The increasing availability of affordable, capable compact mixers has made a huge difference to musicians—from beginners to seasoned pros. Delivering flexibility, convenience and versatility, they’ve become an essential tool. Harbinger Pro Audio, already known for its LV series of compact mixers, opens up a new range of possibilities with the LX8 and LX12 mixers, which combine Bluetooth, USB audio connectivity and flexible I/O with the already excellent performance of their predecessors. Harbinger product manager, Patrick O’Connor, sat down for a chat with us about the new mixers’ features and capabilities that make them powerful options for musicians everywhere.

The HUB: Small-format mixers are not a new thing, by any stretch of the imagination. As you started working on these new Harbinger LX mixers, where did you think that there were improvements to be made?

Patrick O’Connor: Harbinger had been making compact mixers for some time before we decided to develop these products. And the first place that we looked for improvement was just to hold our own feet to the fire. We took our old mixers and stacked them up against the current leaders, and the latest products that were available at similar levels of affordability, and we saw that, frankly, there were some great improvements that we could make.

First, we went back and designed all-new mic preamps, specifically looking at providing lots of available gain for the mic preamp, while also giving you great signal-to-noise ratio. We also looked at how ubiquitous Bluetooth has become for musicians. That's how we all listen to music, how we all share music with others. Many of us are recording ideas on our phone, and then we want to be able to quickly hear them and listen to them with other musicians, maybe in practice sessions or wherever else. We thought Bluetooth should have an input on mixers, so we added Bluetooth.

Once we had the idea to put Bluetooth on there, what I was really trying to do was put myself in the mindset of a performer. “Okay, I'm at a gig. I'm about to play on stage. I've got all my mics set up. Well, then I've got a 15-minute break before my set, so I'm going to play some music on Bluetooth for the audience. What would be great to do that? A solo button. Then, when I’m ready to get back onstage, I just hit that solo again and bam, I'm ready to perform again.” So that's one of the things where you can hopefully see on these mixers that someone's really been thinking about what would work out there in the real world. And we managed to get it all onto a single box.

Harbinger LX8 and LX12 Mixers

The HUB: While mixers have pretty universal use, outside of actual input counts, did you have a specific use in mind for the LX8 versus the LX12?

POC: Yeah. With the LX8 in particular, we saw that a lot of competitive products were leaving off what we believed to be key features, usually in service of making the mixers as small and affordable as they could. For instance, one of the leading mixers of this type doesn’t have any pan for the individual channels. It doesn’t have adjustable effects levels. You can turn the effects on and off, but you can't say how much there should be, and you can’t control how much is on each channel—for example, how much reverb is on your vocal or acoustic guitar. So, it was about making it compact and affordable, but not making compromises about how much functionality would be provided, especially for that first-time buyer. I wanted to make sure they really got all the capabilities a mixer should have, while still keeping it bite-sized and easy for them to grapple with.

The HUB: It’s interesting you bring that up. A lot of times, you only get those features as you scale up your input count, even if you don’t need all of the inputs. In this case, there’s quite a bit of shared functionality from the LX8 to the larger format LX12. It doesn’t really feel like the LX8 is lacking for functionality.

POC: The LX8 is a great example. Say you’re a singer-songwriter. You sing and you play acoustic guitar. You do that live. And you also do it when you record. If that's what you do, you really never are tracking more than two things at a time. You can hard pan those things left and right, and you can capture two tracks into your computer at the same time. Why would you need something that expanded you up to 6, 8 or some other set of channels? The 2-in/2-out USB capability that these provide is perfect.

It's the same thing if you're performing live. You've got a mic input. You can have your acoustic guitar at the same time. You can even have a computer via USB. So, if you have some backing tracks you're playing with, some electronic soft synths, any of that kind of stuff, you could potentially live on an LX8 for a decade of your musical experience. And that's also part of what we're trying to do there. There have been some classic mixer brands where people have that mixer, and it's gone through band after band, musical style after musical style that they've moved through, to say nothing of the fashions and haircuts. We'd like a mixer that can be in there for the long haul with people.

Harbinger LX8 USB Connection

The HUB: Can you break down for us the sound-shaping tools on the LX8 and LX12?

POC: On the LX8, as we said, we kind of kept it simple. We gave you the basics, and we made sure you have what you really need to get the job done. You'll find you've got a two-band EQ on there where you can adjust both the low frequencies and the high frequencies. We also have a critical high-pass filter that's available on those mic inputs that's really important, so that your vocals don't sound boomy. It also helps to avoid feedback. We also have the effects available on the first two inputs on the LX8, so you can add just the right amount of reverb or other sound.

If you move up to the LX12, the main difference there is you've got now a mid-band EQ, and that's great if you're trying to really dial in the character of what you're doing. It can also be really handy for feedback management, especially on a stage where you have more mics going at the same time, and you're playing at higher volume, and you're really fighting the feedback that can occur with live sound. You've also got compressors there. The great thing about compressors is they basically smooth out the volume levels in your performance. It ensures the quiet passages aren't too quiet, but also that the loud passages don't jump out too much. And especially as you turn that compressor up to the higher levels, we really find that it acts as like a focus knob. It brings that particular item to the front of the mix in a way that really features that voice or that acoustic guitar or whatever else you have plugged into that channel.

The HUB: Getting into a bit more of the utility side of some of what you mentioned … You touched on how the high-pass filter is great for dealing with feedback and cutting the boominess out of vocals. But it’s also really good for dealing with handling noise or stand noise, right?

POC: You got it.

Harbinger LX8 Mixer Channel Strip

The HUB: How much padding do you get out of the built-in pads?

POC: It's 26dB, so that’s a big difference in sound. The reason that's there is so you can have lots of gain available for your mic input, but then really knock it down if that's not what you need for a line-level input.

The HUB: We noticed you’ve got phantom power supply on all of the mic inputs. Can you touch on that a little bit? Is it a consistent 48V on all of them?

POC: Yeah. One of the important things to note here is that we have true 48-volt phantom power. On some compact mixers, that’s an area that you sometimes see some corners cut. You might find that it's 15 volt, or something like that, which can work okay with some microphones. But when using a low-voltage supply on other microphones, while they will appear to work, you’ll often run into compromised level output or tone. So, we really put a lot of focus on making sure we had good, consistent 48-volt phantom power. And that is essential if you're using condenser microphones, which are really the standard for studio recording.

Harbinger LX12 Mixer Input and Output Section

The HUB: It's interesting that you mentioned that. I know I’ve run into instances myself where I’ve plugged a mic into a mixer or a preamp and there's a level dropout or a low-end dropout, and it turned out to be an issue with the phantom power.

POC: That's right. The mic that sounds great when we record at my buddy's, but then when I use it in a different setup, somehow, it just doesn’t have the same stuff.

The HUB: One area that it felt like there was a bit of divergence between the two mixers was in the monitoring capabilities. Can you speak to that?

POC: Absolutely. LX8 has a monitor output, but it's the same signal that you're sending as your main mix. That's perfectly fine when the mix that you want to have as a performer—likely a solo performer or small ensemble—and the mix that you want your audience to hear are basically the same thing. But when you get a larger band or you're doing a more complex kind of musical production, there can be great reasons why you want different things in your monitors, or a different balance of them than what you're sending out to the house. You want to have a lot of vocals in there. But maybe you want to have very little of your drums (or whatever else) in your monitors. That's why on the LX12 there’s a dedicated mix bus where you get to send exactly the right amount of each input to that monitor bus—and it can be completely different than your main mix going to front of house. You can take things out that are in the main mix and vice versa. So, it gives you great flexibility.

All of that monitor mix flexibility is also great when you're doing USB recording with the LX12. It means that you can have a different mix in your headphones so that as you're tracking parts or you're overdubbing parts, what you hear doesn’t have to be the same as the full production that's happening on your computer.

Harbinger LX12 Mixer Channel Strip

The HUB: There’s some bundled software with these mixers. Can you give some insight into what the thinking was behind what you ended up including?

POC: Absolutely. There's really two things that we have included in here. One of them is Waveform OEM, which is a great full-featured, very capable DAW. One of the really great things about it is it's fully cross-platform. So, if you're not a Mac person, if you don't have GarageBand, no problem. In addition to MacOS, it also supports Windows. It even does Linux as well. So, right out of the box, you've got a great solution there.

The second piece of software that we include, which is pretty unusual with a mixer, is the Torpedo Wall of Sound made by Two-notes Engineering. That package is really recognized as a great standard for getting high-quality recording for electric guitars. It’s focused on having great impulse response captures of classic guitar cabinets captured in great studios. So, when you record electric guitars with an LX12 or an LX8, that’s what allows you to get a level of sound quality that you might not expect when using such a simple and compact system.

The HUB: Okay, last question. Obviously, you have the LV mixers as well. How should a potential buyer choose between one line or the other?

POC: With the LV mixers, with the exception of the 14-channel model, none of them have USB. So that's one of the key things we provide with LX—we give it USB.

The other thing on the LV mixers, the ones that have only two or four microphone inputs, is that they don’t have any effects, whereas on the LX8, we've put effects in there. So, the LX8 and LX12 are really about being a very complete feature set whereas the LV series is more about giving you all the I/O that you might want. And the big feature that really sets the LX12 apart is the fact that we have those four compressors available on the mic inputs, which lets you get a more polished sound and lets you really bring certain focus elements out in your mix in a really effective way. Don’t forget that monitor mix bus that’s so critical.