A studio with a console, analog EQs, computer desk and speakers.

Mixing In The Box vs On A Console

Let’s talk about the great debate!  Analog vs digital mixing!  Do you like mixing in the box or on a console in an analog environment?  Sure, most of our favorite mix engineers that we see are behind a giant console in their photos and videos and most of them come from a time where analog was the only way.

I understand their approach and their mindset.  I was born in the days where recording with a computer just wasn’t possible.  As time progressed, so did technology.  Because of my experience with analog gear, I’ve been able to apply the analog mindset to the digital world.  I have created an approach that has proven to be extremely beneficial to mix hacking.

Mixing In The Box Vs On A Console

A DAW is nothing more than a gigantic analog mixer and patchbay in a digital world.  There is a reason why the mix window of Pro Tools looks like a gigantic console with faders.  It is easy for us to forget that this is essentially a console.  Especially, since many of our first experiences in audio are in a piece of software and not behind a console.  So what do people love about analog?

So what do people love about analog?  For one thing, analog creates noise and saturation characteristics that aren’t created in the digital realm.  However, as technology advances the plugins emulate the analog characteristics incredibly well.  All without the hassle that exists in the analog world.

The convenience of digital is the best argument for the analog vs digital mixing debate.  When you have an analog mix that needs a revision you have to reset all of the faders, eq, patch bay, and outboard gear to match the previous mix.  How many times have you mixed a song and been finished after the first mix… yeah… me, too.  Or dealt with a band that asked for a revision a week later… exactly!  What did you have to do to make that revision?  You just clicked file open and *poof* like magic your session was right there.

In the analog world, this takes a significant amount of time to do.  It’s simply not worth the amount of time.

Why I Prefer Mixing In The Box

People love analog, physically touching their mix and controlling the music, as well as the aesthetic.  Also, the psychology aspect behind buying something expensive means that you are inclined to defend it to the death!  I remember the first time I bought a 1176 and then A/B’d it to UAD’s version… it was an exact digital replica.  In a blind A/B test, we couldn’t hear a difference.  My gut reaction was to defend my piece of gear.  Ultimately, I sold it because I could achieve a great mix without it!

The tools never make the mix.  The engineer does.  If I give the most prolific mix engineer of your dreams a laptop and stock plugins and give you every piece of analog gear in the world, who do you think will make the better mix?  Trust me, I’ve learned this the hard way when a mix Jedi kicked my ass!

Check out the video below on analog vs digital mixing:

Full Video Transcription Below:

This band I know asked me whether they should pay someone to mix in a large studio on a console or if they should save money by having someone mix it in the box, at a smaller studio.  They asked if the sound would change or suffer from the project being mixed in the box versus on a console.

Let me tell you a quick story.  I saved up all of my money to buy a recording console to track and mix on.  A Sound Workshop series 32 console with the infamous “super eq’s.”  There was some loose lineage to API at the time when Brent Averill worked at Sound Workshop during API’s brief hiatus.  This console was referred to as the poor man’s API.  The EQ’s were FANTASTIC.  I loved them.

Since then I have worked on state of the art API, Neve, and SSL consoles.  But where am I now?  Now I travel all over Southeast Asia mixing records with my laptop, iLok and Sennheiser HD650 headphones.  I cannot stress to you guys enough that my client’s do not notice the difference.  They are just as happy with my work now as they have ever been.

As technology gets better and better, we continue to blur the lines between “big studio quality” and “home studio quality”.   Does mixing on a console change the sound from mixing in the box?  Yes.  Is it better?  No.

The Wonderful World Of Plugins:

In fact, we have plugins now that will emulate the console.  The sonic characteristics that define a console are now being emulated in plugins such as Slate’s Virtual Console Collection.

What people used to miss from console mixes was the character and depth that came from the individual differences in each channel and the sound of the output of the console.

What people didn’t miss was the inconvenience of taking an hour to recall a mix when a small change needed to be made, as well as console maintenance and a large power bill.

Many songs that you hear today, maybe even MOST of the songs you hear, are mixed digitally, in the box. 

Mixing in the box allows us to conveniently work anywhere from a coffee shop to an airplane and that’s a beautiful thing.   The last song I mixed was on a plane on my way to Cambodia.  The mix revisions were done by a gorgeous pool in the midst of an adventure packed day.  I get fired up talking about these times because I came from the times of a 4-track tape recorder.  I’m obsessed with this shit!

It’s also great to be able to save many different versions of a mix.  This used to be extremely difficult to do in the console days.

The Convenient Times

In the mix itself, I have an endless world of creative possibilities that could be impossible or extremely tedious in the analog world.  Music production in many cases requires automation and things that are technically impossible to do on a console.

So is my friend’s project going to sound different being mixed in the box?  Possibly.  Is it going to sound worse? Definitely not, it’s going to sound amazing.

Have you ever wanted to mix on a console?  Leave a comment below telling us what you think that you would really like about it and if you feel that you miss anything by mixing in the box. 

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