Buyers’ Guide: Podcast Mixers for Live Streaming Production
Behringer FLOW 8
Audio stalwart Behringer provides their own take on the podcasting mixer with the FLOW 8 (Figure 6, below). The Flow 8 boasts four XLR/instrument inputs, as well as two stereo pairs (8 channels), Main out. Monitor out, Headphone out, and USB out. Two FX and two monitor sends round things out. Six decent faders let you adjust levels, but there’s no screen on the mixer to let you see individual channel levels—only a master level meter.
Figure 6. The Behringer FLOW 8 eight-input digital mixer with Bluetooth
Behringer has instead opted to leverage Bluetooth via a software app called FLOW Mix that provides live display and detailed settings adjustments for the mixer. So while the mixer’s cost may be low (it sells for $279 online), consider also dedicating an older mobile device to be the window to this mixer’s operation. It also provides a bit more flexibility in control because you can move around within Bluetooth range of the mixer and control it from the handset.
The Flow 8 can be used as a 10x2 USB audio interface, and offers dedicated “stream” mode where the main streaming audio output is controlled by the large dial on the face of the mixer. Behringer also touts intelligent EZ-Gain, a feature that enables the software to assess input levels and set input gain by itself. Some of the channels are switchable between USB returns or line inputs, making the FLOW 8 more flexible to your needs.
Leveraging preamps and converters from the much larger X32 digital mixers, the FLOW 8’s inputs also have a 4-band parametric EQ, compressor, and two effects sends. Monitor and main busses even have 9-band EQ and limiter. While clearly more of a live-mix mixer and without touchpads for sounds and internal recording, the FLOW-8 may have the different “mix” of features some streaming producers are looking for.
Maybe you don’t require so many channels, but still need to interface with your streaming computer and handle a few external sources. There are solutions to help with that too.
ATEN, not necessarily a longtime name in the audio production world, recently introduced the MicLIVE (Figure 7, below), which they call the first AI-optimized podcast audio mixer. It has two XLR inputs, a 1/8" stereo aux input that can also be used to interface with a cell phone. There is a USB for stereo input 4, and output. Like larger mixers, it handles multiple inputs, as well as enabling the immediate playback of sounds with the 8 touchpads.
Figure 7. The ATEN MicLIVE Podcast AI Audio Mixer
Seemingly unique to the MicLIVE is audio ducking, a potentially useful feature to enable voices to be heard above other sources. A single “AI” button controls EQ, gain, compressor, and noise gate. The MicLIVE also has a large knob that you can can toggle between setting the level of the two mic inputs. The other large knob (MODE) is dedicated to voice effects.
There are two 1/8" headphone outputs, each with its own level control, as well as a separate master level control for the USB audio out. The accompanying software lets you dig in and tweak the settings, effects, EQ, and more. This is an interesting solution that offers some potentially compelling features.
While Roland does not offer a big multi-channel podcast solution, the company does feature a few very small mixers in their Go:Mixer line which are designed to interface directly with smartphones.
The most recent addition, the Go:Mixer Pro-X (Figure 8, below) is a tiny mixer that fits in your hand and comes ready to interface with your mobile device, tablet, or computer. It features one XLR mic level input, two line level inputs, and a headphone connection that supports a second mic via TRRS. A master audio level output adjusts what the Go:Mixer feeds to your device.
Figure 8. Roland’s Go:Mixer Pro-X audio mixer
Roland also offers a different take on streaming audio with a more gamer-focused Bridge Cast mixer (Figure 9, below). Again, one XLR with EQ, compression, noise surpression, reverb, and vocal effects. There’s also a stereo line input, audio from your game, and the ability to mix in game chat as well. The headphone input supports a mic with audio leveling.
Figure 9. Roland’s Bridge Cast Dual-Bus Gaming Mixer
Roland’s app lets you adjust the settings, and—because the mixer is designed for gamers—tweak the device’s lighting schemes to your heart’s content. A standout feature for a device this small is to be able to craft a different audio mix for your streaming audience than the one you are listening to for yourself.
Mackie M-Caster Live
The Mackie M-Caster Live offers a unique-looking single-XLR input mixer, with a second mic input available on a TRRS headphone connection, plus an instrument all mixed to your PC and heaphone outputs. It also includes internal Bluetooth capability. A tiny color LCD screen helps you manage settings, including assigning sounds to the four soundpads on the face of the M-Caster.
The M-Caster also features internal EQ adjustments ofr the inputs, and CountourFX to give your voice a bit more punch or make it silly. It can double as a straight audio interface for your computer as well. There’s even a lighter-weight M-Caster Live (Figure 10, below) that skips the sound effect buttons but still lets you mix and adjust audio.
Figure 10. Mackie’s M-Caster Live portable live streaming mixer
Advantages of Working with Established Products and Brands
As always, you’ll find a wide array of interesting mixing solutions on Amazon, with what seems to be the same exact device being sold by five different sellers with three different names on the same product. User reviews always vary, with many of them obviously not real reviews. Sometimes they aren’t even for the product in the listing.
Squarrock has a push right now that popped up in my Facebook feed because I was doing so much “podcast mixer” research. Their Commander M1 seems to be an interesting little product, but I’ll wait until their Kickstarter is fulfilled and the products are readily available before looking into it more.
Remember that using an established product has several advantages:
- There are any other people and user groups out there who can help answer questions, solve problems, and get you up to speed quickly.
- Established companies provide firmware updates, and big fixes, months or even years after you purchase their products.
- You’ll usually get a better quality product and an established sales chain that can accept a return or fulfill on the warranty if needed.
Several solutions bridge this need for microphone mixing, multitrack recording, and computer interfacing all in one device. If you purchase one that offers all three, you can shift one way or the other depending on the number of channels you need, sound effect playback, or the ability to provide separate mixes to the remote versus local audiences.
Understanding your specific needs, and finding the tool that meets those needs as precisely as possible will most likely help you find a solution that delivers more functionality, with less work, than a traditional mixer does now.