Poor audio quality is one of the elements that can ruin your streaming experience. To ensure their viewers and listeners are satisfied, all streamers serious about their video game, podcast, or other streams should invest in an audio mixer. With this, the question of how to use an audio mixer for streaming arises.
Here’s how to set up an audio mixer for streaming:
- Connect the audio mixer to your PC or Mac.
- Plug your microphone into the audio mixer.
- Plug your headphones into the audio mixer.
- Adjust the EQ settings.
- Adjust the USB Return and Tape-In levels.
This article will explain all of the steps listed above in detail and untangle some of the most common causes for confusion that have to do with audio mixers and streaming. Read on to find out how to perfect your streaming content with exceptional audio quality.
- 1 1. Connect the Audio Mixer to Your PC or Mac
- 2 2. Plug Your Microphone Into the Audio Mixer
- 3 3. Plug Your Headphones Into the Audio Mixer
- 4 4. Adjust the EQ Settings
- 5 5. Adjust the USB Return and Tape-In Levels
- 6 Final Thoughts
- 7 Sources
1. Connect the Audio Mixer to Your PC or Mac
Whether you’re recording sound or streaming using your audio mixer and a PC or Mac device, connecting the two is the first task you’ll need to check off the list. Even though it might seem daunting, this is a simple and straightforward process that usually takes just a few moments and a single cable.
Still, depending on your audio mixer, different connection types might be required for various streaming setups. Let’s explore these connections and see what’s the best way to connect your computer and audio mixer:
Connecting Audio Mixer via USB
Most people who commonly use an audio mixer paired with their PC or Mac will agree that having a mixer with USB connectivity is one of the first options they look into when getting a new audio mixer.
The primary reason why I would also recommend getting a mixer with USB connectivity is the convenience. You can easily connect the mixer with your computer or laptop. You can also easily connect an iPad or similar devices. Owning a mixer with a USB connection, you will never worry about potential connectivity issues that can occur with other types of cables.
In addition to convenience, another benefit of connecting your audio mixer and PC or Mac via USB is the sound quality. When your mixer and computer are connected via USB, no signal is lost on digital to analog sound wave conversions. This ensures that the sound your streaming audience hears comes out crystal clear and free of humming.
Connecting Audio Mixer Without USB
If your audio mixer doesn’t come with USB connectivity, there are other methods to connect the device to your PC or Mac.
- RCA to ⅛” (3.5mm or 0.13 in) cable.
- Dual ¼” (6.5mm) to ⅛” (3.5mm or 0.13 in)cable.
- XLR to ⅛” (3.5mm or 0.13 in) cable.
All of the methods listed can either be used with an audio interface or directly into your device’s line in port. There is one thing you should keep in mind when connecting your audio mixer and PC or Mac using an RCA, XLR, ¼”, or ⅛” audio cable:
Connecting an analog audio mixer using this method requires more processing power on your computer’s end. Your PC or Mac will need to process the analog signal, convert it to a digital one, and then send it back to your mixer, where it’s transferred once again. This loop can cause a slight loss in audio quality.
2. Plug Your Microphone Into the Audio Mixer
In addition to a device that is powerful enough for streaming, audio quality is one of the most important aspects of audience retention for video game streamers.
Recording sound using a headset microphone might seem like a good idea. However, getting a proper dedicated microphone is a must if you want to keep up with your streaming peers.
Using an XLR Microphone for Streaming
Once you get a microphone, a question arises: Where do I plug it in? Some microphones come with a USB connection, while others come with an XLR plug. USB mics are much more convenient, as you can plug them into any PC or Mac device. However, USB microphones are commonly lower quality than XLR mics, and they can cause unwanted sound issues such as electrical noise.
For this reason, streaming and sound experts recommend XLR mics for serious streaming purposes. These devices, however, require a dedicated audio interface, as they can’t be plugged straight into your PC or Mac.
Even though most sound cards available on the market allow us to plug an XLR microphone cable, getting an audio mixer is always the option I’d recommend. These devices allow more control over the microphone settings.
Not only will you be able to adjust all EQ aspects for your stream, but you can also add more microphones and devices. This is an excellent option for those who are streaming with friends or with musical instruments.
Once you get a proper mic, all you need to do is plug it into the audio mixer.
Choosing the Microphone Channel
The majority of audio mixers sold today have at least four channels. This can make something as simple as plugging a microphone into the mixer confusing, especially for beginners.
Normally, you’ll plug your primary audio device into Channel 1 on your mixer. For video games or similar streaming purposes, the primary audio device is your microphone.
To make things clearer, Channel 1 should be the dedicated slot for your microphone if you’re using an audio mixer for streaming.
3. Plug Your Headphones Into the Audio Mixer
The next thing you’ll need to do is plug your headphones into the dedicated input slot. The slot is usually located on the top right of your mixer and marked Phones. It can either be ¼” (6.5mm or 0.25 in) or a ⅛” (3.5mm or 0.13 in) channel. If you own a pair of standard headphones, you might need an adapter for this purpose.
After clearing out where and how to plug in your headphones, let’s discuss the why:
Why Do Streamers Wear Headphones?
You’ve probably noticed that almost all serious streamers wear headphones. Even though your first thought might be that they’re using them for sound recording, the purpose is entirely different.
Streamers wear headphones to hear what’s happening in the game, communicate with their teammates, and ensure that they can follow what their audience hears. In short, headphones are a must if you want to monitor your stream’s audio quality and correct any potential issues.
Having headphones on is a fool-proof way to avoid or eliminate basic streaming mistakes such as picking up ambient sounds, noticeable and annoying buzzes, or any other interferences.
While any pair of headphones might do the trick, going for a studio-quality set is always recommended when you’re using headphones for more serious purposes.
4. Adjust the EQ Settings
After the first three steps that were fairly easy, here comes the tricky part:
While the gear used might have some effect on the final tone of your stream, how you adjust the mixer’s EQ settings is the main determining factor.
Adjusting your audio mixer’s EQ settings might seem like a trial and error type of ordeal. Still, there are some basic principles that you’ll need to stick to. Here are some of the basics of EQ adjustment for speaking:
Any sound engineer worth their salt will tell you that adjusting the bass frequencies should be the first thing to do when EQ-ing vocals.
The suggested thing to do is to roll off the low-end to avoid noise. Low frequencies are where a lot of static noise and hums, environmental noise, as well as microphone stand movement sounds are most commonly captured at the bass end.
Experts suggest setting the low-end potentiometer to 90 Hz to start with. You can then choose the best-suiting position by rolling the main frequency up and down and listening for changes.
Midrange frequencies are the sonic spectrum where muddy sounds come from. The muddiness found in the 200 Hz to 500 Hz range is especially noticeable when recording audio in a small room. As we’re all aware, this is the recording situation most streamers are in.
Here’s how you can avoid sounding muddy on your stream:
When it comes to midrange frequency settings, you shouldn’t cut or boost this section by more than 6 dB. Anything above or below might cause further issues with the final sound. To avoid sounding nasal and muddy, set the potentiometer at around 800 Hz.
Upper Midrange Settings
High-end settings are what gives your voice sharpness and airiness. Just like with other settings listed, finding the right balance takes some practice.
This is also the frequency that can accentuate certain sounds. This is where lipsy sounds that cut through the air and annoy the listeners come from. Generally, here’s what you want to do with the highs:
Start around 3 kHz and fiddle with the potentiometer until you find the sound that you find satisfying. Try not to boost the frequency by more than 1.5 dB. This should be enough to stop all plosives from coming through in your stream, as well as provide enough presence.
As audio mixers became cheaper to make, more manufacturers started dividing the basic frequencies into subsections. That’s why you can find some settings that might seem confusing.
High-End settings are the most commonly divided frequency. Most audio manufacturers list the settings as follows:
- Presence. This is a frequency range responsible for the definition of your voice. Keeping it around 5 kHz is recommended.
- Brilliance. This frequency range is responsible for the clarity. Keep it between 5 kHz and 8 kHz.
With that out of the way, we can return to more simple steps in setting up your audio mixer for streaming.
5. Adjust the USB Return and Tape-In Levels
The final step in setting up your audio mixer for streaming is to adjust what your viewers or listeners will hear, as well as what you’ll hear during the stream. Most audio mixers available on the market have simple settings for these two elements:
- USB Return level
- Tape-In level
These potentiometers are situated in the same area on the mixer, commonly right below the clipping indicator. These two twisty buttons are commonly forgotten about. However, they are essential to any streaming session’s quality. Here’s what they do:
USB Return Function
As explained before, audio mixers work by delivering the sound from all imputed devices to your PC or Mac for further processing. To be heard by your stream’s audience, the signal needs to be decoded by the computer. The decoded sound then needs to return to the mixer for further processing.
Ordinarily marked with a yellow cap, the USB Return potentiometer regulates the sound level that’s traveling back from your PC or Mac to the mixer. Here’s what this knob does:
USB Return controls the sound level coming out of your mixer through the USB port. In short, this button controls how loud your audience hears you.
Those who have an audio mixer with no USB connectivity can find a button with the same function. It’s usually marked as (Stereo) Aux Return.
If you’re wondering what level the USB or Aux return should be set at, just take a look at your clipping indicator. As long as it’s not in the red, you should be good to go.
Tape-In Level Function
Another feature that’s commonly located near the Return functions is the Tape-In potentiometer. The purpose of this button is to control the levels of what you’re hearing in your headphones. Why is this feature so important for streaming?
Let’s imagine that you’re in the middle of streaming your favorite game. Suddenly, game sounds start to be a little too loud for you, but everything sounds great on your audiences’ end. This would mean that using the overall sound controls on your mixer or your computer will disrupt the sound for all of your viewers.
Instead of risking losing your audience due to low sound levels, you can simply reach for the Tape-In knob. It will only lower what you hear through the headphones.
Check out my other articles:
- Which is better between Analog vs Digital Mixers
- Which is better between DSLR vs. Webcam for streaming
If you want to give your stream a significant boost in quality and attract more viewers, using an audio mixer is the way to go.
Setting up an audio mixer for streaming is an easy process that everyone can do in a matter of minutes. All you’ll need to do is:
- Make sure that the audio mixer is connected to your computer or laptop.
- Plug your microphone into the mixer and adjust the sound.
- Insert your headphones into the mixer to monitor the sound.