September 15, 2005

Sum This (Summing mixers, Pt. 2)

by Chris Randall

Okay, time to address this tardiness issue. I really feel that if I smoked more cigarettes, my productivity would increase. I suppose the only way to know for sure is if I tried.

Anyways, back to the summing issue. There are three main flavors of summing mixers currently available. We'll go in order, from simplest to most complex.

Plain Vanilla

These sorts of summing mixers are totally passive. A passive summing mixer needs make-up gain, because (due to annoying features of physics) you lose volume when you mix channels together. The most popular example of a completely passive summing mixer is the Rolls Folcrom. This box is so passive, you don't even need to plug it in. The concept with these sorts of boxes is that you use a pair of mic pres to make up the 30-odd db of signal loss. The "sound" of the summed mix is thus dependent on the quality and flavor of the mic pres you use. So, while the Folcrom is only $750, and thus the cheapest of the high-end summing mixers, you have to figure that you're going to need at least two high-end mic pres; otherwise, there's no point to the exercise at all.

A Little Bit Of Iron In The Path

By far, the most common sort of summing mixer is this flavor. These units have a passive summing array, but have built-in line amplifiers, thus obviating the need for mic pres on the output. The most popular of these is one of the first ones released, the Dangerous 2-Bus. At two and a half grand, it's a bit of an investment, and only sums eight channels. Of this catagory, there are two general kinds: those that color the sound, and those that don't. The D2B is definitely of the latter catagory, but there are several offerings in the price range that do add a bit of "vintage" color to the signal, whether your tastes run to tubes or iron. (For the former, the innerTube Audio Atomic Sumthang is a nice one. For the latter, probably the API 8200A is the way to go.)

The Full-Meal Deal

This catagory has the most cool shit in it, I'll say that much, but "an arm and your left testicle" is the general price range. These sorts of summing mixers are basically small consoles with no mic pres. They'll have, for the most part, transformer-balanced inputs, direct outs per channel, VU meters, and a simple console master section, usually with a couple monitoring options. Pictured, you see the Chandler Mini-Mixer, which is exactly that. My current favorite is the Aurora Audio GTM-822, made by Geoff Tanner, a former Neve engineer and all-around cool guy. These sorts of mixers can be used for other purposes than just summing, and are generally full-featured. There are about a dozen to choose from, and they generally fall in to the $4000 to $8000 price range.

The summing world is about to be turned on its ear, though. AMS/Neve is going to
a 16-channel full featured summing mixer with all the bells and whistles at AES for $3250. Figure a street of around $2750 to $3000 for this. This has become my new Object Of All Desiring. Now, AMS/Neve almost falls outside the scope of shit I would recommend, as they're a bigger company than I normally like to talk about here, but quite frankly, I think this is the one to beat. I'll throw pictures and such as soon as they're available.

So, to sum things up (hardy har har) summing outside your DAW will give you obvious improvements in headroom, dynamics, "air," and clarity. However, it isn't cheap. If you make electronic music exclusively, this probably won't be a big enough gain to justify the expense. However, if you're mixing "real" music, and you're not using the only DAW with a summing buss worth a shit (HTDM PT), you're definitely going to see that the expense is worth it by introducing an analog summing process to your mix. It's a matter of choosing the unit that most fits your budget and what you're trying to accomplish. I personally believe that the mini-mixer variety gives you the most options, but you can get away with some significantly cheaper solutions.

A link to all of Mercenary's options was put in the comments of the last summing article. I'll throw it again, and say once more that research is your best friend here. Gearslutz is the spot to be in this regard, as there are lengthy threads on the pros and cons of every single summing product, as well as many threads on summing itself. (Hint: use "OTB" as your search term, "outside the box.")




Sep.15.2005 @ 3:25 PM
So, assuming I don't have 1000s of bucks, but wish to take advantage of this, which would be the best option:

1. Fuck it and sum in the DAW until I can afford more/better
2. Sum using some lo-grade stuff like Behringer
3. Sum using something like a Mackie mixer/any other mixer on hand


Sep.15.2005 @ 3:39 PM
Of those 3 options I'd think the DAW is the best personally. Neither a low end mackie or a Behringer will be better in that situaion.

Sep.15.2005 @ 4:15 PM
Chris Randall
I agree. There's little point in doing this unless you can afford one of the purpose-built busses. In fact, you're probably better off in the DAW than running through Behringer's shitty op-amps. And the Mackie stuff is only marginally better.



Sep.15.2005 @ 8:43 PM
Well, it wouldn't be too hard to do some a/b's and find out which you like better... that's what I suggest.

Sep.16.2005 @ 5:39 PM
Thanks for another great article Chris. I hadn't heard anything about that new Neve box before now--holy shit!

I've been eyeing the Tube-Tech (SSA 2A) and SPL boxes lately. The Neve announcement is kinda shaking that up, but I guess it'll be some time before that thing actually hits the market. I'm looking to make the move inside of the next couple months. Damn...!

Anyway, you got any thoughts on the Tube-Tech or SPL? Any experience with either?



Sep.16.2005 @ 5:54 PM
Chris Randall
I'm of a "too much of a good thing" mind when it comes to tubes. I like to only have one set in a given signal path, myself. Otherwise things tend to get gummy.

The SPL box seems the nicer of the pair, though. The Tube-Tech one is pretty thin, while the SPL one has switchable inserts, a built-in limiter, etc. You get a lot for your money with the SPL one. I've been eyeing it for some time.



Sep.16.2005 @ 10:41 PM
Yeah, those are the very reasons I've been agonizing over the decision. Well, thanks again. I'll let you know what I end up getting.



May.09.2008 @ 10:16 AM
I work in a room all the time where an older Studer console is used for summing in Pro Tools mixes. That, combined with nice Apogee converters AD and DA, sounds wonderful. Truetone Recording in Nashville, David Henry at the controls.

He recommends that i find a used Mackie 1604 for just such use, until I can afford a summing box or a better console. In fact, I have been advised by several working (non-country, for what it's worth) producer/engineer/mixers to opt for the Mackie and simply GET TO WORK on records, rather than sitting on chat rooms, bitching about not being able to afford Neves or whatever.

Good sounding records happen for all sorts of reasons, and gear is not the most important factor.




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