patchbay, mixer vs summing mixer

Discussion in 'Patchbays' started by autocombustione, Jan 24, 2013.

  1. autocombustione

    autocombustione Active Member

    I have three related questions for you.
    I was uncertain whether ask for your help or not and eventually decided for this second option, I hope you'll help me focus on relevant facts.

    The centre of my production system, with which i used to do soundtrack's songwriting and mixing with a friend/collegue of mine and other audio related
    tasks, is based upon a personal computer (windows) and a Focusrite Liquid Saffire 56 (8 analog inputs/10 analog outs; 16 adat i/o, w.c. i/o etc).
    With this setup i was able to record external sources with the Focusrite pre and to mix everything itb with the precious help of selected plugins.

    Recently i expaded my setup with:
    1 Focusrite Octopre MkII dynamics (8 analog i/o + compressors, 8 adat i/o, w.c. i/o),
    1 Universal Audio UAD - 2 quad,
    1 Universal audio 4-710d (4 mic/line xlr i/o + 4 line trs inputs, 8 ch adat in/out, w.c. i/o),
    2 ssl x-logic alpha channel (mic/line/inst combo neutrik input, each one with analog trs out or s/pdif)
    1 dramwer 1960

    These are, basically, all preamps, or preamps + eq or preamps + compressor (s).

    Here come the questions.

    1) Would a patchbay improve and simplify my signal routing?
    I think so, but which one should i choose? Apart from choosing normalled vs half normalled i see that patchbay's price can range from 90 euros,
    made by Neutrik, trs front connections, to 1000 euros for a bantam style patchbay from the same manufacturer.
    (I've always seen this latter type in big studios, these really cost too much and i'm not going to consider them at this point)
    Would a trs design patch bay improve and simplify my signal routings without degrading the signals?

    2)The newly acquired Focusrite Octopre MKII is a 8chs ad/da converter so, in the last phase of the work, i could eventually mix (premixed) stems
    or up to 16/18 channels on an analog mixer, out of the box with further improvements.

    Could a second-hand Mackie SR24-4-2 VLZ (Made in Usa), sold as a bargain for 549 euros (in the price it's also included a flight case), be a good
    option to mix out of the box, soundwise speaking?


    3) Could a second hand Tl-Audio A4 Ebony Summing mixer (16 ch input, 2 out, both on trs), sold as bargain for 650 euros, be considered a good choice?

    I'm not really sure that acquiring one of these last two items can be considered a real bargain from the point of view of sound improvement (and obviously money).
    What would you suggest?

    Hope to hear feedbacks from you, thanks!

  2. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Hi Stefano,

    Not sure about the patchbay, it all depends on your workflow. I'm crazy over hybrid so I just bought the SSL X-Patch. Works for me. Love it. I hate patching stuff so this one is cool but, its expensive and it also won't pass Phantom. I am not a recording engineer per-say either. Mixing is my thing. My idea, help people who want ITB to sound more open. Its an expensive game.

    I use 2 computers and analog in between. I use the second computer to finish on. Two DAW licenses, one on each system. 2 x Sequoia 12. First one is for tracking, mixing > Then, DA> (patchbay)> Hybrid analog summing > and save the analog 2-bus on DAW 2 / finish to taste > internet.

    I don't know how other product perform that I don't use. Everyone has a different story. Its complicated and there is a lot of hype too.

    My hybrid summing system is SPL Neos and Dangerous Music mastering gear with analog toys for colour. SSL X-Patch or something like the Liaison is what I look at.
  3. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    i would use a half normaled patch bay. nuetrik is a good brand, should be fine. it will help improve your work flow. pick which pres you will use the most and put them in the first channels and follow up in order of choice. after a while you may want to change it up a bit and that will be very easy. if you have any other questions i will be happy to address them.

    as far as summing with a sr 24 there are a lot of mixers that would be a better solution but i can say from first hand experience it will be an improvement over itb. i have a sr 24 myself and to my ear mixes summed on it sound a lot better than mixes i have done itb with cubase. still, i would look to get something better as soon as i could. even a passive summing solution might be better. the mackie mixers are infamous for low headroom in the mix bus.
  4. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    If it were me, I'd probably do a combination bay, using both a normaled and half normaled schematic... but that's just me.

    As far as using or not using a bay, well, if you are constantly switching up connections, and you find yourself spending more time behind your gear where the I/O's are than in front of your gear where the music happens, LOL, then yes, as long as you use a high quality bay, and high quality cable, you'll be happier. As a side note, You might also want to consider wiring in some "mults" into the bay. "Mults" are multiple I/O's of the same source, ( usually outs) and they can be very useful.

    bay "can" degrade signal, although to what extent, well, it depends on several factors; the quality of the cable/connections, the distance, etc; and, if connections aren't solid, PB's can be a source of extreme headache as well, LOL...

    Let's face it, we all know that any time you can get signal from point A to point B with as little-to-no-interruption as possible, you'll always be better off...but by and large, you should be fine, and PB's can indeed make your work flow easier, not to mention "neater" and more organized.

    There are some things I wouldn't wire into a standard bay, though...for example, and I'm not saying you would do this, but if you were thinking about implementing a coaxial SPDIF patch point... don't.

    Coaxial SPDIF - actually most digital signals - really won't like being interrupted by extenders/couplers/patch points, etc.

    There are matrix bays manufactured by companies like Yamaha, Akai, etc., that are dedicated to digital routing.

    You also want to be very careful about patching in devices that carry voltage. I'm not saying not to, I'm saying be careful.

    You can damage gear if you aren't really careful about your "goesintas" and your "goesouttas". ;)


  5. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    mults on a 1/4" "plug & play" bay are difficult. you would have to flip the cards upside down and then wire them together with 1/4" jumpers on the back side. any way you do it you're in for some signal degradation.

    this is why i suggested running the patch bay half normaled. with a half normal you can take a signal out of the top row (send) and patch it to another input without interuping the original signal flow. if all the op is doing is using the pb to route signal from his pre amps and channel strip processors half normal is what is called for.

    so it's pre amps / channel strips outs on the top row, converter inputs on the bottom row, half normal configuration.

    if you want to add reverbs and eqs at a later time then non normaled is the ticket with the inputs on the top row and the outs on the bottom rows.
  6. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Those little basic Neutrik bays are great.

    As for 'summing', the choice of either the Mackie or the TL Audio will be a matter of sound and workflow. It will certainly 'change' the sound of your mixes either way as opposed to mixing ITB. The Octopre is a bit sterile for this purpose and you're better off with it as your converter than anything else it does. I'm not a fan of the preamps. As in everything, however, you can get a clean sound from them if you don't ask more from them than they can give.

    The 'summing' question is a complicated one and is totally up to the user and the results of their individual experience. There are many many examples from each method, ITB/OTB, that make solid representations of quality. I would say at this point that the addition of your UAD Quad and filling it with some of the newer plugs will give you a good starting point for mixes done ITB. Another point would be what instrumentation you use primarily in your work. I would think if its keyboards, mostly, that a bit of OTB would go a long way to expanding the 'analog' soundscape and take some of the 'brittleness' out of a lot of the synth things I hear these days. If you do a lot of amplified instruments a setup with a high quality REAMP device is a beautiful way to find sonic nirvana for certain tracks. Even a synth sound reamped through a tube amp in a controlled room can be magical.

    Whatever your choice, it will eventually all come down to your individual workflow and the needs you have to complete your projects.
  7. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    Some of that patching decision really has to do with your available real estate. Those TT are a double set of 48 across. While the 1/4 inch original variety are only a double set of 24 across in twice the space.

    Chris just got himself a very nice SSL digital router. This allows one to interface their external items and allows full patching via software or pushbutton control. Patch cords frequently go dirty and intermittent. That's all I use. My patch cords all have brass connectors. They must be polished every few months. I have almost 100 patch cords with connectors at both ends. And if you don't think polishing all of those one at a time isn't boring and hard on your hands, go for those digital routers. They are still utilizing active circuitry that people well know doesn't degrade your audio in an unpleasant or substantial way. Of course the cost is higher but so is the reliability and programmability. Offering up other possibilities that can parallel a lot of what a digital console/mixer would also be capable of doing. There's cool stuff out there. Only your wallet is the limit.

    For instance, in my control room, with the patching I must have, 17, double 24 row 1/4 inch patchbays, taking up most of an entire 19 inch rack cabinet ain't enough. So that's 17 x 48 patch points. All get dirty. All go intermittent. Once you plug stuff into your digital router, it'll stay more reliable for a longer period of time with less maintenance, less loss. No clicking. No popping. At least I can remove each patch day individually, remove the multi-pin connectors from the rear and put them in the dishwasher at home in the kitchen. (Do not put them through the dry cycle). Remember to remove the front panel cardboard indicators. But they're also very heavy not including the patch cords. So there is a price to be paid which is only discernible for your own needs.

    There is nothing worse than intermittent patchbays and cords
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  8. autocombustione

    autocombustione Active Member

    So thank you all for your precious answers so far.

    What i forgot to say in the initial post is that i thought that a patchbay could be useful addition to my personal setup especially regarding output routings;
    i don't think i need the flexibility of routing input signals since all the external preamps (just 8 chs) would be connected to the Focusrite Octopre, which i could use mainly for ad (and da).
    I think that a patchbay will be absolutely necessary in the event of a further grow of preamplifiers quantity, or the addition of other outboards,
    in that case neutrik 1/4 patchbays will be ok, reliable, and suggested, thank you.

    By now i'm still uncertain whether include or not a mixer or a summing mixer: all the other "non-bargain-options" i look seems really interesting,
    but sadly expensive (from ams neve8816, to spl mix dream or neos even to audient 4816).

    I have to understand more clearly what can i afford to put at the (almost) end of the chain but at the heart of the system,
    further investigations needed.

    Thank you all, cheers.

  9. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    well, yeah, this game we play ain't cheap. ;)

    If you are looking at first hand testimony for gear like the Neos, talk with audiokid (Chris). He uses one and loves it. For Neve, your go-to around here would be probably be Remy. The last time I cooked on a Neve, SSL or other hi caliber desk was over 10 years ago, so I'm probably not your guy. ;)
  10. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    you should ask yourself ... are you content with how your mix's sound? do you feel that mixing itb is compromising your overall product?

    the reason i say this is because any summing solution will have its strong and weak points.

    passive summing requires you to do your level adjustments itb so you will not get the benefit of all the bits you recorded.

    good active summing (mixer / powered summing box's) is expensive.

    either way you need to be sure this is an expenditure you really need to make.

    i would recommend you stay away from any inexpensive mixing / summing solutions as they all will be a compromise in headroom , imaging, overall depth of the mix. in most cases you will be getting a minimal amount of improvement over what you already have. (Mackie SR24).

    until you get into the realm of API / Neve/ CalRec or other large format (real) consoles you will not get what you want.

    and again, untill you are in the 3 to 4 grand (USD) region any active summing mixer will have it's shortcomings.

    it's easy to get in over your head with this. ask yourself "is this going to improve things enough that i will able to see a return on the investment?"

    if not, forget it. perhaps an investment in better a to d and d to a would be more in order?
  11. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Yup. That's it, right there.

    Unless this is a move based upon a personal motivation, a labor of love, and simply because you want to, ( and there's nothing wrong with that if you have that luxury) then I agree with Kurt.

    You need to do the math to see if what you spend will be worth it. It sucks that we have to think like that, but if we are in business, then unfortunately, we do.

    Every engineer likes to have nice gear. We all like the thought of using Neve, API, Trident, UA, (insert your drug of choice here); but unless you have the money to pull the trigger on a purchase like that and also have the luxury of not caring about the return on the investment from a business angle, then it doesn't matter what gear you buy, or how good of a deal it is, if you can't justify it through revenue return.

    Years ago, when I had my studio and was still in the biz, I came across a great deal on a Neve desk. Man, I was so close to buying it too, until I finally got past the excitement, knuckled down, did the math, and realized that in my particular market, that console wasn't really going to help my business, it wasn't going to add revenue, and other than the "cool factor" of saying that I had a Neve console, it wouldn't have accomplished anything other than possibly scaring away the regular clientele I had with the inevitable rate increase I would have had to implement to justify the purchase.

    If you do have the luxury of buying what you want "just because" you want it, then God bless ya.

    But most studio owners and operators - at least the ones I know - aren't floating in that boat. ;)


  12. autocombustione

    autocombustione Active Member

    That's really what i wanted to hear!
    Basically today is really easy to find occasions and bargains of "cheap hardware" that will not improve overall sound performances, i knew that before but was looking for a confirmation from professional users (especially regarding those two items).

    By the way I do agree with both of you, investments must be planned carefully, i personally tend not to make a move before being sure it's a safe move, because i really don't like wasting my money

    (also becasue I don't
    ) :)
    That's why i keep asking and reading.

    Thank you all for your kind advices,

  13. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    OK, a little bit more here. When I built my truck, I was still working for NBC TV. Good solid union job. Something I had planned to retire from. I was already doing my thing before that thing and continued to do my thing while doing that thing. Then a move followed by a divorce. Things were going well for over 10 years, after the divorce. Then, a slap down from the guy upstairs (if there is someone upstairs?). Shut me down for a few years. Hard to get back up again when everything has instantly changed all around you. I've not really me back my investment in the truck but I have more than made back my investment in the used equipment that I purchased. And I still have everything! So it's OK right now but I'm getting tired of getting tired and getting tires because I have too many vehicles. And the most important one ain't bringing in the bucks anymore. No call for it here (mid Atlantic). Apparently not much call for it either in Nashville? But I haven't given that a second try. Not sure if I want to anymore? This is extremely physical, what I do. Not like sitting on your backside in your bedroom control room most of the time. And I can still have a nice rack of stuff along with a nice compact digital system and a lightweight digital console (that is ultimately disposable), in the cargo hold of my RV. In instead of my 25,000 pound truck. And while I'll really miss that baby, my back and my wallet will be happier. Maybe I'll just follow around music festivals? The bedrooms right here. The bathrooms right here the kitchen too. Battery or, generator no more shore power needed but also can be taken much more easily than 208/240. So what the heck? I don't need no stinkin' 36 input Neve console no moe. Don't think for a minute I won't keep at least four 3115's & 16 API's. Four? Maybe eight? A little heavier though. But about 200 less transformers maybe more? And I'll only need two power supplies instead of eight. That's another 200 less pounds. I really won't need any of those fancy-schmancy microphones anymore either. My two pairs of SM-81's and a bag full of 57/58/421's won't rot quite as quickly at the beach. Like I said on my website, virtually every five years I've made some kind of major change, and the equipment, in the services I offer, video with jib/cranes, lightweight hard disk multitrack recorders, plenty of computer laptops, desktops. A bunch of flat panels large and small. Smaller monitors I like as much as my larger monitors. I'd still like to keep one pair of 4311's? Too big for the RV. Might have to see if I can have the rear of the RV modified so I can clamshell it open at the beach and put the 4311's on a pair of tripod stands sitting nicely in the sand? Yeah... and where's my piƱa colada? Oh good it's on the faders.

    I think it's time for Marx Brothers?
    Mx. Remy Ann David

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