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Outboard analog mixing vs. In the box software mixing, and recommendations?
Old 20th September 2005
  #1
Here for the gear
 

Outboard analog mixing vs. In the box software mixing, and recommendations?

The more I look around this forum, the more I notice that people are still using outboard mixers with their DAW set-ups. I was not really sure what advantage this would give anyone, until I read something about how the analog summing/panning,etc. in outboard mixers is generally superior to the digital summing/panning etc. that goes on in the box with software mixing.

So I start wondering, just how much better is it when you go to an outboard mixer? (anything under $2K or in that neighborhood)


Let me give a specific situation. Currently I record and mix completely within Sonar 3.0 Producer. I am planning on upgrading to Sonar 5 when it is released as the new 64 bit audio engine is advertised to have better summing than the previous versions.

I currently have an audio interface with 8 analog outs, but could add more if mixing outboard would be worth it.

So I am hoping for some help on this subject. Is mixing ITB a really weak link in my production chain? How much of a real world difference is there between software mixing or outboard analog mixing?

And I would also like some recommendations on good model mixers to research in the afore mentioned $2K neighborhood.

Thanks to all in advance.


-Sean
Old 20th September 2005
  #2
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natpub's Avatar
We mix OTB, but largely for workflow reasons that are our personal preference. There is some change in the sound that we like, but it is not what I would call a deal breaker. If you have other items in your chain that are not up to snuff, I would consider them first. I would not consider any mixer in the Sub-$2k range you mention, but there are some nice summing boxes that may meet your needs that are in that price ballpark.
Old 20th September 2005
  #3
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gwailoh's Avatar
 

Please see this thread here on GS, and this one on PSW before making up your mind about ITB/OTB summing. The PSW thread is challenging -- lots of deep technical discussion. But it was a revelation to me which has drastically changed my approach to mixing.

Hope this helps!
Old 20th September 2005
  #4
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Thanks! I will research that thread.
Old 30th July 2006
  #5
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Lets clear up a few facts

Digital proccessing has come a long way. The summing crap is just a myth. Countless A/B test have been done with the same results "On average you cant tell a differance". The fact is the human ear of the people buying the cds cant tell the differeance. Thats what pays the bills

Like the gentelmen above stated. Its not a deal breaker. Use what ever gear or proccess gives you the warm and fuzzies. A smooth warm mix to you will always be muddy to another.

I personally swing both ways on this topic. Lately the majority of projects iv done have been in the digital domain mixed solely in the box.
Old 30th July 2006
  #6
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GYang's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Punkinpoop
Digital proccessing has come a long way. The summing crap is just a myth. Countless A/B test have been done with the same results "On average you cant tell a differance". The fact is the human ear of the people buying the cds cant tell the differeance. Thats what pays the bills

Like the gentelmen above stated. Its not a deal breaker. Use what ever gear or proccess gives you the warm and fuzzies. A smooth warm mix to you will always be muddy to another.
Yes with low budget (not to mention bedroom) productions.

Apparently you didn't have opportunity, time, patience or whatever to listen how hybride rigs sound and what analogue in reality means to music.
I don't advocate analogue, I'm 100% digital in my roots, as I started from listening CD-s, my first 5 years in production were all digital.
Today I have the most available up to date digital rig with infinite numbers of plug-ins, latest software, latest converters, latest digital outboard. And so what ?
With high quality outboard processing + summing there is no chance that any artist, producer, hooker or whoever in studio can confuse what sounds simply nicer, livelier and more as 'real thing'.
Old 30th July 2006
  #7
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GYang's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sean Oneil
The more I look around this forum, the more I notice that people are still using outboard mixers with their DAW set-ups. I was not really sure what advantage this would give anyone, until I read something about how the analog summing/panning,etc. in outboard mixers is generally superior to the digital summing/panning etc. that goes on in the box with software mixing.

So I start wondering, just how much better is it when you go to an outboard mixer? (anything under $2K or in that neighborhood)


Let me give a specific situation. Currently I record and mix completely within Sonar 3.0 Producer. I am planning on upgrading to Sonar 5 when it is released as the new 64 bit audio engine is advertised to have better summing than the previous versions.

I currently have an audio interface with 8 analog outs, but could add more if mixing outboard would be worth it.

So I am hoping for some help on this subject. Is mixing ITB a really weak link in my production chain? How much of a real world difference is there between software mixing or outboard analog mixing?

And I would also like some recommendations on good model mixers to research in the afore mentioned $2K neighborhood.

Thanks to all in advance.


-Sean
If you can't foresee availability of at least 25-30k in predictable future don't enter this adventure. You can be easily disappointed.
I reached stage when ITB vs OTB is no question and difference (not only due to summing) is huge, wholly different paradigm and approach in work.

Why?

First, you would need high quality outboard compressors (and not one) for submixes.
Second, you would like to add at least couple of high end EQs.
Third, depending on rig some effects (as Lexicon reverbs), line level amps, good cables (not esoteric), converters etc. would become necessary.

Without above, just one summing box means a little, I understood this, many others wrote about that.
Stay ITB and enjoy that sound and if you inherit some good $$$ spend on high end analogue.
Old 30th July 2006
  #8
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I'll be really honest with you.

I know this irritates people when I say it but here goes:

I have been mixing music professionally for a shade over thirty years. I have used and probebly owned every formay available in analog. I have used digital DAWs since 1989 and I have also worked in almost every hybrid situation concievable.

I also have been archieving my meterial and making compilations lately which has meant that I am listening to my mixes from all of these periods of time. I am having an excellent opertunity to listen to the difference in the sound from approximately ten set ups I have had. Some where full blown Neve rooms and some are my current MOTU DP5, MOTU 2408 mkII through a Midas Venice 320 rig.

Although I have yet to mix on a ProTools HD rig (I have only mastered stuff using it as the storage medium) I will leave the possibilty that their mixing stage is "good enough." I can't comment on it.

In my use the comparison betwen ITB and OTB is not even debateable.

A few examples of mix rigs going back in time:

Sphere > MOTU 2408 MkII > Midas 320 > Studer A810 or Fostex CD ACCEPTABLE
Sphere > MOTU 2408 MkII > Mixing in DP4 > Fostex CD Burner BAD, BAD, BAD!!!!
ADAT > Yamaha 01v > Fostex CD burner SURPRISINGLY GOOD!
Sphere > Yamaha 01v > Korg 1212 I/O > Studio Vision Pro THIN w LACK OF DEPTH
Sphere > DigiDesign Session 8 > Studio Vision Pro > Sphere NOT BAD!
Neve 8128 > SONY 3324 > DAT PINCHED SOUNDING but NOT BAD
Demeter/ API > MCI JH24 > Soundtracs cm4400 > ATR102 VERY GOOD
Soundtracs cm4400 > MCI JH24 > Soundtracs cm4400 > ATR102 GOOD
Sphere > MCI JH24 > Sphere > MCI JH-110 CLASSIC SOUND AND GOOD
UA 16x3 w/1008 Tube Electronics > Ampex AG440 8-trk > Ampex AG440 CLASSIC!

Three very telling experiences:

I produced/engineered/mixed a CD for a friend that I mixed twice ITB and it sucked BAD both times! I put A LOT of work into them. Individually the sounds are great, but when they all are going on at once something isn't going right in the DP4 mixer. When I mixed out of the MOTU2408 MkIIs into the Midas 320 using good outboard (dBx 165, 1176s, Ultrra Harmonizer, Lex 200, Lex 224xl, etc...) It was stunningly good. The mastered version KILLS!

My friend who also has years of experience engineering and producing just gave me a CD of his band. It is Crowded House meets The Beatles at Gentle Giant's house. It is gorgeous production with masterfull performances. Unfortunetly, it was mixed ITB using Logic Pro. I knew how it would "sound" before I even put it in the CD player. Great sounds by themselves, but squashed and strained when everything was playing.

Another friend is the cheif engineer at a room with an 80 input SSl and more than enough toys. He works on very high profile music sessions and is a Grammy nominated enginerr. He can genereally rent whatever he wants in addition to this stuff, too.
Does he mix ITB on his ProTools rig? No! I'd be easier maybe. He mixes back through the SSL and often goes to the Studer 827 2" at some point. They also have a beautiful full blown ProTools based room, but I've never heard product from there.

You don't need to spend $25k to $30k to set up an analog based mix rig either because my Midas and outboard probebly don't equal more tha a $10k including my computer! Then again, I have accumulated alot of stuff over the years.

There is my experience and advice.
Use it if you want.

If anyone can get a good ITB mix going then great!
No-one I know does it when they have had a choice.

Trying to go ITB was the biggest step backwards I took in my thirty years!
I fought HARD to make it work and denied the fcat that it wasn't sounding good for a few years.
EVERYONE I know with ears was pointing out that my mixes had gone down hill.
I had to be beat over the head!
Had I still been depending on the studio for an income I would have been hurt.

The tought and temptation to believe in an relatively economical, all inclusive computer recording rig is strong. It'd be nice if it worked (maybe it will eventually.) It has also let A LOT of people enter into recording and production. This is good, but it has also let a lot of opinions be expressed by people who have not really experienced enough situations to make a fair judgement. I can't see anyone who has dome a lot of work both ITB and OTB saying that ITB is better sounding.

Have fun!

Danny Brown
Old 30th July 2006
  #9
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GYang's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by dbbubba
I can't see anyone who has dome a lot of work both ITB and OTB saying that ITB is better sounding.
True
Except some (well) paid endorsers.
Old 30th July 2006
  #10
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Watersound's Avatar
 

It is especially noticeable how superior OTB is when you have high track counts, but this debate will never end...it all comes down to doing the research yourself and coming to your own conclusions. For me, it is not even a question that my mixes are superior when mixing OTB, even when using a pretty cheap analog mixer.
Old 30th July 2006
  #11
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doorknocker's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by GYang
True
Except some (well) paid endorsers.
George Massenburg maybe?
Old 30th July 2006
  #12
Gear Maniac
 

I have gone out of the box in the last year & much prefer the results/process.

I didnt go for a summing box though, rather a desktop console (the Amek BC2). These things used to cost over £10k (now <£2k), have excellent preamps & overall quality. It just sounds really nice, especially with real synths & real outboard. I like the EQs too (although not everyone does) & I also dial in both Sony GML Eq (about the only plug in we still use) and some outboard eq's for key parts/difficult fixes.

A well maintained second hand board (for engineering, components & overall quality) has to be a good buy at the moment.

To work with it is better in a way that's quite hard to define (hands on-ness?).

It does make for rather a heap of kit, with all the outboard, compared with an all software studio. And I am sure you can get great results with both. And it depends what 'tone' you like. But I for one am really happy with the switch.
Old 30th July 2006
  #13
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mixerguy's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by dbbubba
... (snip)..... I can't see anyone who has done a lot of work both ITB and OTB saying that ITB is better sounding.

Have fun!

Danny Brown
Heya Danny

Great post!

(I won't quote it all, but it was all good)

thumbsup
Old 30th July 2006
  #14
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lemix's Avatar
Sean ,
Big..big can of worms my dear friend, but you have excellent replies so far thumbsup
There are too many things to consider in order to arrive at the final (yet not conclusive) answer
Let me start by saying that I'm an old school analog routed engineer. But..I use PT HD Accel @ work and an LE rig (002R) in my home editing room.
There is the $$$ investment issue combined with your preferred work habits as the first consideration.
If you are able to mix with a mouse ( or some crippled control surface), invested in the greatest/latest plug-ins and your clients are happy with the results..stop right there.
Going out through budget DA converters in limited channel count into a "summing box" might give you the impression of better defined, "warmer" sounding audio..you will be the judge on that, I'm not going there.
The definition of true "OTB" mixing does involve capable hardware to bring up each and every DAW track on your mixing console, patch outboard devices around them, and be able to automate your moves.
Not in the "$2,000" range..please trust me.
The sonics can widely vary..depending on the experience/talent of the mixer and equipment on hand.
It will have a way more flexible sonic palette available though. And..there is still all this audio coming from the DAW, where plug-ins, submixing and additional automation could be used !!!

My typical way of mixing would be a true "hybrid" method.

best of luck,
Old 30th July 2006
  #15
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uncle duncan's Avatar
 

ignorance is bliss

I mix into a Yamaha 01V96 digital mixer, using ADAT lightpipe from a Motu 2408. I think it's a step above ITB mixing, but not as cool as analog. One advantage of tracking with a mixer is the ability to set up 4 independant headphone mixes for the players, assuming you have a headphone amp with seperate inputs. The mixer has EQ, phase, delay, gate and comp on every channel, plus the same for all 8 busses, and the memory is downloadable via midi so you can recall old projects. And it's got faders!
Old 2nd October 2010
  #16
Gear Nut
 
The Private Room's Avatar
 

Analog Mixing is a pain in the ass in comparison to mixing ITB BUT it just sounds better! With analog summing you have much more space and width
Old 2nd October 2010
  #17
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Darm's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sean Oneil View Post
The more I look around this forum, the more I notice that people are still using outboard mixers with their DAW set-ups. I was not really sure what advantage this would give anyone, until I read something about how the analog summing/panning,etc. in outboard mixers is generally superior to the digital summing/panning etc. that goes on in the box with software mixing.

So I start wondering, just how much better is it when you go to an outboard mixer? (anything under $2K or in that neighborhood)


Let me give a specific situation. Currently I record and mix completely within Sonar 3.0 Producer. I am planning on upgrading to Sonar 5 when it is released as the new 64 bit audio engine is advertised to have better summing than the previous versions.

I currently have an audio interface with 8 analog outs, but could add more if mixing outboard would be worth it.

So I am hoping for some help on this subject. Is mixing ITB a really weak link in my production chain? How much of a real world difference is there between software mixing or outboard analog mixing?

And I would also like some recommendations on good model mixers to research in the afore mentioned $2K neighborhood.

Thanks to all in advance.


-Sean
Have you ever mixed a live show?
If the answer is yes- then mixing with an analog board will give better results right off, if not- it might take a little time)
I'd say that if you can get something like a midas venice or at least a mackie 32-8/Soundcraft Ghost- then go for it!
You will get more preamps and some monitoring options that you will use anyway- and once you will try to mix with your computer screen off- you will love it!
It's so much easier for me to find the right balance and eq stuff when I don't see the screen
Old 2nd October 2010
  #18
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by GYang View Post
If you can't foresee availability of at least 25-30k in predictable future don't enter this adventure. You can be easily disappointed.
I reached stage when ITB vs OTB is no question and difference (not only due to summing) is huge, wholly different paradigm and approach in work.

Why?

First, you would need high quality outboard compressors (and not one) for submixes.
Second, you would like to add at least couple of high end EQs.
Third, depending on rig some effects (as Lexicon reverbs), line level amps, good cables (not esoteric), converters etc. would become necessary.

Without above, just one summing box means a little, I understood this, many others wrote about that.
Stay ITB and enjoy that sound and if you inherit some good $$$ spend on high end analogue.

I absolutely agree. I thinks it's worth it, but it's going to take a whole lot more than 2 to 3 k. That's just enough for (1) great 2 buss comp. Going OTB is a sum of all the parts as was stated, summing alone is not going to make that big of difference and a cheap console may just make it sound worst.

I love mixing OTB but it took a few years of accumulating gear and paying off loans to get there.
Old 4th November 2011
  #19
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Low fi

[QUOTE=Punkinpoop;820203]Digital proccessing has come a long way. The summing crap is just a myth. Countless A/B test have been done with the same results "On average you cant tell a differance". The fact is the human ear of the people buying the cds cant tell the differeance. Thats what pays the bills

If we relied on what the general public hears/perceives and believes then there would not be any good music.
On average most people cant tell the difference, just look at how rampant compressed mp3 files have been in the last 10 years. People growing up and getting accustomed to lossy mp3 files obviously cant have no reference for hi fidelity.
Old 9th September 2016
  #20
Gear Head
 

Hey now, it's 2016!

I'm just going to be a jerk and say digital processing has come a long way since this thread was started.

IMO, the biggest difference between these two methods of mixing/summing is coloration vs transparency. Running anything through various analog stages will add "color", "warmth", etc to the sound, whereas keeping everything ITB will basically leave things "uncolored". It's anyone's prerogative to choose one or the other, depending on the song, style, etc. Use yo ears, yo.

Anyway, I just finished refurbishing a 1/2" AG440B 4-track, so I'm psyched to finally have some analog color to play with in my otherwise lo-fi hybrid rig.

Thoughts on how things have progressed since 2005?
Old 9th September 2016
  #21
The best ITB mixing tools have come from AlexB Nebula. The analog coloration when used correctly is on par with the desks emulated. Still use hardware preamps on vocals and haven't found anything ITB that competes with real tubes and transformers.
Old 9th September 2016
  #22
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They still sound different but digital has made some ground on it's main weakness, 3D imaging. ITB guys are now getting how important gain staging is to imaging as well as compensating for digital's tendency to pull elements to front and center. Stereo placement plugs and reverb / delay plugs have improved for aiding in element placement too. ITB guys have learned that getting some types of color / saturation before signal hits the converters is also very important. Lastly more ITB guys have embraced hardware inserts for at least using some choice analog hardware to assist with the mix (going more Hybrid).

My personal opinion is that Analog and Digital mixing will never sound the same due to the nature of how each works and the fact that ALL things audio carries it's own set of pros and cons (we will likely still need to pick our own set of compromises well into the future).
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