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what is the difference between a powered and unpowered mixer?


I'm trying to make sure I buy the right one for my system.
Also, does it really make a difference if I use a spdif connection or rca? The salesman is saying it only matters in cases where you need surround sound.
January 1, 2011 @03:16am

A powered mixer leaves little or no room for improvement without having to ditch it and start over. However the Yamaha units are pretty nice as powered mixers go.
S/PDIF refers to a type of digital interface, not the connector. RCA and BNC connectors are commonly used. RCA connectors are also commonly used for analog audio and for video. BNC connectors are commonly used for video. Perhaps you asked the wrong question?
January 1, 2011 @06:50am

We just purchased the Yamaha emx5016- a 500 watt dual mono amp (500 watts per channel.) Not sure I agree with your comment about expandability; or perhaps the comment was not specific about how you want to expand the basic board. I like the Yammy because for a "basic" mixer it has alot of usual rack equipment on board in various forms. The two separate effects channels can be assigned to individual channels to a large degree. There are additional sub out and monitor channels that can be amped to add more speakers or monitors if required. We use two mains and two monitors so it works fine as is for us. The auto eq, auto FRC, and feed back suppression does fairly well considering the price point.
Several channels have insert connections which are comparable to a computers USB cable- they send and return on one line. I wanted to mic the drums with four mics; so I purchased a MG10G 6-channel Yamaha mixer ( or line mixer in my case.) The mixer has no power, no effects, and works great for a line mixer. Point being I am mic'ing the drums with four; mixing it on this board and sending it to the main board on one channel.
I assume you are assessing your needs because of the comments on the post. Perhaps be more specific by what you mean by "expandability." I do think for the bucks; Yamaha is far and above other powered mixers. I do wish Yammy would make a 24 channel; but you can expand their 16 channel. Powered mixers have built in amps; non powered required the purchase of out board (rack) amps.
January 2, 2011 @12:17am

The main problem with powered mixers is that once you decide that mixing from stage isn't cutting it, you need to buy expensive 100' speaker cables, or you need a $eparate amp located on the stage.
January 2, 2011 @09:30am

Thanks for the responses. Hate to say it but I'm more confused than ever. I'm a home, nonprofessional user.
So it sounds like the difference is powered = no need amp. Unpower = amp required for non-powered stuff.
Is that right? I was thinking about getting the non-powered alesis usb 2.0 mixer. From the description, it did sound like I could plug my guitar directly into the mixer without having to have a separate amp - is that right? All my speakers have there own power so if its just about the speakers, I can use a nonpowered mixer (which seem to be cheaper).
I have coaxial/optical spdif inputs as well as rca inputs on my sound reciever my speakers are connected to. I'm leaning toward getting a mixer with just rca outputs cause spdif seems really difficult and more expensive to find. Am I going to have poorer quality sound? The saleman lead me to believe I wouldn't cause spdif doesn't mean better sound quality, just that you can get surround sound. I'm wondering if that's right.
Thanks a lot everyone.
January 2, 2011 @11:22pm

you got it- powered=amp, non- powered- no amp. For what it's worth- and i am a home user too-although we play out a bit, I like powered speakers and a non-powered mixer.
I use a Mackie 1604VLZ pro board and Mackie SRM 450 powered speakers and the combo works great. Most powered boards compromise something to keep the price down, which leads to more noise or less flexibility with signal path/routing ( usually).
Don't over think this... there are a LOT of professional studio guys on this site that can really drill down into the details.
January 3, 2011 @08:42pm

also with regard to SPDIf and Surround sound... hmm... i don't think you're getting the whole story/picture. This is a digital interface format- if you're going to run signal from your board to a computer to record, you'll can use this. If you're looking to use this in a "live " situation, there's almost no reason to have or use a digital-in.
January 3, 2011 @08:46pm

See there- everyone has their personal likes and dislikes. if powered speakers; then a standard mixer is just fine. If your going to plug directly into the mixer check your signal output from your guitar. Line signal outputs from standard bass and electric run around 1000 ohms- a standard mic is 150 ohms. Most mixers are wired to handle a standard mic load, although most will handle the higher impedance as well. A passive DI box will tame the signal down to a standard mic for cheap money $50.
January 4, 2011 @12:38am

Oh good one question down - unpowered mixer it is! I'm make sure the mixer works with the guitar or I'll get one of those passive boxes.
As for the spdif thing, I would not be using it for recording at all. That's what the usb is going to be for.
What spdif was for was when I did karaoke using the karafun program off my computer. My laptop would be playing mp3 files for the background music while we would sing along with my two microphones. The laptop music would be routed to the mixer via usb and the microphones would be plugged into the mixer as well. Then the mixer would need to be connected to the sound reciever on my home theatre system. My sound reciever is a bit old without hdmi. It only has rca and coaxial/optical spdif inputs.
From what you guys are saying, I'm thinking rca won't affect the microphone sound at all cause rca carries analog sound and the microphones are analog sound anyway. Is that right?
But what about the mp3 sound(background instrumental music coming from laptop)? Doesn't digital sound better than analog in this case?
January 4, 2011 @02:25am

the SPDIF input is nice to have. You get a stereo input and don't use up extra analog channels. In a Live sound situation, the difference is sound quality will most likely not be noticed. If you need the extra channels, then use this input from your stereo/MP3/source to conserve on other inputs.
January 4, 2011 @02:05pm

Thanks PSRWill. SPDIF turns out to be outrageously hard to find in an approximately $300 mixer so its good to know I won't be missing much by not having it.
Great, I have everything I needed. Thanks a lot to everyone. So glad for forums - don't know how we ever lived without them before they were invented.
January 4, 2011 @03:54pm

But what about the mp3 sound(background instrumental music coming from laptop)? Doesn't digital sound better than analog in this case?

If it's a fully digital mixer, connected to your receiver via s/pdif, then the mp3 is digitally mixed with with microphones' digital conversions, and then you have the option of keeping it digital to the receiver (s/pdif) or using analog 1/4" outputs into the receiver's analog RCA inputs. If the receiver always does digital processing (for EQ, spatial crap, etc.), it's better to use s/pdif and avoid that extra analog stage. But if the receiver keeps its analog inputs analog all the way to the speakers, then it makes no difference whether you use the DAC in the mixer or the one in the receiver (unless one sounds better).
But if it's primarily an analog mixer, which happens to have a little bit of digital i/o via usb and s/pdif, then the mp3 would actually be converted to analog, combined with the mics to an analog mix bus, and then it's the opposite situation: If the receiver does digital processing, it would make no difference whether you use the mixer's ADC (s/pdif out) or keep it analog to the receiver and use the receiver's ADC (again, unless one sounds better). But if the receiver keeps analog inputs analog all the way to the speakers, it's better to avoid digital entirely for that connection.
Short version:
If the receiver does digital processing (ADC's on the analog inputs): Use S/PDIF out from digital mixer; either out from a mixer with analog summing.
If the receiver keeps analog inputs analog: Use either from a digital mixer; only analog out from an analog mixer.
The logic above is just to minimize conversions between analog and digital. It does not take into account the other benefit of s/pdif which is 5.1 capability, because I'm assuming that you're not getting involved with surround-enabled mixers.
Next, the guitar. Electric guitar straight through with no amp or amp emulation sounds like garbage no matter how well the impedance is matched. Use an emulator like the Boss boards, Line 6 POD, etc. Acoustic guitar will probably be fine after tweaking the mixer's EQ, and a DI can make it better or worse depending on the quality.
And one more thing: Hi-fi and home theater speakers are not designed for the potentially hazardous signals produced by raw live input. At the very least, you should put a limiter between the mixer and the receiver (analog). If it's a digital mixer, it may include this functionality.
January 5, 2011 @08:30pm

Okay, I'm confused again though I really appreciate your warning.
My Rotel RSX 1056 sound reciever has bananna connector plugs/copper running from each speaker to the sound reciever. I'm assuming this means the transmission is analog correct? So I shouldn't get spdif.
I can get a mini pod for my guitar, that's not an issue.
What is this limiter thing? Can you link a webpage to one so I know what you are talking about? Is this the same as compression cause I can get a yamaha mixer that has compression?
January 7, 2011 @12:13am

Yeah stick with analog. Here are some limiters: http://www.sweetwater.com/c466--Compressors_Limiters
Compressors scale down whatever exceeds the threshold by a particular ratio, like 3:1. Limiters do the same but with a ratio of infinity:1 (really anything above 10:1 is effective). This will prevent overloading your receiver, which is rather impossible for a CD player or cable box to do but very easy for a mixer to do.
January 10, 2011 @05:36pm