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Digital or analogue mixer for electronic music studio?

I want to upgrade my mixer from 16 channels (or 18 if you count 2 stereo returns on Allen&Heath Mix Wizard) to 24 channels. After talking to local sound engineer and watching him working with live band using recently purchased Allen&Heath QU 16  I spend few days researching internet, reading a lot of comments, reviews and opinions. Gearslutz, Thomman, Sweetwater, just everything I could find.

In short, my conclusion is: digital mixers priced below €200K are not ready yet. Even small and cheap ‘bar’ mixers (MixWizard or Mackie) + analogue synths will give me better sound. Better class mixers, like Midas Venice 24 (available now for ~€1,5K used, used live by Paul Kalkbrenner) is even better option – but Midas are harder to repair. Bigger Allen & Heath consoles (better sounding than MixWithard, but worse than Venice, easy to repair) (~€1-1,5K used), some of them (GL4, GL4000, GL4800, ML3000, ML5000) offer much desirable for me HPF with adjustable frequency (20-400 Hz) on each channel  – are too big for small apartment I live in. They usually 32 or 48 channel models, I never seen 24 channel version on ebay yet (but they were produced).

Especially now it is good time to invest in analogue mixer as many companies who work in live situations rush to upgrade to digital mixers due to usability and customers demands.

302589d1343379881-console-sound-real-deal-000_0544 copy
Jensenman and co are testing analogue and digital mixers in 2012. Original here.

First, I thought digital Allen&Heath QU24 (€2,400) will be great choice.

You can read tons of positive reviews from sound engineers working in live situations (bands, choirs, theatres, churches). Many of them describe sound as ‘warm, clean, punchy, not sterile’ comparing to their previous analogue mixers. Having HPF (with adjustable frequency), 4 bands parametric EQ, compressor, gate and ducker (side-chain compressor without EQ) on each channel is great too, especially for ‘live’ guys who don’t need to bring heavy racks of outboard compressors with them anymore. Add to this ability to change all parameters of the mix standing in the middle of the venue with iPad, ability for each musician change his monitor mix from iPhone, ability to record 18 channels straight to Hard Disk.

But for us, small home electronic studio guys, is this really that important? HPF on each channel – yes, compressors – probably not. I compress only analogue BD synth. If I need a synth to sound more compressed, I would rather change its ADSR. Maybe I would try to compress drum bus in future. Many drum/percussion samples I use are already compressed.

QU24 also has reverbs, delays, choruses, flangers that are ’emulations’ of hardware units. If users praise the quality of EQ and compressors on QU, about quality of those ’emulations’ they usually say “they sound OK” or “usable”.

So even if you trust their comments that “QU sounds better than my previous analogue mixer” (I don’t), digital reverb emulations clearly are worse than their hardware competitors (Lexicon, or even any cheap sound FX processor from 80s-90s). But you can connect your hardware reverb through send-return on QU.

Another option, digital Midas M32 (€3,860) that supposedly sounds better than QU (thanks to its preamps) has better emulation of reverbs, according to comments.

OK. Now let’s see what people who don’t agree with all those people that say “it’s time to upgrade to digital”.

There’s a very interesting test of many professional and ‘bar’ consoles done in 2012 by Jensenmann and 15 other sound engineers. The test was not really ‘clean’ or scientific: it was impossible to calibrate all the mixers due to time limitations.

They tested:
Midas Pro4, Venice
Allen&Heath Mix Wizard, ZED 428, iLive
Ramsa WR-S840
Yamaha PM3000, 01V, MG14, M7CL
ADT Audio 5MT C Series
Soundcraft K1, Series-Two, Series 1, 200, Spirit Folio, 324 live
Tac Scorpion (highly modded), TAC 16/8/2 (24channel version)
Audient ASP4816
Acousta P100
Lawo MC2 56 (! €200K)
Neumann (custom desk)
Presonus Studiolive
Sony DMX R100

Jensenmann writes:

“In that test only One Digital mixer could sonically compete with any(!) of the analog desks. That was the  Lawo desk. All the others digital boards were worse. That was not only my opinion but the consensus of 15-20 people who attended all tests through the day”.

“All older digital desks showed clearly limitations in the HF region. Esp(ecially) cymbals sounded harsh as they faded while all analog desks did not show that phenomen, though they did sound different at HF (high frequencies) region. One exception needs to be added which is the Lawo digital desk. That was the most natural and clean of all DDs (digital desks) and suffered not at all of the HF problem. Everybody agreed with that statement and a lot of very positive comments have been heard about the sound of that desk (Lawo). It needs to be mentioned that its a 200k€ desk in the smallest configuration”.

“Some cheapo bar room desks didn´t sound cheap at all!”

 

This test was performed in 2012 and A&H QU appeared in 2015, but technology goes from larger and expensive pro models down to consumer models (QU), so I believe they tested digital mixers that at that time (2012) are comparable with 2015 consumer models.

 

Another interesting opinion by SWAN808 (in 2009) I tend to trust:

“… if you want a warm retro sound start off with analogue synths and a hardware compressor on the mixbuss. Track your analogue synths thru a Nice DI or Pre amp.
Once you got the above covered then it might be time to look at a desk…”

 

Finally a quote from soundhire.co.uk (2016):

Quality of Sound

“Sound quality is also a big talking point in the analogue v digital mixer debate. At the high end of the market digital has just about cracked it, and can now easily match a high end analogue mixer in terms of quality of sound. However at the lower end of the market, especially the sub £5k RRP region, you may often find analogue still wins hands down…”

Reliability

“There is another very important factor which is very often completely overlooked, which is the thorny issue of repairs, should your mixer ever require servicing. It is very likely an analogue mixer manufactured some 25 years ago can still be repaired, as the components used in it’s manufacture back then are still readily available today. As for digital, we have heard of mixers less than five years old from some well known manufacturers that have required repair, only for the owner to be told, parts are no longer in production and there are no spares available anywhere to action the necessary repair, and should you try to phone the manufacturer or distributor to ask why there is no way to repair a relatively recent product that cost you a lot of money to purchase in the first place, you are very likely to find no one available for comment.”

 

Here I will add that from reading forums about old analogue consoles it is clear that I will probably need to repair some elements (faders, knobs or broken channels) on 10-25- years-old heavy used console. Even better is ‘recapping’ (changing every (dried due to its age) capacitor to new one, which will improve sound quality, but also will cost a lot). In this aspect Allen&Heath mixers tends to be more reliable: they are heavy build (especially older models) and also easier to repair, as every channel strip can be removed separately.

 

And another opinion by Elegentdrum (2017):

“Stay away from digital mixers if you can. They are great for the utility and for live and bang/buck. The EQ’s and summing on them tend to not sound as good as analog. And they depreciate fast. On that note, older high end digital mixers can be had for cheap”

 

This is true, check how prices droped:

Allen&Heath QU24: €2,400 in 2017, was ~$6,000 in 2015.
Midas M32: €3,860 in 2017, was ~$8000 in 2015.

 

Analogue live consoles (A&H, Midas) are also dropped in price, but not only because of their age, but mostly because sound equipment hire companies go to digital: it’s easier and customers want it too. And nobody really can buy them (size).

Big analogue pro studio consoles (Neve, Amek) still cost a lot, but studios sell them because more and more top class sound mixers go mixing in the box (ITB). As I understand mixing ITB can be good if recorded material is very good quality (recorded through very good pre-amps, priced 2K+ on each channel). Clients now want to have ability to change mixes, which is only possible ITB.

 

All for now, leave your comments if you find this interesting.

 

 

 

MFB Tanzmaus: Note Off

I tested MFB Tanzmaus, and can confirm: it does not react to Note Off message sent by Midi from external sequencer to Kick (Logic in my case, Tanzmaus OS v1_62).

It is very disappointing, because Tanzmaus manual states otherwise: (quote)
“Tanzmaus responds to the following MIDI data: MIDI_NOTE_OFF”. Maybe with other sounds, but definitely not with Kick.

I was hoping to get similar control over Sustain Time like what is possible with Korg Volca Kick (tested too):

Note-Off

Why it was so important? Being able to have a Kick (or Bass Drum) with controllable sustain would eliminate need to use (expensive analogue) compressors. I produce house/techno and almost always I need my Kick’s envelope look like on the right.

I will explain why almost every good sounding house track has an envelope like on the right in another note.

 

Juri Konradi – Kafff Afterhours

 

Selected and mixed by Juri Konradi 2017.08

Tracklist:

Moi – 04A (MOi)
Dana Ruh – 008.3 (Otto) (Howl)
Roland Klinkenberg – Mexico Can Wait (Gabriel Ananda remix)
DJ Pippi vs Willie Graff – Hyper Space (Space dub mix)
Boo Williams – The Last Hour
James Holden – A Break In The Clouds
Xpansul – Miss Fortune
Kaliber – 20A1
Haito & Diringer – E-Love
Paper Moon – 51 Days
Boo Williams – Place Of Safety
David West & Inkfish – Hello Piano (Sebastien Leger remix)
South Street Player – (Who?) Keeps Changing Your Mind (Daniel Bovie & Roy Rox remix)
Евгений Дога – Laskovij Zver (Juri Konradi rmx)
Lee Jones – Safari (Stimming remix)
Andhim – Patty Sue (Super Flu Suncream’s remix)
Swedish House Mafia – Don’t You Worry Child (Joris Voorn Remix)
Juri Konradi – Hippies In A Glade
Pavel Karmanov – Michael Music
Dusty Kid – Luna
Optional Feast – Zahyara (In Da House mix)
Wild Culture – For Everything
Dave DK – Kronsee (Ulrich Schnauss mix)
Rex The Dog – I Look Into Midair
S.A.M. – Out Of Touch
Todd Terje – Snooze 4 Love (original)
Sezer Uysal & Coyu – Cygnus (Gabriel Ananda remix)
Dompe – The Blue House On The Corner (Mozaic remix)
Marco Evangelista – Escape (Degoba)
passEnger – Solar Flare (Stephen Brown rmx) by
Juri Konradi – Higgs Boson
Robert Babicz – Kristalyne
Ryan Davis & Microtrauma – Traces (Gabriel Ananda remix)
Cobblestone Jazz – W
An 2 – Lazy Sun

2017 June Tech House chart (vinyl)

Monkey Safari – Woo (Blondish Remix) (Hommage)

Max Cohle – Failed Therapists (Captivate)

S.A.M. – Out Of Touch (12″ Version) (Delaphine)

Dana Ruh – Howl008.3 (Otto) (Howl)

Coyu And Sezer Uysal – Cygnus (Gabriel Ananda Remix) (Suara)

Boo Williams – Place Of Safety (Strictly Jazz Unit Extensions)
Boo Williams – The Place Of Safety (Saxaphone Mix) (Strictly Jazz Unit Extensions)

Halo, Hipp-e, Tony Present 6400 Crew – Dubb Me Some Tin Fresh (Sharam Remix) (Yoshitoshi Recordings)

Todd Terje & The Olsens – Disco Circus (Olsen)
Todd Terje & The Olsens – Baby Do You Wanna Bump (Olsen)

South Street Player – (Who?) Keeps Changing Your Mind (Daniel Bovie & Roy Rox Remix) (Strictly Rhythm)

Four Tet – Morning Side (Text Records)

Solid State Drive for Pro Tools III

My new upgrade for Pro Tools III Hard Disk:

AztecMonster II (SCSI – SATA/SSD) (€141 including shipping from Japan and custom fee) +
SSD QUMOX 120GB SATAIII 2.5″ (€43 including shipping from ebay Germany).

System works fine for six month now.
AztecMonster II available here.

My previous ‘hard disk’, a Flash Card with SCSI adapter will go into EMU sampler.

2017 March chart

VINYL:

Gregory Porter – Liquid Spirit (Claptone Remix) (GREGORY001)
Technasia & Green Velvet – Suga (Toolroom)
Dompe – Time Maschine (Hesitate Ep) (StyleRockets)
Purple Disco Machine – Yo (10 Years Of Kittball Part 4) (Kittball)
Pesho & Dave Bo – Walking In The Sunlight (Tokabeatz)

DIGITAL:

Ann Clue / Boris Brejcha – Acid Attack (Fckng Serious)
Petar Dundov – Falling In (Loveland Recordings)
Dragonette – Run Run Run (Sunshine Jones rmx Instrumental Version) (unreleased)
Andre Crom – The Existence (OFF Recordings)
Harry Romero – What What (Ovum)