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The Reason Most ITB mixes don’t Sound as good as Analog mixes (restored)
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The Reason Most ITB mixes don’t Sound as good as Analog mixes (restored)

The Reason Most ITB mixes don’t Sound as good as Analog mixes. This is a repost from another thread. Hope you find it usefull.

Ok, I'm going to try and give you An ITB education, as my over 24 years has taught me. Here is what I try and teach to students. I'll try and keep the math to a minimum.

First, I own a high end analog setup's Via an SSL 4K with 1/2' 2 Track YADA YADA, ICON with Killer OB FX And classic Compressors, YADA YADA/ Hybrid Setup Via AWS 900w/ 24 Channels Of Xlogic Killer OTB FX and Comps YADA YADA. Point is not to impress, or brag in any way, but to let you know everyday I work on a verity of systems. This has led me to The Following conclusion.

To learn to mix ITB coming from an analog world you must revisit what Voltage reference Analog consoles work at, and make appropriate adjustments to translate this to work ITB.

The first thing we must ask is simply what is 0VU. What does it mean to us. Lets use an SSL G+ as our point of reference mainly because I work on those every day. If we put a signal into the line input of the SSL so the channel meter reads 0vu, that also, is referenced as +4 or 1.23 volts. A kick ass SSL will go out to about +24DB, so we have approximately 20 DB of headroom above the 0 VU point on the meter before the signal goes to crap.

Now let take a common situation. A Client hands you a Protools session and you spread it out over the SSL console. Like most people today every track is recorded as hot as hell. Most pro Eng's will use proper gain staging and get the now slammed meters reading around 0VU or 1.23 volts. By lowering the line trim we now have a good level into the desk so we can Compress/Gate/EQ the Signal without it overloading the processing. Sounds simple right? Remember that all outboard equipment was designed to work around the 0VU/+4/ 1.23 Volt reference. So by putting the incoming signal at around this reference, your rack equipment will work better as well.

Why use a +4 reference? Well remember that the 1.23 volt reference came from the tube days where 1.23 volts was enough voltage over the plate noise that you still had a good signal to noise ratio, but still left room above 1.23 volts to allow for normal audio operations.

Now to ITB. Lets pretend we have the same setup as we did on the SSL. Client hands you a session that’s recorded hot as hell. Now most folks mixing ITB don't understand reference levels when relating it to Digital. To have the same amount of "headroom" as we do on the SSL we must create a reference of 0VU or 1.23 volts at -20 from 0DBFS or the top of the Digital scale.

So if you simply place the good old trim plugin as the very first plugin, you now have the ability to adjust your tracks to our Mixing (+4/1.23 volt) reference IE -20. Just like you did on the SSL. You have have the same amount of headroom. Now with your tracks properly gain staged, you can add EQ/dynamic plugins and not run out of headroom. You can also insert hardware and they will operate much better as they are operating at the level they were designed to operate at.

Plugins use the same reference at real equipment. Never try and drive them to the top of the Digital scale. Don't try and make your mix look like a master. You don't do that on an analog console, so why do we do it ITB?

The answer is simple. DAW meters suck Butt. There should be a meter mode in all DAW's that makes the meter at 3/4 scale equal -20 at 1.23 volts. Just like the old VU. This way, novices will quit corn-holeing their levels.

Something to think about. The noise floor of an analog desk is about -75 DB from our +4 reference. Our equivalent "problem level" below our -20 reference in digital is well over 100 DB. So please don't let people tell you analog has more "headroom" than digital. This is simply not true. Headroom is only relative to your noise floor below your reference. Remember if the volume is to low, turn up the darn speaker volume.

Running a Digital mix right to the top of the scale is like running your SSL mix buss where the VU meters are slammed all the way to the right and you are constantly hitting it at +25. No one will get a good sounding running the desk like that. You won’t get a good sounding mix in digital either.


So what does all this mean? Put simply, proper gain staging is essential to both analog and digital mixing. You just need to correlate the references between the two. Once you figure this out, I'll Guarantee your mixes will start to sound open and wide, just like the good old analog days.
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I actually love your place. I was there a long time ago. I haven't seen it since your changes. You saved my arse with an ADAT tape rescue. Thanks for this as well.
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Great post, thanks for sharing! I believe the Trim plugin is my most used (and useful) plugin :-).

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can someone please make a one sentence conclusion of this post ?

thanks !
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Excellent post.
One question:
I'm mixing on an analog console so I rarely use any plugins in PT.
What (if any) is the difference in using a trim plugin on each track versus just adjusting the volume down using the PT fader (or trim tool on volume auto line)? I would assume that ITB the trim plug would adjust the volume to the following plugs where the fader is post plugs but what about the scenario where you are mixing on an analog console without trim at the tape input? Any audible or logistical differences in the two methods of gain adjustment?

Thanks,
Rick
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hankdrummer View Post
can someone please make a one sentence conclusion of this post ?

thanks !
turn it down.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rick Sutton View Post
Excellent post.
One question:
I'm mixing on an analog console so I rarely use any plugins in PT.
What (if any) is the difference in using a trim plugin on each track versus just adjusting the volume down using the PT fader (or trim tool on volume auto line)? I would assume that ITB the trim plug would adjust the volume to the following plugs where the fader is post plugs but what about the scenario where you are mixing on an analog console without trim at the tape input? Any audible or logistical differences in the two methods of gain adjustment?

Thanks,
Rick
Rick, A HUGE difference. The fader only will adjust the level feeding the mix buss or master fader summing. The trim plugin as the first plugin will adjust the reference level into the following processing. IE EQ/ Comp. Hope that helps.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Skip Burrows View Post
Rick, A HUGE difference. The fader only will adjust the level feeding the mix buss or master fader summing. The trim plugin as the first plugin will adjust the reference level into the following processing. IE EQ/ Comp. Hope that helps.
Skip, thanks for the reply. I assume you are speaking of a difference to the levels when mixing with plugins in the path, that I understand as it is important to adjust the volume before the plugs and not after.
I'm curious as to any difference when NOT USING PLUGS and coming out of the converters and spreading it out on an analog board. Assuming that the volume of each track is adjusted to appropriate levels for the analog board does it matter whether you use a trim plugin or just adjust with the PT channel fader? Are they adjusting the volume on each track to the converter output in essentially the same manner or is there a fundamental difference. Again, this is strictly speaking of each track outputting to a single converter output with no ITB plugs being used (other than the possibility of the trim plugin).
Thanks again,
Rick
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rick Sutton View Post
Skip, thanks for the reply. I assume you are speaking of a difference to the levels when mixing with plugins in the path, that I understand as it is important to adjust the volume before the plugs and not after.
I'm curious as to any difference when NOT USING PLUGS and coming out of the converters and spreading it out on an analog board. Assuming that the volume of each track is adjusted to appropriate levels for the analog board does it matter whether you use a trim plugin or just adjust with the PT channel fader? Are they adjusting the volume on each track to the converter output in essentially the same manner or is there a fundamental difference. Again, this is strictly speaking of each track outputting to a single converter output with no ITB plugs being used (other than the possibility of the trim plugin).
Thanks again,
Rick
Yes Rick You are correct in that respect. I mis-understood your statement. Good Luck.
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Thanks Skip. This is an awesome thread. Very insightful
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Skip Burrows View Post
...
Plugins use the same reference at real equipment. Never try and drive them to the top of the Digital scale. Don't try and make your mix look like a master. You don't do that on an analog console, so why do we do it ITB?.....

Great words Skip!! I've been mentioning this very fact to people for a few years. Some listen, some don't
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Great post Skip. I just started using the trim and now have a better understanding of what the diff is btween it and the fader. I mix strickly ITB and have been automating the fader.... which of course removes the control of the fader for minor adjustments unless you are automating. I wasn't aware that it should go before the plugins using it as a gain staging tool into channel including the plugs as I thought the gain in the plugin was for that purpose. Now I see that it is all considered serially. Thanks again, all of you.
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Thanks Skip Great Post! You have a great idea for a metering plugin, maybe you should team up with someone and develop it , I agree, ITB metering really needs to improve.
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Originally Posted by SoundEng1 View Post
Thanks Skip Great Post! You have a great idea for a metering plugin, maybe you should team up with someone and develop it , I agree, ITB metering really needs to improve.
No A plugin really wont do much good IMVHO. This metering style I was talking about in my starting post Must be a part of the DAW itself. An earlier replay wanted me to shorten my very long post to a few words. Here is it.."treat the very top of digital like you would running levels of your analog console so hot it fry's the Op amp's into nothing." There, I hope that helps.
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Great post!
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Great post, but for a person like me a video in practicality outlining this would do wonders for n00bs like me.

(hint hint anyone? :D)
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good post.
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Should be made into a sticky post.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chrislpp View Post
Great post, but for a person like me a video in practicality outlining this would do wonders for n00bs like me.

(hint hint anyone? :D)
Just don't record your levels so HOT!! No need to peg the input. If its too low volume wise, turn your monitors up.

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Another secret....

Skip, thanks for outlining this. Hopefully now people will be able to find it in a search. The info is out there, yet so many seem to try old analog methods, and then bitch that digital can't sound as good. Or they never tried analog, and are just not exercising good gain staging, having the same poor results.

I'd like to add another (seemingly) well kept secret for getting a good ITB mix :

Analog is very forgiving and sweetening to the high end of audio. Digital (generally) not so much. Knowing how to deal with that problem is KEY to getting a good ITB mix.

Many years ago when talking with an engineer (the slide rule kind, not the faderjocky kind) who designs the stuff we use, he asked me if I would ever do a 2" analog mix on a Neve without using HPF's. I said "no, they are essential to cleaning out the mud and getting a tight and open sounding mix". He said "Good. In the same respect, you shouldn't be doing an ITB mix without using LPF's either". Same problem, opposite end of the spectrum. 180 degree problem. The buildup on a super accurate HF's, what you put in is what you get out, digital playback system is equally destructive to getting a smooth top end as LF mud is to getting a clean mix on the bottom.

As to how to do that, what to use where and where to set your LPF's, I'll leave that to your own experimenting. I can't deliver it all in a nice neat package now, can I???
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Yep, it's ALL about the gain staging ITB. Paul Frindle (who knows a thing or two about how both analog and digital work ) has been hammering on this point for a long time, but a lot of guys still discount it and cling to the myth about OTB being "better", when in fact it's user shortcomings, not the shortcomings of the tools.

It should also be pointed out that if the first plugin you insert on a particular track has its own input trim, you can skip the dedicated trim plugin and just turn down the input on the first plugin in the chain.

Skip, I am curious to know if you still do the trick with the line pads on the stereo outs of your digital mix bus into mic pres for the final summing?
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Originally Posted by zboy2854 View Post
Skip, I am curious to know if you still do the trick with the line pads on the stereo outs of your digital mix bus into mic pres for the final summing?
Yes sometimes. Although I have found Plugins that color the mix to my satisfaction.
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Although I don't disagree with anything said, I think that it's not really an explanation for what the title says. It would explain why unknowledgeable people's digital mixes might have issues, but clearly there are a lot of very knowledgeable people out there who know all this very well, but still analog folks complain that no one's digital mixes sound as good as analog ones.

So, either those folks are wrong, and they may well be, or this really isn't the reason, though it may well be an issue for a bunch of less experienced folks and something they should be aware of and therefore well worth posting and all that. If they are correct, it would kind of imply that no competent person (i.e. he got all the other stuff right) who has every done a digital mix understood these issues, which isn't likely.
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Levels?

So are we saying when we are recording into the DAW that our levels should be around -20db rms with peaks somewhere above that; and if that's the case; we probably don't need to trim? I've read about levels from -20 all the way to -12 for rms. thanks for this info.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zboy2854 View Post
It should also be pointed out that if the first plugin you insert on a particular track has its own input trim, you can skip the dedicated trim plugin and just turn down the input on the first plugin in the chain.
Well...that just made my previous post moot. Dammit! I'm learning though.... Thanks!
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hankdrummer View Post
can someone please make a one sentence conclusion of this post ?

thanks !

Set your AD convertors to 0 dBvu = minus 20 dBfs and record your tracks at an average level of -20 dBfs and everything will fall into place.



No trim plug will be necessary and you also will not be overdriving the analog stage of your AD convertors.
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Out of curiosity... Skip, how much do you trim the tracks down as a general rule of thumb when mixing, assuming that the stuff comes in sort of hot the way most protools sessions look these days?

For example, for the past year or so I've been defaulting to a -10db trim plug on every track when I start mixing and that seems to be hitting the analog gear better on insert and getting better results overall.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hankdrummer View Post
can someone please make a one sentence conclusion of this post ?

thanks !

Ha!ha! yeah!
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Quote:
Originally Posted by yeloocproducer View Post
Out of curiosity... Skip, how much do you trim the tracks down as a general rule of thumb when mixing, assuming that the stuff comes in sort of hot the way most protools sessions look these days?

For example, for the past year or so I've been defaulting to a -10db trim plug on every track when I start mixing and that seems to be hitting the analog gear better on insert and getting better results overall.
Just to add my 2 cents, I often see outside "hot" tracks coming in needing 6-10 dB of gain reduction to be in a comfortable range for my board.
On my own sessions the tracking is monitored on analog meters so I am setting levels that my system likes without much reliance on the DAW meters. I do use the PT meters for displaying "overs".
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