Do I Really Need An Audio Mixer?
Several years ago, I decided to embark on the task of digitizing songs from my vinyl record collection. With the exception of a phono pre-amplifier, I had everything I needed to accomplish the task. After looking for phono pre-amps online, I could not decide on a specific model either because of price, features, or both. One afternoon while walking through a Salvation Army “second-hand” store, I saw a Gemini PS-626 Pro mixer setting on a shelf. This is a DJ mixer, with inputs for 3 turntables, 3 “line” devices, faders, sound adjustments, etc. What I really needed was a phono pre-amp, and this mixer had three inside. I figured that if this device was designed for “live” performances, and recording, the pre-amps should be more than adequate for my purposes. Yes, it was “well” used, and had some clear signs of wear, but at $15, it was deal. I decided to buy it, and if the mixer didn’t work, it would just look “cool” setting on a shelf in my office.
The Gemini PS-626 did work, and it way exceeded my expectations. In the end, I had an “iPad experience” with the mixer; that is, I didn’t know how much I needed it, until I had it, and started using it. Not only could I record, I could also adjust high, mid, and low tone ranges, and add those changes (by recording directly from the Main channel) to the recorded output. My 25 year old turntable sounded great. Cool!!! Later, I connected all three of my computers to the Gemini’s inputs. Now, all the audio from the computers went through the mixer, allowing me to control all audio from one place. By using a slider, and/or flipping some switches, I could switch from one computer to another, or listen to two computers at the same time. Way cool!!! Resting in my geek-parts-closet was an AM/FM tuner that was left over from an old stereo system. All it needed to work was a pre-amp. Hello Gemini, meet my tuner. I plugged the tuner in, and I could now listen to music over-the-air. Also, hidden away in my geek-closet was a classic (ancient) pair of Koss Pro-4A headphones, with a 1/4″ plug. The Gemini had a 1/4″ plugin for the headphones. I plugged in the Koss’s, and Wow!!! Great sound. Audio nirvana, on the cheap. I was in love.
Sometimes love does not last forever, and neither did the old Gemini. After over two years of use, the Gemini introduced a “hum” into its audio output. I tried fixing it, but the repair was beyond the scope of my electronic skills. It was time to retire the mixer (it now “rests” on a bookshelf in my office, where it does indeed look “cool”).
With the Gemini retired I could not return to a life without a mixer. I began a quest. Last year, I bought an inexpensive external audio interface device (a sound card with several RCA inputs and outputs, fiber optic out, and a bi-directional USB port) for my media server. It is the Behringer UCA202 (you can read a review on this device by clicking HERE). The little sound card has worked well, and as Behringer makes all sorts of audio equipment, this looked like a good starting point for my mixer-quest. I certainly was looking at the right place. Behringer has many mixers, and soon I found a product that met my needs: the Behringer Pro VMX200USB.
The Behringer Pro Mixer VMX200USB is compact. Its “top” is slightly smaller in dimension than a piece of typing paper. This is not an expensive mixer (today’s street price, $129 US), and even with its plastic knobs, their rotation and sliding does not betray the device’s price. Crossfades are smooth, and their slope can be controlled by a Crossfade Curve knob. There is a Reverse Hold/Tap switch that inverts the direction of the crossfader, allowing rapid switching between audio sources. A Channelfader Curve switch adjust how abrupt changes in volume occur. The ergonomics are very good, – controls are easy to see, use, and read. The mixer is hefty, about 8 pounds of electronics.
Visual feedback is provided by a:
Level Meter – switched, displaying “Main Out” signal level or PFL (For most us, think PFL as “audio monitoring” or “headphones”)
Beat Counter – displays the tempos (Beats Per Minute) of selected audio. Used in conjunction with “Sync Lock” to sync tempos of both playing channels
Tempo Difference LEDs – Once each channel has its respective tempo locked, the LEDs light in the direction of the faster source. A green LED lights when the tempos match
Here are the Behringer VMX200USB’s features, as cited by its manufacturer:
“Like the trusty DJ mixers of yore, the latest VMX series features many RCA inputs for mixing up your favorite vinyl cuts via turntables or feeding signal from tape or CD players. They also feature mic inputs for announcements, an impromptu rap, or any other vocal nuance. But this new generation’s USB connectivity enables you to access your MP3 library or digitize your own creative mix, putting it directly onto your computer. If it can be clicked, spun or spoken, the new VMX USB series can mix it!”
Professional 2-channel ultra-low noise DJ mixer with state-of-the-art phono preamps
Built-in USB interface for recording and playback of any digital music file. Works with your PC or Mac* computer–no setup or drivers required
Intelligent, dual BPM counter with time and beat sync display
Super-smooth, long-life ULTRAGLIDE faders (up to 500,000 cycles)
VCA-controlled faders for utmost reliability and smooth audio performance
Adjustable crossfader curve for all mixing styles
Awesome XPQ 3D surround effect
3-band kill EQ (-32 dB) and precise level meters with peak hold function
Monitor function with PFL/output balance control and Split option
Automatic talk-over function with dedicated Depth control
Microphone input with studio-grade ULN technology
Professional Crossfader reverse switch
Gold-plated RCA connectors for highest signal integrity
Behringer provides a software disc with the mixer. It is mostly open source software. Nothing wrong with that, but the programs are old. There a numerous plugins included. They are “dated” as well. Finally, there is little in the way of instructions on how to install or use most of the programs. For me, the software has little use. Were I to be using the Berhinger Pro VMX200 USB as a DJ, I would be very disappointed with the provided software bundle.
You can find out more about the Behringer Pro Mixer VMX200USB clicking HERE.
My Behringer Pro VMX200USB Setup
The photo above is from the “front end” of the mixer and shows the device’s USB and various RCA connections. Here is how I setup the mixer:
A. Audio “out” from the mixer to the amplifier.
B. Audio “in” from the iMac
C. Audio “in” from the HP laptop
D. Audio “in” from the AM/FM tuner
E. Phono ground connection
F. Audio “in” from the turntable
G. Button to switch from “Phono” setting to “Line”
H. By-directional Audio using USB, and connecting to the Mac Pro.
For a Mac, USB setup is painless. With OS X 10.10, using the supplied cable, simply plug the VMX200USB into a USB slot on your computer. Yosemite does the rest. On older versions of OS X, go to Utilities > Audio MIDI Setup. On the Audio Devices window, click on USB Audio Codec Out, and USB Audio Codec In. No Drivers to install.
As with any electronic audio device, it took some “fiddling” to get the gain, and sound-ranges adjusted to my room and ears. Once the configuring was out of the way, the result was, and still is, breathtaking. The audio is distinct, with astounding clarity (and no hum), which is impressive considering the Behringer’s price. In fact, the music and movie audio rivals that of my home theater system. The improved sound clarity also has positively impacted my vinyl recording.
I am not a DJ or a sound engineer. The VMX200USB is sophisticated enough to do what I want, and simple enough to use to get there.
What’s next for the mixer: A microphone, so I can begin screen casting. Stay tuned.
I really liked the VMX200USB. Notice in the last sentence the tense of like, is now past-tense. While in analog mode, the mixer performed very very well. During USB playback, audio gradually began to degrade on the stereo “right” channel. In fact, it degraded to the point where output was nearly 75% of the left stereo channel. I changed USB cables, and I still had the problem. I then connected the Behringer to another Mac, and…………..I still had the same problem. Back to Amazon it went. Amazon truly offers “no hassle” returns. They refunded my money, and I went to B&H Photo, where they were offering a Numark M4 mixer for $79.99 (US), and I jumped on it. This mixer has three channels instead of the two on the Behringer. It does not have USB access, and I can live without it. I got the Numark yesterday, and hooked the thing up a couple of hours ago. I’ve been testing everything, and “so for, so good”. Audio quality is impressive, – I hope durability is equally as impressive.
1. Behringer | http://www.behringer.com/EN/Products/VMX200USB.aspx