With the onset of the COVID pandemic and no end in sight, many DJs and content creators are working from home and unique locations away from the crowds. Live streaming has never been more popular, and the surge in online content like podcasts is not slowing down. One of the common issues with a lot of content is poor audio quality. It's surprising how many DJs think streaming live into their iPhone mic is a good idea, yet there they are streaming away on FB every day.
There are many solutions out there, but few as rugged and high quality as CEntrance's MixerFace R4, a robust and feature-packed mobile audio/recording interface and mixer. CEntrance wasn't exactly on our radar, and we only got hip to them because a FB add popped up in our feed, so we reached out. The intelligent design and rock-solid build caught our attention immediately.
CEntrance is an American company founded in 2000 and based in Chicago, and they make a variety of audio equipment from headphones to mics to DACS. More info at the site. www.centrance.com
We received the reporter's bundle that came with the following:
- MixerFace R4B Professional field recorder, including custom -
- PivotMic PM1 stereo XY microphones, our brand new
- Cerene dB
- CEntrance Hardcase
First, let's talk about who this is for, as this is one of the more expensive solutions out there. If you are an avid content creator, think podcasting, video or vlogging, DJ/artists that streams a lot, etc. - this mixer is worth considering. If you are just a hobbyist/prosumer, then there are many other solutions out there like the iRig Stream and Roland GO:Livecast that might be a better fit.
The MixerFace R4 is about the size of the iPhone 11 Pro with a little more girth and features an onboard battery for using it out in the wild. The unit functions as a mixer with four inputs and two channels and an audio interface for your computer or mobile device. The mixer controls are on the top as you would expect with recessed switches, so you don't bump them along with small knobs for gain, mixing, and monitoring controls. There is no video screen, which keeps things simple and helps with extending your battery life.
Input one and two are XLR/jack combos so you can plug in a guitar, bass, mic, and either record it to a micro SD card or route it into your phone/mac with recording software like Logic Pro X, or route it to your camera if you are doing video.
Both jack inputs allow you to switch the impedance to either have high-impedance instruments like an electric guitar or line-level.
The inputs feature global 48V phantom power (which you need to power mics) and 3dB/octave high-pass filters at 100Hz controlled via recessed switches. The two gain controls, one for each input, feature a fundamental LED indicator to let you know if you are clipping. There is no level meter, you simply get a red light if you are too hot or peaking, which is simple, but it works.
The unit can be monitored in either mono or stereo, which will not affect the mixed signal that is going out of the R. The mono/stereo switch is recessed. The monitor has it's own level knob for your convenience and can be listened to on headphones via mini-jack or on speakers via the two mini-jacks outputs on the front of the mixer by XLR/Jack inputs.
So how can I use this audio interface/mixer?
Mobile Podcasts and Interviews - the beauty of this unit is that it's made for road warriors if you are traveling and doing your podcast or interviews in less then ideal situations this will help you level up your sound. You can use the mixer with one or two mics, or the CEntrance PMI directional XY mics can also work and be configured in both XY pattern or opposing one another for interviews. Ideally, you have two mics, one for you and one for your subject, it adds a little bulk to your kit, but this will give you the best results. We like the Rode Podmic, which is excellent for this sort of thing and not super expensive. The R4 can then be routed to your mobile device or laptop via the micro USB cable. If you don't have an external device, you can record directly to the device via the micro SD card. (note that the entry-level R4 model does not feature a micro SD card slot)
Recording Musicians or using to record your DJ set - If you are more of a producer or musician on the go, this unit works great in various scenarios.
- Record your DJ set, route your DJ mixer to the R4 and record directly or to your mobile device or laptop.
- Record a musician or vocalist if they can't come to your studio, this is not the greatest scenario for vocals but if you have a good mic and a flat, quiet place - it can work. Or if you just need some guitar licks or some riffs, you can grab and go.
- Recording a live performance - either route it off the mixing board or if it's just someone playing the guitar with a mic, you can record that directly to the mixer.
Live Streaming - There are cheaper options out there, but if you are using it for some of the other functions listed out here, this is a solid choice. Just route your DJ Mixer to R4 and use your laptop using a copy of OBS (free software you can get here for video recording or live streaming). You should get a very clean signal that sounds great in the stream.
Field Recorder - If you are looking to get ambient noise, nature sounds, or other types of sounds to be used for your music or video work, the R4 is your best little recording buddy. Equip it with the PM1 directional XY mics from CEntrance, bring along your headphones, and off you go to hoover up sounds. See my example below of nature sounds from the woods.
Video Work - If you are doing video interviews and need high-quality audio routed into your DSLR or Video camera, this can be a great option.
Simply use the mini-jack audio out and connect it to the mic in on your camera to send the audio to your video - no need to sync the audio in post, the great sound is right there in the video file. You can also record your audio to the MicroSD card for a backup of your audio as well, and backups are always good.
Pro Tip - The R4 has recessed Lo/Hi output switch, make sure your camera is getting a clean signal and is not clipping before filming. Simply check the mic input level on your camera and run a couple of tests before using it on something important.
How long does the battery last? Battery power can go roughly eight hours according to CEntrance, but that's probably being optimistic and not using the phantom power. If you are out in the field and relying on this unit for your audio, you can use a USB charger as back up in case you run out of juice.
iPhone/iPad Users - If you don't have a Lighting to USB camera connection kit, you will need one, or it won't work with your mobile device. If you are connecting to an Android device, that means buying a USB OTG cable.
Recording - you can record in 16, 24 or 32 - bit resolution with sampling rates of 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 or 192 kHz
The R4 is an ultra-portable solution for professional and prosumer level content creators that works for various applications. It's built incredibly well and will provide you with years of service if you treat it with respect. Think of this mixer as your audio R2D2, always there to help you out of a jam. So if you are in the market for a mixer/audio interface that is intuitive to use, has plenty of battery power for long days and practical uses for musicians, journalists, videographers, vloggers, producers, and DJs - you will be quite happy with the R4.
- Very compact for easy travel and lots of functionality for various disciplines
- Preamps are very high quality and quiet
- Excellent battery life due to the lack of a video screen,
- Will work on Mac/PC/iOS and Android
- Pivot Mics can be used in various ways, including on their own as XLR mics without the mixer. These are essential.
- Recessed switches can be a bit of a pain to operate, keep a bunch of paper clips in your case!
- The price might be too high for most prosumers or hobbyists
- The Micro SD card insert should be standard, not an upgrade
Check out our sound tests with Pivot Mics Below:
XY Pivot Mics did not have a windscreen here, which is something you might want to add to this if you are recording nature, or outside.