Simple Console Workflow for Private Studio

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Simple Console Workflow for Private Studio

Post by alexevansohio » Sun Dec 20, 2015 5:24 pm

Hey TOMB folks,

You guys have helped me out a bunch in the past, so I figure I'll pose this question here. I know there are already a fair number of "What console at X price" threads on different forums, so I'm hoping this isn't just rehashing the same thing over and over again.

I'm a musician and songwriter who for a while was intent on trying to make a living doing recording work. I've since taken a full time job in a different field, and only take on projects that are personal or are handpicked by me. I have no intentions to open a full service commercial studio, so the gear choices and workflow don't necessarily need to be "standard."

Currently, my recording gear is all tailored to be exceptionally mobile, and the Apollo is the centerpiece of that. In the past, I've worked in commercial studios either with large format control surfaces (Control 24), which was nice in some ways but not nice in others. I've also worked a little bit on larger format consoles, and also managed a radio station's studio for a while which had both a Mackie 8 Bus and a Ramsa WRS44 series board. By far the most comfortable workflow for me was the radio studio with the Mackie and Ramsa boards. When working primarily in software, I tend to get stalled just choosing plugins and dialing in the minutia, whereas working on a board put me in much more of a swift, decisive, creative mindset.

Because of that, and because my gear hasn't been moving from my small-ish recording space at all, I'm looking to get a console. I've been getting offers ranging from beautiful old Ward Becks, to Tofts, to a huge range of Yamaha PM and M series boards, to Mackies, to Ramsas, to Allen and Heaths. Everything has its quirks, and everyone seems to be using boards differently to get different results, which is awesome, but also endlessly confusing.

My initial thought was just to get a Ramsa WRS-4424, since I enjoyed my experience working on that board, I'm comfortable on it, it sounded quite good, and it could probably be modified to get more out of it. However, I'm very open to spend quite a bit more than the cost of the Ramsa for a board with a similar workflow but more headroom, a better EQ, better summing, and generally just more quality. I'm absolutely open to this being a modern board or an old board -- I just want something streamlined and great sounding.

This board would be leaned on for tracking and mixing, and I'd like something with pres that are at least "good" if not excellent. Flexible routing would be really nice, but not at the expense of good workflow -- I want to be able to find and commit to sounds easily, which is the whole reason for this move to a more analog setup. I'm not too fussy about size, but I need 12 or more channels, and 32 or more would be overkill. Being able to create a HP mix from the board would be great. It'd be cool to have a board with "vibe / color / grit / whatever", but it is more important to me that I find something that sounds good and works with my workflow. I can add color with external gear if need be. Also, I have a friend offering me an 8 track 1" MCI in great shape right now, so being able to quite comfortably work with tape and digital (with a patchbay featuring in the midst of that, obviously), would be really nice.

So, what would you do, if you were me? I don't want to set a strict budget, but at this point I'm looking at Ramsa WRS4424 on the lowest end (~$400) and a used Toft or modded PM1000 on the absolute tippity top end ($2700). It'd be nice to be squarely in the middle of that, but not essential.

Thanks, folks.

Alex
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Post by kslight » Sun Dec 20, 2015 6:30 pm

Do you have enough D/A, cabling, and patch bay facilities to make efficient use of a console? If not, thats a sizable investment into your budget already. If you are strictly in it for workflow, have you considered a digital board? On your budget I'm not really sure analog is the way to go.

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Post by alexevansohio » Sun Dec 20, 2015 6:54 pm

kslight wrote:Do you have enough D/A, cabling, and patch bay facilities to make efficient use of a console? If not, thats a sizable investment into your budget already. If you are strictly in it for workflow, have you considered a digital board? On your budget I'm not really sure analog is the way to go.
The cabling, patchbay, etc is part of the reason for the lower price range, as I know that it isn't quite as simple as "buy $5000 console and have great workflow"

I'm not particularly interested in a digital board. I'll go that route if it seems to be the obvious best option, but especially as I'm also considering the tape machine, putting a digital board in front of it seems counter-intuitive. Plus, the maze of software updates and rapidly depreciating digital hardware is part of the reason to be moving out of the box to some extent.

I'm totally okay with the answer "you won't get a a vaguely satisfactory console for what you want to do in this price range", but I would be intrigued to know what console you would say is the minimum that would be worthwhile for using in a tracking / mixing setup like this, assuming I already have AD/DA, cabling, and patchbays taken care of. I seem to be finding mixed reviews on just about everything other than the upper echelon of Neve/API/etc, but I also see a pretty decent number of studios running on PM series boards, cheaper Tridents, Soundcraft Ghosts, Tofts, Allen and Heaths, and other boards that seem to come up for sale around $2-3000 used fairly often.

I realize that this is not a lot of money to be going on for a setup like this, but I'm definitely not shooting for iconic console performance -- I'd be exceptionally happy to have something with 12 preamps that are as good as or slightly better than stock interface pres, decent nonsurgical EQs, enough routing for fairly simple HP mixes, and a summing bus that sounds better than digital summing. The Ramsa I worked on previously accomplished a pretty fair chunk of this, so I'd be surprised to find that non of the mixers from 0-$2500 offer better sound quality on the pres and the summing and slightly more advanced routing than that $200 used board did.
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Post by joninc » Sun Dec 20, 2015 8:55 pm

I get a lot of mileage out of my ghost and have seen some with the creation labs mods pop up once in a while but I use external pres. It doesn't enhance tone but it has loads of routing options.

If it were my pres too I would look at pm boards or toft as I think you'll find them more interesting and vibe you for tracking.
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Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Mon Dec 21, 2015 6:23 am

I'd second the Ghost. I've never used it in the studio but used it lots and lots in my live sound days and really, really liked it. Older Soundcrafts would also be a good option provided you can find one in good shape.
If you've got room for it and want something you won't have to replace any time soon I'd also think about looking for an MCI. My studio partner just bought a 36 channel 636 for 5K. I know that's well over your budget but 24 channel versions may be had for less and the prices in general seem to be all over the map. If you go with something older that was built for studio use (instead of the newer stuff which all seems aimed at the home studio market) you'll likely get more bang for your buck and never feel like you've outgrown it. There are obviously maintenance costs to think about but that is eventually the case with just about anything.
The other problem you may run into with mid level boards is that the direct outs & auxs are often unbalanced and don't run as hot as you may need. Any 90's era 8 bus board I've ever owned has had unbalanced direct outs running at -10. That's fine if you're running prosumer tape machine but it's not enough juice for a digital set-up or a tape deck looking for +4.

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Post by kslight » Mon Dec 21, 2015 8:40 am

My comment was based on the idea that unless you run across an exceptional deal on an old pro level board (such as MCI as mentioned above, or Trident) that I personally believe it's a lot of expense and hassle for something that probably isn't sonically better than your existing setup. Not only costs of procuring a board, but the inevitable upkeep or modifications to make it perform. When you mention wanting good to excellent, better than digital or daw-everything, IMHO that is a lot to expect out of the boards you have mentioned, or really what is regularly available in your budget. Unless you get lucky on a fire sale MCI or Trident that someone has already restored, in which case that might be worth it.

I'm just not convinced that a Mackie/Toft/soundcraft/ramsa makes it worth putting the extra money into the conversion and wiring and such.

A digital board was suggested because your wiring and conversion expenses would be significantly cut, and sonically you wouldn't likely reach the same limitations that I would expect from a Mackie 8 bus or other low end analog boards, while gaining the workflow. Even something like a Ramsa DA7 maybe on a tight budget.

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Post by The Scum » Mon Dec 21, 2015 11:06 am

Take a careful look at the features on any console you're considering. Then take a careful look at the condition that the individual specimen you're considering is in.

The Yamaha PM-1000 has a particular sound, that I like. It's workflow is extremely strained. Only 2 auxes, always prefader. 4 subgroups, but no stereo master group. Awkward, inflexible EQ. Mo mute or solo. Only one input per channel (no mic/line switch or the like). No provisions like a control-room/2-track monitoring output.

The PM-2000 remedies some of the feature deficiencies, but doesn't have the same sound.

MCIs are BIG. Just physically huge, and heavy (like 4 feet+ from the front lip to the back edge). The Sony-branded 3000 series are killer, solid desks. The 600 is a small step down from them. The 400 and 500 series are old, funky maintenance hogs, with kinda bizarre routing. If you get a 400 or 500, absolutely make sure it's got the service docs with it (and hopefully an externder card!). Your next purchases will be a good soldering iron and oscilloscope.

The Trident 65 & 24 are more or less the same desk with different bussing. They've got the name, but very little else in common with the 70/80 series. I find them to have more in common with the Soundcraft or A&H of that era, than their larger siblings.

Older Soundcrafts aren't too bad. The 6000 is kinda the pinnacle - there's nothing in them that can't be fixed, and the service docs aren't terrible. The 600/500 are a small step down from the 6000. The versions with the onboard patchbays are pretty cool, especially as far as flexible workflow.

Which brings up a point - if you want good workflow, a mediocre desk with a great patchbay, and a decent monitor controller is far more usable than a great desk with no patchbay and no monitor controller.
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Post by joninc » Mon Dec 21, 2015 12:40 pm

a buddy of mine just sold his ghost to get one of these - http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/VeniceF16R

he swears that it has more warmth/vibe/tone to it than the ghost. i have no first hand experience but seems interesting at least...
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Post by alexevansohio » Mon Dec 21, 2015 8:15 pm

Thanks all for the replies.

So, I have a couple things in front of me.

The first is that a Ramsa WR-8210 came up for sale locally for $75. I figured for that money, it's worth grabbing and playing with a bit, especially as I was initially looking at other larger Ramsas from the same era, and this could give me an idea firstly of the sound of these boards and secondly of how happily I'm able to get down with a fairly cut down set of features, unbalanced direct outs, etc.

It seems like I'm faced with a more challenging decision in terms of a more permanent desk for the studio.

I could opt for a modern board (Allen & Heath GL2400 or a Midas Venice) that has less "vibe" and modability, but also likely will have less maintenance issues out of the gate and more useable I/O, which inevitably would mean less cost in cabling, etc. Seems like these boards are going for $1000-1500 on the used market, which would leave a pretty decent chunk of money around for nicer pres, perhaps a dedicated monitor controller, etc.

I could go for an older mid-level board (Ramsa, PM1/2000, etc). There seem to be some pretty good deals out on these boards, especially Ramsas, and they get fairly good reviews, especially if modded. These will end up with a higher cabling cost due to unbalanced line outs, etc. They also could potentially require an extra monitor controller and some funky workflow. However, if a good deal is found, it could potentially be the same price as a modern board + cabling to get an older board and everything necessary to get it up and running. That definitely seems possible for the Ramsas, but maybe not the PM1000 since they're jumping up a bunch in price. These also could end up being maintenance hogs, and likely won't play nice with modern, balanced recording gear.

Lastly, I could save a chunk more and patiently await a well-maintained studio oriented board -- something like a Ghost, a lower end Trident, an MCI, possibly an Amek, Soundcraft, Soundtracs (?), etc. Seems like the upfront cost would be higher, but so would the quality -- while no one seems to be raving about the pres on the Ghosts, they seem to be serviceable, which, coupled with my pile of external pres seems like a good deal. The summing, EQs, and routing all seem capable stock and pretty formidable when modded. The cabling cost could still be high (especially on consoles that run off an EDAC connector or similar), but there's potential for things like monitor control, patchbays, and talkback to be present on the board itself.

I'll have to see how the Ramsa deal plays out. At best, I'll have an interesting and strange little sidecar type deal that could possibly be modded to have balanced direct outs and a more useable EQ. At worst, I have a kinda crappy rehearsal PA mixer that looks cute in the corner of the studio. Either way, for the cost of a decent mic stand, I'll take the plunge. As of right now, I think I'm going to try to carefully shop around for old "pro" boards locally and online. Right now, the Ghost is seeming like a nice option, as they're somewhat plentiful, rather affordable, and there's a whole community of folks using, modding, and repairing these boards should I need help. However, I'd love recommendations of other similar boards, or "minimum console worth owning vs. just working in the box" type recommendations.

Thank you so much to all those who replied -- I know these questions get thrown out there a lot, and I really appreciate the responses to this post. I'm really excited to get out into a more tactile setup, but I'd like to avoid pitfalls and stumbling blocks along the way, and you guys have been a huge help already.
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Post by norton » Wed Dec 23, 2015 7:56 am

I'd strongly suggest NOT getting a desk because it's modifiable. Any piece of electronics is capable of being modified. Not a selling point. I'd say you're better off with a strong functioning desk rather than a platform for something.

Work with the ramsa until you find what you're missing. Could be workflow....could be headroom ....could be something else.

I've installed 4 desks in my small space. I miss things about each of them.... Older soundcraft desks can distort in a most pleasant way....pm1000's have a cool sound....but ultimately I settled on workflow, high headroom and clarity.

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Post by Matt C. » Wed Dec 23, 2015 11:42 am

norton wrote:Work with the ramsa until you find what you're missing. Could be workflow....could be headroom ....could be something else.
+1. For me, it took a few years of regularly working on an analog board (Tascam M520, which I still have) to get a good sense of what I really wanted from an ideal console. Still searching though.

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Post by T-rex » Wed Dec 23, 2015 10:10 pm

I regret selling my Creation Labs modified Ghost. In the grand scheme of things it was the right move but man, I LOVED mixing on that thing. The pre's were solid and the EQ was great. But they can be maintenance hogs as well. Being able to run through the particular desk you are buying is a huge plus.

Personally, I went on a quest to do exactly what you are looking for, improve my workflow and quit spending hours auditioning a seemingly endless array of digial options. I started with a cheap Tascam 520 I picked up and figured out what worked and didn't work and then moved up to a Ghost. But the actual console wasn't as important to me as just getting out of the box, having a tactile experience, finding a sound with an eq in my hands, in real time and committing to that sound! That was a game changer for me. Mixing went from a choir to a joy. And learning how to work with a limited number of tracks, and efx and headroom made me a much better ITB mixer. I would get the Ramsa rocking ASAP, do a session and start figuring out where to go from there.
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Post by LowG » Thu Dec 24, 2015 10:00 am

I agree with those that encourage you to just get a relatively inexpensive board and start rocking it. Embrace the limitations and learn the particular sonics. Then as time goes on keep your eyes peeled for something better but don't be in a hurry at that point. I'm using a Ramsa WRS-4424 attached to echo audiofire 12 A/D/A and I really like it. I think it's a good unit (for me at least) for a balance of workflow, price, utility, and sonics. But I don't exclusively run through it, I do ITB too depending on the situation.

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