Saturday, July 30, 2016

Mixing with channel strips, console simulators and other analog simulations

Hello and welcome to this week's article!
Today we will talk about mixing using virtual channel strips, and it is an addition to our virtual channel strips article, with links to download many virtual Vsts to try (CLICK HERE TO READ IT).

This time I would like to go more in depth in the matter: why does anybody need in the digital age to limit himself by using channel strips, that limit our flexibility, our total control over a tone?
Why should we restrict ourselves in a more limited environment, forcing ourselves to recreate the technical limits of the hardware consoles of the past?

The answer is not silly, and it has one psychological and one practical side.

The practical side is the fact that analog consoles have certain properties given from the materials and the construction, which have given to the sound of the albums we loved of the past decades a very unique and euphonic coloring.
The combination of very sligh compression, saturation and harmonic enhancement given by those that once were even considered limits of the hardware, today are pushing us in using at least some console simulator on our busses (for example a kick buss, or a bass track, click here for an in depth article) or a tape saturation plugin (click here for an in depth article) to obtain a limiting in the amount of low end in a very musical way.
Through these classic hardwares, or their virtual simulators, the low end will sound more compact, in focus and smooth.

The only problem is that this nice effect is based on the quality of the hardware or the simulator; it's obvious that if we pass our mix through a mixer that was crappy even when it was purchased 30 years ago our mix won't benefit at all, same is if we use crappy plugins: the sad truth is that the quality is paid, and only the best ones, the most expensive ones such as the Slate or the Waves ones, or others, can really deliver a good result (although I think that Sonimus Satson is an excellent bang for the buck).

Under the psychologic point of view instead, deciding to use channel strips instead of the classic array of plugins we fill every track's slot with, brings us to an interesting challenge that eventually will turn into a growing experience that we will be able to use also in the future mixes: it teaches us to think strategically, especially if we try to mix it like on a small desk, for example 16 or 24 single channels, and some buss, like one for vocals, one for drum skins, one for cymbals, one for guitars, and do the most of the work mainly on the busses. this will force us to find a homogeneous coloring of each group, and eventually it will help us in improving the separation between sections too: the whole drumset will have a coherent sound, all the vocals will have a coherent sound, and it will be easier to separate each section one from the other.

If we do our group tracks properly, after the editing phase, we will have to add really few plugins in the single tracks, mainly for filtering or for doing some dynamic correction, and then we can do most of the work directly in the few groups we have created, which was the normality when using mixing desks from the 60s to the 90s, and I guarantee that this experience will change your workflow and approach when mixing your future projects: you will learn that you can achieve the same result as loading for example a processor in every track, by grouping them and using less processor instances as possible, or loading one or two delays into an fx track and sending them to the tracks or groups instead of loading an instance of the delay in every track, overloading the cpu.

I guarantee the result will be better and more natural, and the workflow will be much less stressful.

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