If you’re in the recording or live performance business, chances are you’ve worked with a mixer. but sometimes mixers don’t have enough inputs, leaving you in a bind.
Duplicating mics and inputs often doesn’t work when, for example, there are multiple vocalists who can’t share a mic. therefore, you need a way to expand the capabilities of your current mixer.
Fortunately, there are several ways to connect two mixers to give you all the inputs you need to finish your show or recording session.
These are the 4 main methods you can use to connect two mixers:
- using a stereo pair input on the main mixer
- connecting to line level inputs
- using the effects return
- using the tape or 2-track input on the main mixer
Keep reading if you want to learn more about each of these four methods in this comprehensive guide we’ve put together. Let’s get started!
main reasons for connecting two mixers together
There are several reasons why you would consider connecting two mixers, whether in a live setup or in the recording studio.
this article will focus on the two main reasons: running out of input channels in the main mixer and sending an audio signal from one place to another.
1. running out of input channels in the main mixer
Let’s say, for example, that your mixer has eight channels. but the band has a full drum kit, two guitars, a bass, a keyboard player, and two vocalists.
You can assume that those inputs will run out very quickly, probably before you can plug in any keys or guitar amps. being able to connect to another mixer gives you more channels to work with.
2. send an audio signal from one place to another
An example of this is if a band brings their own mixer. this happens a lot if a band is mixing their own in-ear or wedge monitors. all your instruments and microphones will be connected to your own mixer on stage.
In order to play the band’s sound through the main PA system, you’ll need to be able to connect your mixer to yours.
Regardless of the reason, the mechanics for connecting two mixers are the same. which route you take just depends on your specific scenario.
the basics of how to connect two mixers together
Before we get into connecting two mixers, we need to lay out the intent behind it.
this article will refer to the second mixer as the “submixer”. which means you are sending all of your signals to one or two channels on your main mixer.
The sub-mixer can be used, for example, to mike an entire drum kit if it has eight inputs, giving you plenty of mics to use in an entire kit.
then you will be mixing the kit in the sub mixer to control the EQ and levels. after the submixer mix sounds good, it will send it to one or two channels in the main mixer.
That way, your main mixer inputs won’t be consumed by eight drum mics. if it also has eight inputs, you have six or seven left for your other instruments and vocalists.
This also gives you the benefit of controlling the drums (or whatever is in the submixer) as its own separate group in the mix, with a fader. very convenient for recording or live shows!
some aspects to take into account
Before you start connecting cables, there are a few things to keep in mind when connecting two mixers.
is there a snake in the signal chain?
not the reptilian type of snake, but a stage snake. An audio snake is an onstage input box that allows you to run a single cable from the stage to the main mixer instead of a spaghetti bowl of xlr and 1/4″ cables.
if there is a snake in your pa setup, you will need to route it to one of the mixers. it doesn’t change the number of inputs, but it makes connecting to the stage much simpler.
For example, let’s say you have a 16-channel snake. you can use the first eight channels for mics, guitars, keyboards, and the other eight channels for miking drums.
In a case like this, you would connect channels 1-8 to the main mixer and 9-16 to the secondary mixer. then you would connect the sub mixer to the main mixer and have your entire setup ready to go.
types of cables you need to make the connection
There are two main types of cables in the audio world that we use to connect two mixers.
The first is balanced cables. the most recognizable is the xlr or microphone cable.
There are also 1/4″ trs (tip-ring-sleeve) cables that can be used for the same purpose, for jacks other than xlr connectors.
Balanced cables have three strands inside them: a tip, a sleeve, and a ring. this “grounds” the signal, making sure it stays spotless and clear over long distances.
on the other hand, unbalanced cables only have two wires: the tip and the sleeve. this leaves the signal ungrounded (thus unbalanced).
These are not ideal for sending audio over long distances, as the signal will degrade and be subject to radio frequency interference and dirty energy.
If you plan on connecting two mixers together, be sure to use balanced cables whenever possible. unbalanced will work quickly, but are intended more for instruments like guitars than amps.
To summarize: if your mixer’s outputs have 1/4″ jacks, use 1/4″ trs cables. if they have xlr connectors, use xlr cables.
line level input vs. mic level input: which should you use?
many mixers will have the option of a mic or line level input on their channels via a switch or toggle.
A line level input is an active signal that is sent from a mixer or instruments such as synthesizers.
a mic or instrument level input is a lower level signal. these generally have less volume or gain so as not to feed back into the public address system.
When connecting your sub mixer, you’ll want to use the line level input on your main mixer. this gives you a warm signal that will be easier to work into your main mix.
If you are using a mic/instrument level input, you will need to be careful not to clip the signal due to the higher gains present on these input channels. in such a case, you should reduce the gain and make sure to leave enough headroom for the loudest parts of the presentation.
find out if you need a mono or stereo signal
a mono signal will be more than sufficient in most live sound circumstances. this only uses one input on your main mixer.
however, if you are using effects or want a stereo mix to record, you will need to send two outputs from your sub mixer to two inputs on your main mixer.
If you want to get really fancy, you can do a full stereo mix with your submixer, panned instruments, or mics however you like. this will be preserved if you pan your main outputs to the submixer.
Let’s use the battery as an example again. Let’s say you want the kick and snare in the center, the toms rotating to the right, and the overhead cymbal pickups rotating to the left and right.
You will need to mix the drum kit this way on your sub mixer, setting the mics accordingly.
As you send your stereo outputs, be sure to pan left and right at 100% clockwise and counterclockwise, respectively.
when you connect those sub mixer outputs to your main mixer, you will need to re-pan the left and right channels to the input channels.
This also applies to the final output stage of your main mixer. hard panning left and right makes sure the signals go in the direction they are meant to go. leaving the knobs in the center creates a mono audio image.
choose which output to use in the submixer
some mixers can send outputs from each channel directly. this is not ideal for these situations, as it will still take up the same number of channels on your main mixer.
Most mixers can also send a submix. if you’re using the submixer onstage for a band’s monitors, you’ll need to decide whether to use the submix or the main outputs.
the main outputs will generally be the ideal outputs to use in the sub mixer. they have balanced outputs and “summarize” the rest of the inputs and send them as a group to the main mixer.
choose which input channels to use in the main mixer
This comes down to personal preference and workflow. in general, it’s easiest to use the first or last input channel in the main mixer.
That way, the submixer channel doesn’t get stuck in the middle of your other channels, leading to confusion.
keep input channels together if you’re running stereo inputs from a submixer. It will save you a lot of headaches in the future and make it much easier to get your volumes and EQ to match.
four simple methods to connect two mixers together
Now that you’ve learned the ins and outs of using a sub-mixer and the main mixer together, let’s talk about how to connect them.
We talked about this briefly in the previous section, but let’s look at the four easiest ways to connect two mixers.
1. using a stereo pair input on the main mixer
This is the easiest method to connect two mixers if you are using stereo mode.
In this case, you will use the unbalanced main stereo output on the secondary mixer and a stereo pair input on the main mixer.
As stated above, most mixers will use xlr output connectors for their main stereo outputs. these would normally run out on pa speakers, but in this case, we’re going to use the main out ts/trs jacks.
use this method if both mixers are close to each other. for long runs, see the last section of this article which explains how to connect two mixers together if they are far from each other using a long cable.
You will need two male to male ts cables for this connection. these cables are also known as instrument cables.
You will connect two male ts cables to the stereo output of the sub mixer. then connect the other end of the cables to a stereo pair input on the main mixer.
The input channels of the stereo pair are typically the last two or four channels in a mixer. These are typically labeled 9/10, 11/12, etc., meaning they are stereo pair inputs controlled by a single fader.
then all you need to do is adjust the levels and equalizers. The advantage of using this method is that you can control the stereo signal coming from the sub mixer with a fader, making it much easier to control your mix.
2. connection to line level inputs on the main mixer
This method works for mono or stereo signals. is the same, in principle, as the previous method, except that you are connecting the output of the secondary mixer to one (for mono) or two (for stereo) line-level inputs on the main mixer.
If you choose this method, you must decide whether you need a mono or stereo signal. if you choose mono all you need to do is bring an output from the sub mixer and connect it to a line level input making sure the pan is set to center. that way, the audio signal is reflected on both channels simultaneously.
If you decide to go with a stereo signal, you should connect the left output of the submixer to a channel and then pan it to the left. then take the right output of the submixer, connect it to the next input channel and pan it to the right.
then all you have to do is adjust the levels and EQs of both channels to match each other. make sure one isn’t louder than the other, or your stereo image will be off.
this way you can control the stereo signal coming from the sub mixer via two faders.
remember to use a balanced xlr or trs cable to connect the mixers. if one or both mixers only have a 1/4″ output, make sure you’re still using a balanced cable.
3. using the effects return in the main mixer
This is a slightly more “advanced” trick and is best if your main mixer doesn’t have many inputs to work with. Also, not all mixers have effects return. but if they do, you can free up even more channels for your main mixer.
in this case, you’ll use the main stereo output on the secondary mixer and the effects return on the main mixer.
The principle of “effects return” in a mixer is to send a signal from the mixer to external effects, such as a reverb or delay unit. this is useful for live vocals and instruments to give it space.
the signal comes back from those external effects, goes back to the board and gets its own “channel”.
If you connect the outputs of your sub mixer to the effects return inputs on your main mixer, you can effectively use the effects return “channel” as another input.
if your main mixer has an effects return, it should also have a separate fader or knob to control mix levels.
This can be done in mono or stereo, as a mixer with effects return will have stereo inputs and outputs.
The only real downside to this method is that you can’t use external effects on your main mixer and you won’t have EQ on that channel.
so plan carefully if you need to connect two mixers using this method. only use this technique if you can’t use methods 1 and 2.
4. using the 2-way or tape input connector on the main mixer
The last method you can use to connect two mixers is to use the tape input connector.
The tape input connection, also known as a 2-track input, is usually found on older mixers and is designed to connect devices with rca outputs such as tape players, cd players, mp3 players, etc. .
Note that this is not the best option because you will have limited control over the signal coming from the submixer. basically the only control you will have is the volume.
I decided to include this method in this article so that you have all the options available. that way, you can choose the one that’s right for you.
Another thing to know is that the tape input connection is not a balanced signal, so you’ll need to use an unbalanced output on the submixer.
To make this connection, you need a dual ts to rca cable. then you need to locate a ts output jack on the sub mixer. the best one to use is the unbalanced main output, usually located next to or below the main xlr connectors.
connect the ts cable to the left and right channels, respectively, and connect the other end of the cable to the rca tape input on the main mixer.
set the volume and signal levels in the sub mixer, then use the tape input volume knob to control the signal gain.
the tape input signal goes directly to the main bus in the mixer, which means you can’t EQ it, use compression, effects or any other tools with it. that’s why I don’t recommend using this method to connect two mixer boards.
use this method only if there are no other channels available on the main mixer or if you are in a real pinch.
how to connect two mixers together if they are far from each other – pro tip
If your mixers are going to be a long way from each other, say from the main stage or pulpit to the sound booth in the back, you’ll need a way to connect them.
with balanced xlr cables, this is not a problem at all. you can daisy chain xlr cables and go up to 200 feet without signal loss or degradation.
you can use trs or unbalanced cables if you don’t have an xlr output available; however, this gets a little more complicated as they just can’t fit together. and unbalanced cables introduce more noise the longer they are extended.
if you find yourself in this situation, invest in a stereo dibox. There is a wide range of dibox prices and features, but even a basic passive dibox will help solve your long-wiring problems.
something like the radial prod2 will work perfectly fine, and it has two channels you can use to send a stereo signal.
in case you don’t know, di stands for direct injection and is designed to take an unbalanced 1/4″ input and convert it to a balanced xlr output.
will also work well with balanced cables. that way you can send the signal over long distances without worrying about noise and signal degradation. For more information on di boxes, click on this link.
mixer connection methods demystified
Regardless of the method you choose to connect two mixers, make sure your audio equipment is of high quality. this includes mixers, cables, diboxes, and whatever else you’re using in your signal chain.
For more audio engineering tips and tricks, be sure to check out the rest of our informative blog articles.