Shocking Truth About Analogue vs Digital Mixing Today
If you don't know much about the topic of mixing, you might be under the impression, that to get the "real" sounding record you need some expensive sauce, which can only be achieved with expensive analogue studio equipment. You want your records to sound natural, warm and vintage and you definitely don't want them to sound artificial, buzzy-fuzzy and flat.
What if I told you that one of the best, most accomplished mixing engineers on this planet, who has his own staff, his own expensive studio and all, I repeat all the gear on this planet, ditched everything and began to mix exclusively on the computer or as they say "in the box".
Michael Brauer is an American mix engineer who mixed records from bands like Coldplay, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan and the list goes on and on and on. Around 2020 he transitioned from mixing with analogue gear to mixing completely in the box, because, ask he said, there is virtually no difference in sound quality anymore. The man with all his accomplishments, skill and gear ditched everything. He proves once again -
"It's all about the ears you have and not the tools you use"
I think the same paradigm applies to all hobbies. For me it was the guitar. I saw Eddie Van Halen and other professional guitar players ripping scales and riffs with fire and passion, but once I got the same guitar and the same amp, I still sounded the same as I did with cheap equipment. It's not the gear that makes the rockstar sound great, it's them, the rockstars, that make that gear sound like them.
For mixing, maybe the picture was not so clear in the year 2000 and the year 2010, but past ~2015, probably even earlier, the gear made less and less difference and it became more about the person and the talent, rather than expensive equipment.
You might be interested to know, why someone, like Michael Brauer, who already had it all, decided to ditch it all. Why waste time transitioning, when analogue mixing is "the gold standard"? Or is it?
Having a studio with analogue gear and mixing exclusively on the analogue gear does have a lot of drawbacks:
The noise. The more things you have in your signal chain, like a sound going thru microphone, preamps, compressors and eq and the console, the more noise you get. So there was a lot of work to be done to keep the signal "uncontaminated" and clean as possible.
The maintenance. The more equipment you got, the more maintenance it needs. Studios hire people to just repair and maintain all the expensive equipment.
Taking notes. When you mix with analogue, you need to have everything notated for every song. Making sure you know exactly how your compressor was setup, so that if something needs to change later on, you can redo everything.
Recalls and changes. If one or two parts need to be re-recorded or done a little bit differently, you need to redo almost everything. That's why you took notes and have stacks and stacks of papers in your studio, so that you can take your time and make it as it was.
As you see, running a real studio with analogue equipment takes more effort, money and time. I remember when I was re-amping guitar tracks with 4000$ amp, I waited for the whole song to run its course multiple times, then I noticed an annoying noise, oops, forgot to flip the "ground-lift" button, guess I need to do everything again!
Why do so much extra work and spend all that money, when you can focus more on the sound and making sure the record sound good, rather than making sure your stuff works and has no noise. Thanks to all the computer wizards, it is now possible to mix a record cheaper and faster. But, but, it must sound cold and artificial, right?
Consumerism won't cure your ears
In todays social media and influencer culture the only thing which you can show and sell is physical in nature. You can't make a photo of you and convey your mastery of a certain skill, but you sure can make a photo of newly bought gear.
Buying new equipment makes things more exciting and acquiring one more peace of gear might seem like an upgrade and might seem to get you closer to being a "rockstar", as It was for me when I was unpacking new Van Halen guitar.
That is where buyers remorse kicks in. People make themselves and others believe, that there is a difference. They feed from each others biases to justify their spending. The brands and influencers would certainty benefit from all the action, so they try to convey the same message - "the analogue is warm and full and the digital is flat and fuzzy", that's what gets repeated over and over again. It makes the money.
People are there so that you can learn
Michael Brauer experience was eye opening for me and I could learn a lot from him and I could discover my own misconceptions about the topic, because I believed, that analogue is better. I believed, that you need to buy more and more to have a better quality records.
@JimLill on YouTube did a fair comparison of iconic tube amplifiers (the warm and full) and his own monster amplifier done out of 4 solid state (flat and artificial) guitar pedals and found no difference in sound. However, if you surf the internet you would find endless comments about the tube is warm and solid state is fuzzy.
If you want your stuff to sound great, you don't need to spend all that extra money on expensive studio and equipment. If you are an engineer, you need to learn more and if you are someone who is searching for someone to mix your record, you can just use your ears and ask yourself - does this sound good?
If you want your music to be mixed and mastered you can contact me - https://www.elvismix.com/
P.S. I sold the amp at a loss and I was so happy when I did that. Been playing guitar thru Quad Cortex. It sounds amazing and doesn't break my back.