Hybrid setup, summing mixer questions

Discussion in 'Summing Mixers' started by Gahlord, Sep 9, 2012.

  1. Gahlord

    Gahlord Active Member

    Hello everyone. I'm ready to start expanding beyond "in the box" (ITB) methods to "outside the box" (OTB) methods.

    I realize that summing mixer threads are everywhere and that there are many of them. I've read many of them. My hope is that this thread will serve as a repository of useful information about the topic for others who, like me, may be a bit overwhelmed by the variety of information and assumed knowledge. I'll update this initial post with info as I get more of it.

    First off a few things:

    1. I'm not interested in discussions about whether mixing ITB or OTB are better or worse than each other. I'm going to try it out regardless of what anyone says and decide for myself. So we can skip that part. :)
    2. My process will be Hybrid as defined by the intensely thoughtful "OTB Pro" re-naming thread: Mics->Pre->AD->DAW->DA->Analog Stuff->AD->Distribution Format.
    3. My questions will be basic and beginner but please don't assume that I haven't read the threads or used the search function. I'll try to be as specific as possible in my questions.
    4. My budget, while not non-existent, is limited and I am at heart a DIY sort of person. I'm very interested in high quality stuff but am more likely to deploy solutions which I make myself.
    5. My income is not reliant on work in music, audio recording or audio engineering. My toys and resources are more than a bedroom but I don't consider myself a "professional" in either strict or aspirational usage. That said, I do aspire to craft pleasing things with sound.

    Alright, enough with the opening act. On to some questions:

    In the aforementioned "OTB Pro" thread audiokid says, regarding summing mixers and OTB/ITB issues generally:

    As I'm in the process of re-organizing my audio stuff to work more tangible-world things into my workflow, this quote really nails it for me. While not in the business, I am exactly one of these people who doesn't understand the difference between all of these things.

    For example, I'm trying to figure out the difference between a running from DAW->DA->DIY passive summing mixer->Pre->AD->DAW vs DAW->DA->Mixing Console->AD->DAW. Obviously whatever sonic characteristics imparted by the "summing mixer + pre" and the "mixing console" parts of the chain would be different. So my question is:

    Question: Can a console perform the same function as a summing mixer in a hybrid system? How is a console different from a summing system?

    Kurt Foster, below, responds:
    audiokid, later in this thread, offers a caveat. First that consoles impart a certain character (in other words they are not "transparent") due to their unique signatures--and liking/choosing them is then a matter of taste. And that

    The reason I ask this question is because I do not currently have a summing mixer but I do have a small mixing board. If a mixing board serves the same function as a summing mixer, I would like to use the mixing board to try this whole hybrid thing out. My plan would be to test the following signal chain: DAW->DA->Small Mixing Board->-AD->DAW while monitoring via the "control room out" on the small mixing board.

    Question: Would this signal chain give me a fair assessment of what using analog summing is about? (Obvious caveats given for the quality of the mixing board itself etc)

    Answer: Kurt Foster, below, responds:
    With those two out of the way, I have a question about panning. Many of the summing mixers I have seen while researching have inputs either hard-wired to be left/center/right or include just a switch which will hard pan left/center/hard pan right. Only a few have had a rotary dial. As I currently only have 8 channels of DA conversion and I rarely automate panning, I would love to set the panning from the summing mixer itself.

    Question: Is there something inherently tricky about panning that prevents a pan rotary from being present on many summing mixers? For the DIY-inclined out there, is there something about panning that makes a rotary knob not work in a passive summing mixer?

    Answer: Kurt Foster, below, responds:
    That's it for now. I will edit/update this head post as I learn more. Hopefully in this way others who begin to investigate hybrid setups can be directed to one place instead of the large number of posts out there.

    Also if this should be moved somewhere please let me know. I was going to put it in Home Recording for Newbs but that is under ITB mixing. I guess I sort of see this post as more of an "on ramp" for OTB mixing so I put it here.

    Some additional thoughts put forth on the topic of hybrid and summing mixers:

    Two hybrid signal flows have been suggested. The first one, which is the one I've seen in referenced in the majority of posts on the topic goes like this:

    1. DAW stems
    2. DA converter
    3. Summing mixer (which may include inserts and aux for each stem)
    4. Stereo mix from the summing mixer
    5. AD converter
    6. DAW

    audiokid, in this thread suggests that the DAW in step 6 be a different machine than the DAW in step 1 in order to avoid sample rate conversion (SRC). audiokid's full Two DAW process is outlined in this thread about export vs printing of the stereo sum.

    Boswell, later in this thread, further clarifies the process in regards to sample rate conversion (SRC):
    Kurt, below, suggests a hybrid signal flow that is suitable for 64-bit DAWs which don't suffer the same bottlenecking as the 32-bit machines which lead to analog summing in the first place:
    1. DAW channel inserts/sends
    2. DA converter
    3. Analog effects
    4. AD converter
    5. DAW channel returns
    6. DAW stereo mixdown
  2. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    Question: Can a console perform the same function as a summing mixer in a hybrid system? How is a console different from a summing system?

    Yes it can . A console is different in that it can provide aux sends, eqs, and sub grouping as well as a two bus for summing.

    Question: My plan would be to test the following signal chain: DAW->DA->Small Mixing Board->-AD->DAW while monitoring via the "control room out" on the small mixing board.

    Would this signal chain give me a fair assessment of what using analog summing is about? (Obvious caveats given for the quality of the mixing board itself etc)

    Yes it would. However the better your mixer, the better the mix's would sound. Using a mixer with with a cheese-o mix bus / power supply might not reveal much of a difference.

    Question: Is there something inherently tricky about panning that prevents a pan rotary from being present on many summing mixers? For the DIY-inclined out there, is there something about panning that makes a rotary knob not work in a passive summing mixer?

    Pan knobs require an active circuit. Anyway a pan knob should not be necessary as you should be assigning DAW outs in pairs to the summing network. Do your pans in DAW land.
  3. Gahlord

    Gahlord Active Member

    Thanks for the quick and clear response!

    If I do the panning in DAW land I am left with half as many channels to sum or I have to create stems/submixes. From reading on the various posts about this topic this seems to be a common/normal/great practice. In my case, having an 8 channel AD/DA converter, it would mean creating 4 stems/submixes and sending those out for analog summing.

    My understanding is that I would want to group like material in those submixes (all the guitars in one, all the drums in one for example).

    This raises two more questions for me related to using summing mixers:

    Question: When choosing "like material" for creating a submix/stem to send out for summing what parameters should be considered? Pitch range? Attack/decay? Overtones? Or is this more of an arbitrary thing that is dependent on a great number of factors/taste/preference?

    and then the inevitable...

    Question: If groups of instruments are being mixed together in the DAW and then sent to the summing mixer as a stereo pair, isn't that the same as doing the mixing ITB in the first place? Or is this ITB mixing less problematic due to the nature of the "like material" selected via parameters outlined in the previous question (or more likely the answer to the previous question)?

  4. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    Question: When choosing "like material" for creating a submix/stem to send out for summing what parameters should be considered? Pitch range? Attack/decay? Overtones? Or is this more of an arbitrary thing that is dependent on a great number of factors/taste/preference?

    Either way. I would group Drums L/R, bass and maybe kick on one mono channel, Lead Vox on another mono channel, keys and guitars together, and solos. There's 8 channels. But really it's a matter of personal preference / what ever works for you.

    I want to add another advantage to doing your panning in the DAW is of course, automated pans.

    Question: If groups of instruments are being mixed together in the DAW and then sent to the summing mixer as a stereo pair, isn't that the same as doing the mixing ITB in the first place? Or is this ITB mixing less problematic due to the nature of the "like material" selected via parameters outlined in the previous question (or more likely the answer to the previous question)?

    Not so much "like material" ... but the use of more than one stereo bus.

    Think of the stereo bus in a typical DAW as a bottleneck. The more bottlenecks you use, the more easily the audio will "flow" into the summing network. 8 is better than 2 and 16 would be better than 8. Most of us are going 16.

    I have to add (even though you said not to) With the advant of 64 bit processing, DAWs like Studio One2 and PT 10 XHD have come a long way towards solving the problem of "choking" in the 2-bus. I have a feeling the whole summing and hybrid thing is going to go away in the future. Finally, we have what we have all been wanting. Mixing ITB sans a mixer or other hardware even though mixing with a mouse still sucks!.
  5. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    BUT! its not just about headroom, its about sonic variation and analog colour you get from very cool gear plus the unique space and imaging you get including a really pleasing distortion famous with analog. Its all relevant :) the better ITB gets, the better analog will get. The two worlds together, done right, are gold. That's how I hear it.
  6. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    You just won't need a summing solution. Even ITB you can use analog processing (compressors, reverbs, gates, etc) by using your sends and returns . I do this all the time in lieu of purchasing plug ins that only get me 98% of the way there. I think that's where we are going to see things wind up. Of course everyone has their own preferences and no matter what if I could afford a nice API console, I would never mix in the box if I didn't have to.

    From the beginning, the main promise of DAW's was the ability to record and mix without a lot of expensive hardware and the associated maintenance costs other than converters and computers. I myself was very disappointed when I heard what those mixes sounded like and by then I had unfortunately sold off my analog console. BUMMER!
  7. Gahlord

    Gahlord Active Member

    Kurt: Just so I can make sure I understand, is the problem (assuming there is one) of mixing ITB one of mashing more channels into a stereo bus? For example is the following statement true? In mixing ITB, mashing 32 channels into one stereo bus tends to result in something that sounds different than mashing 32 channels into 8 stereo buses.

    And I appreciate your insight into how changing technology if effecting this issue. Especially because you give a clear source for your suspicion--64 bit processing. It at least gives me something to go on when researching further.

    As for mixing with a mouse, well that's what I've been doing for the most part but there are USB controllers which mimic the haptics of a console and so on. I think the psychological impact of having nobs that are readily tweakable has an impact on decision-making.

    My income is generated as an online business consultant with a heavy focus on analytics--I'm the guy who tracks what people click on and know what/how/when to tweak it for different results. My research in that realm absolutely supports the idea that people will make different decisions based on what options are available to them onscreen (blue button, red button, on the left or right or up or down etc). Often these decisions people make are tied to large sums of money and/or important life decisions. Even in these instances what they see and how many clicks it takes to get someplace influences their behavior.

    I have to believe that the same is true of professionals as well. Screen real estate is by nature limited. Shunting some of the interface out of the screen and into a hardware controller (whether analog or USB connected to the DAW) allows a greater set of options to be available in the mind as well as in the hand.

    To be honest, this is one of the reasons I'm looking to cycle my recording setup from a completely DAW configuration to one which mixes in more analog stuff. Ultimately I would like to have a recording setup that takes advantage of DAW characteristics but requires an absolute minimum use of my eyes on a screen. This is primarily due to cognition stuff. The brain will prioritize visual stimuli over auditory stimili so in order to free up some cycles in my limited CPU (cognitive processing unit) I want to decrease visual requirements while mixing.

    In this instance, even if ITB results in exactly the same auditory experience as a hybrid solution I would choose to be hybrid.

    So that's the crazy underbelly of what I'm exploring here. On the surface though, I just want to develop a system and process that sound good. And since I don't know what I don't know I'm here asking these questions. And very grateful for the answers given.

    I have no problem discussing advantages/disadvantages of analog summing. But so many of these threads have devolved into statements of taste/fashion which then quickly enflamed into episodes of individuals establishing status/dominance in relation to their taste/fashion. Since I don't make my living from audio engineering it's unfair for me to weigh in on these sorts of things; it's people's livelihoods we're discussing at some point.
  8. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I avoid going back into the same box as you suggest Kurt. I would never do that after having a straight line like the Dangerous and SPL hybrid gear. I use the DAW for mixing and some plug-ins but sum OTB and never go back to the same DAW once its analog. Using a MixDream for its headroom and inserts is a glorious sound. I do the hybrid thing with a MixDream and Dangerous Master together and master to a second computer so there is no SRC. The magic happen OTB and I do my best to save it on a second system albeit DSD or DAW.
  9. Gahlord

    Gahlord Active Member

    audiokid: Sorry for this basic question but what is SRC? And in your configuration that second recording medium could be anything right? Tape deck, DAT, wax cylinder, DAW, whatever?

    Sounds like two approaches (please correct me if I've got this wrong):

    Kurt is advocating gaining some analog fun by sending items from the channel strips and back in the mixing. Then at the end summing the whole thing down ITB. Do you bother with stems etc in this process?

    audiokid is advocating sending stems to the MixDream summing mixer (which has inserts for each channel and the master) for summing, then on to a completely different device to record that final output. Are there benefits to this approach beyond the lack of SRC?

    Thank you both for helping me with this. I'll be updating the top post once I have clearer understanding of what's what.
  10. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    I agree with what Chis is saying as far as going back to the box with DAWs of the past, due to these same choking / bottle neck problems but I truly believe that this will be fully addressed in the near future as more and more DAW designers jump on the 64 bit bandwagon.

    On the other hand there will always be those who like the sound of a particular piece of gear as Chris seems to feel about his Mix Dream. I get it and that's fine with me. Like I said, If I had an API or for that matter even my old JH 636, I would be jumping out of the box at the first opportunity. But the whole idea of computer recording is supposed to be to get away from expensive hardware, not to jump to using different expensive hardware.

    I still suspect we will see a lot of summing box's on E Bay going for cheap in the next year or so. It's the nature of digital audio. Things change every 16 months.

    Bottom line for me is at the present moment it appears that investing in a DAW with higher bit rate processing may provide a more efective way of improving your audio. And I would add, just try to sell analog gear. I have quite a few very nice pieces that I almost can't even give away.

    shoot me again! I'm still here.
  11. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    For the OP,

    from all my reading on forums for the last 13 years and doing extensive research on hybrid, a lot of people who have tried it claim it is no better but when you dig for what they did or used, its really obvious they are not going about it correctly and are also pretending to know more about it than they do. Most people do not want it to be better than ITB because it is expensive and out of reach so they spread incorrect information.

    I've read many threads where people claim to have even done comparisons and wonder how they could truly have done this ( in this economy to add) without investing in at least $2000 in cable right off the bat, $1000 for a proper interface, $4,000 in adequate conversion, $3,000 for a proper summing amp before you even get started lol. Then if you really want to get serious add $60,000 in nice hardware.
    Most people that give opinions have never even used the gear I describe so how could they know I ask.
    And most of the guys that used a console in the past and try hybrid are not the best consoles. They are noisy and have bad routing in comparison to something like a MixDream. A console is not the same thing. But, if we are talking about a great console like and API, Neve to name two, well thats another story. But its still not like what I have. But I'm certain either will produce true excellence.

    I'm not saying you need tons of outboard gear to get some vibe happening either but it sure helps. Once you pass the basic set-up, and hear the results its addicting.

    Even something like the Bricasti at the end of my analog chain is to die for. That sound isn't even possible ITB. There aren't CP big enough to handle all this processing. So, we will always be passing the meat to analog. And when there is one day where CP are so powerful ( I'm still waiting lol) , the gear that has the glorious colour will always have a place to help that super clean digital track or stem out. Hybrid is the best of both worlds. Will it make you more money? doubtful in this stupid economy but it should if you are a good business man and an audio engineer. .
    Hybrid done right is sure a lot more fun and way easier getting a great sound. Its a rich mans game and its definitely for the upper crust in this industry.
  12. Gahlord

    Gahlord Active Member

    Kurt: In your system where whatever analog stuff you do comes in at the track level via inserts do you also do stem mixes in order to avoid the bottleneck thing? Only on 32 bit machines but not on 64 bit machines? Or do you always do stem mixes anyway regardless because that's your normal process and the technology doesn't matter?
  13. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Hi Kurt,

    The MixDream dosen't have a sound. Its transparent in a good way but it has tons of headroom making it able to handle a punch. It does have a optional Lundhal tranny but I rarely use it. What the MD does is allow gear to be inserted in a really logical way. So quiet and so smart. Its the gear that you add that adds the colour. The MixDream is the hub. Hybrid without added gear is okay but not really worth it. However, mastering to a second CP via hybrid is definitely worth it. And, a really good monitor control system is essential.
  14. Gahlord

    Gahlord Active Member


    I've read many of the forum posts and have admired your consistent message and approach: use good gear, use the right method. What I'm trying to do in this post is clarify things a bit. That way the next person like me, who is looking for the on ramp to hybrid, can get things straight without reading a lot of armchair opinions and false starts.

    There are a couple questions that you could help out with greatly, I think:

    Question: What is the difference between a summing mixer and a console? Is it sound color? Coloration flexibility? Workflow? Something else entirely?

    Question: What is the bare minimum technology pieces required to do hybrid well? I'm not looking for brand names (though that's nice) but instead I'm looking for function.

    Question: In those functional items, what are the parameters of quality to be looking for?

    In many of the hybrid and summing mixer threads I've read there is a strong focus on improving DA/AD conversion since a hybrid method will, by it's nature, include this more than a straight ITB method. By reading the tech specs there is little to differentiate a $200 AD/DA converter from a $2000 AD/DA converter--they all take x channels and convert them into 44.1/48/98 16bit/24bit digital files. Obviously there must be some difference beyond marketing and I hope the difference isn't simply 24 karat gold connections for data.

    Regarding whether the investment in gear will result in a positive return on investment is probably far more closely linked to one's business skills than one's engineering skills. But as I've noted earlier, the food on my table isn't provided for through my efforts as an audio engineer. It's unfair of me to engage deeply in that conversation.

    If possible, I'd like this thread to stay focused on issues and aspects on the borders of the digital and analog world--especially items useful to someone just beginning to approach the topic.
  15. Gahlord

    Gahlord Active Member

    audiokid: Looks like some of the items are approached in your post above this one. I'd like to add another question though:

    Question: What are the essentials of good monitoring system in a hybrid setup that are different from ITB? (i.e. good speakers and headphones and positioning and room and all of that are common to both)

    Also what was the SRC that is removed when you're using a second machine at the end of your hybrid setup. That was one that was missed earlier.

    Thanks for your patience with all of this.
  16. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    I have 16 ins and outs so what I do is not what I would call "mixing stems". It really depends on what I am working on, how many tracks there are. I have done mixes with 16 tracks mono or just a couple of sub - "stems" plus the 2-bus and everywhere in between. No rules carved in stone as far as I am concerned. It all depends on what sounds good (enough).
  17. Gahlord

    Gahlord Active Member

    Thanks Kurt. I suppose in some ways what you are describing--using inserts at the channel level--solves one of my initial issues. It would allow me to apply analog stuff to each of my channels without having to create stereo stems. In my system where I have only 8in/8out I could apply analog stuff to 8 different individual channels instead and handle the panning in the DAW. For the process involving a summing mixer I could apply analog stuff to only 4 stereo subs at a time.

    What I'm hearing is that process/machines used are arbitrary/taste-driven at the 64-bit level. At the 32-bit level there are constraints with bottlenecks on summing a large number of tracks down to a single stereo bus. This would lead me to believe a 32-bit system would favor the summing mixer approach while a 64-bit system would favor the insert/send approach.

    Thanks again for taking the time to answer these questions. This is starting to clear up a bit for me. Which of course only means maybe I'll think of more interesting questions.
  18. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Thanks for the compliment, Fun Topic and also fun having you in on this one Kurt!

    It took me a year to understand it all and I still didn't get it all until I bought the gear and starting testing things. The summing amps IMHO should be transparent and have mass headroom. A console is very different as noted above in a previous post.
    I chose a more complete system so I can't be sure if less will produce similar results but even summing otb and adding a nice compression for flavour more than actual compression can be enough to glue things more. I wrote a long post on why I felt it was important to sum OTB but in a nut shell, I am 100% convinced that digital music sounds so different to real music that is actually doesn't sound right unless you help bridge them closer together. People call this glue but they don't tell you what it is. I don't think a lot of people understand why things sound better but thats how I hear it.

    I've been into digital music since 1980 and thought it was the greatest thing until I sold my analog keyboards and bought a $12,000 Sampler ( well actually a few of them duh).
    The first 6 months of having my first one , I was so overwhelmed with what it did that I never really listened to the sound of it. I mean it had all these libraries available but they all sound sterile and eventually I started noticing my mixes where never the way I sounded when I was all analog. I spend all my time trying to get vocals and guitars to blend with the samplers.

    18 years later I bought a Pro Tool system. Yup, another $50 thousand invested in digital gear. Sept 2000 I started a thread on the DUC and predicted by 2005 most of the BIG Studio would be bankrupt and Pro Tools would take over the industry. The thread got so ugly it was locked and disappeared. Many big studios chimed in on that attacking me.

    11 years later I am now convinced that the reason our music have little real sound in it are partly because its so difficult to get stuff to blend with digital music. Yes, we do it but to my ears real acoustic music, before it is digitized sounds out of place. Yes, I'm sure there are thousands of engineers that disagree but I hear it man. And todays music is in serious need for more real sounds.

    Digital music if is awesome. I love it! I love how full and clean it is. I LOVE drum machines and processed drums. I love synth bass and keyboards. I loved pop music but its starting to get a bit to club and boring because its produced all ITB. There is no doubt to me that if you are using both worlds in a mix, you get there with a big sound via hybrid.

    Enough said on that.

    You mean what quality of summing gear are you looking for? Doesn't matter. Its all about adding grit to clean and clean to grit so they blend and open up in a more fluid sound-scape.

    I own an SPL 2381 MTC and a Dangerous Monitor ST and all I can say is wow! Having the ability to compare and hearing your mix unscathed in the analog domain, via a monitor control surface engineers for a hybrid system, just before you master it to a second DAW is paramount. No more guessing. It is exactly how it sounds to the lost drop (Well at least super close).

    Anyone who rely s on just a headphone out , lol. Good luck trying to be a pro is all I have to say and no wonder you aren't hearing everything.
    The Dangerous ST is awesome. Watch a few youtube videos on that.
    It just sounds right. And because I am already OTB and glowing with vibe... for some reason ( I'm not a technical guru and don't even want be) mastering to a second box just sound great. This may change in time but I will probably do it this way until I die now.
  19. Gahlord

    Gahlord Active Member

    Thanks audiokid for your responses here (and everywhere on this board). I'll try to find the post you mention on the importance of OTB sum, I must have read it and misplaced it in my mind--a lot of posts about summing read in the past week.

    Re: second machine summing I wonder if the quality of your 2 channel AD converter at the end plays more of a role or if increased availability of CPU cycles has an impact on your perception of improved sound in that method. I'm definitely curious to try it out. Do you use the same AD/DA converters at all three conversion points in your system?
  20. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    No, I use different tracking converters on the second recorder but listen to everything via the Dangerous ST.

    Just found these questions from you so I'll address those.


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