Analog Summing?

Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by JiveJust, Dec 26, 2017.

  1. Papanate

    Papanate Gold Supporting Member

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    I wasn't clear I guess - you said 'I’m mixing the song as I’m recording it'
    -
    that was what I was responding to.
     
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  2. OctalSocket

    OctalSocket Member

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    Got it! Yes.

    I’m old, and I certainly didn’t grow up in the era of the DAW, and it took me longer than most to become comfortable with being in it completely. And if I’m being completely honest, workflow will trump Sonics, unless the results are bad.
     
  3. 71strat

    71strat Supporting Member

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    Anyone have any experience with these?

    Roger Mayer 456
    Solid-state Analogue Tape Emulator
    Published April 2014
    By Paul White
    Roger Mayer has an impressive resumé, having built effects for Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page back in the day, and he continues to develop new ideas. One of his latest to make it into production is the 456 Solid-state Analogue Tape Emulator — or simply '456' — a product which is designed to replicate the harmonic distortion behaviour of Ampex 456 tape. The simulation even mimics the way said behaviour changes at different recording levels, but doesn't include secondary effects such as tape hiss, or wow and flutter.

    The single-channel 456 comes as a pedal-style box, with simple unbalanced quarter-inch input and output jacks, and can be used 'in-line' when tracking or mixing. It runs from an included 48V DC external power adaptor that can accept all standard mains voltages. Two 456s can be used in a pair for stereo processing, but a dedicated stereo, half-rack model may well have been released by the time you read this, along with a dual-mono unit. The signal-to-noise ratio is quoted as 96dB and the frequency response and impulse performance exceeds that of analogue tape. The nominal output level is +4dBu. A plot of harmonic distortion against level is included in the manual, and clearly shows that the second- and third-harmonic curves are quite different, with the third harmonic coming in more strongly at higher drive levels, just as with tape.

    Being all analogue, the 456 is entirely free of latency, and its circuitry has been designed to have a very wide audio bandwidth (-3dB points at 10Hz and 100kHz), which Roger says is essential to capture the true transient behaviour of analogue tape. Positive and negative signal peaks are processed independently, with instantaneous attack and release times, just as happens when analogue tape is pushed into saturation.

    Rather than offer a selection of tape speeds and bias settings, the 456 has a large Threshold knob to adjust the virtual recording level, plus a three-band EQ offering Bass, Treble and Presence controls. Roger suggests that you think of these as mastering EQ controls. There's no metering or output-level adjustment: the recording level is set using the audio interface, preamp or mixer channel to which it's connected. Roger recommends leaving at least 4dB of headroom when setting levels, as he doesn't believe that a typical DAW's meter is fast enough to accurately register all the transient peaks. In practice, you can afford to leave more.

    Internally, a six-layer PCB is populated with discrete components, the extra layers of copper PCB acting as ground and power planes and providing a high degree of shielding, further enhanced by the cast aluminium case. Roger has gone to these lengths to minimise the risk of interference from the likes of mobile phones, Wi-Fi routers and other potentially disruptive sources of RF that are present in most studios. All the circuitry is Class-A, and uses selected low-noise transistors, high-tolerance metal-film resistors and premium-grade metalised film capacitors. Additional power-supply filtering is also included inside the box to maintain low noise levels under all working conditions.

    Used in-line with a signal source, the 456 can introduce a varying degree of analogue coloration, while at the same time acting as a soft limiter on high signal peaks. All adjustments have to be made by ear, and the lack of a bypass switch or output level control makes[​IMG] it harder to judge how different the processed sound is from the original. That said, the increase in harmonic content as the threshold knob is adjusted is very evident, starting out with a gentle thickening, passing through big and punchy and ending up with a very obvious, gritty overdrive as the virtual tape reaches full saturation. This is particularly the case on percussive material with plenty of transients for the circuitry to get its teeth into.

    I did a lot of listening tests, comparing the 456 with various plug-in tape emulators and saturation devices, and I've come to the conclusion that Roger is definitely onto something, as I couldn't quite replicate the sonic character of his box using any of my plug-ins. Which comes closer to actually sounding like tape is another discussion altogether, but when it comes to achieving what you really want tape to do (rather than what it sometimes actually does!), the 456 is extremely effective, producing musically satisfying results. For examples, real tape can't handle cymbals at high levels because of the pre-emphasis used in the recording chain, whereas Roger's circuit has no such limitation. Drums can be made to sound big and punchy with an apparently different sense of air around the sound, even at lower drive levels. Bass guitar also benefits, sounding somehow fuller and better able to sit in the mix.

    Those tone controls are very musical too. They have a fairly limited range compared with most EQs, but that makes it easier to fine-tune the settings to find the sweet spot. Through experimentation, I found that I could get close to the tonality of the unprocessed sound with all the EQ controls turned fully anti-clockwise, though Roger later informed me that the equaliser neutral position is actually designed to correspond to 12 o'clock for both Bass and Treble controls, with the Presence knob set fully anticlockwise. That works too! While limited, the EQ range is still wide enough to fine-tune a mix, and more generous settings are useful for reshaping individual sounds. As Roger says in his manual, if it sounds right, it is right.

    For stereo processing, I tried a pair of 456s via my DAW's main mix insert point and used the DAW's 'jellyfish' meter to ensure the left and right balance was the same as with the insert point bypassed. I also set up the DAW so as to maintain the same level when the insert bypass was operated. As with analogue tape, there's a sense of cohesion: mix elements feel better integrated, while the low end fills out somehow, without actually getting louder. Certainly, the forthcoming stereo model will be better suited to this role, and the lack of an output level control here made it harder to balance the levels for A/B checking, but it didn't take long to get good results. Because of the format of this particular box, I'd say that it's most useful for tracking, where it can soft-limit peaks before they hit your converters, or to insert on individual channels for processing during mixdown.

    Despite the lack of tape hiss, wow and flutter, and different head-bump settings for different tape speeds (and while I applaud those who aim for authenticity, do we really want those?), Roger has done a great job in emulating what I regard as tape's most important aspect, namely its saturation characteristics and the way these change with the recording level. As a result, the 456 is very effective in providing the punch and sonic 'glue' for which analogue tape is so revered. Paul White

    .


    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    ALL ANALOGUE HIGH SPEED SIMULATION BRINGS A STUDER A80 WITH 456 TAPE INTO THE MODERN DAW WORLD
    The 456HD® Analogue Dynamics Process is an innovative new way to experience modern dynamic and harmonic control in real time with zero latency. It was inspired by the desirable qualities of tape recording and can reproduce their dynamics and harmonic properties accurately plus improves the overall dynamic performance of Digital Recording. After 1 year of testing and development with some top producers from the UK and being featured on many records it has been recognised that this process is a game changer and not to be thought of as just another tape emulator. It brings a far more sophisticated approach to dynamic control and it's performance exceeds that of any tape recorder previously produced now setting a new benchmark.

    The ultra high speed analogue processing will effectively improve the dynamics both when using it as a pre-recording analogue processor before a conventional DAW and also in post playback from the DAW. Live recording or tracking using multiple instances of the 456HD® are very beneficial for Drum, Vocal and Instruments and in many instances obviate the need for further limiting to control input levels. What the 456HD® Process brings to the table cannot be duplicated by any digital plug-in because all of the difficult ultra high speed control of the source signal has been taken care of by using the 456HD® so the Digital Recording simply put sounds much better. So as they say give it a listen.
     
  4. Papanate

    Papanate Gold Supporting Member

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    I've heard it in use once or twice. To my ears it's mystical voodoo nonsense.
    What Mayer is attempting is to capture the slight compressing saturation of
    Ampex 456 when it was hot biased on a Studer A80 or other Tape Recorder.

    While it's a sound - and some may find it useful - I think if you want the sound
    of tape - then you have to use tape. There are plenty of Tape Emulation plug ins
    that are more convenient and cost less - and to buy racks of this machine to
    process with seems a fools folly.

    And his PR is flat out wrong on this - what 456HD does can and is duplicated
    by many digital plugins.
     
  5. ronzie

    ronzie Supporting Member

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    Yes. And much better stuff like the Clasp system. The stuff your shilling here is useless for this discussion.
    You should throw in a riding mower too and it would be as apropos
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2018
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  6. ronzie

    ronzie Supporting Member

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    Happens all the time. Summing boxes are just return/monitor/juke box side of a console stripped to the bone.
    People patch direct into their interfaces from their mic pre's, hit the Daw. Shove it out of the Daw into the Summing Box.

    Inflatable Studio.
     
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  7. Nobtwiddler

    Nobtwiddler Member

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    And remember, some of the best records from the 70's, early 80's, were actually mixed on the "jukebox" or monitor section of those vintage consoles !
    A summing box, depending on it's design can basically duplicate, that aesthetic.

    For me, analog summing, wins all the time.
     
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  8. OctalSocket

    OctalSocket Member

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    I like the days when I learn something. Thanks!
     
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  9. jmoose

    jmoose Member

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    Completely forgetting about sound for just a minute one major key difference that hasn't been mentioned is workflow.

    There's a huge difference between working ITB with a mouse and maybe a couple faders vs having the mix split out across 16-32+ physical faders on a console with everything right there at your fingertips.

    Summing boxes like the Dangerous are sort of riding the line... it might be summing the mix in the analog domain but its still being driven by virtual faders from the DAW .

    Working and mixing in analog or any sort of hybrid approach is a pretty massive investment and requires serious thought about signal flow.

    For one thing, if you want to use a 16 - 2 summing box you'll need at least 16 channels of D/A converters to feed the box and any analog outboard you have. You'd also need a way to capture and listen to the final stereo mix which means, aside from more channels of converters you'll also need a monitor controller to manage what your listening to.

    Far too often people will say they don't need or want a console but then they go and get a bunch of boxes to handle the individual functions of a console. Get your monitor controller to replace the center section... another box to handle talkback... another box for summing... yet another box to handle cue mixes while tracking... and so they end up with a pile of kluged together boxes and spaghetti which are emulating the function of a console without any of the ergonomic and workflow benefits.

    I still own an analog desk and outboard gear and don't see that changing anytime soon.

    Not everyone needs a console or a bunch of analog gear, especially if your working mostly home and alone... but for some things, especially full band tracking and creative, involved mixing its still the right tool for the job.
     
  10. JiveJust

    JiveJust Member

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    Wow thanks for the insight! Working on a console at school is a brand new experience. I would love to be able to afford a console. Sounds like a much better route than a bunch of boxes. Maybe someday. I’ll probably just be an ITB guy unless something changes for me.
     
  11. Terry McInturff

    Terry McInturff 40th Anniversary of guitar building! Gold Supporting Member

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    Here here! Agree 100%. I dont anticipate ever going 100% ITB. Coming back OTB thru my Midas desk makes everything sound bolder, more 3-D. And having all of those channels of XL-3 EQ is mighty handy. And the outboard is so much fun.
     
  12. jmoose

    jmoose Member

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    I'd try and log as much time as you can on the schools consoles to get hip to what can be done. If nothing else its good experience and you'll learn things that you can apply to ITB mixing too.

    This video with Sylvia Massey came up in my feed a while ago and seems to be relevant. I haven't watched the whole thing yet but she's breaking down her approach to hybrid mixing and her workflow seems to be fairly similar to my own. Seems like they're going through the entire mix front to back, obviously with quite a bit of the heavy lifting done before the cameras started rolling.

     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2018
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