dj superflat wrote:what do you all think about the whole summing outside the box thing? could it really be worthwhile?
I think it's simple really. External summing sounds "different", but I wouldn't say it sounds "better" or "worse" than keeping it all in the box. One of those pick your flavor things IMO.
I think this is funny, someone passed this on to me regarding this very issue. I believe it was written by Roger Nichols:
"I heard the mixing buss in Pro Tools is no good. Everyone says I should mix through an external analogue summing buss."
Someone asked Al Schmitt how he mixed a record. Al answered "I just turn the knobs until it sounds good." You can't argue with that.
The first thing I had to learn about audio engineering was signal flow. You have to know how to get the audio signal from the microphone to the recorder and back to the speakers so you can hear what you are doing. The second item is gain structure. At any point in the signal path you have to keep the signal higher than the noise floor but lower than the point of clipping and distortion. Everything else is going to be easy. Just twist the knobs.
Every console is designed to add signals together before they come out as finished mix. It is called a mix because the individual tracks are mixed together. I rather fancy the English term 'two-track reduction': it is being reduced from 24 tracks to two tracks.
Physical consoles usually have a stereo mix buss 'summing amp' for each group of eight modules. These summing amps then feed another summing amp connected to the master output module. During the mixing process the master fader is turned all the way up. As individual tracks are turned up their audio is heard through the master fader and the level is registered on the main output meters. As more and more audio channels are introduced to the mix, the overall master level starts getting high, so the master fader is turned down a little to compensate. This work flow proceeds in a loop until the mix is getting pretty far along.
At some point the engineer looks at the gain structure of the mix he has going on the console. He has learned that by running the individual faders high and pulling down the master fader he runs the risk of overdriving the summing amps with too much level and adding distortion to the final mix. The engineer will trim down all of the track faders by 6dB or some similar amount so that the master fader can be brought back up to zero.
This method has worked for decades to keep the audio quality as high as possible while remaining within the limits of the console's design, but for some reason engineers ignore this procedure when mixing inside a DAW (digital audio workstation). When asked why they don't perform this requisite task the answer is always "It's digital, you don't have to do that." All of the 78 track faders are up near zero and the master fader by now is down to -40dB. Soon the engineer starts to complain about how gritty and distorted digital sounds.
How do they fix it? They connect the DAW to a console. At the console they either trim down the inputs or pull down the track faders to prevent the summing amps from clipping, and they make sure that the master fader is all the way up. "Hear how much better the mix sounds through a console?"
Sound familiar? I know all of you have run across this situation from one end or the other. The smart guys who saw this wanton disregard for gain structure quickly designed 'outboard analogue summing boxes', charged a lot of money (because it can't be good if it doesn't cost enough), and made a fortune. Good for them. Too bad I didn't think of it.
Because Pro Tools was the most visible professional DAW, Digidesign took the brunt of the criticism. "Man, I can't mix inside Pro Tools, their internal mixer sucks." Although there were tons of good-sounding records made and mixed in Pro Tools by engineers who knew how to turn down a fader, the majority of the forums on the Web hosted tons of complaints. "It shouldn't do that, it's digital."
Digidesign have updated their internal mixer to 48-bit. This means that you can mix 128 faders at +12dB with the master fader down to -90dB without overdriving the internal mixing buss. There will not be much room for a final fade, but at least Pro Tools is now being idiot-proofed. Me, I prefer to watch what I am doing and trim all of my faders down so that my master fader stays at zero. It has worked for me since the '60s and continues to work for me in whatever digital DAW I mix in.
PS: Just so you know, I do tell my clients that "I only mix on dual 64-bit processors with a 48-bit mixer fed by 16 gigabytes of memory and an on-line RAID5 disk array of 8 terabytes and a 15 gigabit-per-second fibre-optic Internet connection. You do hear the difference, don't you?"