Music Industry Advice: Professional Sound on a Moderate Budget

The first piece of gear to mention when considering the output chain of your project studio is the interface. People often ask me: “I only need a stereo out while I’m mixing, so why should I further invest in an interface?” The answer to that question lies in the observation of modern technology. Yes, we have numerous plug-ins that are meant to emulate classic analog gear. However, I am not afraid to say that the digital versions of classic outboard gear fall short of their original analog counterparts. The harmonic complexity, variance and warmth of signal passing through iron and wire have not been fully replicated by binary code.

Let’s work backwards to answer our interface question: The affordable answer to achieving analog sound in a primarily digital studio is a summing mixer.  Summing mixers, like the Rupert Neve 5059 satellite, accept analog input from an interface and combine the signals to a stereo bus. The stereo output of any summing mixer allows for easy recording of the analog results back into the interface.

The 5059 has 16 channels of analog input, gain, inserts and panning. It has two modes from which to choose (Silk and Silk+), depending on your desired sonic texture, harmonic ratio and tonality of the production.

After considering the incorporation of analog summing into the mixing process, the answer to the interface question becomes clear: The more analog outputs available on the interface, the bigger sonic advantage you will hold over the competition.

An interface like the Universal Audio Apollo 16 satisfies our analog output requirements. There are 16 balanced analog line outputs, all of which can be wired to 16 analog inputs of the 5059. Combining the $2,000 Apollo with the 5059 gives us the analog summing to compete with major label records at a fraction of the price…or you can purchase an SSL 9000K and call it a day.

Remember the compressor(s) that we purchased for our input signal chain?  Those can be repurposed for our output chain as well. Access the line inputs of the compressor (or mic pre) via a hardware insert in the DAW to increase the analog integrity of your vocals or instrumentation. Additional outboard EQ, dynamic and time-based effect units can be purchased and integrated, but our initial investment is serving as dual purpose.

A control surface like the Avid Artist Mix adds the look and feel of a proper recording studio without the large footprint and maintenance requirements. This eight-channel Ethernet controller allows us to physically move faders, solo/cut channels and pan across the stereo image. Blending levels during a mix becomes much more intuitive and manageable when we can actually touch the faders being used to create our records (rather than click, hold and dragging them with a mouse).

Speaker selection is a fiercely debated subject in the project studio discussion. Some producers and engineers want their speakers to sound as good as possible, greatly enhancing and flattering the sound of a mix. Most of these individuals gravitate towards an active speaker, such as the ADAM Audio A7. The A7s sound great and will seriously impress the listener when a balanced, punchy mix is passing through their drivers.

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