How to connect a mixer to a laptop computer for recording (Selecting the right cables and more)

Image of mixer and laptop

Is it possible to record from a mixer to a computer?

Yes, it is absolutely possible to record audio from a mixer into your computer. As a general rule, you will want to use an audio interface, but if your computer has a line input you may be able to record a stereo mix directly into the line input.

In this article we’ll discuss a number of different ways you can connect a mixer to a computer for recording.

Please note that we recommend and link to products in this article that will help you. If you choose to purchase through one of our links we may earn an affiliate commission. We certainly appreciate it if you do purchase through one of these links as this helps us continue to create more helpful articles and resources.

How to record from a mixer to my laptop?

To record an audio signal from a mixer or mixing console to your laptop, use a cable to connect the audio output from the mixer to an audio input on your laptop. In this article, we’ll explain in detail how to do this  – what cables to use and how to configure your settings correctly for the best sounding result.

How do I connect an external mixer to my laptop computer?

There are four main ways you can connect a mixer to a laptop or desktop computer. We’ll explain each way in detail and describe the pros and cons of each method.

  1. Using an audio Interface (Recommended method)
  2. Using the line input on your computer if you have one
  3. Using USB if your mixer has a USB connection on it
  4. Using a microphone input on your computer (usually a 3.5mm jack socket)

1. Connecting a mixer to your computer using an audio interface (Recommended method)

Our recommended method for connecting a mixer or mixing desk to your computer is by using an audio interface. An audio interface is an external device that connects to your computer (usually via a USB port) and provides you with high quality analog audio inputs. If your mixer only has an analogue output signal, an audio interface will give you the cleanest signal into your computer.

Read our guide on the best 2 channel USB audio interface.

Shown below is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface which has two combination inputs. The combination inputs mean you can plug in multiple types of audio devices – from a microphone, instruments like guitar or bass and line input devices such as a keyboard or mixer.

Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 3rd Gen USB Audio Interface for Recording, Songwriting, Streaming and Podcasting — High-Fidelity, Studio Quality Recording, and All the Software You Need to Record

Affiliate Link to purchase;

The audio output from most mixers will be at line level, so ensure you set your input to ‘line level input’ on your audio interface.

If your audio interface has two inputs, then you’ll be able to connect the stereo output from your mixer into these two inputs.

Most mixers will have two ¼” jack outputs (left and right). So you’ll want to run a cable from each of these outputs on your mixer onto the inputs on your audio interface.

You can find a pair of cables pretty cheaply on Amazon for around $10-$12.

Hosa CPP-202 Dual 1/4' TS to Dual 1/4' TS Stereo Interconnect Cable, 2 Meters

Affiliate Link to purchase;

If your mixer has XLR line outputs, you can use an XLR male to female cable.

What is the difference between XLR outputs and jack outputs?

XLR outputs have 3 pins for a balanced output. Outputs are usually male (with the pins showing) The XLR pin configuration is usually as follows;

  • Pin 1: Ground/shield
  • pin 2: Hot/Positive
  • pin 3: Cold/Negative

Jack outputs will come in the form of two 1/4 inch female sockets which are often chrome plated silver as shown in the image above.

2. Connecting a mixer using the line input on your computer

The output level from your mixing desk will be at ‘line level’. If you have a line input on your computer, it will generally be a stereo 3.5mm jack socket – which looks just like the microphone input that we described above. The common colour code for a line input is blue and it may have a little icon with an arrow pointing inwards.

Most mixers will have two ¼” jack outputs for a stereo line level output signal. Using an adapter cable like the one below, you can connect the output from your mixer into the line input of your computer and start recording!

CableCreation 15FT 3.5mm 1/8' TRS to Dual 6.35mm 1/4' TS Mono Y-Cable Splitter Cable Compatible with iPhone, iPod,Laptop,CD Players, Power Amplifier, Mixer, Home Stereo Systems, 4.5 Meters/Black

Affiliate Link to purchase

If your mixer has XLR outputs, then you will need an XLR to 3.5mm cable.

JOMLEY Dual XLR Female to 3.5mm Y-Splitter Cable, Unbalanced XLR Female to 1/8 Inch Mini Jack TRS Stereo Aux Interconnect Audio Mic Breakout Patch Cord - 2 Meter

Affiliate link to purchase;

3. How to Connect a mixer to a computer using USB

Many modern mixers have a USB connection on them, which enables you to connect them directly to your computer using a USB cable. This will usually provide a much better quality signal than using the mic input or line input on your laptop as the mixer will convert the signal from analogue to digital. This reduces the chance of interference like buzzing or hum being introduced to your signal.

To connect your mixer, you’ll need a standard USB type A to type B cable, to run from the USB output on your mixer to the USB input on your computer.

USB type A to type B cable for connecting a USB mixer to your computer

Plug your USB cable into the USB interface output on your mixer

Then run the other end of your USB cable into the USB port on your computer.

Plug the other end of your USB

Need a USB cable to connect your mixer to your computer?

We recommend getting an extra long cable so you have more flexibility in your setup.

25Ft Extra Long USB-2.0 Cable Type-A to Type-B High Speed Cord for Audio Interface, Midi Keyboard, USB Microphone, Mixer, Speaker, Monitor, Instrument, Strobe Light System Mac PC Type A to Type B

Affiliate link to purchase extra long 25ft USB type A to Type B cable;

Do I need software drivers for connecting my USB mixer to my computer?

Depending on the model of your mixer, you may need to install some software drivers on your computer for the input to be detected. The mixer should come with instructions for installing the software if needed, or you can look up the model number on the manufacturer’s website and search for driver downloads.

Once you have installed the drivers and plugged in the USB cable, your mixer should appear as another audio input on your computer, which you can select in your recording software (DAW) as your input.

4. Connecting a mixer using a mic input on your computer

This is the last method that we’ll discuss and it is the method we least recommend, because it has a number of limitations. Firstly

If your computer has a dedicated microphone input socket, you can connect a cable from your mixer into this input. (Although this method has some limitations).

The mic input on your computer will normally be a 3.5mm socket that looks like a headphone jack, with an icon that looks like a microphone.

The Microphone input icon you may see on your computer
The mic input is usually right beside the headphone output on a laptop

What cable do I need for connecting a mixer to a microphone input on a computer?

You will need a 1/4″ jack to 3.5mm jack cable to connect from the output of your mixer into the microphone input on your computer.

Most mixers will have 2 x ¼” jack outputs for left and right. Note that if you are using a microphone input socket, you may only get mono (one side of the stereo signal), so you’ll want to test and pan all your audio signal to the correct side on the mixer before recording.

Here’s our recommended cable that you’ll need (Affiliate link to purchase)

CableCreation 15FT 3.5mm 1/8' TRS to Dual 6.35mm 1/4' TS Mono Y-Cable Splitter Cable Compatible with iPhone, iPod,Laptop,CD Players, Power Amplifier, Mixer, Home Stereo Systems, 4.5 Meters/Black

How to adjust your input levels for recording from a mixer to a computer mic input

Technically, a microphone input is not designed for receiving the type of audio signal that will come from a mixer – which is a line level output. Your microphone input on your computer is designed to receive a signal at ‘mic level’ which has a much quieter signal level and lower voltage than ‘line level’.

“Mic level signal level” is only -60 dBV (0.001 volts) compared to -40 dBV (0.010 volts) for line level signal.

If you are using a microphone input, you will need to turn the output level way down on your mixer to avoid overloading the microphone input on your laptop. If you’re connecting to the main outputs on your mixer, turn the master fader right down to near the bottom and gradually bring the levels up.

You’ll also want to turn down the input levels on your microphone in your audio settings on your computer.

To do this, go into control panel on your computer (in Windows) or System Preferences on a Mac. Select Sound and adjust the input level accordingly until the levels show around the middle of the range on your DAW input monitoring for recording

Set your input on your mic input until it is showing around 30-50% on the input monitor display

Recording a stereo output from your mixer is one step in the right direction, but what about if you want to record multiple tracks individually from your mixer? If you’re recording drums for example, you will want separate tracks for kick, snare, hats, toms, and overheads.

Read on to find out how to record multiple tracks from a mixer to your computer.

How do I record multitrack from a mixer?

You can record multiple tracks from a mixer in a couple of different ways. The best way to do this is if your mixer has direct outputs on each individual channel. 

If your mixer has individual outputs on each channel, connect these outputs to individual inputs on an audio interface and connect it to your computer. This means you can record multiple individual tracks separately providing you more flexibility for mixing your recordings later on. This is great if you are recording a full band or live performance, or a drum kit where you want to separate individual tracks.

If you don’t have direct outputs on each channel on your mixer, you can use the inserts in some cases.

Direct outputs are preferable as in many cases they will be balanced outputs, reducing interference and providing a cleaner audio signal. 

In most cases, the insert sends on your mixer will be unbalanced. They’ll still get the job done – but you will want to keep your cable path away from power cables and other sources of interference.

Cables and connectors needed to record multiple tracks from a mixer into your computer

Once you have identified which type of output your mixer has on each channel and what input type your have on your audio interface you will need to source the appropriate cables.

If you’re using direct outputs with a balanced quarter inch jack, you’ll want a stereo ¼” jack connector on each end.

The most common types of cables will be 

  1. A stereo balanced ¼” jack on each end
  2. A stereo balanced ¼” jack (mixer end) to male XLR (audio interface end)
  3. A balanced microphone lead (female XLR to male XLR)

Other types of connects that may be present on some older mixing consoles and DJ mixers will have RCA line outputs.

RCA is an unbalanced audio signal and you will need an adapter or cable that runs from RCA to an unbalanced ¼” jack connector which will then plug into most audio interfaces.

What audio interface do I need for recording multiple tracks from a mixer to a computer?

You’ll need an audio interface with multiple inputs to enable you to connect each channel into your computer for recording.

A couple of good multitrack audio interfaces are the Focusrite Scarlett 18i20 which has 8 analogue inputs and you can expand this via ADAT optical to add 8 more inputs.

Another excellent audio interface is the Presonus Studio 192 which also has 8 analogue inputs built in and the capacity to add up to 16 more inputs for a total of 26 inputs. That will be more than enough for most recording situations!

If your mixer doesn’t have direct outputs, you can also use the ‘inserts’ to send the audio signal out from each channel. Usually the signal from an insert is unbalanced so it may not be as clean as if you were able to use the direct outs which are often balanced outputs.

Read our article on the difference between balanced and unbalanced connections.

Step 1. Run a cable from each track output of your mixer into the individual inputs of your audio interface. 

Step 2. Adjust the gain on the channel on your mixer

Step 3. Set the input gain at the halfway point on each channel of the audio interface.

Step 4. Slowly increase the gain on the mixer up until the input levels reach about -6dB in your monitoring

Step 5. Load your DAW / recording software on your computer and select the appropriate inputs

Step 6. Arm each channel for recording

Step 7. Start recording

Read our article on more Mixers with USB outputs.

How do I add an audio input on my computer?

If your computer doesn’t have an audio input, the best way to add one is using an audio interface. An audio interface connects via your USB port and provides anywhere from 2 inputs up to 16 inputs or more.

If you’re starting out, our recommended audio interface is the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. It has two analogue inputs and two analogue outputs. You can record two microphones

Can I use the headphone jack as an audio input?

No! You cannot use the headphone jack on your laptop computer as an audio input. It is designed to output audio, not receive an incoming audio input. You will need to use a dedicated line input or in some cases you can use the microphone input as an audio input to record audio.

Can I plug a mixer into an audio interface?

Yes – you can. Locate the main line outputs from your mixer (usually two x ¼” jack sockets) and run cables to the inputs on your audio interface. Most audio interfaces have ¼” jack line inputs so you can plug directly into these inputs.

Some mixers will have 3 pin XLR balanced outputs – if this is the case, then you can use adapter cables with XLR connectors on one end and ¼” jack connectors on the other end.

Mixer to laptop Recording cable

The best cable to use for recording from a mixer directly into a laptop will have two ¼” jack connectors on one end and a stereo 3.5mm connector on the other end. (This will only work if you have a line level stereo input on your laptop)

If you don’t have a line input on your computer, you’ll need to add an audio interface or an adapter cable like the one below that connects to the USB port on your computer.

Can I use a mixer as an audio interface?

Yes you can use a mixer as an audio interface. Some mixers have a USB connection built into them which means you can connect them directly to your computer via a USB port and record the output directly into your DAW.

Read our detailed guide on using a USB Mixer as an audio interface, and how to choose the best mixer.

Tim Wells

Hi I’m Tim Wells – an experienced session and live drummer, mixing engineer and all-around lover of music! I’ve been passionate about music from a young age and I’ve had the great privilege of creating and performing music all around the world. I've had the incredible experience of touring as a live drummer through over 10 countries, performing in festivals, clubs, street corners, churches and cafes in front of audiences anywhere between 8 and 8,000! I've also spent time in the recording studio as a session drummer, but also as a recording and mixing engineer.

Recent Posts