STRAIGHT INTO THE FIRE
“Mixing in a Pro Tools World,” which appeared in our May issue, raised the eyebrows — and the ire — of more than a few Mix readers. Here is a representative sampling of the opinions expressed, followed by letters on a variety of topics.
When I read the article “Mixing in a Pro Tools World,” I was looking forward to some good information. I was extremely disappointed. Of the four engineers in the article, only one of them really liked the sound of Pro Tools, and even he has to use an SSL to mix.
It seems to me that someone had an agenda to slam Pro Tools; there was a definite analog bias to the article. There were some bold statements made about the superiority of analog over digital and insinuations made about the inferiority of an engineer who did not prefer analog sound over digital. What about those engineers who can hear the difference between analog and digital and still prefer digital?
Some of the statements made by the engineers in the article were also flat-out wrong. Most of them do not understand digital recording, and yet they were used to give misinformation to the masses. I just hope that young, aspiring engineers who read your magazine don't take this article as truth concerning Pro Tools, and digital recording in general.
I also find it interesting that these engineers were chosen to talk about mixing in a Pro Tools world when none of them actually uses Pro Tools to mix. It would have been more fair if the article included some engineers that actually mix within Pro Tools, or at least use digital consoles to mix.
There are many stories of seasoned engineers comparing mixes done within Pro Tools to mixes they themselves have done on SSLs or other expensive analog consoles. Most of the time, the Pro Tools mixes equal, and even sometimes exceed, the quality of the big console mixes. The deciding factor always seems to be the guy behind the controls. Yet, this article would lead many readers to believe that the only way to get that professional sound is to mix with a certain console or a certain type of equipment.
SHAME, SHAME, SHAME
Having had my attention drawn to the Mix magazine cover article about “Mixing in a Pro Tools World” by several people confused about the seeming misinformation brought up, I was compelled to read it myself in order to come to understand what the murmuring was about.
After reading this article, I am completely surprised that Mix would take it upon themselves to publish such inane drivel. This article had great potential of providing advice to users on how to work in Pro Tools to make the rest of the process (mixing and mastering) easier, but instead, it provided an outlet for a few engineers to moan about their begrudgings of digital recording compared to analog recording. There were plenty of opportunities to provide useful information to the reading public, such as the need to properly calibrate converters, the importance of quality converters (the only mention to converters was somebody mistaking “db Technologies” converters as D/D converters. Huh?), appropriate uses of the busing within the system, proper use of the master fader, how plug-ins are implemented on the master fader, how to avoid dither/truncation error from your mix exceeding one DSP chip, when it's appropriate to use/not to use the “dithering mixer,” etc.
Instead, you provided an outlet for a bunch of people who don't use or know Pro Tools to moan and groan about their misunderstanding of digital technology as a whole. There were so many statements made by these guys that were totally incorrect about digital technology (and, it's no surprise, as it appears that none of them record or mix digitally at all) that it's very concerning to me that they will be read by a populous who will accept them as truth merely because guys like Puig or Brockman said them.
It is discouraging to have to spend my energy diffusing the myths promoted by the major publishers in our industry. I hope that Mix magazine can avoid publishing this stultiloquy in the future.
Jack Joseph Puig advises young engineers to learn Pro Tools because “it's not going away.” I see his point, and that may be true now, but doesn't the history of the pro audio industry over the past 20 years indicate that it will go away? Or, doesn't the fact that three out of four of your interviewees say (in so many words) that Pro Tools sounds like sh*t indicate that it might go away? In 1989, I recorded an album on one of those Mitsubishi 32-track digital machines, at a time when many thought that they were God's gift to audio. Now, you won't find a studio on the face of the Earth using one of those machines. Maybe people got tired of the nasty sound, or maybe, judging by the current popularity of Pro Tools, it didn't sound nasty enough. I may be wrong, but I think it's possible that in 10 years' time, Pro Tools will be in the pawnshop next to the 32-track Mitsubishis and the Simmons drum pads.
SOMETHING'S GONNA HAPPEN
Your recent article in which top mixers outlined the pros and cons of mixing in a Pro Tools environment was very revealing. The first thing I noticed was that they only talked about mixing in very broad terms. The real discussion was still the core debate about which is the superior recording format, analog or digital. Overall, those interviewed had typical attitudes toward digital audio.
Coming from a low rung on the audio production ladder, I can say, for those of us not doing major-label sessions, digital is hands-down superior to analog. Perhaps in the rarefied environment of high-end pro studios that have first-class equipment and a maintenance staff to keep it in peak working order, engineers can actually discern the sound of digital clock jitter or poorly biased analog tape. In the project studio trenches, where you struggle to get a good performance out of inexperienced bands or decent tone out of their crappy instruments, digital audio's stability and clarity are by far preferable to all of the inherent problems associated with analog tape.
In 10 years of all-digital recording, I have only had minor problems of system crashes or data corruption. I have never had the problem of cross-talk, drop outs, stretching or breakage. I have never had to bake a CD to get the recording medium to stabilize for me to retrieve the information. Anyone who started out scrubbing and splicing tape with a razor blade knows that digital is better for editing.
So the real question is, which sounds better? The next generation of engineers will have been raised on nearly completely digital audio. They will not have the same precepts that we have as to what audio “ought” to sound like. As far as the lack of depth in digital audio, I would say that has more to do with tracking technique than the medium. When every track is an overdub and the dynamics are almost totally removed to maximize volume, how can a track have depth? The lack of harmonic distortion and an audible noise floor are often thought of as a lack of warmth; in other words, the signal is too clear.
Analog has a nostalgic quality some of us find appealing, it has a counter-culture chic that some identify with, but for the average minor-league engineer, it can't stand up to the quality of digital. For me, I still like the sound of 78s on a gramophone, but they aren't coming back, for obvious reasons.
Studio 139/Uma Nota Records
ROCKIN' AROUND IN NYC
If I'm not mistaken, your article on Mixing in Pro Tools was about just that: mixing in Pro Tools — using all of the virtual tools, mixer, plug-ins, etc. Your article was actually about using Pro Tools as a tape machine. I'd like to hear how Dave Pensado's mixes come out if we were to take his SSL away and all of the other expensive outboard gear that has been tried-and-true since the beginning of audio engineering. And, make sure we track all the drums using the Control 24 and the real-time compressors with virtual mic modeling and amp modeling. See how those mixes come out.
I never thought DAWs sounded inferior — well, after 24-bit came along, anyway — but it's all that beautifully made analog gear that brings the mixes to life. Let's all remember, there is no software that comes remotely close to a good old Neve or Fairchild. That's where the mix lives, not in Pro Tools. A good musical performance doesn't hurt either.
New York City
SOMEBODY LIKE YOU
I must take issue with comments made by Bob Brockman and Jack Joseph Puig regarding recording in the digital medium. The comment about “maximizing the bits” in digital is a myth, one that has been perpetuated for far too long. If it were true that a softer signal in a 24-bit recording was actually only 10- or 12-bit, that would mean that digital is a fatally flawed medium, certainly one far below any standard for critical recording. It would also mean that extremely dynamic material such as classical music could not properly be recorded with digital, as the softer passages would be at lower bit rates and extremely grainy and dirty-sounding.
Having listened to many varied dynamic digital recordings, I can say that this is not the case. If you don't record extremely hot in digital, it doesn't mean that you're not using all of the “bits,” you're just not using the entire dynamic range. The idea that the bit rate for a recorded signal varies with its level makes no sense. Why, then, would we even need to bother setting a bit rate for a session, since it would simply be dependent upon the level of each signal? I'd expect you guys to know better.
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
SO DIGITAL IT'S ANALOG
This letter is regarding Paul Lehrman's “Insider Audio” column in the March issue, “The World Above 20 kHz.” Lehrman appears not to have had the pleasure of hearing music above 20 kHz. I have had the thrill of hearing “high-resolution digital music.” We have done a significant amount of work “above 20 kHz” at Redwood Digital, Sony Music Studios and Georgetown Masters. We have transferred analog recordings through HDCD Model 2 or Meitner DSD converters, and we have compared the results to 44.1 and to the analog originals.
Our results from listening:
- We converted analog at 176.4 and then downsampled it to 44.1. The 44.1 that was downsampled from 176.4 sounded cleaner, brighter, bigger and “more analog” than the direct 44.1 (using same Model 2 converter).
- 192 transfers sound analog and were phenomenally better sounding than 44.1.
- Analog multitrack mixdowns to 96/24 sound substantially more open and analog than do multitrack mixes from 96/24 digital copies of the original multitracks.
- DSD transfers from analog sound analog.
What is “analog”? It is a warm and happy feeling one gets when listening to audio where the medium is much less obvious than the music.
New York City
Glancing through the March issue, I came across my friend Larry Blake's piece “Data Management and Archiving.” While his treatment, as usual, was thorough, I wonder if he has overlooked a couple of points?
If the idea for any archiving scheme is to be able to recover both the data and session information — the “ingredients” and “recipes,” to borrow from OMF-speak — then a universal file and archiving format might be worth considering. One candidate that, as we know, has been attracting a great deal of attention is AES31. Rather than rely on proprietary formats from companies whose future might look a little…volatile, why not transcode the information to a robust, application-independent format? Many DAW and recorder manufacturers are already offering AES31 compatibility.
And, while many of us are using Super DLT media to archive large projects — and its 110GB capacity certainly offers a great deal of advantages — I wonder if this tape format will hold up over time? While there is no current evidence to the contrary, backup formats tend to be designed to hold data for a commercially useful three to five years. (And, despite protestations from manufacturers, there is little pragmatic evidence of long-term reliability that matches that of 35mm mag film.) Just because our film/video post community opts to use Super DLT formats, we may not make up a sufficiently large market to ensure that DLT drives remain in production once mainstream computer users migrate to a newer format.
It may be that a universal archiving scheme needs to spread the load across more than one technology. Copying and verifying data backups from one format to another will continue to be a necessary behind-the-scenes archiving function. Again, AES31-compatible files would fall nicely into such a scheme.
Maybe Larry's articles will provide the catalyst for developing an industry consensus, including the drafting of a tape-archive standard?
Creative director, Media&Marketing
This letter is in response to Tom McClure's letter to Mix, which appeared in the May 2002 issue. McClure wrote that a statement made in the article entitled “Building Your System” (which appeared in the March issue of Mix) was in error. Specifically, he disputed the fact that ADAT Lightpipe cards for the Yamaha 02R are only capable of passing 20-bit audio maximum. (He attributed that statement to Mix's New York editor, Paul Verna, but it was actually I who wrote it.)
According to Yamaha, a 20-bit ASIC chip in all 02R Lightpipe cards prevents the digital transmission of bit depths higher than 20 bits via those cards. Although one could record directly to a 24-bit DAW using outboard 24-bit A/Ds, busing the recorded tracks afterward to an 02R via ADAT Lightpipe cards would truncate the audio to 20 bits. (Unless, of course, the audio was intentionally dithered to 20 bits or less inside the DAW before busing it to the 02R.)
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