Mixing down, when mostly in the box. How do you do it?

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stompforfuzz
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Mixing down, when mostly in the box. How do you do it?

Post by stompforfuzz » Tue Mar 18, 2008 12:59 am

I've always wondered if I could get better (tasty analog) sound quality by mixing down to a good quality tape rather than simply rendering into wavs. Thing is, I've always wanted to avoid the extra conversion.

I suppose I could simply try different methods, but I'm on a budget - I can't just go out and buy hardware and experiment.

Am I missing out by rendering into a stereo wav for a pre-mastered product?

How do you all do it? Do you send wavs (or other data format) out to be mastered, or do you dump to an analog source first? And, would you do it differently if you are mastering it yourself?

Any help would be appreciated, this is the one part of my process I'm not sure how to handle and I've been unable to find a discussion specifically about this. If there is one link it, then berate me - or berate me first.

My setup -

Various DI boxes/amp simulators/stomps (Pod, Big Muff, V-Amp etc)

ada8000 a/d converter, master clocking

vsl2020 interface card (lightpipe from ada8000)

Cubase sx, ableton live, Acid Pro

Thanks!
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Post by getreel » Tue Mar 18, 2008 6:27 am

Mixing down through a console to tape can sound very good, but that's only if you are using good tape stock and a well maintained and aligned tape machine. Most of us are better off mixing ITB unless we have access to a pro studio with good techs(or are a pro studio and a good tech). Personally, these days I'm mixing in the box or sending stems through a console and back to another DAW or available inputs on the DAW. Mixing ITB sounds a lot better than I would have thought actually. The newer software with 64 bit mixing sound very very good. Sonar, Tracktion, and Reaper all have 64 internal bit depth and all 3 sound fantastic to my old analog ears when mixing ITB.

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Post by stompforfuzz » Tue Mar 18, 2008 11:45 pm

Wow that's awesome info concerning those programs..

If I rendered to individual tracks with my "preferred" tracking software then used a program with the 64 bit internal bit depth for my mixing and processing it sounds like I can maximize my quality - and still stay all in the box which is what I was hoping to do.

I'd really like to experiment with outboard stuff however, to get away from stacking up on plug ins. But, until I can afford more gear - I'll do what I can with what I have. I find that playing with new tools can send me in fun directions with my music.

Thanks again!
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Post by getreel » Thu Mar 20, 2008 7:48 am

Well, Sonar has that external plugin compensation. I haven't tried that yet, but I think in the new version 7 it should work well enough for you to send to and from an outboard piece. Of course so many of the newer plugins sound fantastic, it may not matter that much. Make sure you've tried Blockfish comp and the free Kjaerhus plugins, especially the Kjaerhus classic compressor.

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Post by exalted wombat » Fri Mar 28, 2008 6:48 am

Why is "stacking up plugins" necessarily a bad thing? (How many do you need to stack up anyway? Didn't you record the tracks right in the first place?). There's a load of rubbish talked about the "tape sound", using external summing amplifiers etc. Put your effort into making better music. A 1% improvement in the material makes a far greater difference than all that stuff.

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Post by fossiltooth » Fri Mar 28, 2008 8:12 am

I'm starting to get bored of people complaining about digital mixing! It's soooo 2005. :wink: But I guess I can understand. It used to mystify me too. I mix ITB for my clients very often these days. Sure, I use an analog summing system most of the time, but I don't need to in order to make things sound real and (I hate this word) "warm".

Sure, I like mixing on consoles, but more for speed, workflow and inspiration reasons than for "sound quality". Digital does take a little more massaging to sound and feel "real", especially if you're dealing with blandly tracked, heavily close mic'd recordings. But, once you start to figure it out, it's no big issue at all.

If you aren't using any outboard, you just need to find decent sounding digital warmifiers. Sometimes you'll need two tools to do the job of outboard piece. For instance, if you want an earthy sounding compressor, a UAD La2a won't do it by itself. It won't impart any of the subtle saturation and tonal color or a real La2a. You have to listen to hear what's missing. That's the beauty of an La2a or an 1176 or a fairchild or even a dbx160. It's also just about the compression characteristics. It's about the stuff they accidentally do to the tone. Most plugins don't do it all well. I often use two compressors on the ITB mixbus (A trick blatantly stolen from Charles Dye) to get the results I'm used to on a console.

Sufjan Steven's "..Illinois" was all 16 bit digital. Give up the fight already. Use exclusively analog systems if you prefer them for whatever reasons. Certian projects scream out for Tape and a console, no doubt about it. I'm just tired of hearing people suggest that ITB really sucks or that it's an uphill battle to make ITB sound good. It's not. You just have to learn how to mix. It takes deliberate action to make ITB sound gelled, old school and familiar. But it also takes deliberate action to make many tape machines and consoles sound clear, open, and articulate. Same difference! I've heard plenty of terrible sounding mixes coming from all analog studios. It's not about the gear! Hooray TapeOp!

Sure, I prefer outboard EQs and compressors (and consoles) much of the time, but only because they get me where I want to be going more quickly. However, given decent monitoring, a good mix engineer can do more with a fairly basic plugins than a novice could with a vintage neve or SSL with Michael Brauer's racks in the room.

When I'm mixing ITB, I'm doing so in an environment where speed and effeciency is not a fiscal necessity... so I don't worty about speed! I'm certain that most people who mix ITB are in a similar boat. I pull out the mouse when it makes sense for the project. Mixing ITB has allowed me to accomodate the tiny budgets and neurotic minds of some really great self-recording musicians. The fact that I can mix around better paying sessions, and come back to mixes is a life saver. There's a lot of truly amazing independent projects that I would completely miss out on if it wasn't for my mouse and monitor. A lot of these people would be forced to mix themselves (not fun!) or hire total hacks if I was unable to accommodate them.

For all these reasons I begrudingly say: "I love the box!"
Last edited by fossiltooth on Sat May 31, 2008 11:38 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by chris harris » Fri Mar 28, 2008 8:22 am

fossiltooth wrote:I'm just tired of hearing people suggest that ITB really sucks or that it's an uphill battle to make ITB sound good. It's not.
I agree with your whole post... except the "uphill battle" part. I think that depends on where you come from. Coming from an analog mixing background, ITB mixing can certainly be an uphill battle. Just coming to grips with the difference in gain staging is hard to grasp. The gain staging ITB is pretty counter-intuitive if you ask me.

I mean, just the sheer amount of mythology and whacky tactics out there for mixing ITB is an indicator that it's an uphill battle for a lot of people.

There's pretty much a whole generation of recordists who think that they should track everything as close as possible to 0db, and then when they mix they "gain down" every track by 18db or so to make some headroom for the mix.

Mixing ITB is quite different from mixing OTB. And, being so different can surely lead to an uphill battle for people who are used to really pushing an analog mix.

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Post by exalted wombat » Fri Mar 28, 2008 8:47 am

>there's pretty much a whole generation of recordists who think that they should track everything as close as possible to 0db, and then when they mix they "gain down" every track by 18db or so to make some headroom for the mix.

That's tape talk, which some people misunderstand as applying to digital recording. They don't understand that the mixer section of today's DAWs has practically unlimited headroom.

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Post by thethingwiththestuff » Fri Mar 28, 2008 9:44 am

i just dont understand any of this. select on the timeline, hit "bounce to disk."

you probably want to hear the sound of a whole project tracked to tape, not a digital mix transferred to 1/4". the only reason i would do that is to avoid downsampling or dithering. ME's get full res WAVs from me.

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Post by chris harris » Fri Mar 28, 2008 9:51 am

exalted wombat wrote:>there's pretty much a whole generation of recordists who think that they should track everything as close as possible to 0db, and then when they mix they "gain down" every track by 18db or so to make some headroom for the mix.

That's tape talk, which some people misunderstand as applying to digital recording. They don't understand that the mixer section of today's DAWs has practically unlimited headroom.
the problem is that stereo bus that you're piping all of that stuff through has waaay less headroom than an analog board. The individual channels have plenty of headroom. But, the mix bus does not.

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Post by exalted wombat » Fri Mar 28, 2008 10:12 am

The mix bus has headroom. The output bus goes back to 24 bits. So you just pull its fader down. Try it in e.g. Cubase. You can have channels topping out wildly (though of course the original wav shouldn't have been recorded into clipping). With the output fader at 0 it clips. So pull it down until it doesnt. You'll see a dynamic output on its meter, not an attenuated clipped flat-line.

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Post by @?,*???&? » Fri Mar 28, 2008 7:49 pm

More interesting would be the question should one Noiseshape their 48KHz mix BEFORE printing to tape. Whereas it will certainly sound better, it will likely be done again at Mastering.

Also, could an argument be made that one should mix sample rates? In a scenario like this, work at 48KHz in the digital session and then commit mix to tape. What resolution will the mastering engineer work at?

Double converting at 44.1Khz can sound like ass.

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Post by exalted wombat » Sat Mar 29, 2008 2:04 am

Surely the mastering engineer wouldn't apply a process that made the sound worse? And if it has no aural effect, who cares?

I've been hearing opinion that dithering may be one of those things that everybody does, but no-one can actually hear the difference it makes :-)

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Post by NarxistDan » Sat Mar 29, 2008 9:59 am

fossiltooth wrote:given decent monitoring, a good mix engineer can do more with a fairly basic plugins than a novice could with a vintage neve or SSL with Michael Brauer's racks in the room.
+1

By far the most important pieces of gear in the room are attached to the engineers head. I would add time to that equation though.

decent monitoring + good mix engineer + PTLE + ample time > best gear in the world + novice engineer

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Post by fossiltooth » Sat Mar 29, 2008 12:24 pm

subatomic pieces wrote:
fossiltooth wrote:I'm just tired of hearing people suggest that ITB really sucks or that it's an uphill battle to make ITB sound good. It's not.
I agree with your whole post... except the "uphill battle" part. I think that depends on where you come from. Coming from an analog mixing background, ITB mixing can certainly be an uphill battle. Just coming to grips with the difference in gain staging is hard to grasp. The gain staging ITB is pretty counter-intuitive if you ask me.

I mean, just the sheer amount of mythology and whacky tactics out there for mixing ITB is an indicator that it's an uphill battle for a lot of people.

There's pretty much a whole generation of recordists who think that they should track everything as close as possible to 0db, and then when they mix they "gain down" every track by 18db or so to make some headroom for the mix.

Mixing ITB is quite different from mixing OTB. And, being so different can surely lead to an uphill battle for people who are used to really pushing an analog mix.
Good point! I 'll choose my words more carefully next time. Maybe it actually is an "uphill battle" at first, but once you get used to it becomes second nature. As far as gain staging goes, I was misled by the "Use all your bits" stalwarts of the 16 bit era when I first started. Then I realized that's absolutely crazy in 24 bit because:

A) Many preamps sound like crap when they're pushed that hard.
B) Tracking everything near the same peak level instead of tracking things at musically appropriate levels makes mixing take forever.

However, many of my favorite preamps sound pretty baddass to my ears when they're pushed a little bit harder than 0vu. Nowadays, I often print a bit hotter than 0vu when going digital, especially if I know I'll be mixing ITB and I won't have a chance to get much more gel or saturation on certain sounds. Of course this depends on the style of music and production aesthetic. When I track a little hot I usually have to pull all the faders down a little bit to get the amount of headroom I like on the DAW mixbus.

Still, I'm tracking so that if someone just spreads it out across a console with faders at "0" the mix will sound reasonable... but they might just have their console meters a well into the red, especially if the session is more than 24 tracks deep. Depending on track counts, faders may have to be globally pulled down anywhere from 2db to 5db on my sessions if you want to start a mix and stay completely out of the red on a real desk (if you like that kind of thing!) If you were to mix one of my sessions itb, you'd have to do the same to keep the DAW's 2bus where it sounds best to my ears.
Last edited by fossiltooth on Mon Mar 31, 2008 9:44 am, edited 1 time in total.

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