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DAW Levels - mixing ITB vs. console.

Discussion in 'Recording' started by Kurt Foster, Mar 21, 2016.

  1. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    A thought struck me the other day. (i had to treat it kindley as it was in a strange place).
    If I had a nice console like a Neve or SSL (not a table top TOFT, AH or similar) and a deluxo multi channel interface like an Antelope or a Mother Ship, capable of putting out one track per channel, ..... vs. mixing ITB, would I want to go back to older methods of recording the tracks as hot as possible to get max resolution as was done with 16 bit ADATS?

    As I am understanding it, with DAWs, the main reason for keeping track levels (ITB) to peak around -16 is so the ITB 2-bus won't overload. So if I am bypassing the ITB 2-bus and putting tracks out of the converter one track per channel, would it be better to track as hot as possible?

    Is this the reason the big kids are still mixing on consoles? Would it sound better? It seems to me this would be the case.
     
  2. Chris Perra

    Chris Perra Active Member

    What do you mean by 1 track per channel? You would have independent tracks on each channel? Also what is your last stage? Back into a daw?

    If going back into a daw is suppose your converters going in might give more juice. If it's being sent to master it would be irrelevant though.

    To me the big guys are still out of the box because of comfortable work flow for them and to justify cost just like pro tolls used to be.

    There is also the concept that analog summing is like taking many individual items and laying them out like a photo layout and taking a picture vs loading in each item individually and having a computer come up with the final photo.

    Both have their pros and cons.. the imaging of a physical photo of the items.. their edges and depth of field could be more natural with a photo/summing.. I guess it depends on your preference and skill level with either method.
     
  3. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    no you're missing my question completely.

    let me put it like this. one track .... say kick drum. routed to the #1 channel converter completely bypassing the summing in the DAW. track #2 snare track #3 hi rack tom ..... and so on. essentially using the DAW as a multitrack machine but not mixing in it. record and playback only, just like an ADAT.

    in this case, with no concerns about overloading the mix bus in the DAW, would it yield more resolution to record at higher than -16?
     
  4. Chris Perra

    Chris Perra Active Member

    That's what I meant by independent tracks on each channel... each channel.. to each physical output.

    So you have a computer essentially acting like a 24 track tape machine into a console and outboard gear. Where does your final mix go to? Back into a daw or something else? Your summing headroom/level will be determined by where it winds up.

    Also if you are sending it to be mastered does the extra potential level matter? The mastering engineer will just turn it up on their end.
     
  5. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    it's not about level. it's about resolution. the mix would be recorded to a second DAW or dedicated digital or analog recorder. old school style.
     
  6. Chris Perra

    Chris Perra Active Member

    Resolution as in a lower noise floor by having hotter tracks?

    As far as the digital part of the computer acting as a tape deck I don't think it would matter but you should make sure you have enough level going to your console for summing so you don't have to add extra gain.

    As long as your playback isn't clipping in the daw and you have enough signal to run at unity gain in your console you should be good.

    I suppose to err on the side of hotter but not clipping would be better in that scenario.
     
  7. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    not just a lower noise floor but more resolution (more bits recorded). i get it as far as all the other stuff. not my first rodeo 'ya know.

    i was reading an interview of Dave Penseado in TapeOp, where he said he tells everyone he works ITB just so they will believe it's possible but in reality he mixes mostly on a console with outboard. i have also noted that most the big kids are in studios with SSL's or Neves.
     
  8. JayTerrance

    JayTerrance Active Member

    From what I can remember, the only other problem besides the 2-bus overload was the thought that plugins could also be a problem when they are pushed. I suppose it depends mostly on the plugin designer. And maybe those concerns have subsided with 64 bit?
     
  9. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Not anymore, pal. The reason that guys used to track hot to digital, was because they had to - because there was a time when the resolution of a digital signal was amplitude dependent... older digital decks, older converters, used to require hotter signals because that's what the ultimate resolution depended on. But now, with the newer BR's, ( 24, 32, 32 float) you get a great quality signal regardless of where you track at gain/input wise... the resolution isn't dependent on the amplitude anymore.
    Some guys who still record and mix hot like that, all they are really doing is chancing overloading the master bus, and for no real benefit, either ... and when they start adding plugs that have their own gain staging as well, things can start to sound pretty bad, pretty fast...

    Adding a nice console would certainly give you that analog color and character, as well as giving you a tactile surface to mix on. And as you already know, those nicer consoles can be pushed in a very pleasing way. If you were going to add a console, well, at least for me, it would be to take advantage of the character that desks like that were famous for - and, because of the tactile part of it. For those of us who are old enough to remember working that way, there is definitely something to be said for putting your hands on a real console.

    The following isn't aimed at you, Kurt, because I know you already know all this stuff, but I'll mention it for those who may be doing a search on the subject in the future:

    The downside to incorporating a real desk is that, along with the cost of the desk,you'd also have a pretty big chunk of dough invested in your cabling, too. Service wise, parts and repairs are not cheap, and maintenance is pretty high. If you don't have a bend towards electronics repair, you're gonna end up paying a LOT of money for someone to come in and fix what needs fixing... and it's not a question of "if" something will ever need fixing, but when.
    And, while those big name consoles are certainly very nice, they don't have the same accurate recall for mixes, or even the ability to store and recall every parameter like a DAW does, so you'd perhaps have to leave a mix up on the console for a day or two ( or more depending on your client) without really being able to do other clients... and while some desks can store and recall a lot of mix parameters, as the Neves and SSL's can ( depending on how old the model is of course and how accurate the software is for the automation package) they won't recall everything, nor is the recall as accurate as a DAW's is, either..

    There are a few big engineers who are strictly ITB for mixing now - Andrews Scheps is one, although he owns ( or did own) an old Neve that he liked to track through to use it's 1073 pre's, but for mixing, he's strictly ITB now..

    Not in any particular order, I think there are several other reasons why some of those big rooms and engineers still use those big money desks; the first is that they have so much invested in them - and it's not nearly as easy now as it once was to recoup that investment by selling them, ( which is actually to your benefit if you are in the market for one, ;) ) with the exception of the hardcore analog guys, or guys with lots of money - the second reason is that they do look very impressive to clients ... the third is that many guys prefer that "big desk tactile experience" ( I can say that even I miss that part of it... ) and The fourth is is that they do indeed have a "certain" sound and character to them that is desirable - BUT - it's a character that is also available to many now on a much smaller scale, through OB gear like 500 Series racks and external preamps.

    From a business POV, I guess you have to determine if this is for making you money, or making you happy. I'm dubious that you could ever recoup your investment on a desk like that, not these days, where morons are bitching about paying a measly $20 per hour... then again, those morons probably wouldn't be your clientele anyway. ;)

    But, if it's nothing more than just to please you or fulfill a dream, and you can afford it, then why not? If it's what you want and would make you happy? You should do it. Life's way too short to deny yourself something that would bring you fulfillment.
    But as a business move, unless you still have your contacts in the upper regions of the biz - and that's assuming that your old pro contacts are even still in the biz, - it's fairly unlikely you'd make much money with it, certainly not from the local-yokel garage bands.

    All IMHO of course. ;)
     
    Sean G likes this.
  10. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    why is that? what changed besides the sample rates and bit depths? i'm not getting why resolution wouldn't be better with more amplitude. maybe not as critical as 44.1 @ 16 bits, but it still counts. i'm thinking this is one of the big secrets the big kids are keeping to themselves. that DAW itb 2-bus's still impose limits. mixing discreet tracks into a console or summing box is a end run on crappy itb bus summing and if you don't create stems, you avoid any summing itb so you can track hotter with even more resolution? but to do this you would have to avoid any summing in the box. discreet tracks one channel of conversion to one track. 24 track project? 24 channels of conversion. i know this is how the larger rooms are set up.

    isn't this why a lot of us are summing in analog?

    strictly itb with plugs? no analog summing box? or a summing box with plugs but no outboard? or a summing box and outboard?

    i know a lot of the majors lean to itb only for recall ability.
     
  11. Chris Perra

    Chris Perra Active Member

    Bit depth relates to noise floor. 16 bit is better than 2 inch tape in that regard so 24 or 32 bit float gives better results than old school configurations.

    Purely resolution wise itb is better. Colour and vibe wise a console and outboard gear can be better.

    On a technical level as long as you have enough signal to feed your console and outboard gear you will have better resolution noise floor wise than 2 inch tape even at 16 bits.

    You won't have the colour and vibe though.

    If you were using tape a console and outboard gear in a mix pre mastering. What rms and peak levels would you be looking for? If it's got lots of headroom then having hot source tracks isn't that important.

    It depends on if you like the natural physical layering of each channel using a console more than having a daw sum the tracks.
     
  12. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    More bits doesn't mean more resolution, it means lower noise floor/more dynamic range. One bit equals 6dB of volume difference no matter how many bits there are. People used to run hotter with 16 bit systems because the noise floor was higher. Digital has no particular sound that changes with level unless you clip or drop down into the noise or use a level dependent effect.

    Normally, depending on your converters, a 0dBVU signal going in ends up around -18dBFS. So run the playback at -18dBFS for about 0dBVU on the console.
     
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  13. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    These guys explained it better than I did.

    There's no question that over the years, guys have been looking for ways to marry the analog sound with the convenience and noise floor of digital.

    You know this because you are one of those guys. ;)

    We all already know the pros and cons of each format, it wouldn't serve anyone much to rehash that.

    I think it's probably all over the place. I'm pretty sure that Scheps is entirely ITB, now. But, there are others who are doing the hybrid thing, in the various workflows you've mentioned, that they find works best for them.

    Personally speaking, there are many ITB plugs that I think do sound better than their original hardware counterparts... delays, reverbs, even some of the compressors and EQ's are better than many OB pieces; ( most of the good digital delay plugs sound much better than my Lexicon Prime Time, which sits in my rack and hasn't been turned on in, well, probably over a year) and, we have the ability to use those plugs on as many (or as few) DAW tracks as we want for one price.

    And, yes, as many cookers will say, there are some that have come kinda close, but that can't get the vibe of the original hardware pieces. It's a trade-off that we choose to make, usually based on budgets. Like anyone, I would love to have a floor to ceiling rack of Pultecs, but, I can't afford that, so I use what I can afford - which leads back to my suggestion in my original reply post to you - that even if I did have the money to spend on 12 separate Pultecs, would I ever be able to recoup that investment in this day and age, when even beautifully equipped pro ( and famous) studios are dropping like flies?

    While I've always been a proponent for great gear making great differences in sonics, I've also recently reached my own conclusion that I think there are too many in the craft who are too busy "waiting to get that dream gear" before they ever do anything.
    At some point, I think we need to either fish or cut bait... meaning that eventually, we need to move on, past the mindset of "If I can't have this ____, then I might as well not even do anything", and instead, just get busy making music, or creating art through recording and mixes, using what we do have, and making it work...like we've always done. If we have a laid-out analog rig, then let's use it. If we are using laid out DAW's, then we should use it. If we have an 8 track Tascam digital Porta Studio, or for that matter, even a beat up 1975 Dokorder 4 track R to R and an SM57, then we should use that, too.

    A few weeks ago, you mentioned this in the Orion thread:

    "would Orion conversion help Donny get even more awards? he's done fine with what he has, it seems..."

    First of all, I appreciate the confidence. And I'm not quoting this to bring up the awards, but rather to support my point... the knee-jerk answer to the question is: I don't know.
    Would Orion conversion be nice to have? Of course it would. But, for whatever reason, Terry's album was acknowledged as sounding good enough to that OMA awards panel with me using what I had to work with at that time.
    Is it possible that the album could have sounded even better? Of course. Would it have made any difference? Maybe.... but probably not. In the end, I think it's the music that moves people. As cookers, we listen for the engineering side of things... but sometimes I think we forget that we aren't creating these albums for people like us - we're doing it for people to enjoy the music. Bob Dylan's debut album sure didn't sound very good fidelity wise, nor did Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, but that sure didn't stop people from buying millions of - and enjoying - those records.

    By the same token, I'm certainly not suggesting that people shouldn't get the best gear that they can afford, or work to gradually improve their signal chains. While I would personally never invest in a LF mixing desk - which in today's recording world I feel would be a pretty big waste of money, mainly because I think that very few - if any - of the clients would even care, nor would they be happy about paying the hourly rate that I would be be forced to charge based upon that investment - but that doesn't mean that I don't respect the cats that do choose to go that route. There's no doubt that those pro desks have a great character of their own, both sonically... and visually.

    So, if you can afford a big desk, or an OB rack filled with 1176's and LA2's and Pultecs, and you want to do it, then of course you should. All of us are always on a quest for the best fidelity we can achieve, as we perceive that fidelity to be ... all of us... because it's ingrained in our brains. We can't help it.
    All of our mixes can always be better, and we can always improve our situations gear wise... but at some point, I think we have to decide whether having - or perhaps more importantly - not having those things, is going to prevent us from actually doing what we are good at, and what we all love doing.

    All IMHO of course. :)

    -d.
     
    Smashh likes this.
  14. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Little late here.

    I think the only exception to going high with the input levels to conversion would be the burls, to get more saturation from the transformer. I'm guessing this leaves little headroom.

    Other than that I'd stick w the typical -18dbfs. You need headroom especially to gather all that analog low end. Converters start to fart out when they get headroom starved.

    Also you don't need to use all 24bits. Once your levels are decent like in the -18dbfs range your using plenty of bits. Signal to noise is so low in digital noise floor isn't an issue, and no reason to record 'hot'. You could record at -40dbfs and not have noise issues. I know a very experience engineer/tech, who records kicks at -30dbfs because kicks have that much of a dynamic range. This is after going thru the console and outboard, at the tracking phase.

    From what I've gathered there's no reason ever to record hot in 24+ bit digital, unless you want the effect of digital clipping for some reason.

    The only reason to mix into the conversion a little hotter would be if your summing through the console and mixing down to stereo. This is where you'd record the mix at the typical headroom you'd leav a ME.

    What I don't understand @Kurt Foster is why you would go through a console and go back into a multitrack? Wouldn't you still then have a digital master bus/summing for that multi track? I may have mis understood what you were saying.

    I think the ITB guys who are big are doing it out of recallability. I think the guys who are mixing on consoles are printing a lot of the analog mojo during mix, to tracks. Then any further adjustments are done itb and recalled w the session. That and stems. I'm sure there's some guys who still are doing full recalls but I doubt many are very often.

    The consensus I see in general is neve for tracking, ssi for mixing. Although I know sheops mixes on his neve. Very few people tracking on ssl, so if I could only have one, I'd have a neve.
     
  15. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    I don't know… a Neve of any kind could make a killer front end. Adding some of its pre-amp flavor on the way in, and essentially using it as a (wildly variable) summing mixer on the way back out. It's probably a terrible idea for a rookie, but someone with Kurt's experience, who probably knows what he wants it to sound like before the first track is cut, might be able to get some benefit. Use the DAW like a tape deck with REALLY sophisticated (mouse-operated) razor blade capability and broad volume adjustments. Use the console for tracking and for playback to your 2-track recorder. A very shoot-from-the-hip analog style workflow that might suit Kurt very well. The huge downside doing it that way, as it was with pure analog, there's no such thing as accurately recalling a mix after the console has been disturbed.
     
  16. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    recall? i don need no steenkin' recall.

    i think i can count on one hand the times i wished i could recall a mix. i never did a lot of long distance work and i usually have the client present when mixing.

    it never takes me more than a few hours to do a mix and i usually don't mix other engineers records. also, the way i like to work is to make a lot of decisions while i track so there aren't a ton of options left to consider at mix time. i pretty much have an idea of what i want before i record and my work flow consists of mixing while i track so once i'm finished recording the mix is already there. stuff is already compressed and eq'ed. verbs and panning, levels maybe some additional eq on a few elements at mix. i do like automation for mults, fades and mutes. i know it's a good mix when all the faders are set pretty straight across the board.

    i am not a big fan of recording flat and dry and then taking ten years to throw everything at it until i stumble on something that sounds good. it's just too overwhelming for me. i would never finish. that's kind of like playing badly but doing it over and over until a mistake that sounds good is made.

    i have been known to leave a mix up after i'm done to be able to come back to it with fresh ears. but usually if a mix really sucks, i just start over. of course you have to be in a room where what you are hearing is right. otherwise your just pissing into the wind. in a lot of cases i can listen to a mix and recreate it just by switching back and forth listening to how an element sits and matching it. and what ever did everyone do before there was automation?

    i like Chris Lord-Alge' approach. he never tweaks his outboard. it's all preset and he will patch to a particular piece for the settings. a luxury for sure but one way to get there from here.

    my original question had more to do with getting a better sound than with anything else and was more a question of if you're not mixing itb, can you get away with higher levels and will that sound any better due to better resolution. asked and answered. thanks guys!
     
  17. Guelph_Guy

    Guelph_Guy Active Member

    Great post Kurt , I track with hopefully as close to the final sound that I want , I'm not very experienced in recording only a few years but I do recall reading an article where an engineer was pretty much "there" by getting what he wanted at the track level first .. Glad to see someone else applying the technique.

    As for recording levels

    my aging digital console, ( a Tascam tm d-8000) it's metering is pre marked at -16db ..... and that's where my signals peak when I'm recording tracks ..

    the whole in and out of the box thing..

    I've also been torn between itb and otb ...I'm hybrid right now , but set up a mini studio "B" so I can try to work in the box more ...( Sonar,pro-tools,Ableton,Studio One, Samplitude).. and some pro-sumer level stuff ( 2 focusrite liquid channels coming into the DAW on AES/EBU as a main recording pair ( I know these have a love hate relationship with engineers). What it's forcing me to do is use more of the onboard resources ( or really learn plugins better).. What I've learned is working in the box really makes you learn your tools . ( mind you we had to learn all of our outboard gear and it's behavior before daws). But what I'm finding is the digital plugs a bit more finicky to se..( or learn is more the case).

    I've been curious about external summing as well ... I can see the theory behind it , summing in the analog domain should produce a ton of harmonic content as well as intermodulation products. To me the rational is sound, as you are dealing with mixing in the analog domain instead of discrete samples of digital ...Summing in the digital domain is really "great math". The question to ask is .. does the math get it all?... I'd like to try analog summing , but it would be a faulted test as I can't determine if there is a component the analog summing mixer is coloring the mix with..

    When we had analog gear we worked within the confines of the analog environment , digital eliminates those analog limitations but introduces more for the engineer to work with as the landscape he creates can be pretty much limitless... The down side is having too much control can be more detrimental as we may try to fix issues through "brute force" because we have "digital" and can "do it" ...

    I find I can create a dogs breakfast in the digital domain faster then I can in Analog ( but it's a learning process) LOL
     
  18. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

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  19. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    You are very lucky. I get ask remix all the time. People with low budget often rush on mixing. Usually, I do a them a nice mix and when the get home they sometimes regret not having put the creative touch mixing allow. So after a few weeks I see them comming back not because the mix isn't good but because they want to change stuff, add special effects, some take all that time to realise they want to retrack a part. (Altought, I told them are you sure you want to keep that take ?)

    There's also the purists who want to listen to the mix at home and other places and come 2-3 times to change it.

    On occasion I get customers who thrust me and have the budget, I must admit I have less recalls with them

    I love being able to call the project and start where I was..
    But that's just me ;)
     
  20. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    The only thing with mixers (USB or Firewire) that becomes your audio interface is, where do I plug my boutique preamps ?
    The inputs of this mixer all goes through the preamp circuit and it doesn't have Adat inputs..
    I think the ZED have adats but honestly, if I'd go the analog mixer way, I'd rather have my converters seperatly and have the opportunity to use any amount of external preamps to record. and then maybe mix it all through the mixer...

    But a mixer like this would be very good for recording and mixing at a live venue, I guess
     

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