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How can I set up my mixer both as a front and back end to the interface?

Discussion in 'Recording' started by bcwilliamson, Mar 14, 2010.

  1. bcwilliamson

    bcwilliamson Active Member

    Hi there,
    I'm expanding my home studio into a mixer-based analog set-up - I've been working mixerless for a while and now I'd like to spend a couple of grand to gain some more control over the recording process, as well as much higher quality. I record not only as a musician recording parts separately, but recording my band and others, so at a maximum I'm talking 10 inputs at the same time for mics and instruments. I know most of the basics of recording very well, but I'm fairly naive when it comes to mixers, as I've never used them. So I need a little help on how I would set up my studio rig.

    Basically, I'll be putting mics and instruments into a mixer (probably a Behringer SX3282 for its price, is this the right option given my requests?), which will have line outs to a pair of monitors, aux sends to effects on a rackmount, and line outs into an Alesis HD24 modular multitrack recorder... here's a diagram I made http://img641.imageshack.us/img641/5514/signalflow.jpg Standard stuff. I'll record up to 24 tracks onto the recorder and then master in stereo onto my computer. But I'm having problems understanding how to hook up the mixer in conjunction with the recorder.

    Of course, the mixer has two uses... 1) mixing down my various inputs, applying levels, panning and EQ to each channel input, into a signal to be used by the audio interface... and 2) working as a controller for the audio interface (in this case the Alesis recorder), controlling the levels, panning and EQ for each track previously recorded. Common sense tells me the mixer can't do this at the same time... presumably I would fill up the 24 tracks during tracking, mixing the mics and instruments in a good stereo image on each one, and then change the configuration while doing the mix, to mix the 24 tracks on the recorder with the mixer, before mastering separately to computer.

    Basically, I need a guide on how to use the mixer both as a front end (mixing down my inputs) and a back end (controlling the final mix on the Alesis recorder) when recording... effectively to be able to switch reasonably quickly between each option. I guess I would have to use a patchbay, but I'm not sure how, having never used one. The monitors would need to be monitoring the mix on the recorder so I can mix it properly. A layman's guide to how I would hook it up would be much appreciated. I'm sure this is a very stupid question, but please help if you can, I've never used a big mixer before and I can't make any purchases before I work out how to set things up. Thanks, and apologies for the long-winded explanation.
  2. Jeemy

    Jeemy Well-Known Member

    When you say you have a couple of grand to spend, does this include the HD24?

    The B&hringer is not going to be a very good mixer. It will do the routing you require but it won't sound very good, and it may catch fire.

    Is there a particular reason you are not wanting to use a computer to aid you in this? I'd presume if you don't already own one you feel it might eat up your $2,000?

    Let me know and we'll see what we can do to help.

    Effectively you would want to seperate your workflow into 'tracking' and 'mixing'. During the tracking phase you will simply use the mixer as a set of preamplifiers, feeding the HD24.

    So you won't feed the HD24 panning information or anything like that. This would normally be accomplished by going into the mixer channel, and then out via a 'Direct Out' to the HD24. So the unpanned, prefader signal is preamplified and then send to the HD24 and recorded.

    You would then connect the 24 analog outs of the HD24 (I presume this is what it has) back to the mixer. A patchbay is going to be a total pain for this, you don't want to make 24 switches.

    Normally on a 32-channel desk like the Bhringer you might use channels 1-16 to feed the preamps>HD24 and channels 17-32 to receive the line ins back from the HD24. If the HD24 does 'direct monitoring' then you would receive these feeds back immediately and you'd be able to mix in realtime as you seem to wish, using those, having set up your tracking levels so they don't clip the HD24, chans 1-16 would just get left alone.

    If there's some reason you're wedded to this workflow, then we'll be able to advise on a better solution perhaps, although the general response here is that you are better saving and waiting and getting 'proper' equipment. The HD24 would be considered 'proper' fwiw, the B&hringer not.

    A more expensive console might feature monitor inputs on the same channels, which you could then route your HD24 outs to. You would then be able to flip your monitoring globally from channels, to monitors.

    A DAW will increase your flexibility in some of these respects and also allow you to get an increase in signal quality and tone by getting a better equipment upgrade path. Let us know.
  3. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    bcwilliamson -

    I'm sorry to say that you are under a delusion if you think that an SX3282 will give you the lift in quality and way of working you are seeking. However, it's not at all clear why you have decided you need an analog mixer. What were you using by way of pre-amps and computer interface when you were "mixerless"?

    Tracking to and mixing down from an HD24 is a perfectly acceptable way to work - using external pre-amps into HD24XRs is my normal signal route for location recording - but it is a tall order for an analog mixer to give good results as both a multi-channel pre-amp during recording and as a line-level production desk during mixdown.

    That said, there are two products that you ought to look seriously at before making any other purchases:

    (a) The Allen and Heath Zed-R16. This is a 16-channel analog mixer with superb pre-amps, a very nice sounding EQ section, a Firewire interface for your computer, and, crucially for your application, 16 channels of ADAT I/O to interface to your HD24. No re-patching is necessary between tracking and mixdown - just push the buttons on the mixer panel. In addition to mixing in analog from the HD24, you have the option of recording the raw tracks to the computer and then mixing from there, either ITB or OTB. The R16 would do everything you asked for up to its 16-channel limitation.

    (b) The Yamaha 01V96VCM. This is a 32-channel digital mixer, and can communicate 24 channels via optical lightpipes to and from your HD24. It has only 12 microphone pre-amps, which are of reasonable quality, but are not in the Zed-R16 league. You can use a 4-channel external pre-amp to go to 16 mic channels, or use multi-channel ADAT pre-amps to get to 32 channels. Because it's a digital mixer, a 1-button push is all that's necessary to change between the patching for recording and that for mixdown. Mixdown works conventionally, but the audio stays in the digital domain. There are built-in EQ, effects and dynamics. You would need an ADAT or S/PDIF interface in your computer to capture the stereo mix.

    Edit: While typing this, I see that Jeemy has given you some great advice as well.
  4. BobRogers

    BobRogers Well-Known Member

    Boswell - One of the features that I usually see touted on the HD24XR is the quality of its A/D converters. Does it make sense for him to bypass these and use the converters in the mixer? Are the converters in the zed or the Yamaha better than the HD24?
  5. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    The Zed-R16 converters are (IMO) at least as good as those in an HD24XR. However, I believe the OP is only talking about the stock HD24, which is why it would be better to use the ADAT I/O. The converters in the stock HD24 are inferior to those in the R16, and on a par with the 01V96. The 01V96 and HD24 are a good match for one another - one reason why this combination is so popular.
  6. bcwilliamson

    bcwilliamson Active Member

    Ok, I've taken all these comments into consideration, so thanks for all the feedback. I'll probably need to devote an extra part of my budget to a better mixer than the Behringer; the Allen&Heath suggested here looks excellent.

    What I don't understand is that - and stick with me here, I'm slow with understanding mixers - if I got the A&H Zed-R16, which has 16 channels, how would I control a 24-track mix from the Alesis HD24? So I use the mixing board as a series of pre-amps, bypassing the EQ and pan and so on, with the output going into the HD24, and record up to 24 tracks. Then, when mixing, how would I control pan, EQ and volume for each one of the recorded tracks on the board? I'm a little confused... the HD24 has 24 1/4inch inputs and 24 outputs, so how would I figure that out?

    Thanks for the help, I'll get there soon enough :)
  7. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    You would use optical (lightpipe) I/O to and from the HD24, so no connections to the TRS jacks. However, as pointed out earlier, the Zed-R16 is limited to 16 channels, both for recording and mixdown. A+H have already demonstrated a 24-channel version. It may be worth waiting for....
  8. bouldersound

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


    I have an HD24 and I love it for live recording, but given what a DAW can do I would never consider using it in a studio environment. Yes, compared to tape it's fantastic. You could similarly compare a 95 year old steam powered car to a horse.

    But if you're stuck on using the HD24 you might be able to find a used deal on a proper studio mixer. It will have features designed for multi-track recording. You need tape outs and returns on all the channels, live input and track monitoring facilities etc. It's not a trivial matter to set up a 24 track studio using a standalone recorder. If you don't have a clear grasp on the issues and a solid vision of your workflow you won't even know why one option is better than another.

    Do you want to be able to eq and pan effects? They'll need to return on channels instead of aux returns, so now you're looking at a 32 channel studio mixer. Do you want compression available on all channels? Now you need a big expensive rack full of them (plus all the cabling), or a digital mixer. You could easily spend more on a studio mixer and rack gear than a nice DAW and computer would cost, and it would be less precise, flexible and convenient.
  9. bcwilliamson

    bcwilliamson Active Member

    Again, thanks for the responses. I'm grateful that people can respond so quickly and with so much information - makes the learning (and decision-making) process so much quicker.

    It's funny how things work out - in the month or so gone by since posting this topic, I've looked into DAWs and computers in more depth, talked to friends, etc, and I've been re-thinking things. You see, my attitude to recording has, in the past, mostly been romantic and non-technical -> leave it to the professionals to sort out sound issues, make rough demos in my own time, on my own limited setup. But over the past year I've taught myself the basics of recording and studios and hardware and so on, now I'm looking to build a mid-range home studio with as easy and linear a work-flow as possible... track, overdub, mix, master, you know the drill. My head's been stuck in the past recording-wise: do it all analog, no MIDI, no sequencing, etc, and this obviously isn't the best way to progress, making things harder and relying on technical knowledge that I'm not yet able to apply perfectly. And, as much as I try to resist, it looks like DAWs are looking like the best option, not only from the posts I've read on this forum, but from what friends have told me. My PC isn't too bad at all, with some good custom parts already there... if I get some more RAM and memory it should easily be able to record with, and the more I think about it, with a good software sequencer, it would make recording a lot more straightforward, especially when compared to an ADAT or tape machine.

    Just a couple of questions... I'm so new to this on many fronts, so stick with me. :)

    OK, so I know a mixer is very important in any studio context (and using one's a requirement for me anyway), but how would it work in conjunction with software? Because sequencer programs always offer all the options that a mixer typically offers... EQ, different effects, panning, and so on, so what happens to the role of the mixer, apart from its use as a set of preamps and line inputs? I don't want to get too much into editing things on a computer, I just want to use a mixer in a straightforward way, recording no more than 24 tracks (with or without effects, using aux sends), and then adjusting levels, EQ and pan in the mix... how would I work this with a DAW? It's probably a very simple question, but I don't know what to think. :p

    And presumably things would flow this way: Mics/Instruments > Mixer (w/ FX sends) > Soundcard > Computer (w/sequencer software) > Mixer > Monitors/Headphone Amp

    Sorry for the rambling and questions... thanks for the help :)
  10. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    You might want to think in these terms? In the old days, that is the 1970s, many consoles were of a split variety. This meant that, one part of your console was simply used for input to recording machine. The other part of the console was used to monitor the returned from the multitrack machine. In a sense, you had 2 consoles in a single cabinet. This offered many variable options that one could utilize. Sometimes you would only use the desk in its separated manner. Other times, you could combine the monitoring section to fold into the recording section which would increase your line inputs at mix down. So in a sense, you are working with a truly split console design. Your options are huge. And of course there is much interaction between the two so attention to gain staging is quite important for good performance. Mismatching input and output levels will decrease your head room, increased noise, increased distortion. Which is why gain staging is so important. Both hardware and software consoles can and are used frequently by folks like us. Bottom line is, you just can't have too many mixers. It's all good. It's all fun.

    Using more than two consoles simultaneously, all the time.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  11. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    A mixer is not an essential component of a DAW-based studio, but many of us choose to work with one rather than without because of the flexibility it offers, not only in routing but also in achieving a wider range of sonics.

    If you use an analog mixer in both the recording and mixdown signal chains, you need high-quality multi-channel A-D and D-A conversion. 24 channels of this does not come cheap, at least if bought as dedicated converter boxes. One of the best deals of the last few years has been the Alesis HD24XR used as A-D and D-A conversion (with free hard disk recording) and run via a multi-ADAT computer interface. With Alesis having discontinued the XR version of the HD24 (and also the EC-2 upgrade to the still-available stock HD24), that option is all but closed off now. However, the functionality is being taken over by the recent hybrid-technology mixing desks from the likes of Allen & Heath, Presonus and Mackie, where respectable A-D and D-A conversion is actually built into the desk and forms part of the package.

    The more you say about your intentions and aspirations, the more I believe you should be looking very seriously at the new A+H Zed-R24. I have no connection with A+H, and full detailed specifications are not yet publicly available, but with 24 channels of quality pre-amps, EQ, A-D and D-A conversion, coupled with the modern equivalent of split-mode operation that Remy was talking about, and DAW control surface capability thrown in, it seems to meet your requirements. Not only would you be satisfying Remy (in itself no mean task), you would be mixing using the R24 as an external analog summer and mixer in a way that our Forum Administrator Chris (audiokid) has gone all gooey over.
  12. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    To complement Remy's post:
    Most 16-24 boards don't have true Direct Outs (sometimes called recording outs). They have insert points. So you would use insert cables to send from the board to the HD24XR inputs. The other half of the cable (return) plugs into the output side of the HD24XR. Whammo, you have instant two way communication between the board and the hard drive. An Alesis or I'm sure the JoeCo Blackbox is capable of playing and recording at the same time, so IF this is your setup you would always leave a couple of tracks available to mix down the 2-bus or for combining finished subgroups into a single stereo pair/mono track. This is just like we used to do in reel tape days. I never had the opportunity to work on a machine larger than 8 tracks (not the car kind!) but that "foldback and combine" was my process in those days.
  13. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    Oops. Should have read further. Boswell has it pretty much nailed.
  14. bouldersound

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

    Your idea of signal flow is about right.

    I like a big mixer as a front end and for monitoring. In the old days it was used for the actual mixdown, but now the DAW takes over that job. The DAW also replaces the effects rack, excepting anything I deem necessary during tracking (like nice analog compressors). So now the board provides preamps, input eq, live source/DAW monitoring (control room, multiple zero-latency headphone mixes) and perhaps some effects to monitors (not tracked). With a meter bridge I also get big level meters on all my inputs, also with zero-latency (software meters lag). A Control Room knob is instantly at hand for adjusting listening volume. There's a control room headphone output with its own level knob. I can solo inputs and monitor mixes at will with an easy push of a button. There's even a pair of aux sends left over that I use to drive some big speakers for in-studio live performances, and I can record both the mix and the tracks simultaneously. If I want to get clever I can use external preamps and bypass the on-board ones.

    If you want to be able to record 24 tracks at a time get a mixer with more than 24 inputs. You will want an extra pair of inputs (real ones that route anywhere) for the DAW return, plus more pairs for effects to monitors etc., and one for the talkback mic. Note that a patchbay or three and a small fortune in cabling will be required. Headphone infrastructure alone (cabling, amps and phones) will be a significant project.
  15. bcwilliamson

    bcwilliamson Active Member

    Great, so would I only really need as many channels as inputs (with a five-piece band I'd rarely need more 10 mic/line inputs for simultaneous recording) as well as returns for the DAW and monitor effects? That makes things much simpler for me, especially as I wouldn't need to separately purchase many rackmount effects. Thanks everyone for the help, I think I'm convinced by the idea of using a DAW now with a good 16 channel mixer. Just another thing... I'd be interested primarily in Ableton Live or ProTools, but I can't find the price of ProTools anywhere, apart from upgrades for people with previous versions of the software. There's also the LE version bundled with the Digidesign MBOX interface; I'd be happy to use the LE version but is the interface any good? Ideally I'd want to use, say, a Mackie 1604 (or something of similar quality/price) as my mixer, going straight into the soundcard and the sequencer. Would they work together?
  16. TheJackAttack

    TheJackAttack Distinguished Member

    The Mackie i-Onyx 1640 will work with PT-M Power or LE. Any mixer can work with any interface but some have the advantage of also functioning as a control surface. Again with ProTools you have to use a Digi approved interface.
  17. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    The three makes/models of mixer I mentioned in an earlier post all have direct FireWire connections to the PC and do not need a separate audio interface.

    Unless you positively, absolutely have to have ProTools, my advice would be to steer clear of it for your purposes, as it's such a constraint. If you can't avoid PT, the Mackie Onyx-i series will work with M-Powered PT though a deal brokered by Mackie, and you don't need to buy any M-Audio or Digidesign hardware. It would give you a workable mixer-PT combination, but it's not the best you can do in this price bracket in terms of audio quality.
  18. bouldersound

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

    I have no problem with the Mackie 1604 VLZ (I have two VLZ Pros), but you will likely want something with more aux sends so you can have more separate monitor sends. And you may want more channels than you think. I can easily burn through eight or more on drums given the gear and tracks. After all, you can't easily go back and re-track a drum mic you should have gotten the first time through, but you can easily choose not to use it if you tracked it. If you think you can get by with ten tracks at a time give yourself some headroom and put together a system that will do sixteen.

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