During the summer of 2021 I purchased a Behringer Xenyx 1204USB mixer/USB audio interface, and I have been using it in my Linux home studio ever since. This post will describe my reasons for purchasing this particular model, how easy it is to use in my Linux studio, some of its limitations and drawbacks, and other sundry observations.
I have been the happy owner of a 2nd generation Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 since 2016, which I used to record all of my music on a Linux workstation for about 5 years. (According to online discussions I have read, Focusrite 3rd generation devices are not quite as open as the 2nd generation devices, but obviously that didn’t affect my hardware.) I was pretty satisfied with the Focusrite device, which was ageing pretty well. Over time I ran into a few situations where it would have been nice to have more than 2 inputs to record simultaneously from, but I mostly record by myself in a home studio, so this wasn’t a major limitation. What drove this new purchase was a gig.
Until August 2021 I hadn’t played a serious gig for over 20 years. One of my neighbors plays trumpet, and is in a brass quintet with a few other guys. They decided to schedule a free concert at a city park in order to motivate themselves to practice, and they invited me and my kids to play with them. I brought my kids into the living room for a band practice and we played through a bunch of songs to decide which ones to include in our set. It was clear from this first practice that we needed at least a PA system for our singing, and probably a mixing board to feed into the PA. I looked for options online, and gravitated to the Behringer models because they are USB class compliant and work out of the box on Linux. They are also a good bang-for-your-buck purchase, and I have been really happy with my Behringer DI box.
The Xenyx 1204USB worked great for the gig, having just enough inputs to run our microphones and acoustic instruments through. The electric guitar and bass were played through their amps rather than through the PA, and for a gig that small this worked just fine.
Here is a video of the gig, if you are interested: SkullToast LIVE 2021-09-04. The mixer is sitting on the little table on the left side of the screen.
The Xenyx 1204USB has more features than I really need or use. It has four regular input channels, each with a 1/4″ jack and an XLR input. During the gig we ran a microphone through each channel’s XLR and an instrument through each channel’s 1/4″ jack. Every channel has a 75 Hz high-pass filter on/off switch, gain control knob, 1-knob compressor, 3-band equalizer, 2 auxiliary send level controls, stereo panner, mute button, and output level slider. With the exception of the gain control I haven’t used these much in the studio, but I want to experiment with the compressor and EQ on my next project to see if I can get by with using fewer digital effects in my DAW.
There are also two stereo line in channels which don’t have a high-pass filter, gain knob, or compressor — just a switch to toggle between +4 dB and -10 dB gain. If you are counting, that is a total of 6 channels with 2 inputs each, which is why this thing is advertised as a 12-input mixer. That is technically true, but you don’t have fine control over the individual levels of all 12 inputs because of the way they are lumped into channels.
The board also has 2 mono auxiliary sends that can receive a stereo signal back from an external effects pedal. You can control the level of individual channels to each auxiliary send. I have never used the auxiliary send channels, but maybe I will after my MOD Dwarf Founders Edition finally comes in the mail.
The mute button on each channel is actually a toggle switch to change the output of a track to the “ALT 3-4” output, which has a separate output level slider and line out jacks on the back of the mixer. For the life of me I can’t see how this could be useful for my studio setup. If I had a separate control room I could use the ALT 3-4 as a voice communication channel that would be kept out of the recorded audio. But it’s a feature I will probably never use.
The phantom power works well, and I can use a dynamic mic and a condenser side by side. For some reason my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 couldn’t do that, so that’s kind of nice.
Up and Running on Linux
This device was really plug and play. I struggled a bit with my first interface on Linux, so for the sake of any newbies reading this I’ll briefly describe how to get it up and running. For the record, I am currently using Linux Mint 20.2 with the 184.108.40.206-lowlatency Linux kernel, Ardour 6.9, and qjackctl 0.5.0
There is trend in the Linux world to ditch JACK in favor of running your DAW directly on ALSA. This device works either way. I find it easy to use qjackctl to control my sound system while recording because my studio machine is a laptop and I sometimes work on music away from my studio. qjackctl makes it easy to set different profiles for using different interfaces, so I have one preset for the Behringer Xenyx 1204USB and another preset for the internal sound card. Here is a screenshot of my qjckctl settings window, showing that the Behringer Xenyx 1204USB will show up in the interface list as “USB Audio CODEC” or something similar.
And here is what my Audio/MIDI Setup window looks like in Ardour when I run the DAW directly on ALSA. It works just fine that way.
There is a bit more newbie stuff in my previous post about the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 in a Linux Home Studio, because I was a newbie when I wrote it. Please comment below if you have questions that I didn’t answer here
Quirks and Annoyances
There are three buttons to control which sounds are fed into the Control Room/Headphones output. You can choose between the Master Out, the USB/2-track input, the ALT 3-4, or whatever combination of those three. I found this unintuitive and it took too much fiddling to get what I wanted to come out of the monitor speakers.
The main output of the device uses XLR jacks, but my studio monitors only have 1/4″ jack inputs. I plugged my monitors into the control room outs, which are 1/4″ jacks, but that means that the control room/headphone volume knob adjusts the volume of both the headphones and the studio monitors. If I want to cut the output to the monitors while recording a take with a microphone in the studio with headphones on, then I have to turn the monitors off. That’s not a huge big deal, but I liked how my Focusrite interface had separate level controls for headphones and monitors. Also I notice at low volumes the Control Room output loses the left speaker and you have to turn up the volume to get stereo. That’s kind of annoying.
And perhaps the biggest disappointment of this device is that the USB audio interface is only two channels. I was really hoping that it would give me 4 (or more) simultaneous inputs into my DAW, but no. It only sends the stereo mix over the audio interface. You can record two tracks in isolation if you pan them hard left and right, or you can record up to 12 inputs at once if you don’t mind mixing them into two tracks before capturing them. If I had read the fine print of the owner’s manual before making the purchase then I could have spared myself that disappointment. But who reads the fine print of the owner’s manual before making a purchase on the internet?
Probably me, next time.
The Overall Verdict
The Behringer Xenyx 1204USB is a fine audio interface, and works well in my Linux home studio. It has a few more features than I need, and is lacking a few that I want. I have made some good recordings with it in the past few months, and I am in no hurry to replace it, but if I had it to do over again I would have bought a mixer with more than 2 channels in its USB audio interface.
So, two cheers for the Behringer Xenyx 1204 USB