Typically, mixers are used in the audio setting. However, there are quite a few differences between powered mixer vs unpowered mixer that you should know before making any purchase decisions.
Powered mixers have gained popularity for their versatility and portability. On the other hand, unpowered mixers still have their place in music production thanks to their affordability and durability.
Our goal with this article is to help you make an informed decision when it comes to choosing between a powered mixer and an unpowered mixer. After reading this guide, you’ll be able to choose the best option based on your unique needs as well as budget considerations!
Our recommendation if you don't like reading:
- The Difference Between Powered Mixer Vs Unpowered Mixer
- Which mixer should you buy, a powered or unpowered mixer
- What are the benefits of each type of mixer
- What are the disadvantages to both types of mixers
- Our Recommended Powered Mixer
- Our Recommended Unpowered Mixer
The Difference Between Powered Mixer Vs Unpowered Mixer
A powered mixer has a built-in power amplifier. It’s more versatile and often portable, which makes it suitable for use in many different settings from small gigs to the studio. Powered mixers are used with passive loudspeakers – such as speakers or full-range studio monitors – that don’t have built-in power amplifiers.
An unpowered mixer is a standalone audio device that requires external power in order to work. It’s suitable for use with passive loudspeakers or self-powered speakers, which require an amplifier.
Therefore, the primary difference is powered mixers typically have built-in power amps, while unpowered mixers don't.
A mixer’s power amplifier is a crucial component for enhancing your output and reducing noise, especially if you want to process signals from multiple peripherals at once. For example, some mixers have four or five built-in amps – this is useful for recording live sound sources that require neutral reproduction.
With that in mind, let's take a look at some of the other essential differences.
Since powered mixers have built-in power amps, they often produce better sound quality than unpowered mixers.
This is because there are fewer components and electronics between the audio source and speaker, which preserves the audio signal.
On the other hand, an unpowered mixer requires a dedicated power amplifier. It’s worth noting that most of the best-powered mixers will still sound better than most of the best-unpowered mixers.
The cost of an unpowered mixer is lower than a powered one, especially if you get a model that doesn’t have additional features like networking or digital connectivity options.
Typically, you can find a good quality unpowered mixer for less than $100 while a similar powered model will cost you 2-3 times more.
Powered mixers can be used with a variety of passive speakers and are often portable. Unpowered mixers that aren’t self-powered can be connected to active power amplifiers, which makes them more portable as well. This is particularly helpful for DJs who travel frequently since you can get a compact powered mixer and place it inside your bag without fearing damage to the internal components.
Most powered mixers have user-friendly features that allow you to plug and play right away. All of the models we’ve reviewed above have a USB port, which is very useful if you want to use your mixer with a computer or iPad. Quickly connecting peripherals via USB is very convenient – there’s no need to use a special interface.
This means that you can connect instruments and microphones in a matter of seconds, which is particularly beneficial if you need to record an impromptu performance or set up for a live gig.
A powered mixer is more versatile than an unpowered one. A simple model will allow you to mix a couple of channels and send them to a speaker, but there are also models that have many more features.
Many powered mixers offer digital connectivity options for interfacing with computers, tablets, or phones – some even come with networking capabilities. If you need additional channels, it’s easy to add them by using an external interface or a multi-channel preamp.
Since a powered mixer has built-in amplifiers, it can be used in settings that have higher power requirements.
You can connect it to passive speakers that are more powerful than the mixer’s amp-rating and you can increase the volume should you need.
On the other hand, an unpowered mixer will work only with low-powered loudspeakers and there are limits to how much power it can handle without clipping.
An unpowered mixer is per se reliant on external power sources, which means that there are batteries or adapters involved in the mixing process. This can be an advantage if you want to carry your equipment around without being tied to a specific location.
However, it also means that your mixer will require additional electricity. It’s worth noting that a powered mixer is more energy-efficient than an unpowered one because of the built-in power amp – this can be helpful in terms of cost and environmental impact.
The output of a powered mixer is connected to the input of a speaker, which depends on where you use it.
There are mains-powered mixers that can be plugged into an external power source as well as battery-powered models that can be taken anywhere with ease.
An unpowered mixer will connect directly to a passive speaker – again, depending on where you use it.
Are powered and unpowered mixers interchangeable?
In most cases, an unpowered mixer can be used with a powered speaker but not the other way around.
This is because an unpowered mixer might require more power than a powered model and it might produce distortions if there’s any type of mismatch in terms of impedance.
However, you can use an unpowered mixer with passive speakers as long as it’s compatible with the impedance.
Which mixer should you buy, a powered or unpowered mixer
The type of mixer you will want to purchase depends on your needs.
If you're setting up your home recording studio or you’re a DJ looking for a compact option to carry around in addition to your turntables, you need a powered mixer.
It will provide you with decently clean sound and it will be easy to use via input channels and via USB connection.
It might be the only option if you have high power requirements or plan to connect a lot of equipment as well because the unpowered mixer won’t be able to provide power.
You can connect additional speakers to the mixer without adding power because it has a built-in amplifier.
It can be used in other applications too, such as for living performances and worship services.
On the other hand, if you’re a Live Media producer or you’re planning to run your own live streaming channel, go for an unpowered mixer.
An unpowered mixer might be ideal for those who want an affordable mixing solution that can be used in a variety of settings, from recording to live gigs or you have a small project that doesn’t require much power.
You will be able to record audio with an unpowered mixer because it does not require power for the preamps.
As mentioned, it has lower impedance than powered mixers which means that there won’t be any noise or interference when used in passive speaker setups.
Therefore, if you’re going to be working with passive speakers, an unpowered mixer is also a safe choice because it can handle impedance mismatches without causing any harm.
It will be more affordable and easier to use than a powered mixer, but on the other hand, you will have fewer options in terms of connectivity.
An unpowered mixer can handle multiple microphones but it might struggle with high-resolution audio or even streaming because there are limited USB outputs and no networking capabilities.
In some cases though, you can use an unpowered mixer combined with a powered hub.
What are the benefits of each type of mixer
What are the key advantages of powered mixers?
Portability: Powered mixers have taken over in popularity thanks to their portability. They’re easy to carry around and can be hooked up quickly, which makes them suitable for use on the road or at live performances.
Versatility: Powered mixers offer much more in terms of versatility. They’re great for live performances, but can also be used in the studio. In fact, powered mixers are often used by DJs and other professionals. This is because they’ve got all the necessary features to meet a wide range of needs.
What are the key advantages of unpowered mixers?
Affordability: Unpowered mixers are considered affordable in comparison to powered mixers. They generally have all the features that you need, especially if they’re often used for live performances.
Dependable: Unpowered mixers aren’t as prone to failure because they simply don’t rely on electricity. They’re powered by batteries or other power sources. In fact, these mixers are often used in music studios where there’s no reliable source of power available.
What are the disadvantages to both types of mixers
What are the key disadvantages of powered mixers?
Cost: Powered mixers cost more than unpowered mixers. In fact, they’re the most expensive option when it comes to professional audio equipment.
Standards compliance: While quality is important on powered mixers, many manufacturers don’t follow standards when making these products.
Power supply: Powered mixers need to be plugged into an electrical source. The absence of built-in batteries means that you’ll have to supply power separately. This means that there will be more cables and equipment involved in the setup, which can lead to a lot of clutter if you aren’t careful enough.
Noise: Powered mixers can be noisy when not connected to a power source. This is because preamps need power in order to work. This means that you’ll get a noise whether you want it or not.
What are the key disadvantages of unpowered mixers?
Incompatibility: Unpowered mixers can only be used with passive speakers. All active and semi-active speakers will require a powered mixer in order to function properly.
Connectivity: Unpowered mixers have fewer connectivity options than powered ones. For example, there will be fewer USB ports or audio I/O options. This makes it harder to transfer data or connect equipment in some cases.
Operation: Unpowered mixers usually need their batteries replaced after a while. Your mixer might not work if the battery dies during use. This is one of the reasons why a powered hub can come in handy because it means that you won’t have to deal with the hassle of replacing batteries all the time.
Our Recommended Powered Mixer
Rockville RPM870 8 Channel 6000w Powered Mixer w/USB, Effects, 8 XDR2 Mic Pres
The Rockville RPM870 is a great choice for any band, DJ, sound engineer, or music producer looking to upgrade their live sound.
With this mixer, you can mix and match up to 8 channels with a variety of inputs including XLR/TRS combo jacks, RCA phono inputs, and even Bluetooth wireless audio streaming.
You’ll also have access to 7-band EQs on each channel as well as 24-bit digital effects. And don’t forget about the USB port which allows you to record your mixes directly into your computer!
This mixer is designed with an ultra-low noise floor so that it won't interfere with other equipment in your studio or venue.
It has a peak LED indicator which lets you know when signals are 5dB below clipping - meaning no more distortion from overloading!
Plus, there's 48V phantom power built right in so that all of your condenser microphones will work perfectly without having to buy additional accessories.
You'll have a hard time imagining that such an impressive-sounding system comes at such an affordable price!Check the Price
Our Recommended Unpowered Mixer
Behringer Xenyx X1204USB Mixer 12 channels with USB and Effects
The Behringer Xenyx X1204USB is the perfect solution for anybody who wants to record their own music or podcast in high quality without breaking the bank.
It has everything you need to create professional recordings and live performances.
This premium mixer comes with 4 phantom-powered mic preamps that will rival stand-alone boutique preamps.
This mixer also features 4 studio-grade compressors that control vocal and instrumental sound with one-knob functionality and LED for professional recording.
Plus, it comes with an FX processor that includes 16 editable presets. This means that you can edit your sound in 16 different ways, including reverb, chorus, flanger, and more.
It even comes equipped with +48 V Phantom power so you can use condenser microphones without an external power supply!
It also includes a built-in USB interface so you can record your performance directly into your computer or laptop without the use of an external audio interface.
You can even connect it to your iPad using Apple's Camera Connection Kit (sold separately) so that you have access to all of its apps on stage!
With this mixer at home or on tour, there will be no more worries about not having enough inputs or outputs when recording music because this mixer has everything you need!Check the Price
The decision between powered mixer vs unpowered mixer can be difficult to make. However, with all the information available here, you should be able to determine which one is right for your needs in no time at all.
Still, if we had to choose between powered mixers vs unpowered mixers, our top pick would definitely be the powered ones because they come with many different great features that are incredibly helpful in terms of using them for various applications.
You can connect additional speakers to the mixer without adding power because it has a built-in amplifier. It can be used in other applications too, such as for living performances and worship services.
Powerful features of powered mixers include phantom power, pad switches, EQs, filters, compressors, USB ports including MIDI support, and more.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you need your mixer for and whether or not those features will help you achieve that goal.
Read More: Best USB Mixer For Home Studio