Same Song – Many Mixes – RESULTS

Posted: January 29, 2014 in Analog vs. Digital, gear shootout, Plugins
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I know it’s been a long time, but I FINALLY got around to completing this whole mix test.  Luckily, things have been really busy at work.  I’ve been working pretty much non-stop since early December.

To use a phrase from the broadcast field – ‘if you’re just now joining us’ I’m testing the workflow and sonic tradeoffs of mixing ITB vs. OTB vs. summing and using different types of plugins.   If you would like the history of this test, please visit my previous post here.

So, without further ado, here are the results.  (all files are 16bit 44.1kHz stereo WAV)

All the tracks have the EXACT same start and end point.   The levels are somewhat matched, but not EXACTLY.  When you pull these up in your DAW, you may have to move faders just a tiny bit to match.  (I know, I’m a slacker)

Take a listen and see which one YOU think sounds the best.  I’d love to hear from you.  Of course this isn’t ALL about sound, it’s about the tradeoff between sound and workflow.   I’ll explain my opinions further down.

1. McDSP ITB mix
2. McDSP analog summed
3. McDSP analog summed through Vintech
4. Waves SSL ITB mix
5. Waves SSL analog summed
6. Waves SSL analog summed through Vintech
7. SSL Duality LFAC mix

So, this whole exercise was definitely an experience that both reinforced some existing perceptions and helped me to realize a few others. In past “shootouts” I usually leave my opinions out of it and let the reader/listener make up their own mind.  This time around I think my opinion is critical to this post.

Now, one of the biggest surprises that I has was the fact that  I was able to get the mixes so close to each other  for starting from scratch each time.  All in all, there isn’t a lot of difference between these.  I think this speaks to the fact that the tools used to mix are pretty inconsequential compared to the engineer him/herself and the tracking process.  Most bands these days want to rush through tracking and “fix it in the mix”.  That is the biggest mistake you can make as a band.  The SOUND of the record comes from getting the right sounds in the room at the microphone.

The band and I both liked the Waves SSL ITB mix summed through the Vintech (1073  clone) the best as far as pure sonics were concerned.  This mix was by far the most impactful, spacious, and slick in my opinion.  The standard summed mixes ran through the internal stereo mix bus of the Speck X-Sum.  The Vintech mix replaces the 2 bus mix stage of the Speck summing mixer with the line input of the Vintech preamp.  I found that the summing mixer had a much more desirable character when going through the Vintech.

The console mix turned out pretty good I thought.   I was a bit concerned going in that this one would be a disaster.  I haven’t mixed on a console in a long time and I was not completely familiar with the room/speakers.  Surprisingly I was making pretty much the same sonic moves as the other mixes.  I did have to do some submixing due to only have 24 Pro Tools outputs.  I was surprised by how compressed it was compared to the others, but I guess that makes sense (many more amps, electronics, and the 2 bus mix compressor in the actual console is much more forgiving and therefore you can push it more).  The stereo image was definitely the widest on this mix.  As far as workflow is concerned, this reinforced  that I love the sound of analog consoles, but I don’t really think it’s worth the hassle.  It took a long time to get everything running, there’s always the whole session recall issue, and there were maintenance issues while mixing.  Two channels were not working which meant I went from 22 channels down to 20.  The dynamic IN buttons on nearly every channel had to be exercised profusely before the signal stopped cutting out.  HOWEVER, once I was setup on the board, I didn’t get a good mix going in a much shorter time than the other ITB mixes.  I did do the SSL Duality mix last though, so that could have something to do with it.  By that time I kind of knew what needed to be done.

I kind of have the same thoughts about the summing mixer.  Unless you have something like a Dangerous 2 Bus with no pan/volume pot and one that is normalled to the patchbay, it’s kind of pain to deal with the setup and patching of an analog summing mixer.  I think it made a significant improvement in the sound, but is it enough to justify the cost of a nice summing mixer and all the setup time and lack of recall?  I’m not sure.  Depends on the project and my workload that week I guess.

All of these are totally usable mixes.  There aren’t significant enough differences in any one of them for me to say, oh I don’t like that.  I was assuming the Waves SSL mix would take more time because I’ve been mixing so long with EQ that has a graphic display.  I was wrong.  I love the SSL “sound” for rock and using those plugins helped me achieve the desired effect more quickly. I do also like the idea of using the same plugin on each channel just like a console to get a more glued sound.  In the McDSP mix I was also using a few random plugins like the Waves RenEQ.

I would like to thank all the guys in Highway Headline for lending their awesome musical talents for this project.  If you like the song, please check on their webpage.  It should be available for download shortly.  I’d also like to thank Colson Wilhoit for assisting on the console mix at Webster University.  This test was very insightful for me and I hope you benefit from it as well!  Talk to  you soon!

Speck Analog Summing Mixer

Speck Analog Summing Mixer

SSL Duality Analog Console

SSL Duality Analog Console at Webster University

  1. Dano says:

    I believe it would have been worth doing a version from the SSL into the Vintech!

    • glitchfactor says:

      Maybe. I think that defeats the purpose of the “console” though. The console has its own summing matrix. The Vintech on the end of the summing mixer ITB mix is meant to “emulate” that. Not sure what you would want to add more color on top of the color. But to each his/her own.

  2. phil says:

    thanks for this, as a relatively amateur mixer, I was worried my ears were more sub-standard than I thought. I could hear differences in desk mixes, analog summed ITB mixes and full in the box mixes but only if I listened very intently. The differences are subtle, different but subtle, and you’ve put my mind at rest by saying yourself there’s not much in it, with all the talk about analogue summing, I thought the difference must be more audible to most than I was hearing. although after loading them all into logic, changing all the names to “track_01” ect to make it more of a blind test, it meant I could hear differences without pre-judgement. I preferred the Waves SSL analogue summed through the vintech the most, but I agree in the way that the time and effort it takes to sum your mix through analogue gear, plus the cost in a lot of summers, really doesn’t warrant the enhancement it has on the sound in my oppinion. Thanks for this test, it has put my mind at rest substantially and made me trust my ears again!

  3. Chris U says:

    The console mix sounds the most alive and organic to me. The quest for ‘old time analogue ITB’ is getting old in my world….All the emulation plugs just seem toadd layers of fabric on top of the song, masking a good deal of the ‘life’. I have been stepping away from my “fake” ITB gear lately and trying to get where I’m going with just a few plugs—-The Equallibrium eq mostly and some comps here and there.

    • glitchfactor says:

      I hear you. I the early digital days, i used to use a lot of tape saturation plugins and console emulation, but I found myself getting away from that. Decapitator and distortion on the other hand…

  4. Rob says:

    I only compared MDSP and MDSP_summed. I’m assuming this is the same mix, just summed on the Speck vs. ITB. After level matching the two, the ITB mix has more clarity and sounds like it has more transient detail. There’s about 1.5 dBFS less dynamic range in the summed mix, which reinforces that impression. I think I’d skip the Speck.

    • glitchfactor says:

      Hey Rob!

      The Speck summed mixes have basically the same EQ and Compression applied to each track compared to its “plugin mix” conterpart. The balance and panning are fresh however. In your opinion is there any depth or wideness changes between the two that you find more pleasant?

      • Rob says:

        To me the detail of the ITB mix provides more cues about space. That said, if there are more variables than just the summing, then I’m not sure there’s anything to take away from that impression.

  5. Andrew says:

    Thanks for taking the time to do this. The results are very interesting. I think the Waves Vintech clip is the murkiest but conveys the song the best due to the masking of details and performance issues. After repeated listens the “Waves SSL analog summed” mix is the best compromise and still retains enough of the fidelity of the ITB while providing a more interesting “3d” soundscape. This is noticeable especially with the trailing guitar note @ 7 sec. It has more space around it. Just the summing seems to provide the pleasant nonlinear behavior that keeps the ear interested yet doesn’t basically lowpass the signal like the Vintech. It would be interesting to have the Waves Vintech clip passed through a 2 bus eq with some high end brought back in. Thanks again, really illuminating.

  6. Michael says:

    Nice blog Justin. Thanks for your sharing your test.

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