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Long-time analog guy -- need to go digital?

Discussion in 'Pro Audio Equipment' started by Mike Holmes, May 28, 2011.

  1. Mike Holmes

    Mike Holmes Active Member

    Hello all. I've produced radio commercials for 20 years. They consist of voice(s), library music, library sfx. I have a -10 studio. I use a Lawson L47 mic / A Designs P1 pre, Tascam 16-channel analog board, Fostex 8-channel standalone digital recorder, Tascam PE 40 4-channel / 4-band para EQ, 2 hi-Z compressors, Dynacord 'verb. Used to burn CD's and rip computer files from them, now I record to a portable digital recorder and import the files to the computer.

    I can move very quickly with this equipment. It does not get in the way of the creative process. Though it all works perfectly, it's getting up there in age and I'll have to go digital -- or will I? Frankly, I'd not change a thing ever if nothing ever broke and parts went NLA.

    I've read up on and talked to store and manufacturer reps about computer recording, digital consoles, control surfaces, and I have no idea what would be an intelligent course to take. I record no more than two tracks at a time, have decent effects with fairly sophisticated programming capability. I don't want something with layers of menus, don't want to record with a mouse, need as many dedicated controls as possible (or be able to program them once and leave them be); need to have a sufficient number of inputs for 2 stereo synths, turntable, tape deck, 2 mics. Some of my stuff has RCA plugs so I use adaptors. Need channel inserts for de-esser, need to be able to use the 2 comps, 1 for a recorded mic track, the other (multi-band) for the final mix.

    What I do is fairly simple, don't need a lot of sophistication. Right now I can turn everything on and be recording quickly. I don't have to go through a lot of moves to, say, record a track then listen to it while recording the next one.

    Do I need a digital board? My analog board is old but its controls are not noisy. What I do is pretty simple. The sound quality I get is very good, pretty quiet. Audible.com loves my sound quality, in fact.

    What's great about my present setup is that my board has a "tape section"-- 8 I/O's to the standalone multitrack, so I don't need direct outs from faders. The board has four submasters each feeding two inputs to the recorder. Since I only record two tracks at a time max this is of no concern. Don't know what to do to replace that if I use a digital or analog board without such a section.

    Thanks very much for your advice! Hear my work at http://www.MichaelHolmesAdvertising.com
  2. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I wouldn't change a thing right now. If this all works for you, you are golden my friend. Computer based recording is not all its cracked up to be. There is a lot of bugs and quirks and time messing around with a mouse. The old days are somewhat returning. I am returning to analog (hybrid) so don't be sold on the whole ITB (in the box) thing either.

    That being said, Pro tools 9 is where you should start. Buy that, get it running and start learning. Keep your old system and start reading and experimenting with PT 9. You'll learn step by step what to get and how to use it all. When the time comes, you'll be ready and you may even incorporate both your hardware and digital together.

    Check out RME FireFace 800 or their newer FireFace UFX converter.
  3. Mike Holmes

    Mike Holmes Active Member

    audiokid, do I understand you right in inferring that when an important piece of gear bites the dust, I should get computerized? This would be especially true re my standalone digital multitrack, since I don't believe anyone makes them now, and the used ones' parts are getting scarce. Thanks much!
  4. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Hi Mike,

    yes or no. You could just replace the Fostex 8-channel standalone digital recorder when it bites the dust with something similar.

    For sure your gear is going to expire sooner or later so you are being pro active/ smart. Its a fun topic to help you with so others here will have great suggestions for you too. No doubt some of your gear is going to expire in time so now's the time to start researching.

    Cakewalk has an inexpensive system that I'd love to have. Check this out.

    Roland U.S. - V-STUDIO 700: Digital Audio Workstation
  5. LittleJohn

    LittleJohn Active Member

    Agree this will be a fun thread. many of us would love to have our money back from the wrong turns we took figuring that same problem out.
    My input is similar to one of the prior posts -- perhaps replace the digital recorder, leave the rest in place for now.
    I really only use my DAW as a digital recorder. I know the DAW software can do a zillion things but I'm like -- yeah , ok , maybe someday.
    I started with Cubase, mostly becuase Pro tools did not have all the delay comp thing worked out back on those days, and they forced you to buy their hardware.
    Now days, Pro tools is a viable product. Having said that, if I move off of Cubease, I will likely move to one of the "cake" products, probably SONAR.
  6. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Maybe an upgrade to the periferal gear. Better comps, a great verb, and maybe a better EQ...... And perhaps the Fostex though the fact that its digital makes this a moot point. But then if it already sounds good and you have the flow down, why change.
  7. audios

    audios Active Member

    Logic Pro 9 with a Mac Pro laptop, MOTU 828 MKIII and keep your other gear. You may want a great disc burner for distribution. ProTools 7,8,9 all want too much $$ for what's already included in other great DAW's. Nuendo, Digital Performer (what i use), logic Pro 9, Cakewalk pro. All great. Stay away from Protools IMHO.
    I spent 30 years in analog and had to bite the bullet in 2004. Took me a while but now the only reason i'd go back to an analog room is to record great acoustical instruments. Otherwise for film scoring, sound design and spot production as you do, digital.
  8. Ripeart

    Ripeart Active Member

    +1 for Digital Performer. Although I don't have much XP with anything else so FWIW.
  9. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    Cold hearted orb that rules the night...

    I mean to be a slight bit brutal, but honest.

    If it ain't broke... why fix it?

    Look, in a pure analog chain, the weak link is the storage. That's why tape "died", and was replaced by digital. There's been a continual creep towards digitizing the signal chain all the way to the pre. So, that's your primary issue; of when to go digital in the chain... not to make the whole chain digital.

    You've already got a line on your production that works. I wouldn't screw with it unless you really need to expand.

    Digital at the consumer grade, and to a lesser extent, the prosumer grade gear, is just plain fragile and designed to be cheap and wear out... which at that time, it's also gonna be the first thing to die a nasty, ugly death.

    So, unless you just plain blow yer' mess up, the Fostex recorder is really the only thing that's unrepairable, or not worth putting on a bench. There's a few solutions; JoeCo, Tascam X-48 (slight overkill), HD24XR (again, overkill).. or you could do a Lynx L22 or Lynx TWO and go straight into the computer. (Push comes to shove, get an old ADAT, arm the tracks and take the Toslink into a Lynx LS-ADAT card.)

    Your console and pre prolly need recapping at 10 years of age. If you're good with a soldering iron, it's a PITA, but a few hours a week, you could recap it in a month. Faders you can prolly swap with an Alps, for not much money. If you don't wanna invest in the console, there's plenty of others out there that are fine... A&H, Spec, Toft... all that should fit right in place of the Tascam.

    Your workflow is fine, and there's plenty of options to keep it the same as it has been.
  10. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I'm with Max. And I am actually heading back to analog for some things and hope we get more anlaog guys around here to chat about it behind the scene.
    Now that I finally have the DAW half assed figured out and see it for its real beauty, which is exactly how Max put it and to add some of my words... a storage and editing marvel, I am now able to "insert" some FAT analog distortion and do some analog summing for flavor, I am a lot happier.
  11. audios

    audios Active Member

    I also agree with Max to his point... I also am an engineer who believes, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." I slowly made that transition from analog to digital and very hesitantly I might add. When I heard my first digital tracking come back through a trident 80 series desk in the late 80's, I wasn't impressed. This was a Studer 48 digital machine on 1/2" digital reel tape. True also, that then the A/D chain wasn't there yet and frequencies were brittle by nature to say the least. So I stayed away from moving into digital for a long time. The A/D converters were mostly to blame. Your analog chain is fine for what you're doing in your room. And i agree that the weakest link is the storage medium and is probably where i would change first too.

    A great DAW with some decent plugins, a storage drive for archiving, a great A/D like AME, Apogee or MOTU which would give you outboard patching to FX, compressors, etc and a CD-R/DVD-RW burner in your computer or as an outboard standalone. The next step in going digital would be a control surface or console that you can USB into your computer for fader control of your automation and mixes. There's a lot to choose from now and i have been using the Euphonix MC Control (24 fader with joystick panning) combined with a MOTU 2408 MKIII and i couldn't be happier with the sonic quality and control i have now. I also have a lot of patchable outboard 16-bit analog gear too, manley, DBX, NEVE pre's and some Lexicon surround and stereo verbs that I kept from my older analog room. So the best of both worlds is in combining (slowly) the best of analog gear with digital platforms for storage and some mixing/processing.

    It's not easy to give up any part of your old "faithful" analog gear that you can walk in, turn on, record, mix and send out easily. I understand your desire to stay in that comfort zone. And with all that's said here, some of your analog gear will give up the ghost soon and not be replaced easily by other brands of analog medium which will also go by the wayside at some point. The future is certainly digital but with a heart in analog, a lot of manufactures and developers of digital gear are recognizing the shortcomings of a purely digital world. And for that reason have been developing more and more plugins, AD converters, consoles, etc. that are emulating to a high degree that old comfort zone of analog sound. Warmer signal chains are becoming the norm now rather than those older days of brittle, harsh sounding recordings that left most of us old-timers in analog for quite a while.
  12. audios

    audios Active Member

    BTW-"Keeping up with the Jones'" is always a loosing proposition. Don't change or ever upgrade because you think you need to so that you're the same as Joe Blows' studio down the road. Someone will always play that game and let them. You turn out great work with the gear you have and that's the bottom line.
  13. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    Here we're gonna hafta agree to disagree...

    There are quite a few small format consoles that are on the market that are at least as good as the Tascam he already has.

    His workflow is modular enough, and simple enough to not need to do ANYTHING different, such as getting into the whole USB/Firewire storage device/DAW/Plugin hell... not unless one is willing to actually spend a LOT more dosh, and get into a learning curve that's really goof when compared to just substituting a tape machine for a digital multitrack box.

    My remote rig, and philosophy towards live recording, serves many of us in the remote recording business well because of the stability of a standalone recorder.

    I keep that option open to me at all times, even in the studio.

    With a low track count, many of the standalone units are indeed overkill, but when you talk about an average of $2500 to get a cheap DAW rig that you ultimately devalue by 80% when you take it out of the box... (and $2500 is just the start down a spending path.. with cables and a few professional plugs... You can EASILY double it if you aren't careful.) The extra tracks are a freebie with a standalone.

    So, IMHO, for someone who's been confidently, and (presumably producing income), creating music in a still viable workflow for 20 years; keep the modular path. It'll be around for another 20 years.

    If you really wanna kick it up a notch, look for a nice 12-16 channel sidecar from Studer, API, Harrison, or SSL. Parts are getting scarce to a point, but the all analog chain in a small format console? Pffft... caps, coils and resisters are going to be around for a long time. Discrete transistor circuitry means you might have to change a few resistors if you substitute, but that documentation is readily available.

    The entire world will some day, once again discover, that our ears are in fact analog devices!!

    Digital, while really cool and all... to me is an approximation of what we can turn reality into, to fool our minds. Sure, you can go all scientific in getting as accurate an approximation as possible... but that does require a significant investment.

    So, until we no longer have need to turn some sort of musical or entertainment audio into an air column vibration, there will always be an analog device available that can work in any professional console.
  14. audios

    audios Active Member

    Yes you're right MadMax. We are agreeing to disagree. And thus is the champion of an open forum and discussion.

    But the OP asked the question deservedly about moving into digital recording and what that would in tale. Yes his work flow works now and has for 20+ years turning out great product I'm sure. I and others on this post, are offering up suggestions to make that move and we may have gotten off subject a little discussing advantages and disadvantages of digital/analog recording. Although i admit, it does creep into any discussion about changing or upgrading gear to improve workflow and not be in a constant flux about what to do if my analog gear breaks down and I need to replace it. And in most cases that analog gear may never be available again unless from Amazon or E-Bay.

    Plus I'm not sure the OP is a maintenance engineer and wants to get into the guts of circuitry, soldering and replacing parts just to stay into the analog signal flow he's got. He seams a bit more of a recording engineer and producing material as a general, daily gig. And getting into replace pieces and parts is time consuming, costly and unnecessary when your business is producing material on deadlines. You can hire a maintenance engineer to work on gear when the room is dark. I did that for years at studios i worked for in LA and Phoenix. But these guys were specialists in maintenance, not necessarily recording. BIG difference. If you poses both talents proficiently, God bless you. You are among the few.

    True indeed we are "analog" beings and the signal flow begins and ends with that. Its what's in-between that matters and what we're discussing here. And how true to form the signal remains. I defy 99% of consumers, or a lot of engineers for that matter, to honestly listen to a side by side recording (analog/digital) and tell us the differences. By the time the OP's product gets to air its gone through digital compression hell, EQ, Brick Wall, De-Essing, etc., etc. and it no longer even resembles an analog recording. So what's the resistance to digital sourcing? None that I can see. And I have been an analog engineer when an AMPEX 440-B 1/2" 4-track recorder was state of the art. Are things better today in a digital world? I guess that's a question for all who are in the industry and use it every day as i do now. I am more efficient, faster, accurate and discerning about my final product than ever before. So the digital workflow has helped me. may not be the case for others, but for me it has greatly. And my product is exceptional in quality.

    I have a very long-time friend in Austin TX who, along with me, recorded in analog formats since the early 70's. He is truly an analog purist by nature and until very recently remained so. He hates samples, drum machines, loops and the like as I do. He believes in "Live" recording everything and no MIDI. He recently changed over to digital from a Studer analog 24-track 2" machine, Neve 8038 console and racks upon racks of great analog outboard gear. (which he kept) He still records live but through a trident side car with 24 inputs, through 4 UAD cards with Neve pre's and onto NUENDO and a giant PC loaded. His recordings are incredible and he's not trying to fool anyone. It sounds analog because of the processing in a digital world of plugins and combining that with great sounding outboard analog gear which is available today as well as the vintage gear he has.

    So I'm in digital to stay and if the OP's interested in moving over, he should. given the wide variety of discussion here and what's available on the market. if not.... Stay where you are for sure. Purists will remain purists and audiophiles will still swap LP's online and list to a great analog recording on their B&O turntable (which i do often) and appreciate a classic format for what it is.... a form of recording that was once state of the art....
  15. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    I love a good reasonable discussion!!

    I agree to a greater extent that while digital can be extremely accurate, and sounds good to great, and yes, it's got its own set of advantages... but one must understand that the learning curve to get into professional level production, is going to create it's own set setbacks which may not be something that is worthwhile or cost effective.

    But you do what you gotta do to get where you wanna go.

    That's why in the studio, I go straight from mic to pre to converter to DAW... the simplest route possible with the least amount of cable. But to go that route with professional quality gear ain't cheap. I would venture that to scale my rig back to 8 channels would still be at least a $20k investment. If I were to skinny it back as far as possible, I might get in for $15k turn key.

    A decent small format console and a good multitrack recorder can be had for less than $12k and no alteration of workflow... and still be able to work at a professional level w/o any learning curve.
  16. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Fun topic.

    I'm with you both. It's not cheap going digital and the learning curve isn't simple by any stretch. I wonder if a PreSonus StudioLive and a nice CP wouldn't be comparable to what the OP is already getting for sound? Those two item would cost about $6000 and you are set to go. The next alternative, if you want high end digital that will rival the warmth of analog the OP is getting (excluding the tolerable hiss), 15 to 20 grand is not unreasonable for starters. This is where it all gets opinionated, subjective and FUN!

    If I was the OP, I would be getting familiar with any DAW software in preparation long before he needs too! Without using a DAW, its all just Venus and Mars. Maybe by the time he needs to upgrade, things will be even more reasonable, and he will be better informed and prepared.
  17. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Isnt the trick for all of us old-timers, the ability to hear what we need to hear in a recording regardless of process? The learning curve for me and for most other ancient mariners who have turned the tape machines into large boat anchors, has been the work flow differences as well as being able to get the sources to translate into that sound we've always been used to achieving.

    I'm kinda with Max on this particular case. Digital is well and good for its own set of working points. I have PT9+ and a big-assed Mac but have kept all the analog and continue to add analog devices simply because I like it and how my mic locker sounds through that sort of front-end. When it comes down to it, digital is an edit/storage medium of the highest caliber, but I'm still a destructive recording personality. I dont want to dub and choose a performance. It doesnt sound real to me.

    The adding of the more modern digital standalone harddisk recorder for the OP is the easiest path for him to a digital format combined with his already established work flow. Its true that eventually it will all come down to mousing around like the rest of us, but baby steps are the only way to really be able to embrace the workflow differences and still retain the sound.

    As a Mod hear I love it when you perfeshshunells play nice. Its good fer da kiddies.
  18. audios

    audios Active Member

    Max, i hear you and we are in agreement more than disagreement on this topic. I especially agree with your signal flow while recording. I always learned as a young engineer, that the least path of resistance with signal to tape (or disc) is always best. Mic, pre, A/D tape or disc. absolutely agree. One time i remember cutting tracks (analog) in a session and the producer didn't like the sound of the snare drum while setting up the room. He started jacking EQ, added compressors, limiters until he had something that didn't even resemble a snare drum. I always said then as i do now. "If you don't like how it sounds, change the mic and/or change the room. But leave everything else out of the chain while cutting tracks".

    audiokid: There is some great analog and digital gear on the market today and decent prices for pros too. I agree with your premise to have Mike start working with at least an "LE" version of some DAW now so the learning curve isn't so laborious. I started with Digital Performer in 1994 as a MIDI scripter and recorded to analog tape. Now as DP has evolved its more in direct competition with Protools and the like. At $799 for the software, about $3K in plugins, $2K for an A/D and my G5 MAC workhorse at $3K new. its a good rig for what I do. But I have spent many hours with DP and over the years I must say I'm only about 85% useful of the program even now.

    Great discussion and I hope the OP is listening as well. My problem is now, I need to leave this chat and go make some rent money with my DAW. good luck to all and to all a good night.

  19. audios

    audios Active Member

    Some of us die hard that's for sure. i see it all the time from a lot of my old friends in this business. They eventually give way to the rest of the world. And I agree. i have a lot of great outboard gear with some killer Neve pre's, compressors, LA-2A's, 3-4 DBX 160's, etc., etc. thats all analog, but I go to disc not tape for my work. Directors and producers alike are on very strict budgets these days and time is money as we know. So if i can be competitive with the rig I have, I am and so be it. If i had the luxury of record everything analog, I would rather believe me. But not so in the film business that I cater to. It all ends up digital now anyway No one broadcasts on 1" video tape with analog audio any longer. Well maybe KBUT in Redlodge MT.
  20. audios

    audios Active Member

    And yes Davedog. It's nice to keep the kiddies happy.

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