Which summing mixer is right for you is dependent on how you like to work. In a small project studio where you’re working in the box, an outboard summing mixer is probably an afterthought. But if you have the budget and space to work with a hybrid approach, you may already have a console or smaller board where you’re summing everything through analogue gear.
The debate arose because when digital recording first became viable, people thought its summing was inferior to the analogue stuff everyone’s ears were accustomed to. Today, digital has come leaps and bounds—many of us might not even hear a difference between a mix summed in the box versus out of it. Regardless, here are some things you need to know about digital and analogue summing.
What is Summing?
The fundamentals of summing are actually very basic. All of the tracks in a mixing session must be routed to a common stereo output to print a final mix. In Pro Tools or any other comparable DAW, this common output is the master fader, the stereo out, or whichever term your DAW prefers.
Summing, then, is simply the process of combining all of a session’s tracks and outputting them to a single stereo source. Pretty straightforward, right?
Before digital, summing was done inside of a console. And when digital recording was developed, many people complained of its inferior summing quality. The “warmth” of analogue summing was argued to have been superior to the “harsh” and “cold” summing that was happening digitally.
Solving the Digital Summing Mixer “Problem”
If digital summing is thought to be an issue, then an obvious solution is to A) continue working completely analogue (impractical for those of us working at home–or anywhere that isn’t a large commercial studio), or B) adopt a hybrid analogue-digital approach.
The hybrid method involves taking your tracks out of a DAW, summing them with a hardware analogue device, and bringing them back into the DAW as a final stereo mix.
This affords the benefit of working conveniently inside a DAW, with the added bonus of the supposed “warmth” and “width” of analogue summing.
Is Digital Summing an Issue?
There will always be those engineers who swear by analogue, which is great! But at the crux of the analogue vs. digital summing debate, there are incredibly skilled engineers producing remarkable music on both sides. This proves that analogue summing is not a common denominator amongst some of the industry’s best engineers.
Skill, talent, and years of experience often outweigh any perceived benefit of analogue or digital equipment. So the gear successful engineers use often stems from personal preference, habit, or perhaps even a little superstition!
Analogue or Digital: Try Both
Ultimately, one type of summing is not objectively better than the other. This is frustrating to some degree, in that it makes our quest for better sounding mixes that more difficult. But it’s also liberating in the sense that we have the freedom to choose whatever works best for us.
Everyone wants a game-changing piece of equipment that takes good mixes to great, but the truth is, skill and experience are what make mixes fantastic.
This is good news! Those of us working in bedroom studios with smaller budgets still have all the resources we need to produce pro-quality mixes, 100% in-the-box–even with stock plugins, too.
If the opportunity to try analogue summing presents itself, though, it’s absolutely worth a shot. As we’ve seen, there are guys on both sides doing brilliant work, proving that it isn’t about one or the other.
If possible, try both, and see which is preferable given your taste and workflow.
Don’t Worry About Your Summing Mixer Yet…
Before troubling yourself with which summing mixer is better for you–especially if you work out of a small project studio–focus on the fundamental aspects of mixing music first.
Getting to know the equipment that you do have will generally yield better results than acquiring new gear without really knowing how to use it. Likewise, an analogue summing device is only useful if your ears can perceive a difference–and whether you even like that difference in the first place.
Instead of worrying that your “okay” mixes would be “good” or “great” with an outboard summing mixer, make sure you know how to adequately utilize compression, EQ, time-based effects, and other signal processing first.
It sounds rudimentary, but you’ll undoubtedly go further when you’ve learned a ton about your in-the-box plugins, how they operate, and how you can squeeze the most from them to suit your mixing and style.
But if it seems like an outboard summing mixer would enhance your work, here are a few options to choose from.
Outboard Summing Mixers
- 16 channels of the world’s best active analog summing, that even surpasses the original.
- Three distinctive analog color options: Harmonics, Paralimit and X-Former.
- Effortless routing and blending of analog color circuits via elegant user interface.
- Switchable stereo analog insert for easy outboard gear integration.
- Massive sounds, sacrificing no detail.
- Crystal clear sonic imaging and three-dimensionality.
- Endless headroom for modern digital signal levels.
- Stepped output gain control for exact recalls.
- Both XLR and D-Sub input connectivity.
- Audiophile-grade components throughout.
- Hand-assembled in the USA.
- Discrete, class-A signal path
- 8 mono inputs, 24 stereo inputs
- Audiophile 0.1% stepped attenuators
- Switchable BX5 output transformer
- Summing amp GAIN BOOST
- Dual stereo outputs
- Texture: Continuously variable control for Silk and Silk+ modes allows the engineer to fine tune the harmonic ratio and tonality of both stereo outputs.
- New Class-A Topologies: With zero crossover distortion and unmatched purity, the 5059 sets the standard for rack-mountable summing mixers
- Custom Transformers: Beyond providing galvanic isolation, the custom transformers in the 5059 are a key ingredient to its larger than life sound.
- Dual Stereo Outputs: Split the input channels into two stems for further processing and mixing.
- Channel Level: Individual level controls are provided for each channel from -∞ to +10dB.
- Channel Pan: Individual pan controls are provided on each channel of the 5059 with a 3dB pan law.
- Master Output Level: Level controls are provided for each of the stereo outputs -∞ to 0dB.