Analog mixer + audio interface still best choice

Discussion in 'Consoles / Control Surfaces' started by TmTmClb, Mar 26, 2018.

  1. TmTmClb

    TmTmClb Active Member

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    All right, I just spent half a day researching this, including on this website, and I'm still not sure, so I registered just in order to ask.

    I'm going full-hardware with 3 synths (two monos, one stereo) and a multi-output drum machine, all driven by MIDI sequencers and keyboard. Also hardware effects. I want to do just as I was doing in the 90s, get the whole mix running live, including EQ and FX, before to start recording audio. I want to record live "jams" (final stereo mixdown) as well as separate channels one or two at a time. Now I've come to the conclusion that despite all the technological advances in 20 years, a 12-channel analog mixer with something like a Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 between the mixer main outputs and the DAW is the best solution. Only problem is the noise, which I think can be dealt with via noise gate plugins afterwards. The less time spent in front of a screen, the better.

    I'm asking opinions here because I had pretty much settled on a Soundcraft Signature 12 MTK, until I finally (and luckily) found out that the USB output was pre fx sends/returns.

    I also learned from a 2014 post that Mackie had been lowering the signal by 18dB for the USB output in order to prevent digital clipping from peaks that analog headroom could take. The Scarlett has a gain knob and LED clipping warning.

    I assume other similar "analog-with-USB-output" mixers might also have such limitations, and in any case I feel that a separate audio interface allows for better future upgrades. What do you think? Alternatives?
     
  2. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

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    I regularly run a studio with a Tascam mixer and MOTU interface, so I'm familiar with the idea. I do record individual track and the live analog mix all at the same time. I don't know if capturing a live mix is easily done with an all-in-one interface, but perhaps it is. It's pretty easy with the separate analog mixer plus interface.

    I think you've misunderstood what you read about levels. Analog and digital levels are measured differently because there are different priorities. Analog tape has a "sweet spot" above the noise and below oversaturation. Digital has no sweet spot, just a very low noise level and an absolute maximum peak level. The 0dB of an analog meter is your target. The 0dB of a digital meter is the absolute maximum level. So analog-to-digital converters translate the 0dB of analog to about -18dB in the digital realm in order to accommodate the needed headroom. The signal isn't actually lowered, it's just a different reference point.
     
  3. TmTmClb

    TmTmClb Active Member

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    @bouldersound: thanks for your reply. I'm now looking at the Yamaha MG16UX which apparently sends the whole channel, FX included, to USB. I'm wondering about the quality of the AD converter because USB and FX together add only about USD8o to the base MG16 model...

    I understand what you say and it makes perfect sense, but at the same time it feels like just another way to say the same thing. I'm not too worried about that. You can judge for yourself:
    http://tinyurl.com/glg87gn
    The guy doesn't actually say he HEARD a lower volume. The last response on that page is useful.
     
  4. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

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    Virtually all the opinions on that page are horribly confused.

    What you need to know about an analog signal is quite different from what you need to know about a digital signal, so the ways the scales are arranged are specific to each. The 0dB mark on a VU meter could be converted to -6dBFS or -60dBFS in digital and it would make virtually no difference as long as you did not clip the converters.

    In analog 0 is the target level, while in digital 0 is the absolute highest possible level. Just because they both have a 0 doesn't mean one 0 should equate to the other 0. If you converted a 0dBVU signal to 0dBFS, you would be clipping the converter almost constantly, so it's necessary to allow some amount of space above the average signal level for peaks. The usual number is 18dB, which is generous. This is possible because 24 bit audio has such low inherent noise (more than 140dB) that you can spare the headroom without concern that the digital noise will be higher than the analog noise of the incoming signal. When 16 bit recording was the standard it was more common to convert 0dBVU to -12dBFS since the digital noise floor was "only" ninety-something dB below peak. Some modern converters use -20dBFS or some other number, but it matters very little.

    In an integrated ADC/DAC system the DAC (digital-analog converter) is calibrated the same as the ADC (analog-digital converter), so a 0dBVU signal going in will still be a 0dBVU level going out.
     
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  5. audiokid

    audiokid Chris Staff

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    Good posts, Boulder.(y)
     
  6. pcrecord

    pcrecord Quality recording seeker ! Distinguished Member

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    I had an analog mixer in my studio when I started up.. A nice Soundcraft 32ch.
    At the time the converters I used were the M-Audio Delta cards (4 of them) It was all working fine but i wasn't giving the pro sound my customers asked for.
    Well honestly I was the one looking for better sound.
    When I moved and needed to scale down I started to look for alternative ways to work.
    My 3000$ mixer preamps weren't worth that much once you remove the value of the faders and other hardwares.
    By the time I started my new setup, I already had a taste of an highend preamp (ISA Two) and it was evident my mixer preamps weren't about to cut it.
    I guess you know where I'm going.
    I ended up with a highend preamps and a nice but old interface (RME FF800) Man, it's another ball game all together.
    So to me the best way to go is to get the best preamps you can afford and then a converter/interface unit.
    Althought many mixer/interface have honest preamps (like the Zed) I just can't get ride of my Focusrite ISA and UA 710 and LA-610s.
    Having different preamps to work with is a good thing too because, you don't have the same signature on all your tracks and therefor get less buildups and get better seperation.

    The most important question is, how much the audio quality mathers to you and how much can you afford to give to your own perfect setup.
    Doing demos or albums calls for different levels of investments...
     
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  7. miyaru

    miyaru Active Member

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    I'm at this point too: getting rid of my old audio interface - a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 - for a Soundcraft Signature 22 MTK. I think a lot of options I have now are gone with the little mixer - ie.: flexibele routings for monitoring, a seperate monitor and main output, I have to buy a headphone amp, as the little mixer only got one HP out! In another post I was still thinking of getting one, but as the first falling in love is getting to go to see clear what the shortcomings are....... Well maybe, the idea of mixing analog is tempting, but practically speaking is working with some nice preamps in the future a better option........

    I guess we always want something new in the studio, but thinking hard first may solve a lot of spending money......
     
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  8. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Distinguished Member

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    Tracking live with an all in one interface is as simple as setting gain levels. If your mixing itb, then there's almost no reason for an external mixer unless it's got good pres and eq. It's nice to have all the auxes and effects available with an itb/interface configuration, and you can get your rough balance dialed in on the daw mixer, when it counts, in the moment.

    If you've got a reasonable computer or dsp built into the interface, you can have effects during tracking. If you do it all within the computer, your getting even closer to your final mix during tracking.

    I've seen benchmarks from scan audio where even modest quad core chips were loading 50- to hundreds of instances of basic plugs like reapers reacomp, at 64 sample buffers. This makes latency a non-issue for just about all musicians. These are real world tests, not computer simulations, or standard computer benchmark tests.
     
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  9. miyaru

    miyaru Active Member

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    Thanx again Kmetal! You are so right!!!! I'ss stick with mixing in the box.
     
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  10. Tbozaudio

    Tbozaudio Active Member

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    Not sure I am fully appreciating the challenge posted by the original member, but this all seems very plausible with any of the new rack mounted DSP’s. In particular the Soundcraft UI24R.
    -20 channels simultaneous via 48k interface into DAW directly.
    -Additionally, 20 channels to USB stick pre or post processing. The files are converted straight to wav or Flak. They are individual and can be imported into your DAW for mixing.
    The two above mentioned modes of recording can be simultaneous. The USB stick recording is designed for live recording.
    -8 AUX channels.
    -The DSP GUI is accessible via Ethernet, HDMI, HDMI w/USB (touchscreen) or by any HTML 5.0 web browser via the units own internally generated WiFi.
     
  11. TmTmClb

    TmTmClb Active Member

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    I'm still monitoring this thread! The Soundcraft UI24R does indeed look like a great box, and it's compact and affordable, thanks for the tip! The only flaw is the computer mixing UI, which is kind of redundant with the DAW, IMHO.

    With my Mackie 1402VLZ4, I can do a rough mix with everything on (remember this is all MIDI-driven synths and drum machines), and then record each instrument track(s) separately with the Focusrite 2i2, without EQ or panning, but with the hardware effects burned-in, and then quickly recreate the mix and add stuff ITB. The only downside is the puny 2 sends per channel, so I'm always fiddling with inserts. I'm already lusting after the Soundcraft LX724-II, but if I change mixer, I'll certainly take a closer look at the UI24R with its 8 Aux and internal effects (how good are they?).

    I think the reason I'm fond of this kind of setup is first a kind of childish pleasure at arriving at a point, after much work, With CC automation etc., where you can press "play" and get all these machines doing their thing live, with a result close enough to a final track. It also allows dub-style toying with the knobs and faders, which really fosters creativity and can lead to some unexpected things which you can repeat and record live (more satisfying than recreating it in the DAW with millions of mouse clicks, drags, and a petrified stance).

    I just got the Harrison Mixbus 32C DAW, and will use that for mixing and "mastering" (big word, I'm a neophyte there). This guy Russell Cottier
    http://tinyurl.com/y75q3fer (Youtube channel, for sensible people)
    http://tinyurl.com/y9fe5esc (Facebook group)
    is working hard to develop a hardware control surface. Generic MIDI-based controllers can be used, but a physical replica of a mixer channel would/will be great.

    Warning: Mixbus 32C is Ardour-based, so the overall UI is a rather creaky mishmash of frozen and archaic design. I just couldn't do my MIDI arranging in it, even though I tried hard. The real Mixbus emulation part is very good, though. Apparently, even though Ardour is supposed to be an open-source kind of thing, there's a watchdog at the gate and ardour.org forum posts proposing improvements are usually met with a bad vibe.

    Better late than never: thanks to bouldersound for the great analog vs. digital levels explanation.
     
  12. paulears

    paulears Well-Known Member

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    If you have a few quid to spend, I'd seriously consider something like a Behringer X32 - either the rack version or one with the faders. I too have lots of external and often unused synths and it can be very useful to mix their outputs with the Behringer because it's also a decent 32 in and 32 out device - so you can drive the synths (in mythology case) with midi, but also record their output via the mixer, so I tend to use MIDI to drive the modules and synths to the point I need to add effects and do work within the DAW, when I can start to work with the sound files rather than the MIDI and live audio - then I can of course mix properly. The mixer can also be physically controlled from Cubase (in my case) but that's a fair bit of effort to set up, so for the majority of the time the mixer sits with faders in a row - just getting audio in and out to the DAW and the monitors. I can also prepare tracks and stems for use live, and then take the mixer to a venue and use it as I did in the studio. Covers the best of what I need to do in one box. I don't really need the faders at all in the studio, so the rack would have been cheaper and not lacking in anything I need.
     
  13. Tbozaudio

    Tbozaudio Active Member

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    TimTim, yeah IC. I assumed maybe your MIDI controller would take care of all your automation and you were primarily looking for more interface channels for both input and AUX (and in a way you are with the AUX’s). I was thinking pretty much like paulears. He is suggesting the Behringer version of the Soundcraft UI24 or the other way around? Both have been manufacturing the full DSP mixers and racks.
    I can’t speak for X32, but I do employee the use of the UI24 as the center of my tracking duties. If you were looking at the LX they are in the same price range. I think it comes down to preference regarding the control surface at that point. I looked at all the rack DSP’s before settling.
    This may help narrow it down a little. The preamps in the UI24 are very nice as they are designed by Studer themselves. Every Soundcraft board from UI24r up to their Vi series, all have the same preamps. Considering the Vi’s are in the 10’s of thousands, That’s what drew me in to look closer. I’m not disappointed at all. If I was only getting the preamps at this price point I would do it again.
    Next. When tracking directly into your DAW, only the preamps are available. So, with the DAW connection, the rest of the board including signal processing is unavailable. That’s why I had previously mentioned the USB stick capabilities. In this mode, you would be interacting with the FULL live mixer GUI and sending you mix to USB stick. The channels are all separated out in wav’s to bring into your DAW later. This recording can be pre or post signal processing I believe.
    So, yes to your point made that you would have to mess with the Beauty of how you configured everything to work right now (which is brilliant by the way) and simplify things to a single unit or board. However, think of what that brain could do with a piece of gear that already streamlines things foundationally!
     

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