Analog Processing

James Hardiman

Martin wrote:

Dear Bob,

I am a recording/mix engineer.

I came across a section where you discuss digital vs. analog mixing where you speak about summing mixer vs. any analog processor and that your ears could tell that all is really needed was one single processor to give that “analog” sound , etc.

I believe your ears.

I just have a problem reconciling the following:

( I have mastering EQ’s, Comp, etc.)

For a given professional analog hardware generating a song say, tube guitars, optical processors, VCA processors, prof. mics, etc., mixed in the box. 

I know I am speaking in totally subjective terms, never the less coming back out (2-track) to the analog domain and running THAT digital mix though a compressor and viola its sound “warmer” or “analog” or whatever (like you say) you want to call it.

I ask what was wrong with all the analog hardware the song got created with.

Dear Martin, for the first part of your question:

There may be nothing whatsoever wrong with the analog hardware the original instruments in the song got created with! But each of the analog devices that was used on individual instruments was not used to help the depth or dimension or warmth of the overall sound, or to help the color or definition of each instrument in context with the rest of the instruments — they were used to help create the original sound of the individual instrument. And sometimes:

1) that original sound was “just perfect” or

2) sometimes that original sound became no longer perfect when heard in context with the rest of the instruments, there may have been frequency conflicts or other issues that required new processing needs for that instrument in context with the rest.

And why would ONE more conversion and process through a single analog processor

bring back “anything” that was not there from the original analog hardware that produced the song in the first place?

Good question. There’s no guarantee that one (or more) analog processors used in the mastering stage will enhance, bring back or help the sound of the mix you send through it. No surprise: You can totally ruin the sound of a great mix by passing it through any processor, or certain processors, or using the right processor in the wrong way! On the other hand, some all-digital mixes may lack depth, or definition, or don’t bring out the qualities of the individual instruments as much as could be useful. This could be because the mix engineer was not as skilled in use of delays, or distortion, or EQ or color as possible. Or it’s possible that the mix engineer did a superb job but has a question whether he got the most out of the mix possible. If it was an in-the-box mix, the mastering engineer (or the mix engineer) may find that the subtle addition of distortion of certain analog processors brings out more depth, dimension and clarity from the mix. Subtle amounts of the right kind of distortion enhances depth, dimension and clarity in a recording, bringing out inner details that may be desirable. Too much distortion or the wrong kind of distortion can ruin a recording. In the mastering stage we carefully judge whether the subjective improvement outweighs the objective degradation of going through another conversion. 

Hope this helps,