Analog Summing Valid or Voodoo?

Discussion in 'Summing Mixers' started by daveski69, Jan 31, 2012.

  1. daveski69

    daveski69 Active Member

    I would like to hear what others have to say about analog summing. I'm currently nearing the end of the mixdown stage for a very prestigious Latin project.

    We started the mixing on an SSL console, but discovered that ITB (in-the-box) mixing sounded much better after comparison. I mean, many degrees better.

    We then redid the SSL mixes in the box, so now almost the whole project has been mixed this way, one more song to go.

    I have friends and colleagues who swear by the process of analog summing, and they strongly suggest I do this, rather than just sending it off to mastering.. The client is open to anything that could possibly make it sound better, and I always approach these sorts of things with an open mind. Never too old to learn!

    I have listened to “before and after” summing and truly hear no appreciable difference.
    I've heard examples of summing done through a Neve VR, SSL G+, and a Dangerous box by different people, not just one.
    Still, no "wow" factor.

    I am a skeptic by nature and require hard evidence, and when I hear terms like “warmth”, “width”, “adds life to a mix” etc., bandied about, I usually need to hear something that is undeniable rather than subjective descriptions of what could easily be the power of suggestion. Maybe even to see something on test equipment display that proves the claims of the phase cohesion and width, those being just a few of the many supposed attributes claimed to be the result of summing.

    We've all experienced the phenomenon of being deep into a mix on a console, and adjusting an EQ that is not engaged but still hearing subtle changes as if it were turned on.
    Or, listening to the same mix twice thinking that they are two versions and when asked which one you like better, believing that there were differences, going so far as to even describe them.
    (Anyone remember seeing people draping tissue paper on NS-10 tweeters?)

    That's it so far. Thanks in advance for anyone's reply. If you know of any sites that would give me more insight, please post links.

    Should we decide to do try summing, I'll then be back with more inquiries regarding methodology, since from what I've read so far there seems to be so many.


    Dave Kowalski

    David Kowalski-Engineer
    David Kowalski-Engineer
  2. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Oooo, big topic full of opinions from many whom have never experienced "hybrid summing" at full scale. My analog summing system is different than your SSL but not necessarily better or worse.
    I personally feel a hybrid DAW system has many advantages over ITB. We all know digital editing and automation is the coolest thing going, but, why would we want to exclude one or the other? The two combined is the dope.

    The question is, what outboard gear do you have to go along with your analog summing system and what summing amps work the best for a hybrid DAW system?
    Do you really believe an LA-2A sounds better as a plug-in than the real deal? Do you really believe the Passeq plug-in sounds every bit as good as the real deal? or an API 2500 or Vari Mu. If so, then stay ITB. You cannot be helped or do not want to be helped for other reasons.

    I'm certain most people do not understand the entire concept of Hybrid analog summing to realize its full potential. If they did, it would be a no brainer. ITB is cheap and simple as far as the set-up. Its opened the door for everyone with a computer. Its fun and it works.

    NOTE: hybrid summing is not a matter of just DA -> Sum -> AD. There is no way you will get great results without the added hardware. If you plan to sum OTB, you need choice gear and the understanding of it all.
    When I hear people say it's no different, or pull out the null test dope, I scratch my head and question what kind of gear are they using.
    I'm sure there are many people that are capable of producing good ITB mixes but that doesn't mean a thing.

    From my experience, the idea is to use high end outboard gear with a summing amp that has huge headroom. I choose SPL and Dangerous Music products for my hybrid summing system. There are others systems too but I happen to like these two companies best.
    If you asked to trade me your SSL for my hybrid rig, I wouldn't consider it..

    Again, There is a lot more to it than just in and out ( DA -> Sum -> AD).

    Here are some hybrid tutorials:

    Check this one out: It cost $25 but its well worth the price.

  3. rocksure

    rocksure Active Member

    Well I for one do all my mixing these days via a simple 8 input summing box with Ward Beck summing amps for makeup gain, followed by hardware compression. It works well for me, and sounds good. I still do all the automation and EQ ITB so there are no recall problems. It suits my workflow and to my ears always sounds better than totally ITB mixes.
  4. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Hey Tony,

    Interesting to read about Ward Beck. We don't talk about them around here. And built in Canada, where I am sitting. Are we missing something? I just looked over their product page and wow, Ward-Beck Systems - First by Design | Search for Your Solution
    When did you take interest in them? What summing amps are you using, can you point me to them? I want to read more !
  5. rocksure

    rocksure Active Member

    The place to go to find out about all vintage Ward Beck stuff is here: Ward-Beck Systems Preservation Society Forum - Index There is a community of WBS users and lovers there. Really cool stuff. I have a W M470A preamp that I racked up, and the summing box I built with M450B summing amps. I got lots of support for all my questions from there, and all the info I needed to do the racking. I would love to try more WBS stuff, since I am very happy with what I have . The original consoles were built and sold for massive prices, and for years they held the world record for the largest console ever built. It went to a movie studio in France I believe. They also had the contract for all the broadcast gear at the Montreal Olympics and many other events. I think the current WBS owners are a totally different bunch than the original company....not that I am an expert.
  6. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    very cool. ooo, I was checking out their meters, very nice. This one caught my eye:
    Ward-Beck Systems - First by Design
  7. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Here are a variety of opinions from a bunch of guys that don't have a clue about what they are talking about (and you know I'm just kidding) smoke

  8. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Dave -

    As you can see we've got some big analog summing fans around here. I'm skeptical about whether the basic DA -> Sum -> AD is much of an improvement. But I also recommend the Puremix tutorials. They make a good case for the workflow improvements of putting good analog gear in the middle of that chain. That seems much less controversial to me. (Of course, it also puts it farther out of my league. Converters + summing + analog compression + analog eq for 8 stems.)
  9. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Sonically: DA -> Sum -> AD is different but not worth the investment alone. BIG changes happen when you start inserting key hardware and design the stems. The summing amp is the heart (hub) of the bigger picture. Converter and summing amp are a team. BIG headroom summing amp is a must. NEOS makes even more sense now.
    High quality converters, cable and clean power are essential. Everything needs room to breath.

    100% ITB is comparable to one preamp and one mic for an entire project (plug-ins are plug-ins). Hardware + DAW makes a more interesting mix. ITB is boring compared. Thats my take on it so far. Life is much more fun now.
  10. bishopdante

    bishopdante Guest

    Mixing out of the box I have heard chalk & cheese sound quality, out of the box sounding a lot better. The tests I did with an Audient desk and ProTools HD (purple & silver) were enough for me, in the box mixing is harsh, flat, and is particularly noticeable where bassline meets kick drum, and with reverb. I found that the level was also much stronger sounding, the perceptual volume for the meter level was noticeably louder and clearer mixing out of the box. In the box I tried 32-bit float, and ProTools's 192 bit fixed. Both sounded inferior, losing detail. This was all caused by deciding to save some channels, and route some stems of the drumkit and bassline through a stereo pair, suddenly the mix went flat and mushy, and also started clipping, so I started investigating. It was ITB vs OTB at the root of it. In the box actually improved some things, it helped glue guitars together, for example.

    I did not like working with SSL G series, I found the sound somewhat harsh, empty and thin, EQs tremendously brittle, Dynamics sounded worse than DBX stage boxes, there's nothing to recommend them in my books, especially with how big, heavy and pricey they are. They were loved for being fully recallable, not sounding good. Bad in a transistory way.

    If it sounds good in the box, mix in the box. It won't hiss, that's for sure.

    Also, remember that the level output going into a desk must be properly adjusted, 0dB on the computer will be +20dB or so on the desk. Best idea is to kill some gain digitally before hitting the desk. That might be why it sounds bad, loss of headroom.
  11. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Many of us here would likely agree with you that the SSL series of consoles were not the best sounding consoles. They did more and had more features than anyone else's. Some people felt that was more important than its intrinsic sound quality. While others like myself, much preferred more simple topography based consoles like old Neve & API's. There is an audible difference there. But if you're somebody like Bob Clearmountain who really loves his SSL 4000 E series console and you know how to get a truly marvelous sound utilizing your technique, then that's what you use. He told me that he is utilized numerous SSL G series boards and while producing professional results with them, he doesn't like the G series SSL's. He actually likes his audio getting mushed up from the VCA's in his 4000 E. I always loved the sound of his Simple Minds & Tears for Fears recordings and I always knew I was listening to an SSL 4000 E. I've used some SSL 4000s/5000s/8000s & Axiom MT & ASYS digital desks. I was never wowed by their sound but by their capabilities. I've always been wowed by the sound of old API & Neve's. Most folks don't know or care about the differences in their sonic signatures. If you're one of those people, it doesn't matter what you use. Some of us hear what most would consider to be nuance differences. But those are huge differences to us. I work both ITB, OTB & hybrid ITB/OTB, OTB/ITB. While I find digital summing to perhaps be more accurate, I find analog summing to be more listenable. My perceptions are different from others. In double-blind listening tests with a bevy of fine engineers/producers, I've been able to distinguish the difference between an original analog input source from a state-of-the-art 24-bit, 192 kHz AD/DA Converter over my highly esteemed constituents. So what can I say? They heard a difference also but were 100% backwards in their perception. I was the only person to get it right that year at the AES convention and I was able to articulate the differences that I heard. It also made me realize why I dislike PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) based digital recording. Of course that's all I use today even though DSD is still out there. DSD does not sound like PCM. But even our most powerful computers today cannot yet deal with that in an efficient manner for multitrack recording. So then one's only choice is analog tape or PCM. And for the most part, PCM is the logical choice. I am also generally referring to this usage in rock 'n roll recordings for simplification. Operatic/orchestral is a completely different animal which requires different approaches. But even then, some of the same conditions apply. It's all in what kind of product you are trying to create sonically. 30+ years ago I produced some jingle musics for commercials utilizing a console I absolutely loathed, a Yamaha PM 1000 PA desk, UGH. But in 1979, I didn't have a choice. Today, choices are nearly unlimited. So while the equipment has gotten much better over the years, choices have become much more difficult. There are too many choices one has to make. This just contributes to huge confusion for everybody. At least everybody that doesn't know what they're choosing. I have perceived a difference between analog and digital summing. Though I utilize both. And my best student still marvels over the basic mixes I have obtained with his TA-SCAM 2600 analog piece of junk console over anything he can obtain working ITB. He keeps going back to my mixes on that desk as a reference for himself. And he still doesn't quite understand why my mixes on that crappy desk sound better than anybody else can get. Part of that is knowing not to touch their simply god-awful equalizers except for a little bass or treble shelving tilt and even generally none of that. And no external anything. What he might be perceiving is the analog summing difference? And I think that's what it is. Some of my rock 'n roll I'll mix ITB and then I will mix OTB. When the client here is it, they can make an educated decision what they like. My technique of mixing doesn't vary much whether I'm using hardware or software. Though I've also heard plenty of others ProTools mixed projects that sound very listenable. So most of this may be technique or it might be the actual sound of the equipment & software. Just because you can't hear the difference doesn't mean there isn't a difference. If that is the case, then you shouldn't worry about that. Obviously, there are others here that hold analog summing in high regards. Others are happy with ITB strictly. Only you can decide what is most important to you. And since tastes over time do have the tendency to change, you might be fine currently with ITB but may realize later that a hybrid style of working will yield a better product for you? And maybe not? It doesn't make or break a hit.

    Fistula... it sounds like such a fun word but it's not.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  12. Mo Facta

    Mo Facta Active Member

    A couple of things.

    1. The mix phase in general is given WAY to much credit for how good/bad a production sounds.
    2. No mix, summed internally or externally, will ever make as much difference to the sound of a production than the preceeding production phases themselves, i.e. pre-production and tracking.

    In my opinion, analog summing is part a luddite fetish, part marketing hype, and part personal taste. It also doesn't really make a difference until your entire chain is up to standard, most notably your D/A conversion. Chances are that if you're feeding a high quality summing box with rubbish converters, the ITB mix will sound a lot better/cleaner. There are grammy winning engineers that have make great records mixing ITB and OTB so the debate should end there yet the internet goes on and on about analog summing as if it's the magic bullet.

    I myself use a summing box but I don't think that it's a magic bullet by any means. It's just another way of working and then there's also the aforementioned issue of subjectivity, which I wholeheartedly agree with. I personally like the way it sounds and it works for me and there are certain things about it that I do enjoy like the possibility of being able to inject some harmonic distortion by saturating the channels or the output bus. I also feel that transients are clearer than ITB, especially on things like drums.

    But whatever. Hoo haw. WAY too much time is spent talking about this instead of the stuff that really makes a difference like good songwriting and arranging, proper mic selection and placement, performance and producing, and acoustics and monitoring. So to the OP, it sounds like you've already got the right attitude and if you can clearly hear that your mixes sounded better ITB than on the SSL then more power to you. Go with it.

    BTW, what converters were you using to feed the channels on the SSL?

    Cheers :)
  13. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Only within our audio engineer bubble. The wider world doesn't know we exist. But even within the bubble I'm not sure that we're giving the mix phase "credit" as much as obsessing about our (often small) part of the production of music.

    Probably a poor choice of words in the first of these two sentences since they contradict each other. If your D/A/D chain is not excellent then OTB summing will probably make a negative difference. This is strictly a high end equipment debate.

    Well...this is the internet. No danger of filling it up. Room for lots of stuff - including good posts like yours.
  14. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Cheap converters don't help, however, from my experience the biggest sonic improvements occur when you group key outboard gear with a high headroom analog summing system. Once I experienced that, the AD DA, cable, power etc became a priority which starts to fall into the last 2% rule. But that last 2% is where the cream is, which has nothing to do with the song and everything to do with the sound.
  15. Mo Facta

    Mo Facta Active Member

    Fair enough but the result is the same: too much focus on how to improve the mix (which is fine if you're solely a mix engineer) and not enough on the more important aspects of music production. Hence we have the now taboo phrase, "fix it in the mix".

    I could probably have worded it better but that was essentially my point and I agree with you. Eric Sarafin's (Mixerman) opinion is that analog summing helps him achieve great results quicker so for him it's a workflow AND sonic improvement thing that he says, to paraphrase, "can not be made up for by ability alone". He does, on the other hand, use two Dangerous 2-buses with Radar converters. So his signal chain works together with his workflow (and of course, experience) to result in great work.

    I think it's difficult to say that feeding a 2-Bus or some other high end summing unit (which is what the majority of those worth buying are) with sub standard converters will produce negative results because the proverbial sonic "bottle neck" is at the D/A. It may indeed improve things somewhat but those improvements are likely to be negligible compared to the ITB mix. I personally can't see a 2-bus having a detrimental effect on your mix. However, feeding a cheap Mackie console with Radar converters will, in my opinion, be more likely to effect the mix in a negative way because the Mackie can not possibly match the integrity of the Radar.

    Thanks! And let the disinformation roll!

    Cheers :)
  16. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Mixerman used to be a moderator here. Years ago Eric coined Pro Tools as Alsihad (Alls He Had) and I see he now has a good one for plug-ins. "The Curse". So true...
  17. rocksure

    rocksure Active Member

    To sum or not to sum..that is the question? Wasn't it Shakespeare that asked that? If not it must have been someone famous, since there are a zillion threads of a million pages long on every audio forum debating this obviously profound philosphical question. So the answer to this question is debate it for another few years, on another few pages over a few more cups of coffee, and then never arrive at an answer that is a consensus. oh the joys of forums :)
  18. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    As far as a workflow issue, it only makes sense to group similar sonic signatures together as stems and let the 2-bus get hit in a controlled manner. If you have a box that allows this to happen with less artifacts in the summing then its a good thing. My mixes ALWAYS sound better as stems and it seems I remember this is why we had sub-groups before there were words like summing, converters,ITB,OTB,ADDA....etc.

    I know this discussion is about the differences between the analog and digital side of this practice and the possibilities that one may be 'better' than the other. The math supports neither or either depending on who you talk to, but math isnt sound though it plays one on TV...

    So my ears and my particular way of approaching a mix tends to support ANY sort of sub-grouping be it analog or digital. Of course the higher quality the soundscape the better for all involved and I do agree with the premise that TRACKING is where the meat gets with the taters for the next phase of the process. Unfortunately some of us dont always have the opportunity to control that part and are sometimes saddled with a repair process rather than a performance process. Its these times the client asks that fateful question "Why dont my mixes come out like the others??" and the answer is most often about poorly recorded or conceived tracks and arrangements. No amount of high-end converters, summing to analog, or ITB is going to fix stupid.

    I just felt like typing this morning. Carry on.
  19. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Correct, and the problem I have with all these forums is they are filled with mass information from people claiming they know all about it from both sides of the coin.

    Before I engaged in analog summing "hybrid", I read forum after forum for years, originally our older 2001 to 2004 threads and later over at Gearslutz. However, I was mislead by so much BS over there running wild. No one checks the BS there. Now that I have a 100 grand hybrid summing system, I know more about it, which I could never have known WITHOUT OWNING ONE.

    So the problem is, 90% of the people entering this are going about it very mislead. I can honestly say, if you are using Lynx Aurora converters (which are the big shill over there hmm ) which I'm sure are a fine AD but questionable in a properly gain staged hybrid system because they lack a very important section in gain management (or do they? :) Yet majority over there are using them.
    AD>DA>AD , I'm learning your digital input/output trim, range 6 dB per I/O and the 4 hardware reference levels up to +24 dBu, is pretty damn important. RME ADI-8 QS do this really well and why I bought 2 of those and NOT the over rated Aurora 16 most people are using in a hybrid system. How come we don't read that on other forums? So pardon my pun, its all not really summing up. There are big level changes happening going from ITB to OTB high headroom analog gear and back in again. Isn't that why we are doing this.

    Negative opinions from people only DA>sum>AD without inserting outboard gear is another red flag. If I wasn't using high quality hardware, which I definitely need and want more of now that I finally get it, I wouldn't waste my time on this without all the above mentioned. Gawd, it costs $10,000.00 for 16 IO and a properly designed summing amp before you even plug anything into it. Unless of course you are using the Folcrom, but it isn't a MixDream, 2-bus or a summing amp either.
    We hear all sorts of opinions from people only doing this in part with wide claims of it being incredible or a joke ( snake oil). How could some guy, never done this in full, know WTH he is talking about. Or the guy just trying it out without any real gear on hand, including at least a few months of playing around with it all form any opinion. Its a total no brainer.

    Hybrid summing is a method to shape your stems differently from the generic ITB infamous sound. To mix it up and to improve workflow. As Dave, Remy and others here have confirmed, only then will you hear the real benefits.
    Although I know it gives a nice vibe just going though the transformers, there is so much more that happens when you start adding gear. Expecting your digital sound will vastly improve by simply running your tracks in and out of a summing box is most likely going to be a $10,000. disappointment, and why we hear negative comments about it. If I could get the sound I'm getting ITB, I would rather save my money, keep a nice tidy small room and go on a holiday :)

    Still learning.... and my take on it so far.
  20. Mo Facta

    Mo Facta Active Member

    audiokid, I agree with you for the most part but I'm struggling to see why you claim analog summing is moot unless you use outboard processors (inserted, I assume). To me, the beauty of analog summing for the common Joe is that he is still able to use internal processors (plugins) in conjunction. We would all love to insert a rack of 1176's or [your favorite outboard here] but sadly, like you pointed out, these things are out of the budget of most.

    As far as the Aurora goes, it's got a max output level of +20dBu, which is not even as high as a Mackie 24-8 console (+22dBu). However, when they originally released the Aurora it was marketed as a "mastering" converter and since many people were looking for a mastering AD converter they could clip (ugh) with higher headroom analog devices, this, I assume, seemed logical to them. Now we have the Aurora 16-VT (Variable Trim) which offers the user the ability to adjust the headroom of the device to match their analog devices, which is more helpful. It also costs considerably more than the stock version.

    On the subject of headroom, there are some interesting considerations. Firstly, why is a high headroom device - mixer or analog summing device - desirable for mixing? Well, the first reason is that the clip point of a given device does not necessarily indicate the point at which it exhibits distortion. A low quality mixer (like the Mackie) that has a clip point of +22dBu will most likely start exhibiting distortion way below that, possibly up to 6dB's lower or more. This, of course, is all down to the quality of the analog components that Mackie chose. Devices with higher quality components will be more robust to higher levels and the "distortion margin" will be narrower. All this is why, as Bob Katz claims, the +4dBu standard is now probably too high since there is a worrying trend that more and more low headroom devices are being manufactured. He reckons -10dBv is probably the better option these days to compensate. (But that's not "pro", man!)

    The crux of the matter here is that we have a disparity in optimal operating ranges between devices and this gives distortion more of an opportunity to creep in. Sadly, many enthusiasts (and some professionals) do not understand calibration - nor do they care - even though it's one of the most important aspects of connecting analog and digital devices together. In an ideal world, your AD converters' headroom will match that of your analog front end and your DA converters' headroom will match that of your analog back end (your mixer or summing device). But sadly, to get variable trim converters you have to spend a huge amount of cash and most people just don't have it. That is why, in this situation, it is best practice to use conservative levels, both ITB and OTB, thereby keeping distortion and noise at a minimum whilst keeping your devices as close to their optimal operating range as possible.

    Cheers :)

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