Can an in the box mix sound as good as a mix done with analog gear?
Of course. The debate about analog versus digital is a closed book.
Can your in the box mix sound even better with analog summing?
You might not be so quick to answer this question because analog summing is a bit foreign to most project studios. The first time I heard of analog summing, I scratched my head for a bit. Actually, I was a little frustrated that there was this other phase of mixing and an accompanying piece of hardware I “need” to get the best sounding mix. There’s always some magic bullet. What is this summing business anyway?
Uh…well, it’s the combined signal of all your tracks. Commonly referred to as the mix buss. Your DAW is already summing your tracks as you play them through the 2-buss. The argument is that it could be done better with an analog summing device, since it sums tracks in the analog realm, without the pesky interference of binary information.
Analog summing units offer a variety of functions, depending on the unit. Some add compression, some include powerful converters, and almost all claim to “warm” up your mix or add dimension to it. This article from eMusician offers a deeper look at the controversy of analog summing.
Because you can sum signals using analog equipment in any price range, I wanted to test how analog summing would affect a mix with a reasonably priced system and with a more expensive system. I assembled an expert panel of four audio professionals to assist with the summing tests and to serve as the listening panel.
Take note: an author doing some actual research. Which is what you want when you’re considering such an expensive purchase.
While the idea of better mixes from analog summing is very attractive, it’s almost certainly not why your mixes don’t sound good to you. So in that regard, analog summing is just one of those things you don’t need to worry about right now. There are other options, too. Console emulations and plug-ins like the Waves NLS (non-linear summer) might be just what you need to get that cohesion in the mix buss.
A more practical tactic is to make your recording and mix so good that you don’t ever give analog summing a second thought.