A great many articles have been written about the pros, cons and and myths about summing in or out of the “box” in the analogue or digital domain. in this series of articles I have tried to carry out the sort of real world tests that actually means something - Does summing in the analogue world sound different/better than mixing or summing in-the-box (ITB)? This is not an article in which we discuss which is best or which workflow is correct, as we are all different and all have different ways of skinning the same metaphorical audio cat. What I would like you to do is listen (as audio engineers we should all be good at that) and be open minded (this bit we may struggle with).
The short, just under 2 minute track you are going to be listening to was recorded for an audio interface review. It’s a simple track featuring real drums, guitars (both acoustic and electric), bass, and vocals and busses down to 16 track quite nicely.
You can see in the image above how I have routed the tracks like this to fit a 16 channel summing mixer…
Drums - 1 & 2
Bass - 3 & 4
Electric Guitars - 5 & 6
Acoustic Guitars - 7 & 8
Lead Vocal - 9 & 10
Backing Vocals - 11 & 12
Vocal Room Reverb - 13 & 14
Room Plate Reverb - 15 & 16
The team at AMS Neve have lent me a rather lovely Neve 8816 summing mixer and 8804 Fader Pack. The 8816 gives us 16 channels of Neve 80 series mixing topology in a beautiful hand built and hardwired 2U rack. If you want the analogue console workflow but either don’t have the physical space or the financial budget, the 8816 either with or without the 8804 fader pack could be an option for you. It’s a great way to get all the lovely 70’s Neve sound without the hassle of a vintage console.
Main Features Of The Neve 8816 Summing Mixer
Separate Monitor and Cue levels
Main and Alt speaker outs
Onboard talkback mic w/talkback input to Cue
Units can be cascaded for multiple output
2U rackmount design with special shielded power supply
2 track return, plus iPod input
Headphone outs on front and back
Optional digital output card; 44.1kHz to 192kHz, plus DSD
Hand-built, hand-wired 16-channel summing mixer for use in professional computer-based studios
Classic Neve analogue transformer mix bus topology
Instant Recall of settings stored on PC or Mac via USB
16 input channels plus aux additional inputs
Cue, Level, Pan, Solo and Mute controls
Mix Insert points
Various solo and solo in place functions
Sum and difference insert with exclusive ‘Stereo Width Control’
The Audio Interface
All the audio for these tests is being routed through the new Universal Audio Apollo X16 running at 96KHz with a headroom of +24dBu.]
The Test - In-The-Box Versus The Neve 8816 Summing Mixer
One of the mixes you are about to hear is a basic “In-The-Box” (ITB) bounce to disk. No external hardware has been used. There are no plug-ins or processors on the master bus in an attempt to keep this as much of a fair test as possible. It’s also worth noting that the files have been level matched as best I can without any kind of processing or limiting so you may need to turn your output up a little to get a good level. Remember, dynamic range is king.
The other audio example uses the AMS Neve 8816 summing mixer. In this mix you are hearing the 16 channels from the Apollo X16 routed to the 8816 in pairs hard panned left and right. The faders on the 8804 fader pack are all set to +5 with the master faders set to 0.
Take The Challenge
Below you will find audio examples A and B. One is a standard “In The Box” two channel stereo Bounce To Disk, the other is a real time summed mix run through the Neve 8816. We would like to know which one your prefer. If you then wish you can then leave us a comment saying which you think is which, but this is not the real point of the test. It’s all about the sound of the mix.
Which Mix Do You Prefer?
Over this series of articles and tests we have a total of 6 different summed mixes for you to listen too. Once you have had a chance to listen to all of these we will be back with a final article in which we will reveal the results. As always if you have any comments or questions please do leave them in the comments section below.