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Hypothetical question about integrating a DAW with an inline recording console


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Hypothetical, because I'll never be able to afford to do this. But, like many, I spend a lot of time configuring my ideal system in my head! And I know that a lot of people here have a lot of experience with this type of gear.

 

So, say you get your hands on a really good inline desk - configured for use with a multitrack tape machine - 16 or 24 mic inputs with gain and basic EQ going to tape, inline tape returns with trim, comprehensive EQ, aux sends, and a comprehensive master section, group busses, etc. I'm wondering about interfacing that with a DAW instead of a multitrack tape machine. You'd run automation ITB - mutes, fades, rides, etc - but mix through the desk, with the option of using a suite of outboard processors, alongside ITB auxes and inserts for specific FX and signal processing.

 

I know that it's possible to get a really good workflow going with the above, using the DAW as a souped-up multitrack machine (which is all a DAW is wink.png) And that many studios do exactly this, using great desks for summing/mixing DAW multitrack. What I'm wondering about is AD/DA at the back end. For maximum possible quality, could you make the system work with discreet AD/DA on each channel, with the whole system running off a high quality master clock? Are there high quality single or dual channel units out there that can perform AD/DA, and all slave to a master clock in such a configuration?

 

I'd envision also needing discreet AD for printing mixes/stems, and DA for running the odd ITB FX aux to the desk for summing.

 

The question is, can it be done? And am I missing something? It seems to me like the most intuitive way to run a digital studio recording system to the highest possible sonic quality, notwithstanding that the fact that many studios already run similar configurations, using integrated multitrack AD/DA units.

 

Like I said, completely unaffordable for me, ever. But a boy can dream smile.png

Edited by gubu
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There are a few ways to do this. For several years I ran two ADAT light pipes out to a Panasonic DA7. Not quite the same thing because I was doing a digital transfer, but the principle was the same.

 

This is what the Dangerous Music boxes are all about, analog summing. But probably the most seamless solution would be MADI. RME has brought it to a pretty high level, and something like a MADIface fopr your computer, combined with their 32-channel DA to squirt analog signals into your mixer, would do the job.

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Hi Craig. Thanks for getting back.

 

I'm not just talking about summing though. I mean to use an inline recording desk in exactly the same way as it would have been used in the analogue days. So each channel strip would have an input section at the top, with a direct out to your DAW, followed by a tape return section, which receives the recorded signal back from the DAW.

 

Sorry for not being clearer in the OP :)

 

Looking at the MADI equipment, you'd then need one unit for A/D, and one for D/A? Is this correct?

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I do something somewhat similar, although not quite exactly what you're talking about. I use a Yamaha 01V96 as the center of my studio. I have a 32x32 I/O setup for my DAW. 16 channels are digital, 16 are analog. Several of the analog inputs are typically used with outboard preamps feeding them when tracking, so the board isn't feeding the DAW everything on input, although I do use the board preamps too from time to time.

 

At mixdown, the DAW sends stems / submixes to the board. Sometimes it sends individual tracks from the DAW to individual channels on the board. I can mix ITB entirely if I want (and just monitor the stereo bus through the board), or mix entirely on the board - at least as long as the recording doesn't comprise more than 32 tracks; if it does, then I have to submix some of it in the DAW. I might take the 12 tracks of BGVs and send them as a stereo submix to the board, or run multiple rhythm guitars out as a stereo submix, but I typically have at least some things assigned to their own channels on the board - lead vocal tracks, kick, snare (frankly, most of the kit's microphones) bass (mic and DI) etc. All of the features of the board are available to me, including the onboard effects processors, channel EQ and dynamics processors, aux sends and returns (outboard effects are usually connected to the board, but I can also drive them from sends in the DAW / interface and return their outputs to the board - or DAW), summing, scene recall, etc.

 

I can switch from the project we were working on today to the one we were working on last week with just a couple of mouse clicks and button pushes on the board to recall everything. :)

 

I usually print the mix back to a couple of new tracks on the DAW (via a digital connection from the board back to digital inputs on the interface), and may (or may not) simultaneously print it to analog tape.

 

The board and the DAW are digitally connected, and share a common word clock source - usually coming from my HD rig via a Sync I/O. I also have a Lucid clock.

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quick question

 

why do you want to use the direct outs on the desk... are you wanting to use the desk's press and eq for tracking? (i know the answer is probably yes... but just want to make sure)

 

as far as AD/DA.. i use lynx converters... i'm looking at something like a burl unit to capture my mixes (from my desk)... i plan on just using a separate computer for that (probably just a laptop)

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Maybe he's thinking of the workflow - if you're cool with using the board's preamps, by setting it up and using it that way the flow would be just like using a traditional analog desk and multitrack recorder. You could even punch manually if you wanted and never look at the screen. Of course, you could still edit and process on the DAW too if you wanted to, but tracking and mixing could be done all from the board.

 

The bigger issue that he's wondering about is how to optimize the sound quality... if everything is coming back to the (analog) board, it's got to hit a converter first. What's the best way to do that? Get the best converters you can find... but I'm not convinced that using a bunch of ultra-high end single channel or stereo DACs is going to give significantly better results than using a really good multichannel converter, nor do I think it is worth the sync / clocking hassles. You'd definitely need a Really Good Clock for such a system; IMO it would be crucial.

 

My system (as well as Craig's old system) uses a digital desk, so it avoids a lot of the conversion on the "tape (DAW) returns". I'm still bringing some things back into the board as analog, but I usually reserve that for outboard effects returns and if I use some analog inputs for "tape returns", I reserve those for un-featured tracks. Truth be told, in the context of a busy mix, most people would probably be hard pressed to tell the difference between tracks that came into the board over the analog or digital pathway.

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  • 2 weeks later...
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Thanks for getting back guys.

 

And sorry for being so late getting back to the thread!

 

Of course, the reason for wondering about such a system is absolutely down to workflow. Using an inline desk in the 'old fashioned' way seems to me to be the best way to make a record. There is no substitute for the well designed channel and buss architecture of a really great analogue desk. The huge market for lunchbox sized channel strips and discreet summing boxes is testament to this. Using that technology the way it's supposed to be integrated, using a fully featured DAW as your tape machine would only serve to enhance that workflow, imho. To my mind, in that scenario, you'd be using both the analogue end, and the digital end, exactly as they were originally designed to be used, resulting in the best possible sonic outcome.

 

The question about clocking is whether it's possible, or even practical. I'll have to do some proper reading on MADI, to get a better understanding of how that would work.

 

In the meantime, in the real world, my next system is looking like a Macbook Pro and a Mackie Onyx 1620i - this side of the new year. Augmented by something like a Steinberg MR816 sometime next year.

 

The real world works just fine too! smile.png

Edited by gubu
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Couldn't you use a split console too if you wanted to?

 

I've spend loads of time on both split and inline boards - the big advantage of inlines being the reduced need for lots of real estate...

 

I'm thinking inline because it just seems more intuitive. The couple of times I've used split desks, it seemed a pain to have to (literally) go to the other side of the room to get to the tape returns.

 

Inputs/returns inline, with groups/auxes either side if the master section works for me!

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Thanks for getting back guys.

 

And sorry for being so late getting back to the thread!

 

Of course, the reason for wondering about such a system is absolutely down to workflow. Using an inline desk in the 'old fashioned' way seems to me to be the best way to make a record. There is no substitute for the well designed channel and buss architecture of a really great analogue desk. The huge market for lunchbox sized channel strips and discreet summing boxes is testament to this. Using that technology the way it's supposed to be integrated, using a fully featured DAW as your tape machine would only serve to enhance that workflow, imho. To my mind, in that scenario, you'd be using both the analogue end, and the digital end, exactly as they were originally designed to be used, resulting in the best possible sonic outcome.

 

The question about clocking is whether it's possible, or even practical. I'll have to do some proper reading on MADI, to get a better understanding of how that would work.

 

In the meantime, in the real world, my next system is looking like a Macbook Pro and a Mackie Onyx 1620i - this side of the new year. Augmented by something like a Steinberg MR816 sometime next year.

 

The real world works just fine too! smile.png

 

if i can make a suggestion...if you're looking at the mackie... look at the midas venice f boards

 

i use the midas and love it (although i no longer use the converters due to a lightning strike here taking out the firewire function in it.... i use lynx auroras now)

 

check out this thread https://www.gearslutz.com/board/gear-shoot-outs-sound-file-comparisons-audio-tests/695449-midas-venice-f16-vs-mackie-onyx-1640i-comparing-consoles.html

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if i can make a suggestion...if you're looking at the mackie... look at the midas venice f boards

 

i use the midas and love it (although i no longer use the converters due to a lightning strike here taking out the firewire function in it.... i use lynx auroras now)

 

check out this thread https://www.gearslutz.com/board/gear-shoot-outs-sound-file-comparisons-audio-tests/695449-midas-venice-f16-vs-mackie-onyx-1640i-comparing-consoles.html

 

I'd LOVE a Venice. But they're too pricey for me right now.

 

The 1620 in question is coming to me for free, from a songwriting friend who has no use for it.

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For your situation, All you need is a good multi channel interface which can be put in a rack. Run all your line inputs from the desk to the interface to get it individual tracks on the computer and then have just as many line outs to feed back to the desk. You can mute the inputs when tracking, and mute the outputs when mixing.

 

They do make specialized high end interfaces and converters that can get quite pricy. The idea of running separate channels off a master clock is a poor idea. Clock signals are low voltage, high frequency and get corrupted easily.

 

There's more then just the clock however, you have to have very good drivers that can integrate them into the daw program flawlessly. I run 3X10 track PCI cards in my DAW using the first card as a master and running the others as slaves. The cards can do strange things occasionally and loose their sync. Luckily this doesn't happen too often, but If I had a choice, I'd have all of my channels inside the one interface all running off its internal clock. Its more reliable and less chance for errors.

 

The thing you didn't address is what you're going to do with the mix-down. If you're going to tape then you're fine. The computer is essentially an multitrack machine and you're dealing with a second generation conversion.

 

If you're playing back the tracks through the analog board then re-record them to digital, you've already undergone two A/D conversions. One to digitize the analog tracks to the hard drive then back to analog to mix on the desk. Looping through an analog board creates two more conversions.

 

The first generation, you record to the DAW is always going to be the best. That's why most manipulate the first generation mixing in the box. Its stays in a digital form till its played back on some system (usually cheap sound cards consisting of a $1 chip on a motherboard). It will have the best definition and transparency over any other mixing method.

 

10~20 years ago, the plugins were still pretty crude and you could do better with good outboard gear. Today there are very few pieces of gear that will do better and many of those are chosen for their uniqueness. The plugins have gotten so good now there's no compelling reason to use outboard gear any more unless its just something that makes you comfortable.

 

When you feed the playback through the analog mixer back to the computer, you're dealing with a second generation digital recording. You want to be sure the benefits gained by looping the tracks through the analog gear outweigh the results you can get by staying in the box.

 

Just because a board is analog doesn't mean it can outdo the kinds of software they are producing today. That margin is virtually gone and when you add in the increased cost and hassle of using analog gear, it no longer makes sense to do otherwise.

 

Digital mixers are another story. I have great hopes they will eventually put multitrack interfaces in them where you can use them for both live and recording, have it integrate seamlessly with a DAW program and act as a Controller mixing, or just plug in a hard drive recording live. They are almost there but they just haven't gone that extra step for some reason. Most only have a stereo Digital feed and the mixer still acts like a two channel mic summing/combiner.

 

Anyway, when you play back through a board you are going to be working with a second generation of the image. If your first generation isn't outstanding to the point where you can afford to loose some of that quality as a trade off using and analog loop then you aren't going to yield better results in the end.

 

D/A Conversion comes at a cost to the quality of music. How much will really depend on the quality of the interface and drivers, and the original signal quality captured.

 

The perfect analogy is something most can easily understand. If you take an analog photograph captured on film, then scan it to digital it becomes pixilated. Maybe not enough to bother the eyes on that first pass but its still there because its all made of dots. Print it and it becomes even more pixilated. Scan it a second time and print it again and the deterioration becomes blatantly obvious.

 

Running a mix back through a mixer has the same issues. Its not going to retain the same resolution the original had. It may be different which is what you wanted but It does not and cannot generate equal quality. The best you can do to combat the problem is sample the original tracks at a much higher resolution to maintain more detail but you will eat up hard drive space really fast.

 

It also comes down to the quality of your front end gear. If you're Mics and preamps are stellar and they produce some really nice high end detail/air, (and the music sounds great to begin with) you may retain a good deal of that quality converting analog to digital.

 

Running it back out through a board, then back into the computer will add a additional noise and artifacts which will smear many of those finer details you captured in that first generation. You'd want to be sure that analog board can produce something you cant do without.

 

I'm not bashing the method here either. I love my old analog gear which I still keep in storage. If I was able to use it and get better results I would be using it. In my comparisons a longer signal path caused more fidelity loss then I was willing to sacrifice. It was also was less flexible to work with. A short path maintained more fidelity and minimized workflow.

 

Using the output gear does have its benefits. Its hands on which many including myself like. You can "sometimes" add warmth and you can generate signature tones that many boards are noted for. Those signature tones usually come from pushing an analog board to its limits so it reveals its best results,. Sometimes that's good and sometimes not so good. Problem is, once you're done tweaking the analog, you still have to optimize the digital to get the best results.

 

Recording with the Boards in series with the signal being tracked is another method. You'd often have to do that recording to tape to prevent the mics from overloading the tape. You'd pre filter the signal to prevent bad frequency saturation. (or intentionally create frequency saturation is good ways).

 

Practically none of that exists in digital. You can use pre filtering, but there's really nothing gained by it besides maybe saving some time later mixing by filtering some really awful tones coming from the source. I've found that kind of work can be done much better mixing when the pressure if off and you can focus 100% on the issue fixing it surgically.

 

Digital really has no saturation issues (below 0db) because its not analog. Its just sample measurements saved in memory. The headroom is huge, and the noise floor ultra low. You have no issues capturing the entire signal unfiltered straight to the DAW.

 

On tape, you had limited headroom so you had to do all kinds of things to prevent under or over saturation. Too low and you had tape hiss. Too high and tape saturation clipped transients. You can use pre tracking EQ, effects etc, but you're stuck with any bad decisions you make tracking. If you find out later you needed the exact stuff you filtered out, its not going to be there.

 

This is why many home and commercial studios don't even need mixers any more. They appeal to those who have a historical vision of a studio, but in years to come they will be obsolete. I surely don't see Radio, TV or the internet going back to analog. Most of the playback systems out there use a rotary knobs with stepped volume increases to control the analog amps. It eliminates the need for cleaning pots.

 

We still use allot of analog gear in the industry from Tube amps to stomp boxes. Much of this is based on nostalgia. Digital has paralleled and duplicated many analog devices and will continue to do so. The reason comes down to quality and profitability. Designing a digital plugin can be done by a single code writer.

 

Building a hardware device requires an entire factory of workers installing parts made by dozens of other factories. If the digital can equal the analog at a lower cost with a smaller footprint, most engineers will evaluate it and adopt it if the results are equal or better.

 

For playback and mixing, A good control surfaces fills the role of a mixer very well by giving people the hands on control mixing. Just look at the Pro Tools S3 or S6 setups and its obvious why Ebay has become a grave yard for parted out consoles hoping to sucker in some cash to pay for those new systems.

 

Given the number of Iphone/Ipad users out there I think even those will be replaced in a very short time by a tablet like control surface soon. You can just swipe the pads to move knobs and sliders instead of moving a pot just as easily. It would be easy to see and easy to maintain as well. Just one large touch surface the size and shape of a mixing console is all you'd need.

Edited by WRGKMC
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