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Is it worth it to get one piece of outboard?
Old 6th August 2020
  #1
Gear Head
 

Is it worth it to get one piece of outboard?

Hi!

I’ve been looking for a summing mixer or just something to add some color to my mixes because they don’t have a lot of character - I use lots of tape emulation and console emulation plugins, do my best to just get something sounding right, but something about what I’m doing still sounds fake even when I get it where I want it.

A lot of music I make is MIDI, so that’s inevitable, but even mixing other people’s music run into the same issue. 1. would a single outboard piece make it sound ‘real’ 2. if so what could I get to bring my things to like.

Last edited by porgporgporg; 6th August 2020 at 09:01 PM.. Reason: Actually finished lol
Old 6th August 2020
  #2
Lives for gear
Please list what gear you have, including microphones, monitors and headphones. Describe your room, particularly its dimensions and treatment (if any).
You might be reluctant to post a part of a mix you’ve done, but it could be really helpful in analyzing where you might spend some money to change your mixes.
If a summing mixer ends up being your choice, what budget can you throw at it? A crappy new summing mixer is no more helpful than a crappy new microphone, so budget is an issue.
Old 6th August 2020
  #3
If possible, I would pipe some of those MIDI tracks back into the room and re-record them with mics, using a guitar amp, or a pair of PA speakers if you have them. You can use your studio monitors if nothing else is available. Mix the re-recorded signal back in with the direct MIDI sound (being mindful of phase issues) and see where that gets you. This technique can frequently do wonders for adding a sense of depth and "realness" to ITB sounds.
Old 6th August 2020
  #4
Lives for gear
 
BIG BUDDHA's Avatar
to be honest i doubt a summing mixer will make that much difference.

how good or bad things sound is a combination of the total signal flow through the recording chain.

for analog input sounds that means Microphones, preamps, Compressors, EQs, and eventually summing mixers.

all through the chain, operator skill, or lack of it, will improve or detract from the quality at the end.

if you are mainly using ITB sound sources, then some of the recording chain is not there.

you have to try and make those ITB samples, Loops, synths, whatever, sound better with internal processing.

Reverb is your best friend regarding this. often each sound might need a different reverb, Reverb time, and level, or other DAW processing, to make it sound more real.

once its sounding good in the DAW some 2 buss processing might add something, but if its not sounding good direct from the DAW then no silver bullet will fix that.

trying to be helpful here. good luck. Buddha
Old 7th August 2020
  #5
Lives for gear
 
Quetz's Avatar
The tough answer is that it's your mixing skill level, combined (possibly) with poor monitoring and a poor monitoring environment.
I say that because I'm slowly dragging myself out of the same ditch so the comment isn't designed to be condescending.

There is no magic bullet, you need to accept that.
Hundreds of hours of practise is what you need to get over the bump, then into hundreds more to get good, but that time needs to be spent armed with the knowledge of what to realistically expect from your skill level, and more importantly, what you can expect given the quality of the source tracks.
A complete novice mixer can just push the faders up on a session of tracks recorded by a skilled professional and it will sound great before you've even done anything, and the opposite is true.

If the instrument part you have, midi or not, doesn't sound awesome right from the beginning then you haven't got the right sound, it really is as simple as that.
You should be able to listen to raw tracks and know how good a mix you can get out of it before you start.
If they're tracks someone else has recorded/provided then you work with what you've got, but if you are creating the tracks yourself, then you have the advantage, because you are defining the starting point quality.

There is a thread elsewhere titled "when can I expect an 'a-ha!' moment from a preamp", or something similar.

Answer - never.
You'll get those moments from learning a new technique or hearing detail you hadn't heard before thanks to a listening test, using a new mic placement or a change in mic (or a change in performer!), not from a preamp or bit of outboard.
A preamp suited to a source will complement the source, but you won't get a eureka from a preamp alone.

It's lovely to think that suddenly you'll get an amazing result you didn't have before from a piece of hardware but that's just not going to happen.

I went from being crap to passable without changing any gear at all, in fact it was during a period where I had the worst gear I'd ever used.
The big improvements come from understanding how to use the tools and knowing what to listen for and realising that the sounds have to be right from the get-go.

It's all such obvious and unsexy stuff and we can be really aurally blind to this as relative beginners because it's so easy to be seduced with all that lovely gear.

Also, this idea that a summing mixer will add colour is incorrect.
Summing mixers can give you an edge in clarity when lots of tracks are being stacked up but they shouldn't be adding colour and won't make a mix sound more 'real'*.
*edit: you can arguably say that you'll get more dimensionality with analogue summing and excellent converters with a great clock but these are still incremental and often indistinguishable to an untrained ear.

If you can't get an amazing mix even from all ITB instruments and effects, then it's your knowledge and technique.
If you have really crappy speakers and you're in a 4ft square room then obviously that kind of thing will impair your judgement, however even with budget monitors nowadays and an untreated room, you should still be able to make it sound great in the room, you'll just run into trouble when you listen that mix elsewhere, and that's where better monitoring and room treatment comes in.

Sorry to be such a downer, but that is the truth, and you'll be able to move forward much faster armed with the truth.
Old 7th August 2020
  #6
Lives for gear
I agree with most of what Quetz says.
Your own personality also plays a part. There is no objective scale in judging the quality of audio engineers. If you are extremely insecure and self-critical, you may think everything you do sounds horrible, no matter whether it is or not. Likewise, some people are so convinced that they are the cream of the human crop that they don’t think anything they’ve ever done is horrible. They go through life believing that their work always ranges between “amazingly good” and “beyond amazingly good”.
If you get to observe a number of “pro” engineers for a while, you will meet some who seem to survive mainly on relentless self promotion and absolute lack of self doubt.
So don’t beat yourself up all the time, and try to notice the things at which you are good or improving.
Otherwise, get into something where your performance is objectively measured.
Old 7th August 2020
  #7
Lives for gear
 
Quetz's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bushman View Post
If you are extremely insecure and self-critical, you may think everything you do sounds horrible, no matter whether it is or not.
That's a very good point.

There are probably a fair amount of people that could be making a living from it that don't because they don't have that self-belief.
Old 7th August 2020
  #8
Just to ADD to what the others have said .. maybe get a serious color box like the “silver bullet” - you can use it on the way in and out 🤷🏻‍♂️
Old 7th August 2020
  #9
Maybe a real recording mic pre with serious power in the amp. In my head, it seems like you don't have the "sink in" process going on in the wave shells if you record into a real mic pre. I have had a few, the mackie 8 bus analog console and the yamaha 03d mic pres. they are really good.
Old 7th August 2020
  #10
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by SonnyFusicTonic View Post
Maybe a real recording mic pre
We don’t know what the OP has or doesn’t have. He didn’t respond to post #2 asking for a list. He might have an Audient interface, which has very good preamps. Or he might have whatever interface preamps you think are the worst in the world. We don’t know.
I think I’ll give this another day to see if the OP responds. Otherwise this turns into a blindfolded shooting gallery.
Old 7th August 2020
  #11
Quote:
Is it worth it to get one piece of outboard?
Yes, no or maybe. Its only worth it, if it makes your music better.

You can get a $5000 piece of gear, but that wont make an average mix sound good. A good mix starts int the arranging and recording of the song. So just get what you need. if you do not know what you need, do not buy anything until you do know.
Old 7th August 2020
  #12
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by CJ Mastering View Post
if you do not know what you need, do not buy anything.
Thank you and good night!
Old 8th August 2020
  #13
Gear Head
 

what I have

I literally only have:

SM58, AT2020, MXL V67
NS5s (will probably upgrade to iLoud MTM before the end of the year)
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

And all the plugins in the world lmao


I feel like if I just treat my room and make a better space for vocals I'll be fine, but thinking ahead a few years is it worth it to invest in nicer preamps and whatnot?
Old 8th August 2020
  #14
Quote:
I feel like if I just treat my room and make a better space for vocals I'll be fine, but thinking ahead a few years is it worth it to invest in nicer preamps and whatnot?
I agree with the room. tuning/treating it would be a great benefit for you. But getting better pre-amps will not help the sound with the mic's you have. That said, with what you have, you can produce professional sound vocals. Many top hit songs have been recorded with an SM58. Its more about talent and less about gear!
Old 8th August 2020
  #15
Lives for gear
 
nosebleedaudio's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by porgporgporg View Post

I feel like if I just treat my room and make a better space for vocals I'll be fine, but thinking ahead a few years is it worth it to invest in nicer preamps and whatnot?
For vocals you could start with treating one corner, Left/Right walls 3 to 4 feet high, the V67 will pick up MORE of the room than the 58 will, behind the mic is very important, close behind the mic if you follow me.
3" Min. foam will help.
The above is 100% dependent on what your recording in the room, the size of the room ect..
A very well known engineer told me he never records vocals close to glass ect, on the BACK of the mic..
Old 8th August 2020
  #16
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by porgporgporg View Post
I literally only have:

SM58, AT2020, MXL V67
NS5s (will probably upgrade to iLoud MTM before the end of the year)
Focusrite Scarlett 2i2

And all the plugins in the world lmao


I feel like if I just treat my room and make a better space for vocals I'll be fine, but thinking ahead a few years is it worth it to invest in nicer preamps and whatnot?
Having at least one analog in signal chain for vocals is always a benefit. You can’t add dynamic range to a vocal ITB and the built in pres in the Scarlett aren’t helping with that. If a vocal or instrument is pinched when it goes in, nothing ITB can open it up.

Treating your space and vocal isolation is never a bad idea. Even one of those foam mic shields would be better than nothing and you’ll hear a difference immediately.....might be an ‘ah ha’ moment for you........that room slap that gets baked in?.......again, Nothing ITB can get rid of it

I would submit your NS5’s are just fine. Add a sub and calibrate the system as a whole properly. 5” drivers aren’t woofers and hence don’t do bass clarity well at all. The NS5 does have a nice window into the mids though. Clean up the low end and that’s half the battle. Spend some time with this........take some existing tracks and just listen to the drum buss and bass together. Find the slots where the sounds live and preserve them.....Don’t solo anything while you EQ.


Sidechain the drums and crush the drums with compression to bring out the transient attacks with a bit of distortion on the top.....blend that back in to the drum buss......this will make your midi and sample drums sound more natural.

Join an on line mixing community.....submit your mixes for peer review. Often you’ll get honest feedback and tips for improving them.....proper sidechain compression can make a world of difference towards getting that ‘real’ or ‘radio’ sound........the cohesiveness that makes a track sound professional. You could certainly learn this on your own after ‘hundreds’ of hours as some above have suggested......but with such tremendous resources available in this age of communication, that sounds more like sufferage than smarts to me.

Best of luck and I hope I contributed something positive to your experience!
Old 9th August 2020
  #17
No single piece of gear is going to make any significant difference. If you're looking for a moment of revelation from a gear, you'll be disappointed that you dropped a bunch of cash, and your mixes still basically sounds the same, because it's still your ears and hands doing the work.

Where a single piece of gear can make a difference is a high quality stereo tracking compressor/limiter that can also be used as a bus comp when mixing/mastering. Something like an HA-609A on the low end, to Tube Tech, Cranesong or Manley on the higher end. If used properly all through a project from tracking to mix to master, this can make a difference you will hear in the final product.
Old 9th August 2020
  #18
Lives for gear
 

I did, but only to the extent I wanted. I got an Acidbox3 primarily for some analog saturation for soft synths (I only have 2 hardware and about 10 software synths, plus drum apps and a zillion samples). That said, it turned out to be fun with the filter and syncable LFO.

If I’d had more money and more space, I’d have gone Sherman filterbank.
Old 9th August 2020
  #19
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by kennybro View Post
No single piece of gear is going to make any significant difference.

Where a single piece of gear can make a difference is a high quality stereo tracking compressor/limiter
You seem to be on both sides of this. I usually understand your posts.
Old 9th August 2020
  #20
Lives for gear
 
edva's Avatar
Better is always better. I say, buy the best piece of gear you can afford, that is of immediate use to you.
This is GS, after all.
Old 18th August 2020
  #21
Gear Nut
Spend a few hundred treating your room before you buy any other mics or preamps. Quality open back headphones and/or good monitors would be your next most useful investment in terms of making good sounding mixes. iLouds don't sound like a great investment. What about some Sennheiser HD-600's?
Old 18th August 2020
  #22
Lives for gear
All true with what quartz is saying about getting the basics right - but if the hardware itch is there - it's hard to look past "Rome's" recommendation - LTLO Silver Bullet - it's the mutt's nutz. The vintage filter rolling everything off gives an additive analogue softness to the mix, the Bax EQ in the bullet is a thing of beauty.
Old 23rd August 2020
  #23
Gear Head
 

Thank you all for the feedback. When I move into an apartment (I’m young and in a pandemic so I’m living with my parents rn) I’ll definitely do my best to properly treat the room.

Will look into Silver Bullet one day but I understand getting a great sounding room is most important.

That said, if you can think of a reasonably priced upgrade from the HS5/the Scarlett that isn’t a lateral move that would be appreciated 😊
Old 23rd August 2020
  #24
Quote:
Originally Posted by porgporgporg View Post
Thank you all for the feedback. When I move into an apartment (I’m young and in a pandemic so I’m living with my parents rn) I’ll definitely do my best to properly treat the room.

Will look into Silver Bullet one day but I understand getting a great sounding room is most important.

That said, if you can think of a reasonably priced upgrade from the HS5/the Scarlett that isn’t a lateral move that would be appreciated 😊
Apollo Twin X duo, Presonus Scepter .. would be a nice upgrade for you
Old 23rd August 2020
  #25
Gear Nut
Quote:
Originally Posted by porgporgporg View Post
That said, if you can think of a reasonably priced upgrade from the HS5/the Scarlett that isn’t a lateral move that would be appreciated 😊
I don't understand what excites people about the silver bullet. In 2-4 years, get a mojave 201fet or sm-7b or at-4047. In about 8 years, get a CAPI preamp (vp-26 will do). You'll need a 500 series chassis/rack for it. You can get a single slot one from Chameleon Labs if you want. You can still use your scarlett for AD/DA.

For now, get acoustic panels and get into airwindows plugins (dark, desk4, totape6, density, hardvacuum, et al).
Old 25th August 2020
  #26
JAT
Lives for gear
While it is hard to quantify hardware, there is no doubt that a little room treatment can take a lot of bass buildup you don’t even know you have. The idea is to get rid of the offensive sounds rather than a tuned room.. once I put up even hand made absorbers I could hear the difference. Try it.

Your next purchase should be one good recording channel. A transformer pre or comp can make a difference. A stereo comp is sweet for recording and bussing. $500 is usually where you start getting units that lets you add a hair of saturation to a track or song. As stated by others, once you learn how to use saturation and even distortion, going in, you can lay off the virtual saturation.
Old 25th August 2020
  #27
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dirk Churlish View Post
I don't understand what excites people about the silver bullet.
Versatility – it’s basically a tone box with a couple of decent mic-pres thrown in to the deal. The ability to stack and drive the API-like or Neve-like pre-amps in any order or alone. The lovely BAX EQ. The useful routing options with hardware bypass – what’s not to like for the price?
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