Best method for mixing DAW tracks?

Discussion in 'Mixing & Song Critique' started by Brian Middleton, Aug 14, 2001.

  1. I'm sure this is not a new question, and I've asked it once myself over in the MOTU forum, but didn't get answers that quenched my I'll ask it again here.

    What are people's opinions about the best way to mix tracks recorded to a host-based DAW? Do you prefer to mix in software or use a console? If the latter, do you prefer a digital or an analog console?

    I realize that these questions are awfully general, and that the quality of the hypothetical tools will have a lot to do with the answers. But I'd like to hear people's thoughts on this subject.

    Just to get the conversation off on a concrete note, I'm using Digital Performer, MOTU 1224 converters, and a Mackie SR24-4 board. I've been mixing in software, tried A/Bing an 8-track mix in software vs. through the Mackie once, and found the results inconclusive (the Mackie mix seemed "bigger" and better defined spatially, but also more harsh and grainy).

    Brian Middleton
    Night Kitchen
    Dorchester, Mass.
  2. Ang1970

    Ang1970 Well-Known Member

    Sep 5, 2000
    Originally posted by Brian Middleton:
    I've been mixing in software, tried A/Bing an 8-track mix in software vs. through the Mackie once, and found the results inconclusive (the Mackie mix seemed "bigger" and better defined spatially, but also more harsh and grainy).

    Now you just walked halfway to your own answer.
    Try mixing the same tracks on a console that doesn't sound harsh and grainy. (eg. Neve, SSL... ok, not as harsh and grainy. :s: )
  3. iluvansg

    iluvansg Guest

    I also use DP. I find that the best solution for me is a combination of the two techniques. I use DP's for it's automation and some effects. I then subgroup tracks to the console and add different "colors". For instance, if I want some really clean compression I'll use something like the DP or Waves plugins. If I want color I go to outboard gear and use something like a Joe Meek or Dbx compressor. I don't really like any of the reverb plugins I've got so I use outboard reverbs through the console. I think there's just some things that have to happen in the analog world for me. YMMV. I don't think an all digital studio wouldn't work for the majority of the projects I work on. Good luck!

  4. subspace

    subspace Guest

    I used close to the same set-up as you to do a similar test. I used AudioDesk, a 1224, and a Mackie 24x8. Assigning all the tracks to a software stereo mix bus definitely yielded the flattest and least gelled mix. Assigning the tracks to individual outputs and summing with the faders at unity was somewhat improved in the low end but a bit grainy. Summing the outputs on the simpler Mix-B monitor path at unity was a marked improvement, with a tight low end and wide image. The difference between this cheap boards monitor section and it's main faders is surprising. The difference between either and the digital mix got me shopping for an analog upgrade rather than pursuing the all-digital route...
  5. k.w.blackwell

    k.w.blackwell Member

    Mar 2, 2001
    If any of you add noise when mixing down in a DAW,
    what type of noise do you use and at what level?
    I recently experimented with this using pink noise
    that was modulated by the 2-mix's envelope, then
    mixing that in. Actually, the 2-mix in this case
    was one that had been processed as separate MS
    channels, where I did a bit of band-limited
    compression on each of M and S separately, then
    put them back together. That, the original mix,
    and the noise then got mixed. My conclusion? My
    conclusion is that I have no idea what I'm doing
    and don't know whether the noise is doing anything
    useful. Perhaps I should bypass my Mackie 1604vlz
    and drive my 824 monitors directly from the
    converters. Anyway, just curious....
  6. David R.

    David R. Guest

    I did a mix recently where the project was on Acid. We tried mixing internally, and running out through a 2408 to a board using analog compressors and outboard effects to a DAT. The internal mix was weak, external had much more clarity and presence, and a better bottom.
  7. I had been using DP and a Mackie 2408. Of the two, I preferred the mix through the Mackie, which I dumped when I bought my DA7. Now it sounds much better.

  8. Thanks everybody--it sounds like a consensus is emerging here.

    I like the idea of a hybrid approach--maybe premixing things like drum tracks, backup vocals, doubled guitars, etc., in software so that I can bring to the console a simplified mix that operates at the "part" level rather than the "track" level, if that makes any sense. This seems like it might be an efficient way to get the most out of the capabilities both of DAW software (particularly automation) and of cheap to mid-priced consoles.

    A couple more questions: first, if I go the analog board route, how much better than the Mackie is good enough to be worth investing a chunk o' change in? Would a Soundcraft Ghost, Tascam 3500, or Allen & Heath GS 3000 be a worthy step up? Or should I sit tight with the Mackie until I can afford something like a used Neotek or Trident?

    Second, are digital mixers a valid alternative in the budget range (i.e. less than $10K, preferably less than $5K)? Or will digital boards at this level have the same shortcomings as software mixing? SteveC, you mention the DA7, and it sounds like you liked it a lot better than your Mackie...can you elaborate a bit? What is it that's better about mixing on it? I've been interested in the DA7, probably because I've always liked Panasonic DATs.

    Thanks again...

  9. Jon Best

    Jon Best Active Member

    Mar 18, 2001
    I am thinking about a lot of the same things right now- I am getting rid of a Mackie D8B in the next month or so, and either getting a smaller, less full featured analog mixer and a controller for Digital Performer, or just a bigger board. Maybe both if I can swing it.

    Interestingly, it took me less time to get a better mix together using the mouse and DP compared to the D8B, which was the last nail in the coffin for that board. Don't get me wrong, I like it better than any of it's competition, although I have not heard the DA7- I just seemed to work better entirely within DP. This is exactly the opposite of what I expected.

    Truth is, if you want to be between $5K and $10K, there are some good choices out there that will smoke any of the new stuff (and yes, I think the big A&H is a better bet than the Mackie- friend of mine just did a direct switch out, and the A&H is just better, IMO). D&R Dayners, MCI 400 and 500 series boards, Neotek Series III's, Specks, Spheres, Trident 65's, DDA DMR's, CAD Maxcons, all will be better sounding than any of the new boards. Yes, you may end up spending a grand or two getting it cleaned up and wired, but hey, what's your audio worth to you? :)
  10. bradmcgowan

    bradmcgowan Guest

  11. subspace

    subspace Guest

    Before I got a 1224, I tried comparing an adat XT/Mackie 24x8 mix to the same tracks transferred into AudioDesk and mixed internally. In this case the software mix won, which led to me mouse mixing for a year. It wasn't until I added the 1224's nicer sounding D/As to the equation that the analog mix beat out the software version.
    During my mouse mixing time, my board was only being used for cue mixes and monitoring. I could've gone with a smaller analog or digital board for this but clients looked for a big board when they checked out the studio. The digital boards in my price range are a bit on the small side. I'm also not crazy about conversion delays on cue mixes, though I've been told it's not an issue.
    I haven't done side by side summing shoot-outs between small digital boards and similarly priced used analog boards, it would be interesting to hear. I have found I prefer plug-in EQ and compression to the built-in versions I've tried. I'm also a little leary of processing delays when splitting signals down multiple signal paths. I'm used to the routing flexibility of analog boards.
    The main issue for me with both digital consoles and DAWs is speed. One knob per function, visual feedback, tactile control, call it what you will, I'm faster when I don't have to find a function to adjust it. Grab a knob and listen to the effect immediately after you hear the problem. I found a lot of those little manual rides were missing from my digital mixes.
    I was willing to work this way when I thought there were sonic gains in stayibg all digital. Now with improved conversion, this doesn't seem to be the case. I'll give up full automation and recall for the audible improvements analog mixing gets me, and take the speed and ease of use gains in the bargain.
    I'm curious about how others who are going this route will marry the two worlds. I plan on continuing to use my softwares automation as well as some plug-in compression and specialty EQ. The board's EQ will be used for most general purpose stuff, keeping the CPU load low. My quandry will be patching analog compressors into tracks that need DAW automation, not really gonna work right...
  12. Brian,

    Go check out the DA7 user's forum... You will find a lot of valuable info there to help you make your decision. I am a DA7 user myself and totally love it. It's a powerful board for the money.


    What he said. I like the EQ *WAY* better than the Mackie(which I think sound like crap) and prefer the DA7's preamps, especially when you stack a bunch of tracks. Of course, one culprit here could have been the mix bus, which I did not like on the Mackie at ALL. No matter how hard I worked, it would get killed at this stage. The DA7 just sounds so much better in every way . I suggest you go and listen to some of your material through one. That's the only way you'll know if it's what you're looking for. The ONLY thing I miss is external access to the buses, something that can be done on the DA7 if you have the right card installed but it eats a precious slot. I have a MOTU 2408 that I can probably get this function from without too much hassle though but will have to deal with the latency. The onboard effects(compressor,gate, expander) are pretty good, but you will still want to go outboard for some things,(I do).

  13. Mixerman

    Mixerman Active Member

    Feb 27, 2001
    Originally posted by Keith W Blackwell:
    [QB]If any of you add noise when mixing down in a DAW,
    what type of noise do you use and at what level?

    I recently mixed a project that was recorded on Pro Tools. I transferred it to a Radar, which has reaaly good DA converters, and mixed it on a Neve 8108. I just set the gainstaging so that there was allot of line noise coming out of the console. To me those mixes sound much better than the mixes that I didn't do that with. They sound much more congealed. And I had allot of line noise.

    I'm actually thinking about sampling some tape hiss, and putting it in the mixes that were recorded digitally.


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