The A&H ZED-14 can be found for $350-$550.

Pros

2-in-1 console
Powerful for the price
Incredibly durable

Cons

USB powered, may be slow for professionals

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