Dr. AIX's POSTS β€” 07 May 2016

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I’ve leased my main studio to Ken Caillat and his associates. Ken, if you don’t know his work, was one of the two co-producers and engineers responsible for the Fleetwood Mac “Rumours” album (as well as “Tusk” and “Mirage”). I still have the right to use the room to demo my recordings and work on projects of my own but the new tenants have requested some changes…including switching out my Euphonix System 5 digital console for an SSL AWS-900 hybrid console/controller. I’ve spent part of last Sunday disassembling my 16-year-old console and tucking away the modules as I contemplate what to do with it.

Ken and his partners just couldn’t get behind the workflow and complications of working with a digital mixing desk. Most seasoned audio engineers have spent thousands of hours sitting behind large format analog consoles. Each track is connected to an individual input channel equipped with equalizers, knobs for auxiliary outputs, a fader, assignment buttons, and panners. You simply turn it on (if you ever turn it off) and start working. The comfort factor is quite high with an analog console. The ergonomics are familiar, the sound is warm and pleasing, and the operation fairly straightforward.

On the other hand, a digital console is basically a bunch of computers. Each bank of 8 channels, for example, has it’s own CPU buried deep inside. The surface is filled with encoders, multifunction switches, a motorized linear fader, and whole bunch of illuminated buttons. There is a main computer running Windows, a computer display, a mouse, and keyboard. Instead of simply turning on a switch, you have to “boot up” the main computer and each of the individual modules. If you’re working at 96 kHz/24-bits, you have to select the appropriate “mixing configuration”, which is different if you’re working at standard-definition. And it can take several minutes to reboot the machinery and computers.

Analog mixing consoles and studios have physical patch bays where all of the analog inputs and outputs of all of the equipment are located. Engineers use short electrical patch cords to build complex signal paths and access outboard equipment. A digital console may have some physical patch bays (mostly for digital signals and clock) but my Euphonix has a software-based patching system. It’s a grid on a computer screen that let’s you click a source and destination and issue a PATCH command.

I’ve loved my Euphonix System 5 since I purchased it in 2000. It doesn’t have a sonic “color” of its own. It doesn’t generate noise or heat. And it can do things that analog consoles can’t begin to do. But you won’t find many music productions being made on Euphonix consoles. They’re quite common in postproduction rooms and film dubbing studios but music people like Ken need and want the characteristics of an analog desk.

All of my recordings have been mixed on my Euphonix. The pristine, accurate, transparent sound that characterizes my tracks is not the sound of an analog-mixing console. So if you know someone that wants or needs a 128 input Euphonix System 5 console (which can also be used to control Pro Tools), please send him or her my way. I’m being force to move on. But it’s tough.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(16) Readers Comments

  1. Does this mean the end of your all-digital productions?

    • Not necessarily. There are ways to mix “in the box” that I can use. The Euphonix is a special machine, but I can continue without it. The real problem is being able to fund new productions. After I complete the book, I may try to crowdsource some new projects.

  2. Hi Mark,
    Quoting your Blog from Sat 7th May 2016:
    “All of my recordings have been mixed on my Euphonix.”
    So what will become of your HD Audio mixing? Is it also going with the Euphonix!??? What will happen in the future for HD-Audio from you Mark?

    • I’m not ending my label of productions. They just won’t happen through my Euphonix.

  3. At the end of the day Ken Caillat is taking the “if it aint broke it don’t need fixing approach”; he’s produced many successful albums using his tried and tested methods on the equipment he knows and understands. I’ve seen this same mindset in many companies I’ve either worked for or been in contact with. Why should Ken “upgrade” to a DAW methodoligy for the sake of it? From Ken’s prospective, the equipment he works with is still valid, he knows how to use it, and get world class recordings from it

    If Ken has fallen behind the times and his methodologies are no longer relevant then yes, maybe, as you’re implying, he’s being a little old fashioned, but the way you’re extolling his virtues then that’s not the case.

    • Ken and many other music engineers love the world of analog and have a comfort and history with it. No arguments from me…they won the Grammys! It’s just hard to see a tool I love be passed over.

  4. I can’t say I know what I am talking about. However, (yes usually when someone prefaces a statement this way they say something stupid) given how digital gear and CPU’s and such progress I am guessing there are smaller all digital boxes of gear that surpass the Euphonix desk. Perhaps doing so at less cost. I am imagining the physical interface of the Euphonix desk such as it is will be what you are losing. Still your resulting recordings may not suffer at all. At least I hope that is the case. And hope I didn’t say something stupid.

    • The recordings will be the same, the process getting there will be somewhat more challenging for me.

  5. Good-bye and good riddance to all that analog and digital electronic junk. The software based equipment puts them all in a bygone era. The ability to manipulate electrical signals with software based systems is virtually infinite. You can twist anything you have into any shape you want. But it still requires skill, possibly more than ever before. These more powerful tools are probably beyond many mixing and mastering engineers. They’re best off sticking with what they know and not swimming in waters out of their depth. If you know how to use a power saw and a hammer you can build a house. If you don’t you can smash your thumb or cut your fingers off.

    • The Euphonix System 5is simply an interface to the world of digital signal manipulation…and a very elegant one. The capabilities for automation and things like the “focus” and “diffusion” knobs were among my favorite tools…that trigger processes in the digital domain.

      • This largely analog trained EE came to accept a long time ago the reality that practically anything analog can do, digital can do better. Whether or not the existing systems beat every analog counterpart in every way is not the point. The point is that ultimately the potential is always there. Analog systems are inherently constrained in important ways digital systems are not. In the future, analog systems will be looked at retrospectively as museum pieces. People will wonder at how well people of prior eras performed so well with such primitive equipment.

  6. “……the reality that practically anything analog can do, digital can do better.
    Whether or not the existing systems beat every analog counterpart in every way is not the point.
    The point is that ultimately the potential is always there… ”

    WRONG !!!!!!

    Reality is exactly that, real time as in NOW… the potential is irrelevant.
    Does it sound real NOW, or NOT ??

    What use in the present, is theory stating that maybe it could sound real in 10 years using new, yet to be discovered algorithms and 256 bit floating point light-speed processors !

    The universe is analogue by definition, ALL things happening in real time, without sample and hold delays, calculated extrapolation buffers etc….

    The infinite is NOW !!!!
    Digital by definition is finite analysis… with the answer arriving later, maybe soon but maybe next lifetime.

    NOW does not compute, it just IS πŸ˜‰

    • Richard…screaming wrong doesn’t help make your case. You may prefer the compromises of analog music recording and reproduction, but it remains true that PCM digital audio is more accurate to the source analog waveform than vinyl or analog tape. The subjective judgement of “Does it sound real Now, or NOT?” is not relevant. Does the output equal the input is the real question. And digital beats analog in every case.

  7. Please excuse me capitalising the word ‘wrong’….you are absolutely correct in as much as I am, for there is neither wrong nor right in the matter of hearing.

    “The subjective judgement of β€œDoes it sound real Now, or NOT?” is not relevant. Does the output equal the input is the real question. And digital beats analog in every case.”

    Personal experience is entirely subjective and digital processing does not change that, unless of course you are a cyborg.

    This is where we depart however, if you are referencing, as I was responding to the prior poster, purely technical parameters within their finitely defined limitations of input equalling output well then yes, however terribly flawed an ideal that is.

    These ‘defined limitations’ to which I refer are the typical numbers, freq. response (typ. eg: 20h-20k), THD-N etc..

    Measurements may be necessary, yet are merely arbitrary points of simplistic reference !

    Do any these measurements tell you HOW something sounds, whether it is a Lady Tenant or Carrodus Guarneri violin, and whether it has yet reached acclimatisation to the room in which it is being played ?

    NO, of course not… which is why 10 digital encoders or decoders with precisely the same measured specifications as typically informed, do not sound exactly the same, and most often only similar if that.

    CD=Perfect Sound Forever and you laugh, if it were only so simple, so lets be on a level in the interest of good sense and not dumb this discussion down to such simplistic levels, as there is such a long way to go yet…..

    But, you may be very well unaware of how incredibly immature science is in the specific field of human auditory response. Present understanding is precisely that, ‘under’ being the operative prefix.
    You and many others are free to kid yourselves of the extent to which technology has advanced in a field which has been my lifetime pursuit.

    Whilst I utilise the most state of the art digital audio capture, reproduction and test tools daily, my hearing faculties are not convinced that ‘we’ have arrived at any point where I can put my feet up and call any of them remotely end game…. perhaps only convenient.
    The APX555 tells me but a few aspects when sampling the real world and is a wonderful tool, but again how can we even begin to think we have half the required answers when we still don’t even know the right questions to ask ?

    Getting back to my prior response to clarify my intent when referring to analogue, you had referred to moving on from a Euphonix System 5 all digital console to an SSL AWS-900, clearly a move from an essentially pure digitizing interface to a primarily (Super)analogue router of analogue signals with digital control, in the case of the real world being microphone sourced input.

    The ‘heard sound’ through either is purely a matter of personal choice, though I know what I prefer when the source is coming from one of my CMV3, KFM 6U or 4003 mics…. and it ain’t samples of a dreadfully modulated noise floor…

    As for tape playback or even vinyl I still partake, just as I continue venture to smoky jazz clubs, noisy church recitals
    and live pub sessions.
    Do I have a preference for PCM over any of them, or you ??….the point is moot if listening is paramount, and not measuring for the sake of a MATLAB spreadsheet.

    The ear is a highly non linear device which has a degree of fuzzy logic and auxiliary input paths for which we may never fully comprehend, until such time that we can wholly reverse engineer ourselves, may we all try to live in harmony as the primitive people we really are, denial is no path to acceptance or overstanding ;-P

    • Thanks for the thoughtful response…and I agree generally agree with your comments. There are important aspects of science and measurement AND aural satisfaction that need to be balanced. I want the sound that works for me. I’ve worked a lifetime to achieve the results that I achieve. My recordings satisfy both halves of my brain.

    • It is, however, worth reminding RB that we don’t have to know what to measure; we don’t have to know how to objectify all the secrets of human understanding of beauty or other subjective metrics:- for audio playback technology, all it has to do is exceed the human ability to discern differences. And if that ability is exceeded by 16/44.1, or let’s say by 20/48, then so be it. We don’t have to become better at measuring, or better at knowing, to conduct the tests with human subjects that show the result is true. The ‘you can never touch the infinite’ argument is not even valid.

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