Connecting mixer to PC
June 28, 2020 1:36 PM   Subscribe

I have an old mixer (no USB) and XLR mics, but my PC has no Line In jack, only mic and headphone. Is there a way to make this work that is cheaper than just buying a new mixer/audio interface with USB ($50-$100)? I'm currently using a USB microphone, but looking for a audio quality upgrade with an XLR mic for recording vocals/streaming.
posted by roaring beast to Technology (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Maybe, but converting for cheap may cost you in audio quality.

XLR is conventionally a professional audio interface, which means you'll only find it on professionally-priced gear. I have a Behringer USB preamp that connects to my XLR mic for podcasting, "U-Phoria UMC22." I paid $50 for it in 2018, and now it seems to be priced new for $140, ouch.

Furthermore XLR is an analog interface, and USB is a digital interface, so you can't get away with simple cable adaptation or whatnot-- something with a A-to-D brain has to be in between them.

Here's what you can get cheap: a USB audio adapter, aka a USB soundcard (under $20) which adds line-in, and an XLR-to-3.5mm cable. A cursory search lead to some male-to-male cables, and presumably your mic's output is male too, so maybe a female-to-female adapter as well. With all that, you're looking at probably $35, so maybe a $50 USB mixer/preamp/audio interface isn't such a bad choice, particularly since it'll probably preserve the quality better.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:54 PM on June 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Depends on what the outputs on your mixer is, but a cable should be able to solve this problem.
You’ll need to have a sound card on your pc, the fact it has mic in as an input suggests it does.
If the mic input on PC is a stereo mini jack (most likely) then something like a double mono 1/4inch jack from the output of your mixer to a stereo mini jack at the other end would be simplest.

There could also be rca (little red and white outputs on your mixer) in which case double rca to stereo mini. In which case this sort of cable.
posted by multivalent at 2:01 PM on June 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You want a USB audio interface. On the low end of things, e.g. a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 or so. Behringer also makes something similar and cheaper, but I've not tried it. Higher end would be something from Universal Audio and I'm sure there are others.
posted by smcameron at 2:55 PM on June 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Depending on the mixer and your computer's mic input, you may be able to simply find an output level from the mixer and input level on the computer that will work. This may sound obvious, but definitely check the settings for the input - there may be a software toggle between line and mic level input.

Other than that, you'll need to get something to add analog inputs to your computer. Depending on the mixer and what you get, you may find that the built in mic preamp of a mid-range USB audio adapter is better than your mixer and be able to eliminate it.
posted by Candleman at 3:03 PM on June 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Even if you had a line in, you would still want a USB audio interface. Line in/mic inputs are usually extremely poorly shielded against interference so you'll get a lot of noise. It's up to you if you want one with a mixer or not, I would personally ditch the old analog mixer unless you really like using it
posted by JZig at 3:32 PM on June 28, 2020

Best answer: There is cable called an "attenuating cable" that is meant to take a line-level input down to a mic-level input. Days gone by, you could get them in various flavors from Radio Shack. (3.5mm m/m, 3.5mm m / twin RCA, etc.) Keeping in mind that most 3.5mm line-level outputs are stereo, and most 3.5mm mic-level inputs are mono, depending on how the cables were wired, you'd often end up losing either the left or right channel, or wind up with a "bridged mono" setup.

So, could you do it, connect your mixer to your PC and so be able to use your XLR mics? Yeah. Is it going to give you the desired increase in audio quality? Nope. It'll probably sound worse.

As others have said, go with a USB audio interface for an economical solution. There are other, more expensive ways, I've used various kit from Mark of the Unicorn which converts 8/16/24/32ch inputs (usually TRS) to some kind of high-throughput digital out. I think it's Thunderbolt now, the older stuff I had was Firewire. Combine that with a multitrack recorder (I used Sonar, back in the day), and I had a pretty sweet PC-based 32-track recorder tied directly into my mixer. The fidelity was great, and as long as I properly leveled all the inputs on the mixer, I always had excellent source to work with in my recordings. But it was an expensive setup (for me, 15 years ago), and the recordings ate up a lot of disk space.
posted by xedrik at 7:04 AM on June 29, 2020

Best answer: If you don't care about the sound quality, go w/ the attenuating cable suggestion.

If you kind of care about sound quality, go with one of the super cheap audio interfaces suggested above. My guess is that this is probably what you really want, unless money isn't too important.

If you do care about sound quality and have a little more $$$ to spend (and assuming you don't need to be able to record more than 2 channels at once), I would suggest this as a good entry-level (but not shite) interface, which goes for around $170: MOTU M2

You'll probably want to plug your mic directly into the interface in the last two instances, unless your mixer is really awesome sounding.
posted by nosila at 1:05 PM on June 29, 2020

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