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Old 03-06-2010, 01:22 PM   #1
vicenzajay
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Default Really would love to discuss taking busses/final mix /tracks outboard with Reaper

Been a while since I've posted here - but I've certainly not been idle with Reaper...most of my work is mobile and (lately) acoustic and/or choral related, however, I still love the program and am commmitted to it for the long haul.

I've got something to discuss with those who are familiar with hybrid digital/analog approaches to mixing or mixdown. What I'm finding, as I do research on taking mixes OTB while still using DAW recording, is a mixed bag of information with regard to the best way to accomplish this in a quality fashion. To be specific, I'd like to ask you good folks some "how-to" questions with regard to the best routing methods, stem mixing and rendering "how do I do it", etc, in addition to opinions on outboard summing with regard to available summing mixers. There are two very conflicting opinions out there...with the majority of the discussion centered on digital headroom versus analog "depth" (and some other, esoteric, words which can muddy the discussion's waters).

To cut to the chase - is it worth it? I'm very comfortable mixing in the box - as the paradigm for our little studio has been probably 80% mobile, on-site recording. I opted to spend a bit extra for my interface (RME FF 800) 3-4 years ago, and then commenced saving/spending wisely on outboard pres. At the same time, I've been a musician for 25 years or so (yep, I'm getting old)....and my ears (or so I'm told) are reasonably good ones. So I'm quite interested in taking at least the processing of those DAW tracks OTB to quality channels.....IF (and it's a big if) it's going to make a difference. I could certainly come up with a mixing paradigm where I record all the tracks into Reaper through the FF using the outboard preamps (what I do now)...then for mixing I would route those tracks directly outboard to a summing box...or, in the case of drums, etc., I would route the stereo buss stems to the summing box after mixing/panning the individual drum kit inputs to a buss mix. I suppose I could actually mix the drum tracks through the summing mixer as well back to the DAW and apply summing/outboard compression to those tracks prior to "printing" them and collating them into the stereo buss stem. I'm rambling...but bottom line I believe it would be doable to take the recorded audio outboard, through a summing mixer, then back to the DAW. Then the final 2-buss stereo track could be taken outboard, through the buss compressor/EQ and thence to print for the CD, etc. This paradigm (and I'd love everyone's advice here) would only take the A/D and D/A through four times at the most...the RME's converters should be able to do that with no issues or measurable artifacts/digital noise.

I hope my overall question makes sense (through all my typing). I'm interested in taking the mixdown portion OTB through quality gear if the paradigm is valid. I have a quality buss compressor/EQ being constructed now as a major part of that...and that's something I've been sold on doing for some time now. In the same vein, however, if quality outboard summing would allow for even deeper and wider soundstages given the analog footprint on the tracks, I'm interested in that as well...

On top of all that - as I've been in the box for all these years, I really need to ask for some practical "how-to" with regard to the routing/etc. for sending audio outboard and then "back" inboard in the best way for the audio's sake. Also - rendering or printing stems after they have been processed outboard...how is that done (actual button pushing) in Reaper in an easy to manage format?

Stupid and simple questions, I know, but for all the time I've spent either playing, recording, mixing, etc. I've only used outboard gear on the way "in"....so I'm a bit lost in the starting details, even if I understand the theory.

Thanks!
Jay
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Old 03-07-2010, 08:15 AM   #2
DBMusic
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Use your ears

Don't you hate when you get that response? But it's true. If you feel OTB routings improves your sound, then it's worth it. There's lots of opinions about ITB vs OTB, but it all really comes down to what YOU feel.

Personally, I wouldn't trade a single piece gear in my hardware racks for any software processor (and I've bought a crap load of software VST's over the years). I use hardware to capture the best input I can come up with. I then go back OTB for broad strokes (buss/track compression/eq, mastering, etc.), while using software processors ITB for surgical type of uses.

Regarding routing, the common recommendation is to limit your DA/AD conversions as much as possible. But that again depends on the quality of your conversion. The FF800 is ok (though I find it a little hyped in the upper frequencies and somewhat non-distinct in the low ranges).

That being said, there are plenty of ITB engineers who can smoke their OTB counterparts. There's much to be said about who's turning the knobs.

Which takes us back to the start...it's all in the ears...

Regards,

DB
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Old 03-07-2010, 01:35 PM   #3
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Default Got it....

And I agree with regard to the ears...but before I spend another 3 grand on an outboard summing mixer and some other outboard gear, I was looking for opinions from those experienced (as you are) with taking the mix back OTB after using Reaper to capture the audio.

I have already taken the step to have a buss compressor/EQ unit built for me (probably will have it in about a month or so). I'm pretty sold on the benefits of OTB buss compression as even using mediocre outboard compression (in my own opinion/experience) typically is a favorable improvement over ITB compression...both track and buss. Again, that's only my opinion.

Summing OTB, however, seems to generate a very heated discussion....therefore my question. At some point I very well may go that route anyway - but I'm not inclined to just "jump" on that gear bandwagon without 1) some opinions from folks doing it (or having tried it with no advantage) or 2) some practical how-to from folks doing this using Reaper as the DAW (as that's what I use). Since I'm not even at the point of knowing "what to do" to best route signals to/from a summing mixer, how pan settings translate to OTB summing, best way to patch buss compression/EQ in conjunction with a summer, etc. - I'm asking the questions hoping to get practical advice as well as a short tutorial on "how to".

Thanks for the viewpoint on hardware! I agree - I'm fairly happy with the converters on the RME unit...even more so after a few double blind tests done a few years back vs. Apogee and some other high end units. Although upgrading the A/D and D/A will probably happen in the future, I'm not in a hurry to do that just yet.
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Old 03-08-2010, 12:02 PM   #4
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Hey Jay,

I hope I didn't come across as condescending, as that wasn't my intention. In fact, whenever I consider the purchase of any kind of audio processor (software or hardware), I too do a lot of research on the opinions of others. It's just been my experience that opinions are just that...opinions. In the final analysis the only opinion that ends up really mattering is the one I form on my own. And I've done that enough to just want to share my perception.

Regarding summing OTB, I can't offer an opinion. While I do a lot of track and buss processing via analog route, I've only done my summing ITB.

Best of luck in your decision...

Regards,

DB
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Old 03-08-2010, 05:25 PM   #5
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Default Cool...

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Originally Posted by DBMusic View Post
Hey Jay,

I hope I didn't come across as condescending, as that wasn't my intention. In fact, whenever I consider the purchase of any kind of audio processor (software or hardware), I too do a lot of research on the opinions of others. It's just been my experience that opinions are just that...opinions. In the final analysis the only opinion that ends up really mattering is the one I form on my own. And I've done that enough to just want to share my perception.

Regarding summing OTB, I can't offer an opinion. While I do a lot of track and buss processing via analog route, I've only done my summing ITB.

Best of luck in your decision...

Regards,

DB
I didn't take it as condescending at all - and I appreciated your experiential summary. At this point, given points made on both sides of the summing mixer type of solution, I'll probably put that at the bottom of my priority list unless someone can make a compelling argument with some examples of how its helped.

Like you say - I'm sure it's opinion....unfortunately, the two other studios I know in this area don't have one to try...that would be (for me) the ideal way to make up my mind.

Jay
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Old 03-09-2010, 06:32 AM   #6
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I don't use a summing amp, but I do use outboard color on pretty much all of my mixes. Angel Lofte Studio Source+Plus It's basically a multi-tube circuit that allows you dial power to/between the tubes and adjust bias.

Personally, I have yet to read anything that convinces me that there's any advantage to summing in analog vs. digital. That said, there are a wide variety of signal paths that can be added for color and shaping; my suspicion is that those who prefer their summing amps are preferring exactly that.

My suggestion is that for the money you could get a pretty decent outboard bus compressor which will accomplish a similar aim (give you a nice color variable for your mixes) and hardware compression. Or something like Source+Plus which is actually designed for coloration.

Edit: Just re-read and saw you have a bus comp being made for the chain. Sounds like you're already on that track. I'm not really sure what an analog summing amp will get you beyond the color of the signal path. That might be worth it in and of itself depending.
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Old 03-09-2010, 06:40 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vicenzajay View Post
On top of all that - as I've been in the box for all these years, I really need to ask for some practical "how-to" with regard to the routing/etc. for sending audio outboard and then "back" inboard in the best way for the audio's sake. Also - rendering or printing stems after they have been processed outboard...how is that done (actual button pushing) in Reaper in an easy to manage format?
Thanks!
Jay
Well, my process is heavy on the stem rendering because I use a lot of Nebula instances. Usually it involves two stages:
1. Getting the sounds close to where I want them (including a lot of the Nebula faux-console processing), printing stems of the tracks.
2. Mixing those stems, then running an online render through the bus comp, faux-console master bus program, tape programs (if I'm using them on the project), outboard.

So practically speaking, for simply sending and returning there's an awesome tool in REAPER: ReaInsert. When I render the master out through hardware I just use the Online Render option in the render menu. I'm not entirely positive how I would accomplish that on stems; don't know if it's currently possible to run online stem renders (anybody know? seems like last time I asked there wasn't yet).

Edit: Perhaps the Save live output to disk (bounce) with all the track(s) you want rendered individually? Never tried it though.

Last edited by ngarjuna; 03-09-2010 at 07:01 AM.
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Old 03-09-2010, 11:14 AM   #8
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Default ngarjuna

Great advice...I'll have to start working on getting savvy with regard to printing stems in the first place. At this point, your first post echoes what I'm going to do to start the process. Dustin at RJR recording is building me a kick-a@@ buss compressor and EQ unit - with selectable Lundahl transformers on the output (i.e. I can go through iron or simply electric with the output by flipping a toggle). I've wanted an outboard buss compressor (a quality one) for some time, I think I'll just stick with that...use ReaInsert on the Master and just send the final mix outboard for EQ/buss compression.

My follow on question would be about online rendering - can you explain it for me (not just the button pushing, but the signal/cable flow)? Into "what" medium/hardware/? are you rendering? It would be great to have the option of just leaving the mix outside the box after the buss compression/EQ, correct? Would save an A to D trip, I would think.

Thanks,
Jay
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Old 03-09-2010, 11:23 AM   #9
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The signal path looks something like this:

DAW (Master track) --> DAC (sends) ==> Effect ==> ADC (returns) --> DAW (render itself)

Or more likely it would be (for me)

DAW (mix bus) --> Nebula instances --> bus comp --> master track --> DAC ==> Effect ==> ADC --> DAW (render itself)

The online render then plays the track at 1.0x speed and the result is the rendered file as it passed through the whole chain.

To answer your last question, you would have to record it out of the box if you skipped your last ADC return trip. The last trip back is the one that gets recorded (unless it goes through more effects in which case it gets recorded at the end of that chain).

Last edited by ngarjuna; 03-09-2010 at 11:34 AM.
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Old 03-09-2010, 12:17 PM   #10
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Default Okay...

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Originally Posted by ngarjuna View Post
The signal path looks something like this:

DAW (Master track) --> DAC (sends) ==> Effect ==> ADC (returns) --> DAW (render itself)

Or more likely it would be (for me)

DAW (mix bus) --> Nebula instances --> bus comp --> master track --> DAC ==> Effect ==> ADC --> DAW (render itself)

The online render then plays the track at 1.0x speed and the result is the rendered file as it passed through the whole chain.

To answer your last question, you would have to record it out of the box if you skipped your last ADC return trip. The last trip back is the one that gets recorded (unless it goes through more effects in which case it gets recorded at the end of that chain).
I misunderstood the earlier post - got it. Monitoring might be an issue as well leaving it OTB at the end, but I'll look into that. Putting the final mix through the buss compressor/EQ post D to A and then routing the outboard outputs to something like an all-analog Tascam CD burner, etc. might just be the ticket to leaving it OTB.

Of course, the "benefits" of that are probably negligible with even mid-grade converters. Just don't have the OTB experience to say that with confidence yet.

Jay
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Old 03-09-2010, 01:08 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by vicenzajay View Post
I misunderstood the earlier post - got it. Monitoring might be an issue as well leaving it OTB at the end, but I'll look into that. Putting the final mix through the buss compressor/EQ post D to A and then routing the outboard outputs to something like an all-analog Tascam CD burner, etc. might just be the ticket to leaving it OTB.

Of course, the "benefits" of that are probably negligible with even mid-grade converters. Just don't have the OTB experience to say that with confidence yet.

Jay
Ah, I see what you're getting at. I don't know a thing about those kinds of burners but my uninformed thought would be that if the final render is digital (ie. a CD), then it has to be passing through one more stage of ADC, although in that circumstance it would be in the CD unit itself. Not knowing much about them, I have no idea if the converters onboard would be higher or lower quality than your interface. As far as I can imagine, recording to analog (tape masters) would be the only way to avoid that last ADC step.
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Old 03-09-2010, 11:42 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by ngarjuna View Post
Ah, I see what you're getting at. I don't know a thing about those kinds of burners but my uninformed thought would be that if the final render is digital (ie. a CD), then it has to be passing through one more stage of ADC, although in that circumstance it would be in the CD unit itself. Not knowing much about them, I have no idea if the converters onboard would be higher or lower quality than your interface. As far as I can imagine, recording to analog (tape masters) would be the only way to avoid that last ADC step.
Good point (about the inevitable digital conversion), however, I'm also concerned with the CD burning in the first place in some ways. Might be a step up to have a first-tier, dedicated CD burner actually burn the CD's...could chain that directly to the computer, I suppose.

In any case, I'm going to concentrate on the buss compression/EQ OTB with ReaInsert and then just go right back to Reaper for hard-limiting and rendering. The other stuff can wait.

Thanks!
Jay
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