Most time mixing digitally spent making things sound analog

Posted: October 28, 2011 in Analog vs. Digital, Plugins

I think it’s pretty amusing that I spend the vast majority of my time mixing (digitally) trying to get things to be more analog sounding BEFORE I can even get a mix together that I’m happy with.

I can’t make a mix sound good (in my opinion) without excessive use of tape saturation plugins, console emulation plugins, analog gear emulating plugins, using outboard compressors and EQ, and finally dumping the final stereo mix to tape when it’s all done.

If I don’t do these things, the mix sounds too “real”, too “sparse/open”, and definitely NOT like a record.

I’ve been mixing with saturation plugins for years, but up until the last couple years I hadn’t been adding outboard and tape into the mix.  And lately I’ve been having some eye opening experiences in getting mixes to really sing.
So the “saturation” and analog processing thing isn’t NEW to me by any stretch of the imagination.  I’ve know that digital doesn’t really work for making  great sounding mixes for a LONG time.  But what I DID start thinking about this week is how much TIME I spend getting to that point where I can actually start mixing, rather than being in “analog recovery” mode.

I would read articles and attend seminars by some of my favorite engineers/mixers and be amazed when they would say that they could get a few mixes completed in a day.   I remember thinking to myself, “that can’t be JUST skill by itself…there has to be something more to it”.  Well there is something more to it.  I had been trying to get those great mixes together with a COMPLETELY digital signal path, while they were using a completely analog signal path.  So I had spent the majority of my time getting it to sound “analog” before the mix even began.

Well, unfortunately I don’t see that wasted time coming back to me any time soon.  Unless I work on an analog console, I’ll always be spending that extra time getting there.

The sad part is……..I’ve kind of grown to enjoy the challenge.

  1. Julian says:

    I’m the same way, however, the more I use on the front end by way of analog EQ and compression, the closer I start off to the final result and the happier I am once it’s in the box. Lately I’ve been using some pretty girthy sounding equipment for this duty to include some transformer balanced EQing. Less plug-ins needed this way.

    • George says:

      I’m the designer of a new device that degrades pristine modern signals for the purpose of creating “retro sound”.

      If you take a good hard look at digital recording and processing it is quite clear that it is simply too perfect. I am also a performer and after developing my solid state/analog hardware method of creating the ultimate tube overload effect, I am seriously addicted to playing all night long. It is the strangest thing that distorting, compressing, and filtering this way gives such an incredible effect.

      Tubes/valves compress as a result of very softly overloading, so it happens instantly, not averaged over several cycles as typical compressors do. I think that much of this “analog/digital” controversy needs to shift toward the understanding that it is about “degrading” digital signals in an artful way.

      My latest experiments with recording involve “dumbing down” all of the inputs with my device that has professional signal quality but tube style compression, distortion, and filtering. Then from there proceed in the digital domain. It is looking very promising.

      • daniel wilson says:

        What is the name of you new device? When do you expect to have it up and running completely?

  2. Mixerman mills says:

    Trust me when they say do a mix in “one day” it usually means that they are not doing the major editing is amateurs have to do on our own. They have assistants for that….

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