>’In the box’ and ‘out the box’ mixing – analog summing with cheap analog gear (eg Behringer, Mackie etc)

> So I recently posted a video on Youtube about whether it was worth doing analog summing – even when the only analog gear you have is ‘low end’ – ‘low end’ in my case being a Behringer MX3282A Eurodesk analog 32 channel mixer. (Might I add it was kind of cool to find Behringer themselves had checked out my video less then 24 hours after putting it up, and they left a very encouraging comment. So thanks Behringer!)

The Behringer MX3282A in my studio

 See every Joe Bloggs out there with an Mbox and Pro Tools is going on about analog hardware and tubes these days, and how they’re like, you know, ‘warmer’ and stuff. Everybody wants a piece of the analog cake. Mainly probably because they’ve read it’s better, probably understand the principles of it, but don’t realise that most of the great analog recordings weren’t great because they done with analog gear, but because they were done with expensive, high end analog gear.

Still, with my Eurodesk sitting there going largely unused (it’s pretty much used for live stuff, and then headphone mixes and a master volume control in the studio), I was curious to see if doing some analog summing would prove beneficial, despite it not being a Neve or SSL desk. This will sound cliche, but I am becoming increasingly aware that most of my favourite recordings were either entirely analog, or involved tape or a great analog desk somewhere along the line. When you’re staying totally digital things can sound very sterile (although I have heard fantastic ‘in the box’ mixes before), so even though I wasn’t expecting some kind of magic ‘glue’ to bring my mixes together and sounding awesome, the hopeful part of me thought maybe the Eurodesk could degrade the signal a little, in a pleasing way. I am really a fan of the idea of hybrid recording setups, where you go in/out of tracking part analog – one day hopefully I’ll get a cool tape machine and everyone will think I’m super awesome, but alas, for now that is but a pipe dream *sigh*!

Before I carry on, let me briefly explain what analog summing is – it’s basically passing your tracks through analog hardware at the ‘bounce down’ stage. So instead of rendering your song within your DAW, you’d send your tracks out to your desk or other hardware, and then pass it back into your DAW, to get the sound of the analog circuitry. Bear in mind good converters are very important, as you’re essentially passing things from Analog (when you first recorded the tracks) to Digital (first time into your computer), then to Analog (out to your hardware) then back to Digital (back into your computer.) Cheap converters won’t manage this task too well.

So, I decided to take a work in progress track wot I had been working on, send it out to individual channels on my Eurodesk, send those individual channels to a stereo subgroup on the desk, and then send that subgroup back into my DAW. I used Pro Tools 9 with an Echo Layla 3G audio interface. As a brief low down on how to do this, this is how I set it up:

1. Create several stereo buses in Pro Tools (eg a drums bus, a guitar bus, bass etc)
2. Send the outs of the buses to each stereo output on my interface (eg out 1+2 for drums, out 2+3 for guitars etc)
3. Route each stereo output to different channels on my mixer, then send those channels to the subgroups on my mixer
4. Send the subgroup outs back into Pro Tools, through the inputs on my interface (eg drum on subgroup 1+2 through inputs 1+2 etc)

Here are the results of this experiment: (click links to play in your browser)

In the box mix

Out the box mix 

Please note that this is a rough version of this song, with no vocal, and is only partially mixed, with just a little EQ and compression, and no reverbs etc.

In my Youtube video blog I asked you what you thought of the two samples, and which was better etc – but here I’d like to share some of my thoughts:

In all honesty? The results to me are kind of inconclusive – although in a way pretty much what I expected. Now this could be an absolute placebo, but to me it’s definitely done something summing the tracks through my Eurodesk. What I’m hearing is that the summed mix is ever so slightly smoother, and it’s like there’s some subtle excitement going on, as it feels more lively (you can hear this particularly in the cymbals and snare.) The in the box mix sounds a bit flatter. I’m talking a really tiny difference though – I think to the point where for a lot of people it would be negligible, but I would err on the side of it still being worth doing.

Look at it this way, if you have a similar setup to mine, I don’t think it’s going to harm your mixes to attempt analog summing, it’s certainly not going to make them worse, so if you feel it’s making even the most subtle of enhancements, then it’s worth a shot. Of course there’s always the issue of knowing when to trust your ears, but that’s another story…. 😉

Thoughts/comments? Please share!

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About Marc Reeves

Folk-pop singer songwriter from Nottingham, UK. 'Sweet, soulful & sentimental songs - Reeves has a superb vocal quality and the lyrics to match' – Evening Post 'His lyrics, music and voice ooze a rare musical maturity that defies his age' – LeftLion magazine 'Listening to the tracks on the album it is staggering when you realise that the voice behind these lyrics is only just on the cusp of turning twenty years old' – Nottingham LIVE magazine
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