Live Stereo vs Multitrack, (was Location Line Mixer)

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by DavidSpearritt, Jun 10, 2005.

  1. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    I am thinking of getting one of these as our new state of the art location line mixer.

    The idea is to utilise our outboard mic pres and their respective level controls and mix minimally through this thing to the recorder.

    Anyone had any experience with this company or these boxes.
  2. 0VU

    0VU Active Member

    I've not yet tried a Sumo but I know Audient quite well.

    I've often used their ASP8024 console and I have 32 channels of the ASP008 mic pres which I use to front HD/DTRS recorders when I'm multitracking split feeds from PA systems.

    The console is a superb piece of kit. OK, it's easy to see where corners have been cut in construction design to get it down to a price but sonically it's outstanding. I know of no other analog console to touch it at the price and it'll give many much more expensive consoles a run for their money on sound quality. They're imo definitely project/owner-user consoles rather than battleships like Neve/SSL. My experience of them is that they wouldn't stand up to life in a hard working top end studio but treated a little more gently by the person who actually has to pay the repair bill if they trash them, they're perfectly adequate and seem to be very reliable.

    The ASP008 mic pres are very good too - actually better then the, already excellent, mic pres in the console. I used to have 48 channels of MTA Intermix preamps which I use to front-end my HD/DTRS machines on things needing loads of channels or where I'm just multitracking a PA split for someone else. Since trying the ASP008s I've gradually been changing over to them as they sound better, are more flexible and better built.

    As you're no doubt aware, Audient is the latest company of David Dearden and Gareth Davies, best known as the two "D"s in DDA and responsible for some Midas products along the way. They know a thing or two about analog audio design and the Audient stuff is the most recent fruits of their work. I've long been a big fan of DDA gear; I like the sound and find their products extremely reliable and easy to work with and on. My D-Series consoles are about 15 years old now and still going strong even after spending their entire lives being bumped about in flightcases or installed in mobile studios. The only real faults I've ever had (apart from frequent blown meter bulbs) were due to abuse, e.g. when a console fell off the tail lift of a truck (in it's flightcase); one stereo bus meter went intermittent. It took about 20 minutes to find and fix a capacitor which had sheared a leg and we were back in business. That said, they're regularly checked over and kept clean and happy. They've all been recapped, not because I was having trouble but I figured that after 15 years they might've earned it. I've also modified them with a few extra facilites (mostly extended metering, monitoring and comms) and improvements to things like grounding and updated op amps.

    If the Sumo is as good a box as the ASP008 mic pres, has the facilities you need, and the mic pre - summing amp approach suits your way of working, then I'd say that it'll be well worth checking out. I wouldn't expect the tank-like build of some of the more expensive competition but with a little bit of respect it should be fine and sonically I'd expect it to very useable.

    As an alternative, have you checked out the SPL 2384? It's more money than the Audient for fewer (or at least, a different mix of) tricks but for my money the sound quality is simply stunning. It's also built like the proverbial brick outhouse!
  3. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    OVU, many thanks for this excellent info, will check out the SoundPerfLab one as well. My main "work" consists of live classical concert recording, some multi-mics, all mixed to stereo at the gig. These high quality analog summing mixers will do the trick beautifully.
  4. 0VU

    0VU Active Member

    Sounds like we do the same kind of work :) though I throw in the odd bit of jazz/acoustic rock/folk/etc. and some CD sessions).

    Whilst, like you, I mostly work direct to stereo I sometimes find that I'm stuck with taking splits of a PA/SR system mic rig - 50 mics all in the wrong place (for me at least) when, in the absence of a loud PA system, 6 or 8 mics in the right place would've covered it nicely! On those jobs, and things like operas or multiple setup concerts, multitracking seems like a wise precaution. I'm also picking up more straight tracking work, taking splits off band PA rigs for them to take back to a studio and "overdub" (read completely re-record) for the "live" album. :roll:

    I've tried running with mic pres straight into summing mixers but by the time I'm up to using loads of mics I find myself wanting more control than that offered by a simple summing mixer. Where I do see myself using one is on stereo sessions where I have a bit more control over what's going on. Then, however, I'm often working with simple pairs or trees of mics and a summing mixer is superfluous. I'm revising my main session rig at the moment (trying to make it smaller whilst expanding the surround possibilities) and looking at mixing options (stereo and surround) for smaller sessions (no more than 8 mics) so the spl and Audient are on the tryout list. I tried the spl a little while ago, and loved it, but I'd like to A/B it with the Audient. I'm also waiting to get hold of the new Cranesong 8 channel DAC with built in 8:2 mixer.

    Decisions, decisions! :roll:
  5. 0VU

    0VU Active Member

    ALmost forgot, it might be worth looking at the recent products from Raindirk. They make some superb sounding (for me, amongst the best in the world) and beautifully built gear - their consoles are wonderful - and they're always open to suggestions of new products and customisations.
  6. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    Out of curiousity (and as one who USED to record everything straight to stereo), why do you choose to work this way rather than multitrack?

    I now take each mic to its own track in Sequoia and sort it all out later in a known monitoring environment. And even if I did want to drag along my B&W 801s, the acoustics in most location "control rooms" are problematic at best.

    I can now relax in sessions and concentrate on producing rather than sweating the mix and later wishing I'd done it differently.

    Just wondering as a recovering stereoholic.

  7. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    That's actually a really good question. I would like to also know. I've been looking for a line mixer for quite some time, but what I'm looking for is something with ins and outs on each channel and an attenuater on each channel (The Speck LiLo is exactly what I'm looking for) that way I can use outboard pres and effects during recording but still keep everything at the multi-track level.

    Of course, the LiLo is friggin expensive!
  8. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Where do I start ... I am still a big fan of live to stereo recording, this is where our bread and butter is and will be for many years to come. I also like multitrack for bigger projects but with the following caveats ...

    We detest laptops (on site), they are simply not professional grade gear and cannot be relied upon for bit accurate failure proof recording, data aquisition should be kept separate from data processing. Also we don't like to rely on crappy computer industry interconnects and interfaces for our precious audio, ie firewire, ribbon cables suck. Its only high quality XLR for our signals. Also computer power supplies suck as well, and we do some gigs entirely battery powered!

    Multitrack can make one lazy with the attitude that we can fix it all later, only to find that no matter what plugs you have the mix or balance cannot be corrected because the wrong mics were in the wrong spot to start with. Its a case of get it right now rather than try to get it right later.

    Stereo is just fine for most classical chamber music. There is simply no budget on these projects to post process, workflow efficiency is the key. We have a Genex GX8000 for very occasional multitrack work. We have found good monitoring locations now in most of our familiar halls and we also can, now, after many years, monitor well on headphones.

    We also detest schlepping hundreds of kilos of gear, rack cases, computers, recorders, computer cables for something that is perfectly capable of being recorded superbly with a stereo mix and perhaps 4 or 6 mics. We often have to lug this stuff up narrow church spiral staircases, and as we do not have roadies to break their backs ....

    I can see the laptop multitrack systems being attractive for some, but not for us just yet, they still remain the absolutely last resort.

    Ducking for cover ....
  9. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    You won't have to duck for cover from me - I can totally see your point.

    I hesitated for the longest time to get into using PCs on location. I'm still not a fan of laptops though I know some people here use them religiously. Everything that I put in my pc is custom designed or designed for quiet and robust operation. My power supply was custom designed by a company in Oregon and not only runs virtually silent (9 dB) it's about as stable as it gets. My hard drives are Samsung quiet drives with custom built cables to and from the motherboard. Even the case itself, a stock Antec Aria case, I've modified for both weight and circulation of air. (The processor is said to never be used in a case such as mine, but that didn't stop me.) And the great thing is, the whole computer fits in a small pelican case and weighs less than 12 kilograms.

    Now, I'll agree whole heartedly that I probably lug in quite a bit more equipment due to all my outboard stuff and the lack of a Nagra, but I never want to "fix" anything in post that shouldn't be - such as mic placement, etc. Rarely do I ever use plug-ins or even external stuff (although, you've probably seen that I've fallen in love with the Algorithmix stuff - I'll still use it very sparingly).

    In other words - your statement -
    "data aquisition should be kept separate from data processing" makes perfect sense to me from a certain perspective, but if both the aquisition device and the processing device can be the same thing and extremely high-quality to boot, it just makes sense for me to maximize my workflow by using one device.

    I do want to reiterate though, I agree and personally detest laptops. Until I know every part that goes into the manufacture of the device (particularly computers) I don't want it.

  10. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    All valid points Jeremy. We actually tend to use our multitracks as "backups" most times on bigger gigs. Bigger=Backbreaking. For example, last week, we recorded a "staged" St Matthew Passion in our concert hall, you know with the singers moving around on stage and doing a fair bit of ham acting, between evangelising and aria singing.

    Anyway, our backup was a DA88 recording a main pr (DPA 4003), a submix of the 4 choir mics, 2 stage front solo mics, and 2 close orchestral mics (Schoeps MK2). We were mixing in real time to stereo and loved the mix. We may never look at that DA88 tape, but its there just in case. BTW, we sound checked the dress rehearsal so we had a chance to get the mix correct.

    I also actually agree that it would be very rare that the multitrack choices would be incorrect, but I have been asked to repair a project, now, that was done on multitrack to PT system and some of the solo instruments (string trios) cannot be heard sufficiently in any of the mic channels. This is obviously a fault with the recording producer rather than the technique used.
  11. Midlandmorgan

    Midlandmorgan Active Member

    I drag out a tower PC and flatscreen VGA for all remote gigs....with the Firepod and Samplitude, I monitor ASIO (which should be post fader...)

    I also set up an aux send fed by the Firepod's 5/6 outs to a cassette (hopefully DAT in the not too distant future...

    Don't really trust laptops, with the batteries making noises issues and all...and with a bit of planning, the load in/out is not much more difficult...

    Seems if you're gonna do it, do it using the best tools you have available....
  12. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    A big AMEN, there, Rich!

    I've done every version of live "multi-mic-to-2track" there is; from 1/2" analog tape in the 70's running at 30 ips at elevated levels on MCI JH110 machines to F1's in the 80's, to DATs in the 90's and beyond, and I'll still never trust a live, on the fly mixdown as it happens IF there are other options available. Sure, it's fun, it's wild, it's breathtaking, nervewracking, and mostly pointless in today's afforadable multitrack environment. Why paint yourself into a corner, based on arguably questionable sonic mix areas? Trusting headphones or even audiophile speakers in a broom closet or green room to get a stereo mix isn't safe enough for me, and the days of clients paying enough for a remote truck (at least for classical) are long gone.

    Plus, I can offer the client more in the mixdown later. It can be a grey area, though, in terms of who pays for the time involved. It helps to keep your workflow, hard drives and file information in order, esp if you get busy and have lots of projects going on at once. It's easy to get trapped in a lot of post production, and want to give in to the temptation of just giving them a CDr from the live 2-bus, so one must always work smoothly and efficiently. (Which comes naturally if it's on YOUR time, not the clients'. ;-)

    For most recordings, our production agreement states that the post production mix is "at our discretion", which still lets one do extra tweaks and repairs that you'd otherwise miss trying to get it down live, all at once. (And if they still don't like it, you can charge them by the hour for a redo.)

    Of course time & budget is a concern, and if one is comfortable enough with a "walkaway" 2 mix recording, then that's fine. And, like everyone else, I've done the traditional "2 omni's plus spot mic" mix to DAT for hundreds and hundreds of recordings. That stuff is of course fairly easily done. But once it climbs up to orchestral, choral, spot or even audience/ambience mics, all bets are off.

    WIth a poweful DAW program like Samplitude or Sequioa, one can do so many things to fine tune and polish the mix that just cannot be done in real time - more subtle eq changes, rumble or noise removal, removing cell phone rings (sometimes on the ambient mic tracks, but not in the harp mic track, etc.) You can assign reverb/room sims to specific channels as well as gently limiting some things without touching others, and so on. Cross fading and reducing levels on open mics are another fine tuning aspect that are just a crapshoot live. Why risk it?

    I also think it's a very powerful sales tool to let your clients know that you're giving them the best value for their $$, as opposed to someone just lugging around 2 mics and a DAT machine or Masterlink. (Ok, that's oversimplifying, and I'm not attaking folks who work very hard at their stereo live mixes. However, I've got a competitor not too far from here that brags about using only two mics and a DAT recorder, always finding the "Sweet spot" for his recordings. I have three of his ex-clients now...and counting.)

    I've been using laptops for more than four years now, and they work just fine; don't let anyone scare you off using them. In my case, it's always been Sony VAIOS; they're reliable, robust, and solid enough to take constant use, day in and day out. My current machine is on almost all day, either as my daily email system or it goes into my gig rig when I'm heading out the door on a remote (usually 3-4 times per week.) With a firewire hard drive and digital interface, and we're off to the races. It doesn't owe me a dime for the return it's given me on the initial investment.

    Lug around a big desktop system if it makes you feel any better, but don't for one second tell me laptops don't cut it for professional use. Our second system is a Fostex 24tr HD system, but 75-80% of the live recordings we do are with the laptop running Samp/Sequoia, along with a CDr and DA-38 backup. The gear is small & modular enough to lug around by myself, but i'm getting "too old for this $*^t" and normally pay my assistant to come along as well. (It's money well spent; he grunts and sweats while I figure out what goes where. :twisted: )

    Even in this business, one cannot stand still or be complacent with our approach to live capture. Remember that there is ALWAYS someone out there with a value-added angle; looking to eat your lunch, and do it better, quicker, cheaper and more elegantly.

    Ignore this at your peril, friends.
  13. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Yikes.... I realize now that was incredibly off-topic from the original post....

    My apologies for the Dark-Roast induced rant. I'm just taking a break from some post production and getting recaffinated in the process.

  14. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Thanks Joe for your huge rant, this is great, at last some debate about something useful. I will edit the subject of this thread in a sec to reflect this more interesting topic.

    The essence of the two positions, ie stereo live mix or multtrack is one of "horses for courses". I regard multitrack as being unecessary for most of our gigs, which is live classical chamber music. This idea of "value adding" and why not do it as its so cheap and affordable is foreign to me, I am an engineer, and so my mantra is to exploit the technology to minimise all resources, and that includes TIME to achieve an excellent result.

    This is my main objection, apart from having crap computer gear with me, and that is who is paying for it. I value my time preciously and so my workflow has an overarching policy not to do unpaid work. The clients, if they pay, will get a <tweaked to within an inch of its life recording>, but they invariably do not pay, and I am damned if I am going to sit in my studio farting around with a huge multitrack project when it is simply unnecessary.

    As I said earlier, for big projects, orchestral, choral, lots of spots, etc, we use multitrack, but its a GX8000 or a DA88 and NOT a PC. But this has got to be paid for pure and simple.

    What's pointless is the extra unecessary file sizes, cables, channels, backup storage, time to restore project, time to master project, time to edit project, time to load project etc etc, mostly unpaid.

    Ultimately, we are sound "engineers" who's skill, ie core business, what we are hired for, is to get the right sound here and now, simplifying the problem, minimising unnecessary resources, mix on the job, follow the score, fade up and fade down solo mics, maintain concentration and not stuff up, otherwise the client had hired a "connection" engineer, who will just record everything indescriminitely (monkey) and then create something later.

    Life is simply too short to operate like this. :)
  15. Midlandmorgan

    Midlandmorgan Active Member

    Dad gum, Joe....

    I don't think anyone was getting after you for how you do business...I certainly wasn't, anyway.

    My issue is laptops is perhaps more superstition than scientific, anyway. I've never had any luck with any of them (for anything, not just audio)....

    Also please keep in mind that there are several occassions in which a final product MUST be delivered unedited, untweaked, on the spot...UIL competitions, major auditions, etc...For most things, I agree with you 100% about the cleanup, the fine tuning, etc...but I also need to keep options open for the other things as well....

    Besides, if a guy gets continued work using a live mix to stereo, cool...if a different guy gets continued work multitracking, cool...the techniques may be different, but as long as the end result works, and we all have lhappy clients, its not a big deal (to me, anyway).

  16. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Hey Joe and Dave -

    You both have some wonderful points here. I'll agree 100% with you Dave, that for chamber music, I certainly don't need more than a 2 track print in many cases. I still use my Sequoia system, but it's very easy once the concert or recording is done to hit "Burn CD" and then I'm done.

    Joe, I wouldn't say that laptops are unprofessional - true, I don't like them, but that's just b/c I didn't build it. The fact is, many laptops nowadays are built for cheap consumers, but there are some great laptops made for serious multimedia stuff. The Vaio's are among the best as far as that's concerned.

    I also have a competitor who brings out 2 to 4 mics, a mackie 1202 and a DAT and claims the "purist" route. Unfortunately, he has done some fantastic marketing and therefore BS'ed a few clients into believing it.

    The truth is, often after I set up and record a multi-track concert, I only time align, make sure the levels between channels are perfect and adjust fades. Then I print the mix. I don't see it getting much more purist than this. Of course, when necessary, I can fix minor issues with acoustics or bad scoring with a tweak here and there.

    I would tend to disagree that any monkey could do a multitrack recording and make it sound good. Mic placement, level adjustment, etc. are all key issues that even multitrack setups don't alleviate.

    Truthfully, I admire your ability and your confidence if you are able to do the majority of your work onto 2 track. I don't feel this way about everybody, but I know what kind of equipment you're using and I know damn well it ain't a 1202 and a DAT with 2 Neumann TLM 103s.

    So, in otherwords, if it works, don't fix it. Personally, I prefer multi-track and you prefer 2 track. Both are very viable methods if done right. Both can sound like total $*^t if done wrong.

  17. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    I think it's fascinating how may views we all have about getting the job done, and it's one of the many things I like abou this genre. By its very nature, it requires some deep thinking and highly self-motivated people to do it. It's not for the lazy!

    David, you can I can agree to disagree on doing it up front or after the fact - I'll bet you work every bit as diligently getting it all set up and ready to go BEFORE a note is played - from working with the score setting mics & levels, and everything else involved. :cool: IMHO there's just as much work involved as doing it right with either approach. (Perhaps we only THINK we're economizing on time at either end of the equation, based on what makes us comfortable, eh? :twisted: )

    I agree that lots of chamber music recordings don't require any more than 2 mics/tracks, and yes indeed, very often I will even hand the client a CDr right out of the machine that very day. (Sometimes I have no choice, and I carry pre-printed CDrs for just that very thing).

    Other times, it's nice to have even just a few moments with the project back at home base/studio, to view the tracks, look for little anomalies (low rumbles, level-wasting transients, spikes, etc.) that can creep in, in even the best of today's gear. For example, I have one rear flown ambient mic pair in one of our semi-permanent installations that never fails to get it's own "pop" or spike every so often. We suspect it's an airhandler or RF bleed nearby, or even a frustrated poltergeist trying to make it onto the recording. :wink: Those kinds of things are quickly, easily viewed in a DAW setting afterwards, ditto for smoother fades of the applause in & out, and removing lulls, etc. from the peformances. (Speaking of fades, I prefer "log" fade-ups for many things, and cosine fade-outs for others. I can't do that manually with the CDr, so again, the DAW setting really helps here as well.)

    Jeremy; as for our purist pals/competition with the 2 mics and a DAT (I'm told that the guy I know doesn't EDIT, either...perhaps he's that deep into denial :twisted: ) I must be honest and say that I've heard his recordings and they are quite lovely. This could start another thread entirely, but I'll say this here: they are indeed wonderful, but in some ways unlistenable/unusable in today's average listening environment/habits. (And thats his target audience: Choral members who buy his "acrhival" work in quantity to pay for the recording itself.)

    Now, lest anyone have a "spit-take" here - let me explain what I mean.... In order for him to fit the full dynamic range onto his DAT, he's got to work from the top down, with no editing, no level changes, no adjustments whatsoever after the fact. It is designed to be a true, brutally honest "You are there" type of recording. The one I heard was a Christmas concert recording with anitphonal pipe organ & brass, full choir, and tympani. It was indeed 2 mics, in one spot, somewhere in the middle of a huge church. That means, IMHO, a tradeoff for everything, no matter how good his mics are (a similar design/competitor to the B&K omni mics in this case).

    IMHO, this works fine when one is THERE at the performance, with the added visual input and other distractions, but a recording like this "after the fact" lacks a lot of things, and I believe there are few places or times when one is able to listen to music like this, even at home. (Esp the dynamic range involved in this type of thing.....brass was the loudest, of course, while much of the nuances of the smaller organ pieces were lost in the mush of the big church.) And the low end he accidently left IN the recording was awful, esp on a full range system.

    One last example of doing it all in one pass: Does anyone remember the "Live to LP" recordings they used to do? I have an old vinyl recording of Thelma Houston and a studio band called "Pressure Cooker" (top LA studio players) that was done live, all in one pass to vinyl - no stops or starts, and if someone blew it, they started over again. I believe it was Sheffield Labs, or Mobile Fidelity that released it, back in the late 70's. They were/are wonderful examples of getting it all right UP FRONT - an incredible amount of preparation and hard work involved.

    I salute those that work that way, be it digital or analog vinyl. However, my own experience in day to day work, at least around here, is that it's not always so necessary anymore. But as always, YMMV.

    Nice to see so many different but valid opinions on getting the job done. There are no slackers in this business, that's for sure!
  18. ghellquist

    ghellquist Member

    I will only chime in with a small variation of the theme. As a starting amateur recorder, I often play in the ensemble as well. And in that situation it is very comforting to know that things are saved on many channels and can be edited afterwards. It is very often, for me, a question of setting things up on feeling, set the levels, press Rec and hope that it will work.

  19. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Great contributions here, this is an interesting topic. I think the TV and film guys have had this same debate many times.

    Looking at the design of their gear, tells the story. Their little field mixers (SD442, Coopers etc) have mic inputs and a very capable mix bus and flexible multiple outputs for the main mix and I think some of the older ones didn't have inserts, so that suggests that they always mixed on the fly and indeed some of them even called themselves "sound mixers".

    But they were the first to worship multitrack recorders (Deva, Aaton, SD etc) and now they do not consider anything else, they fiercely condemned Nagra for bringing out "only" a 2 channel device.

    BUT and its a big but. They still mostly record and submit in mono and mix on the fly, according to a recent interview with one of Hollywood's venerable film sound guys, Jeff Wexler. So here they are walking around $25-30K of multitrack mixer and recorders and still hand off the project in mono, the multitrack is their insurance policy, but they are hired for their "get the job done now skill" no question.

    I think its the same with music recording, I think multitrack is an insurance, to be used as a rescue device, but if we are pragmatic and talk about making money, a career and a profession from all this then doing it on the run will win out in the end, because you will be likely be cheaper and better and faster to respond and complete projects and get more work which leads to more experience etc etc than the guy who always multitracks and spends too much time in the studio afterwards.

    I am being the devil's advocate here, and can see the importance and mandatory choice of multitrack for big budget classical blockbusters with expensive orchestral calls and even mmore expensive soloists involved, for example like the incredible EMI Verdi Requiem DVD from the Berlin Phil, so don't take me too literally.

    But probably the single most exciting and professionally satisfying recording gigs I have had is the live to air stereo concert broadcasts. These have been big orchestral and choral works with lots of mics and people running everywhere and telecoms guys setting up ISDN lines while we are sweating over gain structure puzzles, output mix levels, backup systems, reading scores, marking up all the solo entries and exits, and its all going to two glorious channels, and the experience of hearing a ghettoblaster in the next room tuned to the station playing out what we are generating, albeit 2 secs later, is VERY satisfying.
  20. Sonarerec

    Sonarerec Guest

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but I consider your stated view to be simplistic at best and offensive at worst. Your description of the manner in which Joe and I and many others approach this is hardly as a "connection monkey", and I suggest that the ultimate goal is to deliver a musically pleasing recording that has no technical flaws. Being a "Rambo" on the faders really is beside the point.

    You make it sound as if you can hand over a technically and musicallyy perfect CD to the client at the end of the concert without having to spend any additional unbilled time. I doubt it.

    Maybe that works where you live, but not here. I am paid for all the work I do, whether in the "studio" or on location.


Share This Page