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Summing Mixers waste of money...
Old 12th December 2012
  #1
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Summing Mixers waste of money...

I've been recording for awhile now and I am seeing analogue summing mixers pop up all over the place. I also happen to hold a degree in computer science and have a good bit of knowledge of bits and bytes. I think that there is quite a bit of misinformation out there about summing mixers, and from what I can tell they seem to be a waste of money; below is my explanation. As this is a forum, thoughts and discussions are always appreciated!

Here is an example of the signal chain in most home studios:

1. Voice to Mic
2. Mic to Preamp
3. Preamp (Analogue) to AD / DA converter (change the signal to digital)
4. Digital signal to Computer (Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software PT10 or my favorite : Reaper)

When you insert the summing mixer you have this:

1. Voice to Mic
2. Mic to Preamp
3. Preamp (Analogue) to AD / DA Converter (changes the signal to digital)
4. Digital signal to computer (DAW)
5. DAW back to Summing mixer (AD / DA converter on summing mixer)
6. Summing mixer turns digital signal into analogue and adds it's own "coloration" or whatever it claims to do.
7 Summing mixer converts back to digital AD / DA converter and sends back to computer (DAW).

Now if you know a thing or two about digital and analogue signals you know that a digital signal is limited to the number of bits. 16 bit (which is most music these days), 24 bit, and now some are even up to 32 and 48 bit. The higher the bit rate is, the closer the digital signal is to analogue signal as the picture depicts below (digital red, analogue black). You can best think of a digital signal as steps _|-| and analogue as fluid waves. Digital can only be a 1 or a 0 while analogue can flow to so many numbers it would make your head spin to calculate all of them. Digital can come close but it will never be a perfect analogue signal.
A perfect illustration is right here of how a digital signal attempts to imitate an analogue signal:


If you take all the above into consideration; when you use a summing mixer your just re-processing a digital signal back into an analogue signal, adding some coloration, and putting it back digital again... for me that seems like a duplication of effort doesn't it? If you spend more money on the front end such as some really nice preamps and microphones you won't need a summing mixer. In addition it makes more sense, because your getting a good signal from the start, instead of trying to polish up a bad signal later. When you work with other digital and analogue formats such as video and photography what do they always say? "Your signal is only as good as the one you start with and no amount of processors can make it any better..." This also applies to recording. Get things right from the primary signal and you'll have much better recordings. I had a guy tell me once that preamps and microphones didn't matter... baloney, they do, and they can make a huge difference in having a professional sound vs a cheap sound. A summing mixer, IMO is a waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere.

- bcsteene
Old 12th December 2012
  #2
Deleted User
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Apparently you've never heard proper summing being done. It makes a big difference in the final outcome and thats even with using great analog stuff going in and great AD/DA box as youve said.

Your forgetting the fact that you can add whatever you want thats an analog processor into that summing chain in any order or combo you want. If you cant hear the diff then I dont know what to tell you.

On the other hand, summing would be the LAST thing Id do. The front end has to be great as you said and the AD
Old 12th December 2012
  #3
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You have a degree in computer science yet can't do a simple Internet/gearslutz search to see that there are MULTIPLE (recent) LONG threads on this???

I'll save you the trouble - some people agree with you 1000% and will use whatever science, pseudo science, here say, feelings, things friends have told them, etc to support what you are saying...

Then, there are the others who 1000% disagree with you and will also use science, pseudo science, here say, feelings, blind shootouts, Mayan prophecy, etc to support their positions... the threads NEVER go anywhere good and nothing is EVER decided.
Old 12th December 2012
  #4
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hugol's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
It seems sampling theorem wasn't part of the curriculum of your computer science course.
Old 12th December 2012
  #5
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🎧 10 years
wow, great thread - both sides are wrong!
I'll go to get my popcorn... any reasonable comments need patience on the listening side, which is pretty rare nowadays....so, popcorn.
Old 12th December 2012
  #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zvukofor ➑️
wow, great thread - both sides are wrong!
I'll go to get my popcorn... any reasonable comments need patience on the listening side, which is pretty rare nowadays....so, popcorn.
So one side denounces summing and the other supports it and you say both are wrong. Whatever you sprinkle on your popcorn, stop it. :confused:

Sent from my HTC Desire
Old 12th December 2012
  #7
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🎧 10 years
Well, it is not black and white situation, so the points are not 180 degree-opposite. There's another opinion, this is it: the summing mixers are useless, unless special situations; but they're useless not because of things OP wrote.
Old 12th December 2012
  #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zvukofor ➑️
Well, it is not black and white situation, so the points are not 180 degree-opposite. There's another opinion, this is it: the summing mixers are useless, unless special situations; but they're useless not because of things OP wrote.
I think it is very black and white and really no different from placing different hardware on the 2buss. You try it, you like it or you don't. For one person to say it is useless or useful actually means nothing. Measuring the usefulness of analogue summing, will depend on your monitoring set up, converters, type of summing unit you are using, the signal levels you are sending into the summing unit, what tracks you have decided to separate or group to run through the summing unit, even your mixing style/decisions etc etc. All our set ups are different and all our mixing styles are different, therefore, the sum of the elements above, are going to result in different results for all of us. One man's "Night 'n' Day" experience after adding summing to his set up, will be equalled with one man banging his head on a brick wall after spending time and money and gaining no reasonable improvements whatsoever. Far too many variables for there to be consensus. Some will find joy with summing, others will not. Again, no different from when applying compression on the mix buss. You try it, it sounds good, it stays, it doesn't sound good or doesn't add anything, it goes.

So, back to your, "it is useless except for special situations?" Ok.....I got to hear this one......

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Old 12th December 2012
  #9
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Firstly, to avoid repetitive debate, OP should probably read all of the Stephen Slate summing mixer thread in detail.

I'm joking of course (and almost no-one reading this thread can have any claim to want to avoid repetitive debate

My main takeaway from that thread was that (i) computers can sum perfectly well, it's what they do, adding 1s and 0s etc, (ii) what people miss was the imperfections and colouration of classic consoles, with nice pres, harmonic distrotion etc, which genuinely can make sounds better in some / many circumstances.

This lead me to conclude that it's the imperfections and colour of these classics that can be missing from ITBmixing, which also lead me to conclude that you're not going to get classic colouration shelling out for a cheap 16 track purely for summing? Sure, go buy an SSL desk and no-one here will tell you that isnt an advantage over ITB. But the idea that any OTB summer will provide that classic, almost unexplainable distortion etc. rings rather hollow.

My 2c - caveat, I'm an amateur producer and have never used a summing box, let alone a proper console, following the science as closely as I can and recently bought VCC (which i'd recommend). My bias is trying to avoid shelling out $$$ for voodoo (same reason I spent a lot of time being convinced, slowly, to get VCC via. research on summing etc.)

G
Old 12th December 2012 | Show parent
  #10
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chrisso's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by shanabit ➑️
Your forgetting the fact that you can add whatever you want thats an analog processor into that summing chain in any order or combo you want. If you cant hear the diff then I dont know what to tell you.
^^ This is one of the main reasons I use a summing mixer (mine is passive by the way). The OP has made a glaring omission by not including analog processing in the summing workflow they describe.
Old 12th December 2012
  #11
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🎧 10 years
When they come up with a summing mixer that writes a good song for me, or the opposite, all digital with no summing mixer that writes a good song for me, I will buy it.

In my experience of thirty years in music it will almost always come down to talent. BUT if a summing mixer or something else will help me have more talent I will definitely buy one. Unfortunately, while I sing dead people's (and some live people's) music pretty well, I will be damned if I can write high quality music of my own yet, but I am working on it. Again, if in this discussion there is some doodad or what-ya-ma-call-it that will make me instantly a great song writer/producer I will be all over it. Until then I am unfortunately a professional opera singer who is a hobbyist writer/producer.

And yes, I am trying to be funny here, because honestly, even if I had the technological knowledge on such a high level to make a "qualified" argument one way or the other, I am still not sure I would be right. So I say I am with both sides. Now go make some good music.
Old 12th December 2012
  #12
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narcoman's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bcsteene ➑️
when you use a summing mixer your just re-processing a digital signal back into an analogue signal, adding some coloration, and putting it back digital again...
- bcsteene
da da!!!!!

The reason we use summing systems!!!!!!!!
Old 12th December 2012
  #13
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narcoman's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bcsteene ➑️
Now if you know a thing or two about digital and analogue signals you know that a digital signal is limited to the number of bits. 16 bit (which is most music these days), 24 bit, and now some are even up to 32 and 48 bit. The higher the bit rate is, the closer the digital signal is to analogue signal as the picture depicts below (digital red, analogue black). You can best think of a digital signal as steps _|-| and analogue as fluid waves. Digital can only be a 1 or a 0 while analogue can flow to so many numbers it would make your head spin to calculate all of them. Digital can come close but it will never be a perfect analogue signal.
1.Need to differentiate between the 32 bit float systems and the others being fixed point.
2.never think of digital audio as steps. It leads to thinking we join dots.
3. when re-constructed into an electrical signal to output into the "real" (not kevin flynn) world the digital signal BECOMES and analogue signal. It cannot be anything else but a perfect analogue signal. Whether its the same as the one that went in is up for some debate (although not a lot seeing as it will be a perfect representation of the band limited signal with added quantisation noise. Shannon proved this).
Old 12th December 2012 | Show parent
  #14
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by narcoman ➑️
1.Need to differentiate between the 32 bit float systems and the others being fixed point.
2.never think of digital audio as steps. It leads to thinking we join dots.
3. when re-constructed into an electrical signal to output into the "real" (not kevin flynn) world the digital signal BECOMES and analogue signal. It cannot be anything else but a perfect analogue signal. Whether its the same as the one that went in is up for some debate (although not a lot seeing as it will be a perfect representation of the band limited signal with added quantisation noise. Shannon proved this).
+1

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bcsteene
Now if you know a thing or two about digital and analogue signals you know that a digital signal is limited to the number of bits.
I hate to be blunt but it seems you don't know enough about digital audio to be the credible voice on this subject. Half of your post was a myth surrounding PCM.
Old 12th December 2012
  #15
Gear Addict
 
🎧 5 years
Since I've gotten a summing mixer recently, it has made a HUGE impact onto my mixes. It really has given me another "dimension" into the mixing process.

For example, I can drive the all the drums into the same stereo channel in the mixer glueing them together, or I can choose to separate the snare by driving it onto another channel giving it its own space in the mix. I truly love the depth and separation that a summing mixer gives you.
Old 12th December 2012
  #16
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I''ve build myself a state of the art summing mixer...containing only the best opamps and the summing is done by discrete opamps.
Really, this is as good and clean as it gets and not something you'll find in a mixing console (unless you're willing to break the bank LOL). It has a very short signal path containing no capacitors whatsoever.

Result: it's so quiet you don't know it's on...even when listening on headphone with the volume cranked up full.

Now, did this made a difference to my mixes...no! It's so clean, you will be hard pressed to hear a difference compared to an ITB mix.

However, it DOES serve it's purpose cause there are lots of inserts to connect analog comps and EQ's and what not. There is where the benefit of analog summing is...
Old 12th December 2012
  #17
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🎧 15 years
OP knows just enough to be troll-ish, but not enough to know the difference between software processing and converter bit depth!

A face palm says he never returns to the thread...
Old 12th December 2012
  #18
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🎧 15 years
Imo, just because it's clean, doesn't mean that the analog summing hasn't brought anything to the table. I've heard some examples (both SSL) where the usually employed term "more air around each instrument" gained sense in my mind.

I've always wondered why there aren't more A/B comparisons around.
Old 12th December 2012
  #19
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Ain't Nobody's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
As has been touched on, summing itself is the least important part of the equation. There is nothing that computers are BETTER at than summing. The compute is, after all, a glorified calculator, and summing is, after all, addition. There really is no task for which a computer is more competent.

It's all the other bits that do, in fact, make a difference. Tubes, tape, transformers, each of the various components has a sonic signature. Basically, every time something does anything other than a straight movement on a fixed wire from point A to point B, SOMETHING happens to the sound.

This is not because of the summing, however. Frankly, if it's all that harmonic convergence you're looking for, the summing aspect of the chain would be the last place I'd turn. If you've got a pile of money burning a hole in your pocket, and are prepared to adapt to the issues associated with a hybrid mix chain, then you may or may not like the difference all those components impart.

Then again, you could focus on getting those signatures on input before mixdown as well with various preamps, di's, tubes, transformer coupled throughput devices, etc.

Like many, I'm a big fan of what certain quality components can do, but let's not lose sight of the fact that nothing ADDS better than a computer... now, if you LIKE your addition a bit fuzzy and rounded off...
Old 12th December 2012
  #20
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🎧 10 years
Interesting comments and some of you made logical points which I can see, others seem to like to insult the poster instead of making a logical point(@psycho_monkey and @Companda I'm talking about you two - if you can't make a valid point don't say anything at all, you are the real trolls, I'm just trying to have a logical and nice discussion on summing mixers).

@Narcoman - I do understand 32 bit point, etc... What I was getting at is that it might make more sense for people to invest their money in good input from the get go - good preamps, good microphones. For example: If you have someone who records singing into a cheap condensor, through a cheap preamp, can a summing mixer really make all that much of a difference? It seems to me that if the original signal is not the best (soundwise), that a summing mixer isn't going to help. To me it just doesn't make sense as an investment, but perhaps it does to others. To each his own, I guess.
Old 12th December 2012 | Show parent
  #21
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Bcsteene's Avatar
 
7 Reviews written
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by superwack ➑️
You have a degree in computer science yet can't do a simple Internet/gearslutz search to see that there are MULTIPLE (recent) LONG threads on this???

I'll save you the trouble - some people agree with you 1000% and will use whatever science, pseudo science, here say, feelings, things friends have told them, etc to support what you are saying...

Then, there are the others who 1000% disagree with you and will also use science, pseudo science, here say, feelings, blind shootouts, Mayan prophecy, etc to support their positions... the threads NEVER go anywhere good and nothing is EVER decided.
HA! I apologize, I'll search better next time and make sure to consult my mayan shaman.
Old 12th December 2012 | Show parent
  #22
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Bcsteene's Avatar
 
7 Reviews written
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by GJ999x ➑️
My 2c - caveat, I'm an amateur producer and have never used a summing box, let alone a proper console, following the science as closely as I can and recently bought VCC (which i'd recommend). My bias is trying to avoid shelling out $$$ for voodoo (same reason I spent a lot of time being convinced, slowly, to get VCC via. research on summing etc.)

G
I think we're on the same page. I'd rather invest my money into "front end" gear or ITB processing plugins and concentrate on getting the sound right from the start instead of trying to fix it later.
Old 12th December 2012
  #23
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🎧 10 years
Depends on the summing mixer. I think the computer is just fine at summing signals, but some summing mixers, for example, something that has transformers and tubes, or anything that may effect the sound in a pleasing way, I guess it could be a good thing.

But personally, when I first tried summing with a Nicerizer (back in 2006), I actually found that I could get similar results by simply putting the stereo mixdown from the computer through some nice analog gear (a Drawmer 1968ME and a Summit Audio EQP-200B at that time).

But in the end, a simple summing mixer was way too limiting. No bussing, no Aux FX. So I went with 32 channel, 8-bus console.
Old 12th December 2012
  #24
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🎧 10 years
At the end of the day, going out going out to an analog summing mixer adds color and irregularities that digital does not. How much that adds to the final product and how much it is worth compared to other uses of the money is a totally subjective thing depending on the user's taste and wallet, so nobody can be right or wrong about this, If you like it and can afford it, it is good, If you do not and/or cannot, it is not.
Old 12th December 2012 | Show parent
  #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EastWest Lurker ➑️
At the end of the day, going out going out to an analog summing mixer adds color and irregularities that digital does not. How much that ads to the final product and how much it is worth compared to other uses of the money is a totally subjective thing depending on the user's taste and wallet, so nobody an be right or wrong about this, If you like it and can afford it, it is good, If you do not and/or cannot, it is not.
Damn.... this... is it just me or could this be the definitive statement on analog summing? who could disagree with the above statement, in either camp?
Old 12th December 2012 | Show parent
  #26
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by GJ999x ➑️
Damn.... this... is it just me or could this be the definitive statement on analog summing? who could disagree with the above statement, in either camp?

Oh, rest assured, somebody will
Old 12th December 2012
  #27
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Bcsteene's Avatar
 
7 Reviews written
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by EastWest Lurker ➑️
At the end of the day, going out going out to an analog summing mixer adds color and irregularities that digital does not. How much that adds to the final product and how much it is worth compared to other uses of the money is a totally subjective thing depending on the user's taste and wallet, so nobody can be right or wrong about this, If you like it and can afford it, it is good, If you do not and/or cannot, it is not.
I think this "sums" it up nicely... :D

Sent from my SAMSUNG-SGH-I747
Old 12th December 2012
  #28
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 5 years
Summing mixers a waste of money? I would say yes, if it doesn't do what you want it to do, and no if it does. I use HEAT in my DAW for an ITB effect of a similar type.

At the end of the day, yes we make a decision to put down cash for the mixer and then a decision on how and when to use it, but during the day when we are working we don't really need to concern ourselves with what is going on in the metal, just what the treatment we are putting our 'music' through.

A long time ago, when Sony was introducing it's 3324, the first 24 channel 1/2" razor blade editable digital tape recorder, they were demoing one at the studio I was working at. In the room was me, as I was recording with it, a Sony Sales engineer, a Sony 3324 engineer, the studio owner's, and the studio's chief tech, who was a really, really, smart guy. The sales engineer was going on and on about the virtues of digital technology, and how this tape machine would change the universe as we know it using bingo-bango this and bingo bangle that, and went on for quite awhile, possibly in an attempt to baffle us with bullshit because he wasn't dazzling us with brilliance. After about a 15 minute verbal display he turned to the studio tech and asked, "well, what do you think of that?" To which the tech replied, "so, does it make the music come out?" So glad I didn't have any liquids in my mouth at the time...hilarious, but totally at the bottom of what it is all about. I always apply that question to every new piece of gear, software, hardware, etc. to this day.

I've been around for a long time...since tube consoles weren't all that antique. I was a field service engineer for Neve during the time when they had been bought by Seimens because they had developed the first large format digital console and Seimens wanted that technology as the precursor to digital broadcast. Back then the convertors were discrete 16 bit units running at 48k. Digital was all the 'rage' and it's primary advocates predicted that it was the future of audio. Well, we used to joke about the time when in the 'future', when everything was digital, that all this analog gear would become invaluable because of the color of analog, and people would pay big bucks for it...because it sounds 'musical', as compared to the 'coldness' of digital. We have now come full circle.

As regarding summing mixers, I think the most important and most 'musical' sounding component is iron, as in the core of an audio transformer. Put a square wave through a transformer and compare the output to the input and it's pretty remarkable, but they make a complex waveform 'sound better', for what ever reason. Rupert Neve was a transformer designer in Switzerland before he started his company, the early Neve consoles had transformers at the input and output of almost every gain stage, the gain stages were class A and single rail at 24 volt, but they could supply boo coo current compared to op amps. This is essentially what HEAT has attempted to do...I made a living working on and in those consoles, and I know what they sound like. HEAT does a reasonable job, but it's not totally accurate. Also, those older consoles sounded different as the buses changed character and sound as those transformers and circuits were driven harder and closer to saturation. I would go as far to say that those old consoles actually made the 'music' sound better than it really did.

Which brings me back to the, are summing mixers a waste of money. I believe if you can afford a summing mixer and it possesses the characteristics of those old consoles; current model, transformer coupled, single rail, etc., it will impart those characteristics to any signal going through it, If it doesn't or you can't afford it, it won't.

I would go as far as to say that if you can get hold of one of each (input and output) of those old transformers, and construct suitable support electronics around them, you could emulate the sound of those old consoles...or at the least, the summing stage...

I think this is a good discussion and definitely worthy to go further.
Old 12th December 2012
  #29
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Fascinating. Have you tried vcc? They have a neve emulation. No doubt it falls some % short of the real thing, wd be interested to know your thoughts...

Sent from my GT-I9100P using Gearslutz App
Old 12th December 2012 | Show parent
  #30
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engmix's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bcsteene ➑️
Interesting comments and some of you made logical points which I can see, others seem to like to insult the poster instead of making a logical point(@psycho_monkey and @Companda I'm talking about you two - if you can't make a valid point don't say anything at all, you are the real trolls, I'm just trying to have a logical and nice discussion on summing mixers).

@Narcoman - I do understand 32 bit point, etc... What I was getting at is that it might make more sense for people to invest their money in good input from the get go - good preamps, good microphones. For example: If you have someone who records singing into a cheap condensor, through a cheap preamp, can a summing mixer really make all that much of a difference? It seems to me that if the original signal is not the best (soundwise), that a summing mixer isn't going to help. To me it just doesn't make sense as an investment, but perhaps it does to others. To each his own, I guess.
If you look at analog processing as degradation, then this will most definitely skew your train of thought. The thing is, of course one needs a solid front end, i think this goes without saying. Personally speaking, i have a Tonelux system, it's essentially a console, and Lavry converters, and whether the audio is class-a or class-fail, the mixer adds something pleasing. You're really treading in the domain of what sounds better, and that is completely subjective.
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