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.