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Hardware Summing / Outboard gear that makes a "noticeable" difference to the mix?
Old 17th May 2018
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Hardware Summing / Outboard gear that makes a "noticeable" difference to the mix?

HELLO MY PEOPLE! <said in my best Eddie Murphy impression>

With the surge in external analog summing boxes and all sorts of analog outboard gear appearing on the market from left to right now, it got me thinking:

"If there was one or more external piece(s) of hardware you could buy that would make a noticeable difference to a mix that's been recorded in a DAW (namely, Logic Pro X)... what would it be?"

Now, I'm not on about pie-in-the-sky boutique solutions that cost a bajillion pounds, or stuff that you haven't personally heard A-B'd - and I'm not going to get a tape deck to print to(!). I'm on about personal experience that you've had with some gear that doesn't cost the earth. I don't care if the boxes are analog, digital, valve or filled with wasps as long as they:

- Makes a noticeable difference to the mix (in a good way, obviously)
- Don't cost more than say, oh I don't know - £1000 total. Is that too mean?

FYI: I'm considering getting an Elektron Analog Heat to add some "grit" to certain channels - or to the entire mix, but I've not considered any other outboard as of this moment.

WHY?
Ultimately, I'm just interested to know whether there actually are any pieces of hardware out there that can aid in making mixes sound more "alive" (or add that magic "fairy dust") over what Logic currently gives me at the output, because the A-B tests I've heard on YouTube between a mix printed straight from a DAW and a mix printed via an analog mixer / summing mixer sound the same to me... I know that's not entirely fair as it's YouTube and it's compressed to Mars and back, so that's why I'm asking it here. Honest first-hand experiences would be appreciated.

Right now, i think the sound Logic Pro X produces in a mix sounds great - but I've no other point of reference. Ya know? I just want to know if I'm missing out or if this is another "Emperor's new clothes" fad.

As usual. Answers on a postcard to...
Old 17th May 2018
  #2
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daviddever's Avatar
This is probably more appropriate for a different forum, to be honest–there are _a lot_ of things that one can optimize in the mix + summing stages that are highly debatable / not perceptible / very perceptible, depending on your hearing / OCD / whatever.

I find that you get what you pay for, that Logic's built-in summing mixer sux ballz compared to ProTools (even after all these years, and I'm a Logic Audio / DAE veteran) unless you have a stable, bit-perfect audio interface / driver, and that a really good summing mixer is NOT lossy, has an over-engineered power supply, and will never say Behringer on the tin.
Old 17th May 2018
  #3
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channelite's Avatar
It seems like the songs I made that were recorded to a Tascam DA-20 from a mackie 1202 mixer sounded better then the renders or bounce to disk I did in ableton Live.
Old 17th May 2018
  #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by daviddever View Post
This is probably more appropriate for a different forum, to be honest
Oh, I'm sorry. I thought it was suitable as it's electronic music production?

Quote:
Originally Posted by daviddever View Post
Logic's built-in summing mixer sux ballz compared to ProTools
Are there any A-B sources online that I can visit in order to corroborate or contradict that statement?
Old 17th May 2018
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Quote:
Originally Posted by johnnyboy5000 View Post
It seems like the songs I made that were recorded to a Tascam DA-20 from a mackie 1202 mixer sounded better then the renders or bounce to disk I did in ableton Live.
Do you mean that you played out a stereo mix into the 1202 and then into the Tascam from the same mix in Ableton Live? (In other words, the summing had already happened in Ableton?)

If that's the case then that's interesting - so it's not the summing that's the issue but the printing of the audio?

Did you try the following, as a matter of interest...

1. Print the audio in Ableton Live
2. Play that bounced audio through the 1202 and into the DA-20
3. Compare both audio versions

That way you/we'd know if it's anything to do with the bounce algorithm or whether you just prefer the 1202>DA-20 sound anyway.
Old 17th May 2018
  #6
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daviddever's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by markodarko View Post
Oh, I'm sorry. I thought it was suitable as it's electronic music production?
https://www.gearslutz.com/board/ -> DAW Talk would be a good place; these discussions are fairly common in that zone.

Not trying to be difficult, but you'd probably find a wealth of information there to start with.

Quote:
Originally Posted by markodarko View Post
Are there any A-B sources online that I can visit in order to corroborate or contradict that statement?
Wrong question - right approach is to work with both over a period of time, get to know the ins and outs, then make your own decision. The differences are not going to be obvious via YouTube.

Back in the day, there were plenty of discussions as to why Opcode Studio Pro might have sounded better atop Digidesign hardware than, say, Logic Audio or (Digital) Performer -> also in DAW Talk.

"Native" hardware is much better designed these days than it was two decades ago, though the care required to get excellent results within a design using a modern connectivity profile (USB / Thunderbolt) requires engineering expertise and decent silicon that doesn't come cheap(ly)–and then you still have to consider the summing itself, which is a thorny discussion....

Audio quality, in this forum, only seems to be a transient concern.
Old 17th May 2018
  #7
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drockfresh's Avatar
There’s a new popular hardware tape emulator I can’t remember it’s name something with a Z and I remember the box is yellow and it doesn’t have 1/4” ins just XLR

Search for Culture Vulture vs Fatso vs

That would be a start
Old 17th May 2018
  #8
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Zulu
Old 17th May 2018
  #9
The 1202 1604 and couple other 1st gen only Mackie mixing boards had good sounding pre-amps, creating channel distortion. Set the strip volume to about 3 or 4 o'clock and you'll hear it.

Whether this is what you want is a different question. Yeh it'll warm the signal, it'll also introduce noise.

This is early 90's mixing board tech. A lot of industrial, rock, blues musicians/groups loved that sound back-in-the-day. Newsgroup rec.audio.pro had many discussions in mid 90's about the musical use of those inexpensive mixers. Those boards were liked a lot back then.

But that was then this is now. You may not want that 1202 sound on every track. I'd suggest using a 1202 to warm up a specific instrument on input rather than out.
Old 17th May 2018
  #10
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Acid Mitch's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by markodarko View Post

- Makes a noticeable difference to the mix (in a good way, obviously)
- Don't cost more than say, oh I don't know - £1000 total
WHY?
Ultimately, I'm just interested to know whether there actually are any pieces of hardware out there that can aid in making mixes sound more "alive" (or add that magic "fairy dust") over what Logic currently gives me at the output, because the A-B tests I've heard on YouTube between a mix printed straight from a DAW and a mix printed via an analog mixer / summing mixer sound the same to me... I know that's not entirely fair as it's YouTube and it's compressed to Mars and back, so that's why I'm asking it here. Honest first-hand experiences would be appreciated
This is the thing. You might find something where you hear a difference you like but that doesn’t necasserily mean that everyone else is going to hear a diference or at least a difference that matters.

Have you read this thread The Reason Most ITB mixes don’t Sound as good as Analog mixes (restored)
Old 17th May 2018
  #11
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If you just want your Logic mix to sound more "alive" or add some "fairy dust" to it, there are a billion better options than a summing mixer.
Old 17th May 2018
  #12
My thoughts: I don’t know....I hear mixes all the time that I know were mixed in Logic, and they sound fantastic.

If your mixing chops are aces, if you have top of the line convertors and monitoring, a supreme listening space/environment, then I’d say go for it, and try out various really expensive options to add a tad of extra something. I feel like my mixes are pretty good, but I know I can learn more, and get better.

Learning is way cheaper than going down the pro-audio rabbit hole. I’m saying that for me, not for you. Like most electronics products, the reward/expense ratio is logarithmic in nature, at least in my experience. The prices begin to get ridiculous, all for how much improvement? The audible improvements get smaller and smaller, for more and more money, regardless of what kind of gear we’re talking about. Thats just my experience.

I bought Slate VCC about four years ago. I could hear a difference immediately. Its the first plugin on every single channel, bus, and on the output/master. Its subtle, but apparent. Still works for me today. I’ve tried other console emulation plugins, but stick with Slate on this one. Actually the only Slate plugin I use.

If you do buy a summing mixer and get it all wired up, I’d love to hear your thoughts and some examples. For this guy, there are other areas I could improve upon. Like improving my listening environment, and my monitors/convertors are good, but not great. Where does one draw the line? What is good enough? I don’t know, but I’m content with things currently.

Good luck.
Old 17th May 2018
  #13
Anything that has transformers. Not the Decepticon type. Audio transformer

I keep a pair of compressors and an EQ with output transformers in my rack for when things start to sound too digital and need a bit of warmth.
Old 17th May 2018
  #14
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login's Avatar
I would go for anything "saturation" analog heat, elysia karacter, a character compresor you can drive hard.
Old 17th May 2018
  #15
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Sending your song to a Pro engineer.

Seriously. Fresh ears, different experience...I am happy with my mixes but his ended up probably 5% better than mine. Which sounds maybe not like a complement, but that’s the difference we were looking for. And I guarantee that’s still at least a 4.5% bigger difference than a summing mixer will make.
Old 18th May 2018
  #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by daviddever View Post
Wrong question - right approach is to work with both over a period of time, get to know the ins and outs, then make your own decision.
I don't really have the time nor inclination to learn yet another DAW and record music on it just to see if its summing is "better" than Logic's because as I previously stated - I already think Logic and my mixes sound good through it. I'm not feeling that I'm lacking anything. On the contrary, that's why I started this thread in case I AM missing out on something but I'm just not aware of it.

Ignorance is bliss, an' all that.

Anyway, my gut feeling about your statement: "Logic's built-in summing mixer sux ballz compared to ProTools" is that it's more than likely hyperbole or biased preference because I cannot possibly fathom that the difference would be that stark. You make it sound like Logic sounds awful, and I already know it doesn't, so if there are differences I would imagine that they are very subtle. Would you agree?

Quote:
Originally Posted by daviddever View Post
The differences are not going to be obvious via YouTube.
I appreciate that, but it does kinda beg the question - when WILL it be obvious? If the answer is "only in my studio through a good pair of monitors" then that subtlety is not worth it IMO - this is why I specifically wanted to know about outboard that could make a noticeable difference because YouTube / compressed audio is still a massive listening market.
Old 18th May 2018
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Acid Mitch View Post
This is the thing. You might find something where you hear a difference you like but that doesn’t necasserily mean that everyone else is going to hear a diference or at least a difference that matters.
That's what I figured.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Acid Mitch View Post
No, I hadn't! Thank you for that.

Interestingly, I usually set my channels to -12dB but I'll try them at -20dB in future after reading that post. Thank you.
Old 18th May 2018
  #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BTByrd View Post
If you just want your Logic mix to sound more "alive" or add some "fairy dust" to it, there are a billion better options than a summing mixer.
A billion? Whoa!

I personally don't think a summing mixer does anything of note (as I mentioned in my original post), I was just curious if there are things that DO. My money's on an Analog Heat as I think slapping that across the mix would definitely make a noticeable difference to some tracks.

What kinds of things would you recommend?
Old 18th May 2018
  #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EDGEK8D View Post
My thoughts: I don’t know....I hear mixes all the time that I know were mixed in Logic, and they sound fantastic.
Yes, I think so to. Perhaps I'm deluding myself.

Quote:
Originally Posted by EDGEK8D View Post
I bought Slate VCC about four years ago. I could hear a difference immediately. Its the first plugin on every single channel, bus, and on the output/master. Its subtle, but apparent.
Ah. Interesting. I have Slate's Virtual Buss Compressor and FG-X but I haven't looked at them in years. When I bought them they weren't 64-bit compatible and so I stopped following their progress. I should probably see if they've been updated now. Thanks for reminding me!

Quote:
Originally Posted by EDGEK8D View Post
If you do buy a summing mixer and get it all wired up, I’d love to hear your thoughts and some examples.
Oh, I doubt that. As I mentioned in my original post, I've listened to MANY A-B tests online and I really cannot tell the difference between them. I'm more interested in finding out things that clearly make a noticeable difference because for über-subtle changes in "quality" I can happily bathe in blissful ignorance. I'm not the person that chases down the n-th degree of "quality".
Old 18th May 2018
  #20
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Originally Posted by Hollowman9 View Post
Anything that has transformers. Not the Decepticon type. Audio transformer
I did laugh out loud at that one.
Old 18th May 2018
  #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by login View Post
I would go for anything "saturation" analog heat, elysia karacter, a character compresor you can drive hard.
Yes, this is my initial thinking too. I'm very much drawn towards the possibilities of the Analog Heat at the moment as I think that will clearly make an audible difference in sound if it's used to gently "gritify" the mix, plus I can also use it on individual tracks (and print the audio, obviously) to give them some treatment too.
Old 18th May 2018
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kslight View Post
Sending your song to a Pro engineer.

Seriously. Fresh ears, different experience...I am happy with my mixes but his ended up probably 5% better than mine. Which sounds maybe not like a complement, but that’s the difference we were looking for. And I guarantee that’s still at least a 4.5% bigger difference than a summing mixer will make.
This is probably the best advice in general and I subscribe to that train of thought, but I'm specifically asking about my own mixes before they even leave my studio to go to someone else's ears.
Old 18th May 2018
  #23
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I think you're on the right track with the Heat. Get something non digital to throw into the mix. Analog drive, filters, real spring reverb...maybe a tube preamp?
Old 18th May 2018
  #24
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I think a summing box on its own could be a case of diminishing returns. Full OTB with a traditional desk and hardware processors is my preference. It is a massive pain in the danglers compared to the neatness, recall and size of ITB but I like real stuff.

This vid is an interesting comparison of an ITB vs OTB mix. Skip to this bit for the side-by-side: https://youtu.be/nP5UsbRtrhQ?t=1073

Old 18th May 2018
  #25
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From a very basic point of view, there is only three things you can do to a channel of sound. EQ. Dynamics, and foldbacks (Effects). The quality of each of those three things is what makes stuff sound good. A mixer is the traditional way to get EQ on every channel. A compressor on the out put of a mixer was the traditional way to gain that. A aux send was the traditional way to gain effects.

Today there are many more options. But looking back one good compressor and one good reverb was all that was needed. Many channels of EQ were needed.

How good each one is, is a function of your budget and or the quality of plugs and computer power.

A mixer gets you EQ on every channel. A summer allows you to use whatever outboard you have between the summer and converters.

Many different way to skin the cat.
Old 18th May 2018
  #26
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Old 18th May 2018
  #27
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I’m using the API 8200A and 8200’s with the 8200A or a 7800. These are in the order typed, an 8-channel line mixer & summer with ample I/O and insert returns making it 16 mixer inputs, switchable eight at a time, with dual transformer balanced outputs. The 8200 is the same without the Mix Bus and requires an 8200A or 7800 Master Module (the latter was part of the API DSM-Legacy console-in-a-rack line and is packed with transformers on the 2 Aux Sends, 2 Solos and Mix Bus, along with monitoring features).

The dual outputs of these trackin/mixing/summing rack units feed my PCM and DSD recorders. PCM is Burl, Apogee, Avid or Antelope. DSD Korg MR-2000S (internal hard drive) and MR-2000S-SSD (internal SSD) and more recently the Tascam DA-3000 which I have yet to set up in my rigs, but will be soon.

The Korg’s 5.6MHz/1-bit DSD final mix capture is the best I’ve heard here. No decimation, etc, just a pure digital transfer that tracks the analog signal level up or down, 5,600,000 times a second into a massive sized file to your hard disc. Again, without the PCM decimation, etc to a 16 or 24-bit “editable & mailable” file at a much lower sample rate of 41,000 a second to 192,000 times a second. So, kind of like a RAW photograph file, if you will permit the analogy, but the format is DSFF or similar.

So, yeah, hit some wires and transformers for your mix, then a pristine DSD capture and if you don’t hear “a” difference, please upgrade your room and monitors. And, when you do/can hear the difference, there’s no guarantee you’ll like it better than any of the perfectly viable alternatives.

Also check out So Much Gear, So Little Time and... the High End up yonder...

Old 18th May 2018
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rockmanrock View Post
I think a summing box on its own could be a case of diminishing returns.
Yes, I'm getting that picture too.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rockmanrock View Post
Full OTB with a traditional desk and hardware processors is my preference. It is a massive pain in the danglers compared to the neatness, recall and size of ITB but I like real stuff.
Ha ha for "massive pain in the danglers".

Quote:
Originally Posted by rockmanrock View Post
This vid is an interesting comparison of an ITB vs OTB mix. Skip to this bit for the side-by-side: https://youtu.be/nP5UsbRtrhQ?t=1073
Whoa. Clear difference there! I've not looked at the whole video yet - I will do later if I have time. I'm only popping in to do a quick reply at the mo. But...

The A-B is drastically different!

Here's what I do to tell... Listen on my MacBook Air. Why? Because to me, I want to go beyond subtle. I want to hear real changes. Real changes should be perceptible on a basic speaker system (a la the MBA) and not confined to having to be listened to via studio monitors.

Aaaanyway.... Here's what I picked up in the 60 seconds or so I listened to that clip...

- FAR greater stereo imaging. The ITB mix sounded almost mono in comparison(!)
- Everything in the mix just "sat" in the right place. Like it had a proper space to fill. The ITB mix by comparison sounded like everything was being crammed into the same audio field.
- There's "space" around the lead vocal. It doesn't just "sit" properly, it is highlighted in a nice way. The ITB mix has the vocal competing for space with all other instruments.
- More "rounded" tone. Even on these rubbish speakers it's perceptible.

I'm sure there's more but I don't have the time to listen properly right now. But...

OH. MY. GAWD.

I'M A BELIEVER!

Thank you so much for that link. I'll obviously need to watch it all to see what differences there are etc and what gear is used (I have a feeling it's waaaaay more than I imagine) but right now - my mind is now completely open to this rabbit hole.

Thank you.
Old 18th May 2018
  #29
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Originally Posted by SovietSpaceChild View Post
SEVEN.

THOUSAND.

DOLLARS?!

Old 18th May 2018
  #30
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Hardware summing = snake oil.

This is not how you make your digital tracks sound analog.
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