Archive for the ‘Analog vs. Digital’ Category

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.  http://highwayheadline.com  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

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Man, I am REALLY bad at staying current with this lately!  I had something planned when Avid release the new s6 console, but I kind of lost interest.

I usually get around to writing a blog post when I’m tackling some sort of issue myself.  There are hundreds of audio blogs out there that do the normal reviews and tutorials.  I think my blog has stayed away from that for the most part.   So keeping with the theme, I have another dilemma.

In working at a studio that is completely “in the box”, I don’t know if I can say that I’ve ever been completely satisfied with my mixes.  I’d like to blame it on a lot of things.  I know I SHOULD only be looking inward and saying the cause rests solely on my mixing skills.  I’m sure that’s a large part of it, but there are definitely some revelations I’ve had along my career that have let me know that there is definitely a gear element there too.

Hardware compression over software compression, analog summing (which I’ve covered in a previous post), proper 2 bus compression, etc…have all added small pieces to the puzzle.

I DO, however think a large part of what I”m missing is mixing on an analog desk though.

SO…..that brings me to my  test.

I’m setting up a little challenge for myself.  I want to mix a song  in a few different ways and see how each comes out.  I will play them back in a double blind test and determine which sounds best.   Here are the different mixing methods.

1. Completely ITB using my usual go to plugins.  (mostly Waves and McDSP Channel G)
2. Completely ITB except using the Waves SSL bundle (unfortunately I don’t have it, so i’ll have to get a demo from Waves)
3. Take the mix elsewhere and mix on an SSL Duality.  I think the REAL SSL will make a huge difference, but it’s been a while since I’ve mixed totally analog, and I will be in an unfamiliar monitoring environment so it might all even out.
4. ITB McDSP mix going through a summing mixer
5. ITB Waves SSL mix going through a summing mixer.

Part of the reason I want to try the Waves SSL bundle is because I also have access to an SSL console for a similar comparison, and I’m really blown away by how DIFFERENT I’ve mixed on these plugins in the past and how aggressive it sounds.    The 2bus comp blows me away every time.  I just can’t get that kind of punch and forwardness out of any other plugins.

To be honest, I’m hoping that I get an amazing mix out of the Waves SSL bundle so I can stop lamenting over not having an analog console.  I hope those plugs get me to where I want to go.  Then I can just buy them and get it over with.   (and then be pissed at myself for not doing it YEARS ago!)

To keep all other elements of the mix equal.  I will apply the following rules.

1. Time limit for every mix will be capped at 3 hours.
2. I will only mix a verse and chorus to keep me on track and not wasting time.
3. The song I use needs to have a fairly minimal track count.
4.  All automation/editing needs to be done ahead of time.
5. All time based effects (reverbs/delays) will be pre-set ahead of time and limited to stock Avid plugins for compatibility

Basically the only thing I want to have different, is the channel EQ/Compression, and 2bus compression on each, as well as the summing matrix.  I’m debating on whether or not to allow myself to use saturation/tape/console emulation in the completely ITB mixes.

I will post the results when I’m finished.  It might be a few weeks so I can make the arrangements for the SSL room and summing mixer.

Now…to find a song to use.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

ANALOG SUMMING vs. DIGITAL SUMMING

By Justin Fisher

With all of this “Analog Summing” craze going on right now, I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately on the sonic differences of summing signals together in the box (ITB) or out of the box (OTB) – Pro Tools in my case. Many engineers SAY there are astonishing differences in imaging, low end reproduction, depth, etc, etc. The tests I’ve heard online either showed almost NO difference at all, OR they were managed in such a way that I didn’t trust the final results.  SO, I decided to do a test for myself. Below you will find links to the test that I performed as well as a small journal of the steps I took. I attempted to make this as scientific as possible without going to impractical. I decided to choose 4 different songs to highlight the effects of the mixer in different situations.  There are four different styles available for you to download.  Electro/Pop Rock, Metal, Folk, and Southern Rock.  All of the bands showcased in this test are groups that I personally recorded and mixed at SmithLee Productions (except for the Electro/Pop Rock which I only mixed) and they all were kind enough to give me permission for you to download full quality versions of their tracks.  Please, take care not to distribute these songs, and if you like the artist, visit their websites and help them out for their generosity.

The bands and songs are as follows:

BAND – SONG – STYLE

1. Bears on Fire -“Girls Aren’t Robots” – Electro/Pop Rock
2. Black Fast – “Chaos Orb” – Metal
3. Mike Kendrick and the Blue Eyed Sons – “Old Time Love” – Folk
4. Lida Una – “One Last Victim” – Southern Rock

In doing this test, a friend of mine and fellow engineer brought up a good point. We were talking on the phone about how to deal with a certain routing problem for this test when he told me he performed the same test himself and came to an insightful conclusion.  He said, there aren’t going to be that many differences between the two until you actually mix THROUGH a summing mixer from the beginning.  To do a test after the fact won’t result in many changes.  The real magic happens when you are making your mix decisions based on the fact that you are going through a mixer in the first place.  That will change your though process and in turn the way you mix.  This statement really made sense to me and probably explains why I didn’t hear a lot of differences in the tests previous engineers posted on the internet.  They are putting the mixer on after something as already been mixes specifically for ITB. It would be like finishing a mix and then putting a compressor on the 2 bus after you are done.  You should be mixing through it from the start.

Immediately below the test specifications are links to the files. You will download a ZIP file that contains three versions of the same song.  All files are 24bit 44.1kHz WAV. The versions included are

1. Original Pro Tools mix summed completely in the box

2. Original Pro Tools mix summed in the box with the 2-Bus mix going out of the 192, to the summing mixer as a stereo mix, and back into PT.

3. Same mix summed externally via analog summing mixer.

The songs were all mixed by me in Pro Tools HD3 version 9 via a 192 I/O.

The summing mixer used was a Speck Electronics X.Sum mixer which is a very clean and quiet summing mixer courtesy of Barry Hufker.

So without further ado, here are the files! It’s obviously up to you how you perform this listening test, but I suggest loading them into a DAW and renaming them randomly, have someone else switch the files for you while they are playing, or make sure you aren’t looking at what’s what while you are listening. Otherwise the test is pointless since you will most definitely be biased one way or the other.  I won’t inject any of my own thoughts here to keep from skewing the results.

1. Bears on Fire – “Girls Aren’t Robots” – Electro/Pop Rock

2. Black Fast – “Chaos Orb” – Metal

3. Mike Kendrick and the Blue Eyed Sons – “Old Time Love” – Folk

4. Lida Una – “One Last Victim” – Southern Rock

I hope you enjoy the test and at this point I would like to list the steps I took to ensure that the testing remained accurate.  There will always be someone that says, “well you didn’t do this” or “you did this wrong”.  If that’s the case, then you should obviously be trying it yourself.

SUMMING TEST STEPS

1. Found sessions appropriate to cover a multitude of genres and textures, but that also fit my personal style.

2. Made a new session coy of each of the four songs just for this test, each with its own individual routing options.

3. Bounced a new PT only mix for each of the songs.  Some of these songs were mixed by going out to an external 2bus compressor such as the Amek 9098CL or API 527s.  It doesn’t matter to you that much because you’ve never heard these songs before, so you wouldn’t know if they sounded any different with the compressors engaged.  I did replace these compressors with a similar 2 bus compressor on the pro tools master.

4. Got the Speck X.Sum mixer set up and ready to go.

5. Checked all TRS to TT cables to make sure they all worked and were phase coherent with each other. Generously used DeOxIt to clean all contacts.

6. I had a few less cables than I had hoped and not lots of extra hours to make new cables so I consolidated some of my sums to come up with this:

– Kick – Mono

– Snare – Mono

– Drums – Stereo

– Bass – Mono

– Guitars – Stereo

– Keys – Stereo

– Vocals – Stereo

– Effects – Stereo

7 .Hooked up the mixer to my patchbay and sent signal out to the summing mixer to check that each channel is level matched to 0.2db. (knobs on the speck were kind of hard to get levels to match any better.

8. set up my outputs in Pro Tools to send to the Speck.  Made sure all outputs were at the same level of -20dBvu.

9. I also did a mix where it was summed internally in Pro Tools but the 2 mix from Pro Tools went to the Speck box.

10. Once all 3 versions of the 4 songs where bounced, I brought them in to a new Pro Tools session and made sure levels were matched between each version of the song.