Major Upgrade From ITB to Hybrid - Advice Appreciated

Discussion in 'Tracking / Mixing / Editing' started by Kevin Big Jam, Oct 3, 2012.

  1. Kevin Big Jam

    Kevin Big Jam Active Member

    Hi There,
    I have just joined here after reading about the forum in the 'Home Studio Recording' book by Rod Gervais (which has been a huge help to my new studio build)
    I am just putting the finishing touches to my new studio build which gives me the perfect acoustic space to mix in. I have been mixing material for 6 years on Logic 9 / Mac Pro / Saffire Pro successfully all this time with many releases doing well upon release, but now it's time to put my new acoustic space to the best use and upgrade my equipment. I need a new audio interface with 16 quality D/A converters due to wishing to delve into the analog summing route. I already have 2 good pre's so these are not so essential to me. Finally, I would really like the UA Plugs as part of this upgrade. Next year will will be performing live PA's so I also have that in mind. After reading some very helpful threads here and elsewhere I have narrowed down my choices and would love any user feedback.


    UA Apollo Quad Audio Interface
    UA Quad DSP
    Apogee Ensemble
    SSl Alphalink
    SSL X-Desk
    Allen & Heath Zed R16

    So to get my 16 channels of summing I can have either of these options:

    1. A&H Zed R16 & UA Quad Card (Pro: Enough cash left to buy good stereo compressor, analog EQ, easy DAW connection with bonus midi. Cons: Is sound quality compromised with the Z16 - it's reviews are superb? Large unit for live use, no live UA plugs)
    2. Alpha link, UA Quad Card & X Desk (Pro: Easy connection with X-Desk. SSL grade quality throughout Small enough desk for live PA situations. Cons: No UA plugs live, no analog EQ, only 4 ins which for now is no problem for me)
    3. UA Apollo & Apogee Ensemble linked with X desk (Pro: 16 channels in and out all superb quality converters. UA Plugs on input – great for live. Small enough desk for live PA. Cons: No analog EQ)

    The music I write & produce is mostly electronic edged from D&B & Dubstep to Trance & Electro but I am ever more involved with acoustic projects. I am always tracking vocalists. When I originally looked at summing, I had not considered a full console but you will notice I'm up for giving that route a try as the ZR16 is a consideration. Option 3 combines a second unit with the Apollo but I'm not sure how possible / stable this is. I'm waiting on a reply from UA directly about connecting via Adat.

    I look forward to being a part of the forum. Thanks in advance for any help and advice.

  2. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    welcome to hybrid heaven. I'm using a summing box (MixDream) and hardware. I don't have any hands on experience with the gear you mention. What I do trust is what ever you choose, make sure its big headroom because headroom is where it matters first on this list.

    The reason we choose hybrid is for the open clean ( grit or silk) sound and big ass bass, yes? :)
    Bass needs headroom so keep that in mind.

    # 3 sounds the best to me but again, don't go by that just yet. The X Desk looks great too.

    The more I mix hybrid the more I want hardware EQ's but not necessarily for each track in the analog stage. I love ITB control. I am a believer that we don't need a lot of hardware but just the right amount seems to be my flavour. This keeps the noise low and the sweet silk in good perspective if you follow me. If I was using a console, it would have to be on serious desk . This is why i choose the summing box instead.

    I'm liking getting the tracks sounding as good as possible ITB then stemming them out in groups. I add analog flavour and processing on the bus stems via inserts on the summing amps. It helps glue those groups together to create a nice package. Seems easy to get it all right where you want it.

    This way you still have all the control and beauty of digital automation and processing while utilizing specialized hardware for the flour of choice. Modular is the way I go.

    Nice to have you with us. I'm hoping we turn RO into our hybrid haven this next year. Pass it on!
  3. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Another thing to keep in mind is your monitoring and the X Desk has that covered in a tolerable way. Not sure how good it is but thats a big part of this next step for you.
    If I recall, Apogee just announced a new product with what appears to be an excellent monitoring section added to their converters. I'll look for it here:
  4. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Couldn't find it. I must be thinking about something else.
  5. Kevin Big Jam

    Kevin Big Jam Active Member

    Hey audiokid thanks for the warm welcome and feedback. Yes it's an exciting move for me and one that I know will significantly improve my mixes both as they sound and as my personal enjoyment of them. It's just about making the right choices now. My plan is exactly as you mentioned, to create stems as I go in logic mixed out on buses to my 16 channels to which ever summing / mixer box I decide to buy. This way I'll have better separation as I mix. I like the way that with the ZR16 I can then add extra EQ in the analog domain. In the long run I will expand my hardwear set up which is limited at the moment. Both the ZR16 and X-Desk have good monitoring options. I also like them both as I can use them as a speaker controller / volume control / talkback to replace my Mackie big knob at the centre of my desk set up.
    Of-course, on paper option 3 looks the best as it mentions 3 superb brands with UA Apogee, SSL and UA but looking at it in depth will I really hear an improvement in sound quality from option one with the ZR16 and a separate UA Quad dsp card? There's a £2000 price gap between the two which I can put towards a superb stereo compressor and that is a very inviting thought indeed. I would love to hear what anybody here thought about that specific query.
  6. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    To be aware of, right or wrong:

    There is a huge percentage of people under the age of 20 years old posting misinformation on forums all in the name to gather support for their purchases and current methods. This is a big problem and something we have done extremely well filtering out on The clear winner however is China. facepalm

    FWIW I pass on an my opinion too as I attempt to keep it as condensed as possible (a work in progress):

    A member in a similar discussion recently described his mixes as less quality after using his beloved console for years. He calls it a hybrid summing system too.
    If you notice though, he has been following users and gear recommendations from people who go about OTB summing in a similar way. And if you follow those members you will often see they dropped their lust for mixing OTB. Is there a common denominator?

    Like the majority, he described his process and was shocked to learn even his ITB mix sounded no different bypassing his console all together. " He now shouts ITB is better " and joins yet another statistic against OTB summing. He has been investing in hardware that is now a deemed a complete waste of money all these years. He is selling off his dated gear on ebay except for a few API EQ's and favorite preamps.

    When I reluctantly questioned his set-up on how he used his console for summing, it was so obvious where he went wrong. He was using the console for individual I/O going AD>DA>AD>DA>AD including mastering back to the same session followed by a SRC for CD.
    Other than this being console fun ( I do hate a mouse too) its a complete waste of time because his converters are less than adequate for the task. But, majority exclaim converters are all comparable these days so we have yet another tool in question and debate where this is true and not so true.

    Being said, even if they were stellar enough, I still would NOT mix that way so we move on to my point.

    You will predictably read common comments from people using a Lynx Aurora 16 in a "hybrid" set-up that jump ship. These are the most common shilled converters for a hybrid set-up and the most common people who jump ship. Aurora 16's are considered the best deal by people that claim to know what they are talking about.

    Most converters work fine for AD but not high end enough for multiple AD/DA not to mention going even further into sonic quagmire when using most consoles for a patch-bay (I say most because nothing is set in stone). Engineers will eventually check their mixes ITB to find they have been mixing mud and wasting money for years. Thus, blame it entirely on what they consider "hybrid" snake oil.
    The misinformation goes on... facepalm giving boutique hardware products less meaning to exists in the DAW world.

    From a selfish perspective I want to remain quiet $$$... but this also scares me because I don't want to see boutique manufacturers go down and the level of quality suffer. Should I want to buy something new down the road, it will either be unavailable or made in China and not even the same quality.
    I feel the pain for our high end industry so I share opinions like mine to do my part in the name of preserving sonic heaven/ Pro Audio and to also help the odd person with insight so they avoid some of the common mistakes before they get started. A win win for everyone.

    Yes, I'm a broken record. China and high end sound are in conflict and its a big problem.
    Most of us are feeling a financial impact, we can't afford high end as we'd like, however, we can still do it smartly using what we can afford to produce the best results. I'm guessing a lot of consoles would be pretty awesome as long as we aren't using them this way.

    64bit plug-ins , ya right, I'm still waiting to be impressed. Sonar is cool at 64bit but its still a DAW with plug-ins and if you are wanting more in sound, its why you are searching for answers and here..

    So, once your mix is OTB I say, stay there until you are ready for final destination. Do not ADDA back and forth in the same session like the people who missed the memo. I don't care if it is a $500.000 Neve or you have a 64bit DAW with 32bit floating and stellar converters. A few times back and forth and it all starts to sound the same. I hear no point going back and forth. I think ITB is the best up to a point and once you have it ready for final destination and gear to support stems into a high headroom summing system, Juice It UP OTB, finalize your analog mix and save (master) to a second recorder of some kind to AVOID SRC like the uninformed above.
    That's how you take full advantage of the analog domain. I don't recommend returning your mix to the same DAW session like most people do unless you are possibly staying at the same sample rate. But even then, if you want to take the additions step, a second DAW and some fine mastering gear is the icing on the cake.

    To summarize:
    If you are using a console like a extended patchbay or channel strip and doing the ADDA>ADDA>AD dance, I think you will be disappointed sooner or later and join the "been there done that" crowd.

    If you are using the console's pres and eq's going in, this is another topic. If you are using it as a an extention to a hybrid summing rig, I'd avoid SRC like the plague.

    That's my best advise.

  7. Kevin Big Jam

    Kevin Big Jam Active Member

    Thanks for the detailed words and of course the warnings. The reason I am investing in this upgrade is simple. I have recently taken some of my projects to a hybrid set up studio for a new mix (SSL converters and a TLA m4 desk with a few choice hardwear compressors) and the results were stunning. My tracks we're already well mixed to the best of my ability, but after being output through this system and tweaked a little everything gained more space and definition. This is what I crave - an extra step up in being able to place my frequencies and to be able to add on other hardwear that I get in the analog domain. I have no plans to go back and forth with my signals as you explained and I head the warning about converting in the same project thank you.

    The main query I still have in my set up options is: Are the D/A converters in the Zed R16 up to task. I'm still investigating this but I may just have to find a way to test for myself but it's difficult given the range of products in my options.

    Thanks again.
  8. Mo Facta

    Mo Facta Active Member

    Please explain this to me, audiokid.

    Cheers :)
  9. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    This is a big topic and rudimentary. Keeping levels ITB at the max of -18dBFS is the obvious. Summing+processing needs headroom to make mojo tonic. Bass is a big part of this.
    I'm not a technical guru, maybe someone would like to elaborate on analog mojo?

    I'm a musician first and foremost so everything I do is about what I hear so I follow my ears. You are asking the wrong guy if you are looking for technical stuff. However, I'll add a bit to get this started.

    Common sense = "Analog Headroom" including greater power supply promise loads of headroom. What goes around, comes around so:
    Doing searches on headroom gives you tons of information on the benefits. I always pick up something more. Thus, why I keep investing in analog mojo.smoke
    The importance for HPF, harmonics and interesting information about phase as well. Check it out.

    If you use a lot of outboard hardware including synths, a high headroom summing unit makes even more sense.
    If you like clear fat bass that is snappy it sounds better to me if the summing amp, or any amp for that matter is built for it.
    High headroom in your gain staging equals better sound, more transparent distortion-free mix to my ears. And its fun.
    Bass consumes a big part of my mix so its important for me to invest in products that allow the gain to pass to and from without bottleneck ( like trying to cram a ball through a straw).

    I found this interesting:

    I wonder what SPL uses in the MixDream, anyone know? I love this box. Check out the NEOS. I'm told the bass is amazing .

    FWIW, other than the importance of DAC headroom going to and from the box, please keep the ITB vs OTB summing debate ( war) out of this topic. Although the DAW is the final destination, digital headroom is a different topic all together and one most people already sold on mixing OTB, aren't interested in debating :).

    Mo Facta, do you think analog headroom is important for bass? Why do you ask? Any additional comments?
  10. Mo Facta

    Mo Facta Active Member

    I just want to clarify that I understand what headroom is. What I want to understand is why you have come to the conclusion that bigger bass needs more of it.

    Headroom, in it's simplest terms, is merely how many dB there are from +4dBu/0VU - the nominal range - to clip point. The reason why high headroom devices have been known to sound better is because they can deliver a cleaner signal with less distortion at higher levels, such as during peaks in the audio program (at the +4dBu standard). They also deliver a better RMS response and don't saturate (and therefore introduce harmonic distortion) as easily during nominal operation. Modern equipment that, say, clips at +18dBu will start to exhibit saturation distortion several dB below clip point while operating at the +4dBu standard, which essentially shrinks your headroom, despite the unit's specs on paper. That, combined with increasingly lower quality analog components, is, in my opinion, the biggest source of brittle, harsh sound that we are all trying to combat in this digital world we live in. This is also why it has been suggested that, because of the rise of these increasingly lower headroom devices with low quality components, it would probably be a better choice to operate at the -10dBv standard, thus adding a further 12dB [or so] buffer to combat this nasty saturation distortion from creeping in.

    Saturation distortion isn't always a band thing, however, as it is well known that some devices sound good when they saturate. Some do not. It all depends on the quality of the components, and, in my opinion, not the headroom available. There are converters that are calibrated to +20dBu and are used for clipping in mastering (fed from higher headroom devices) that sound great (by modern standards) when used this way because their front end components can accommodate much more, depending on their calibration.

    Going back to bass, the level and "size" of the bass is relative to the mix - it's level is equally so - so is therefore independent of headroom. The concept of headroom is a peak level arena. Granted, if you're running your bass hot in a high headroom device, you are less likely to saturate the channel and therefore will get a cleaner signal, which may help in giving the impression of bigger bass. However I think that there are other more influential factors that determine how big the bass sounds and they are myriad and varied, not least of which being the source and it's consistency. Finding the right balance and arrangement is another. Put another way, I do not think that headroom has a huge effect on the relative "size" of the bass in relation to the mix, apart from the saturation aspect that I mentioned above.

    Cheers :)
  11. Mo Facta

    Mo Facta Active Member

    I found this by Bob Katz:

    Cheers :)
  12. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Aren't we talking about hardware though? Tranny's, Op amps, wire, power supply and how all that translates OTB via a summing system and the hardware we use at the end of the day.. Thats what I'm referring to more than the mixing end.
  13. Mo Facta

    Mo Facta Active Member

    I am absolutely talking about hardware.

    Cheers :)
  14. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I hear ya but don't follow 100%.

    Mackie vs API console and sound difference?
  15. Mo Facta

    Mo Facta Active Member

    You stated that you found that higher headroom devices supply a bigger bass sound, since your mixes are bass-orientated.

    I asked you why you thought that.

    I then went on to give my take on headroom and its relation to "better sound".

    My attempt was to clarify headroom and why we consider it to have better sound and to challenge your assertion that headroom provides a better bass sound.

    Cheers :)
  16. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Gottcha. Thanks.

    Lets keep this at my musician level as I will replay it in my own words. LOL This is for the simple minds.

    I simply think more headroom allows more room to play in the analog domain. It allows me to push gains more freely, to get that distortion or mojo without moving faders ITB too. And what we put in between the summing box makes life fun. So, I guess what you are saying is a 4" speaker still sounds great if the mix is right?
  17. Mo Facta

    Mo Facta Active Member

    Sort of.

    I'm simply trying to give some clarity on why higher headroom devices sound better.

    Cheers :)
  18. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    hehe, I love ya man! You bring the level up around here. thumb I often start debates and leave it up to all of you to take it to a higher level of understanding or explanation. I guess this is one of those.

    I see music in colour and space, often as pictures too. Life and sound is one big colour spectrum to me. Trying to explain music and sound has never been easy from a technical POV. Ironically I run this place. WTF is that all about. Strange how that happened (don't ask). :)
    I think musicians that are able to compose and engineer, who crossover into engineering are somewhat technically impaired per-say and can have their own way of explaining what they hear. The technical info you posted is missing the sole to me.

    What I hear you saying about headroom: A glass of milk is still a glass of milk whether its 8oz or a litre. If you add sugar, in order for it to not over flow, you need to make room. If you want hot milk but you boil it, it will overflow. So in order for it to not boil over, you need to watch the temperature. Maybe even allow for some extra headroom in order for it to not boil over and make a mess, if you like milk really hot milk that is.
    Or hot cream with syrup! hmm.
    But maybe just get a big enough pot in the first place.

    Bass equal's cream? maybe...

    Just another way of saying the same thing.
    When mixing, the less I have to struggle, the more fun and better results I get. Mass headroom allows me to free up my mind so I'm sure there are more than one reason why this all works.
  19. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    I'm looking for the information I read years ago on phase related issues in relation to headroom, opamps and bass. It was really interesting. I found it when researching Dangerous summing a few years back. Have you read up on this? It was in relation to Neve phase shifting but not the post at GS forum. It may have been something Eric Sarafan said on the Womb, maybe the recpit. hmm .

    Its an additional reason why I decided to invest in a summing amp over a console and why I ended up using the MixDream over the 2-Bus or other comparative box's. My memory is terrible when it comes to repeating word for word. You asked.

    I wish manufacturers would publish this kind of information but I also know why they don't.

    On a side note: I'm adding a Folcrom to my MixDream. Has anyone thought about this? MixDream has direct outs that could be useful in a parallel setup or as an additional API or Neve flavour MixDream combo. Cool for drums and bass.

    Kurt, you there? You noticed the NEOS. 120v rails and faders. Think you would like that? If so, I'd love to hear more about that and your approach.
  20. Mo Facta

    Mo Facta Active Member

    Yes there is a certain amount of crosstalk and phase shift, albeit very little, and this is where some have attributed the sonic signature of the given summing amp.

    To me that's a flavor thing, though, and is not related to headroom.

    Cheers :)

Share This Page