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Split Mixing: Avoiding digital gain stages Equalizer Plugins
Old 5th November 2002
Here for the gear
Tim Glasgow's Avatar

Lightbulb Split Mixing: Avoiding digital gain stages

OK, i'll bite.

After reading the excellent thread about delay compensation (credit to C.Lambrechts) i thought i'd go out on a limb with another some-might-and-some-won't idea. Many of you will already be familiar with the concepts here, and i don't mean to be condescending or to beat a dead horse, but i'll spell it all out as best i can for those who haven't run across this before.

A common complaint with Pro Tools is the "sound" of the mix bus. i've mixed on many different things, and i gotta admit - even though the vast majority of my mixes are done in PT, PT ain't my favourite. i've stumbled into some excellent mixes on PT, but i don't credit them to me - i think i got lucky. When i do a good mix on an analog console, i feel like i really can take responsibility :-).

One theory about digital mixing is that the actual summing of the tracks has no "sound". You're just adding the values of each sample together and that's the output. Not much math there. The "sound" comes from stage after stage of multiplication and division you induce by going through multiple gain stages of faders and panners.

The assumption is that you can eliminate the "sound" of the Pro Tools mixer by forcing it to do only straight addition, and by using other plug-in gain controls to fade and pan. This means panning or bussing every track hard left or right, and setting up a pair of auxes panned hard left and right that are both fed from the same mono bus for tracks that are panned centre. Easier done than said :-) but now you are stuck with three pan positions (L, C, R) so any in-between tracks have to be duplicated or bussed so the mixer has a separate input for the left and the right.

When you're done, all faders in Pro Tools are at unity, and all pans are panned either hard left or right, or gone altogether 'cuz you're going straight to a bus. Takes forever to set up, makes panning a colossal pain 'cuz you don't have any panners, and eats tons of DSP, but sometimes - with certain types of material - i'll do it on a little mix of 8 tracks or less and i think it makes a difference. A while ago a bunch of mastering guys had it out over which digital gain controls sounded best, and the control in a Daniel Weiss outboard box was considered by far the best, with the Waves Ren EQ significantly down in second place, Sonic Solutions and a bunch of other software... then the Pro Tools mixer faders way down at the bottom of the list. i'll use the Waves Ren EQ 2 gain control (with both bands bypassed unless i need the EQ) and automate it for mixing, so the only math anywhere in the mixer is in those Waves faders. Everything just sounds a tiny bit 'clearer' to me. Maybe i'm nuts.

This is so anal-ridiculous, though. Where this seems to make way more sense is if i have a track that i want to emphasize the detail in, like a lead vocal or a snare drum that's panned centre anyway, i'll "pull it out of the mixer" by zeroing the fader and assigning it to say, Bus 1. Then i'll make two mono auxes assigned to Master Left and Master Right - both fed from Bus 1 and zero those faders (and hide them - you don't need to see them). Then use the Ren Comp or Ren EQ output fader (since i'll undoubtedly be using one of them on the track anyway) to control the level. i've now reduced the number of "digital gain stages" from three or four down to one really good one.

Try it in a dense mix and see if that track seems to move forward and "sparkle" a little more. Let me know if i'm totally on crack.

[london, canada and echo cañon, nyc]

p.s. acknowledgements to Monte and the daw-mac crew for some of the ideas above and to Jules for ruling and pointing us to this forum!
Old 5th November 2002
Gear Maniac

Wow. Your system for mixing sounds way to complicated to me. If I didn't trust the Pro Tools mixer enough to use it for volume and pan control, then I just wouldn't use it. In another thread, Charles suggests that the most important element in mixing is to have a concept for the song. I couldn't agree more. Any difference in the summing math will pale in comparison to impact of a well balanced and thought out mix.

I have the dithered mixer for Pro Tools, and I think it sounds a bit better than the old one, but if that were the reason why someone liked a mix, I think I'd hurl.

Old 5th November 2002

The old 'use a fader of a quality plug in's gain control ploy' (with an added buss spin)

The person that can really answer this will have a DEEP and UP TO DATE understanding of the developments of the Pro Tools mixer. (for it has at various times been tweaked) One thing that enshrouds the issue in darkness is perhaps an 'it was created perfect' vibe from it's maker Digidesign. From their lack of comment on the mixers sound, one assumes that they feel any announcement of improvement would point to there in fact being a 'problem' in the first place and so the cycle of double think, cultured in darkness goes round and round.

Well, however it was created, it HAS been tweaked in the Mix platform AND HD and that can only be good news.

I DO believe that using the 'dithered mixer' might make the practice my good friend Mr. Glasgow follows redundant but then I don't have the deep understanding of the PT mixer and it's various stages of evolvement necessary to comment conclusively.

How is that for a long 'I don't know" ?

Old 6th November 2002
Lives for gear
groundcontrol's Avatar

I think you might well be right that it gets you an extra 10% of clarity and definition but I'm not willing to endanger the more important 90% of my mix because I have to devote so much time and braincells to this issue and agonizing way of mixing. If I somehow came to be convinced this was the only way left for me to improve my mixes, you can be assured I would start to mix exclusively on a mixing board and out of PT. I have so much stuff left yet to better in my mixes I'm covered for at least one or two lifetimes!

I'm not dismissing your point though, but for me it's not worth the stress to fret over.
Old 6th November 2002
Here for the gear
Tim Glasgow's Avatar

Well you learn something new every day! My "split a channel to two auxes" idea has been made way simpler by the fact that you can hold down the control key and assign a mono channel to two mono busses without the panner. i can't believe i didn't know this before! i'm an idiot!

Here's the revised "pull it out of the mixer technique": take your mono channel and bus it to Master out left. Then hold control and bus it again to Master out right. The output bus button on the channel will say " + Master L". Now zero the fader and control the level with a plug-in. That's it!

i haven't officially tested its bit transparency yet, but i assume it will work just as well, with one sample less latency.

[london, canada and echo cañon, nyc]
Old 8th November 2002
Lives for gear
groundcontrol's Avatar

Tim, re.: assigning directly to discrete out busses, I've been doing this from time to time. It's analogous to not engaging the pan on an analog mixer. BTW, isn't "Echo Canyon" Sonic Youth's studio? They used to have a nice little Neve board for sale if memory serves me well...
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