Gear reviews

audio geeky with George – Part1: how i stopped worrying and started to love the analog desk

here we go.


I mix for 15 years now, both live and in my (or any other studio the band wants me to mix). Without going to start another “analog vs. digital war”, I just want to let you know my humble opinion about this topic. It is weather scientifically proven, nor am I right. It’s just my opinion.

As far as my experience is, I always had troubles mixing on digital desks (or in the box). I found out the following things with digital:
Headroom: you need to apply lower gainstaging, that means, if you come near 0 (zero) you are in trouble.
problem: DAW-metering is not accurate (or it doesnt show intersample peaks or over-tone distortion values). Even if you hit your channel/bus/master at -3dB you have possible overs. You can detect those overs with other plugins (SSL X orcism), but as far as my experince is, it’s not worth spending too much time trying to detect it.
solution: use limiters. I use a limiter on every channel/bus/master, even if I do not want the channel/mix to be bumped up in level, at the end of the plugin-chain. There are better limiters which can limit inter sample peaks, or at least most of them.

loudness: you want maximum loudness these days if you mix popular music (ranging from techno to death metal.. it doesn’t matter). Part of the game is proper mastering, monitoring and mixing of course. on the other hand, you get the material (recorded in your DAW) and you want to limit it’s dynamic range, to get maximum loudness.
problem: using plugin compressors make your signal small or “less loud”. somehow it makes the signals weak and pillowy.
solution: use saturation and limiting. your ear detects distortion/saturation as “loud and compressed”. use the distortion subtile and you will be in digital heaven (maybe not, but it’s better to have distortion then not to). I distort aux sends, such as reverbs, I copy vocal lines and distort them, mix em under the original one. that works in digital.

panning 1: ever wondered why your favourite mix sounds wide and funky while your mix seems to be mono? While there are 1000 theories and plugins around to widen your mix, it’s usually a phase issue on the masterbus on an analog console. you get time/signal problems (phase problems) and that’s what makes it wider.
problem: the problem is, your digital bus is fixed/absolute phase (well, Logic and Cubase are not.. but they try to).
solution: use an MS-plugin like DR.MS (I actually sell this plugin.. it’s fun 😉 .. order one now!!!). it still fucks with your middle channel (means, transient response is weaker, kickdrum and snare are usually not as cool as before, guitars tend to get muddy). Still it’s one of the best. Actually there is not a real solution in the digital domain except proper mastering (usually with analog tools).

panning 2: your guitar is fully panned left, but still you don’t feel like your guitars stick on the left channel? I am in the same boat.
problem: phase stability, panning law. All DAWs pan different (even there is a -3dB panning law, or -6dB one). you move something to the left, your DAW calculates, how it should sound if it would be on the left side.
solution: well, I found out you need to EQ differently then in the analog realm. you could get along with cutting off lowend and bump the upper mids.

transients: ever wondered why your favourite record has those nice sounding cymbals and you get only a “hitters nightmare, ding ding ding” but no sound from the cymbals?
problem: the transients are capturared pretty accuratly in the digital domain. A lot faster then with a tape machine or trought a desk. you get all those nice transients, but the digital recorder falls short on reproducing/recording the sound of the cymbal (same occurs with kicks, snares and percussive instruments).

bass area: you want that bass to sit on top of the kickdrum but fill the empty gap between the kick and the guitars?
problem: the bass is too loud, or too quiet. it usually muds up the lowend but does not “fill” it.
solution: eq, eq, saturation. it’s a lot of work, but you can get it right. I want you to buy groove3’s “mixing rock” with Kenny Gioia. Everything is there and more.

analog desk.

If you get trough all the trouble with transport, wiring, spending a lot of money for a tech to fix all the issues, adjust your workflow… you get all the wonderful stuff out of it. Width, depth, solid bass area in no time. pull the faders up and the sound is there. My experience working with an SSL 4k/56 with G+ computer, Neve VIII, Studer 904, SSL AWS900.

after discussion with various friends (some of them were at the mix with the masters sessions with Andy Wallace, Tschad Blake… ) and spending enough time in most of the Swiss music studios (while working as a gear seller) the conclusion is: no one pays you these days for having all that faboulous analog gear, recall is a PITA and maintenace/electricity bills are a nightmare, it pays off if we are talking simply about the sound.

I blame the “digital age companies” for their marketing as well. A guy who distributes digital recording/mixing systems (no names, but it’s the biggest player in the market) said, that analog is dead and that their product sounds as good as it gets. On the other hand he ordered analog summing boxes and analog esoteric preamps with transformers for the analog feel.. common!

one more thing: the busier the mix, the more “problems” you get in the digital domain. I usually mix metal. Massive guitar walls, drums fighting with all the other instruments, growls that are in the same fruquency range as the bass… if you do Techno or any other minimal/sample based sort of music, you could come along fine and maybe you can not feel the same problems at all.

Andy W. is thinking about getting rid of his SSL to enter the digital domain with plugins/or hybrid simply because of the economical situation the music industry is in. There is no more room for 9000US$/song mixes nor do they want you to mix an album for 2 month. a full production costs maybe 1/10 that it cost 10 years ago and even less if you go back in time. Yes, it’s normal. Budgets are down, the industry is starving.

Most of us do it for the love of sound. We could have any other dayjob, fixed income, stereotype work. Think again, if it comes down to your sound and what you want to deliver to the public. Records are usually made once, they are released and that’s it. For me the logical way was to buy a console. Whatever works.

7 Responses to “audio geeky with George – Part1: how i stopped worrying and started to love the analog desk”

  1. pask says:

    Hey George,

    Working with a small console makes the recalls not that much of a PITA and offers analog sound without too much hassle.
    I’m happy I went that route …

  2. Urs Tanner says:

    What desk do you work with? Im looking for a small, good sounding an not too expensive desk. What do you think abaout audient zen? Is that cool? Thx for reply…


  3. Andreas van Engelen says:

    Clap…. clap….. clap…. clap….
    A classic George!
    (I kid you not!)

  4. Jo says:

    nice one George!

  5. Kae says:

    Or just stick this behind your DAW

    the best of both world


  6. Ben says:

    Interesting article, George.
    What do you call “over-tone distorsion” (English isn’t my primary language and I’m not quite sure what you mean by that)?


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