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Mixing panel - Analog or Digital


Jeff Wexler
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I decided to start a new topic here regarding the use of digital mixing consoles or analog consoles. I will weigh in with my opinions and experinece but I think I hold the minority opinion in this. I do know that many talanted, experienced and knowledgeable sound mixers are using full digital boards (like the various models from Yamaha) and some are using analog boards with some variety of digital interface to the recorder (or in some cases, a computer as the recorder). It is certainly true as well that you get a lot more "bang for the buck" with the digital units (this primarily being a function of marketplace: the digital boards in use by our small group of sound people have a much larger market in the consumer, pro-sumer, home studio, music world). I have talked with people using the Yamaha 01v and it has a dazzling array of features and functions, with signal routing configurability and possibilities far beyoind ANY analog board. This is attractive, and necessary quite often, for more and more jobs that require an approach to the work that is much more demanding than the majority of jobs that I do. So, it is fairly easy for me to stick with the Cooper, a beautfully sounding board with far less routing capabilities than the digital boards.

I also have found that althogh you do get more bang for your buck in terms of functionality and flexibility (the kind of flexibility that is difficult or impossible to provide in a totally analog board) to my ears there is a real penalty in how they SOUND. The people who are using these digital boards every day in production (and many are good friends who I respect a lot) tell me that I am wrong on this score, that the mic preamps are terrific and they sound great...  I am still skeptical. Until such time as I can no longer actually do the job with my Cooper, I will be sticking with the analog Cooper 208 as my main mixing panel.

I will add that the new Sonosax (which is somewhat of a hybrid analog / digital board) is the only analog board out there that comes close to providing the sort of flexibility and configurability of the digital boards and still provides the benefits of a terrific sounding analog mixer. I believe there are only a few out there that can afford to spend that amount of money on the mixing panel, when, as you point out, there are so many other choices with the digital consumer/professional music boards available for considerably less cost.

I hope that someone else chimes in here, someone who is using one of the digital boards, that could be very helpful when trying to make the decision.

Regards,  Jeff Wexler

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My initial experiences w/ portable digital boards were negative, they kind of seemed like Mackies with a lot more routing etc. etc.  I went back to (small, high quality) analog mixers and was instantly much happier about the sound, and worked out the routing the old-fashioned way.  Now I'm reconsidering the digital boards (Yamaha) and the cheaper hybrids (Mackie Onyx), while still not being very happy with their size, weight and power consumption.  I'm willing to give the sound another shot.  Are there any other contenders?  I can deal with the mixer doing less especially if could be smaller and use less power.

Philip Perkins

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Guest tourtelot

This is a very interesting topic because I, like Jeff, have always been a fan of the sound of my SX-S.  I contend that I have never heard a better SOUNDING panel.  I recently sold it (for $.50 on the dollar) and now own a Yammy 01V96.  To tell the truth, I have yet to use it; I am in the process of an "upgrade" to NL Multi-track and the project isn't complete yet.  But if it sounds acceptable, as opposed to the outstanding of the Sonosax, it is a switch I will be happy to make.  I had two outputs on the SX-S plus three non-metered, hard to monitor aux sends.  On the 01V96, I have more than two DOZEN outputs, all metered, all bus-able, and the ability to send all the inputs dirct to any of the (up to) three recorders that will be attached with the push of a rotary encoder.  Need to send a very speciallized feed to the THIRD BOOMMAN with a PL talkback?  No problem.  Give me a (littereally) second.  Oh yeah, I won't need to repatch any mics, ever! 40 inputs in a 18" wide package.

Okay, here's the deal these days.  Everyone wants 8 iso track, two tracks of dailies mix, two feeds to video village, an extra feed to the director's neice in his trailer, two ear-wig feeds, and a playback to the TV set in the living-room set.  Can't do that with my old SX-S and would have problems someday, even with the new Sonosax (even if I had to sell my house to buy it and live in a box!)

Will I hear the difference?  You betcha!  Will I be able to preform my daily work in a fashion that makes me less stressed and more employable.  Yes to that too.  Cold comfort but no one but me will ever hear any difference and everyone on the picture from the Camera Operator (oh shit!  I forgot.  The IA is trying to allow the producers to completely lay-off that whole group of our fellow workes and a "YES" vote to the current contract oiffer will assure that.  Vote "NO" please!)  Oh sory, I got sidetracked.  Where was I?

Cold comfort but no one but me will ever hear any difference and everyone on the picture will get more of what they want from a soundman and I'll be less frazzled by them asking me to provide them.

My $.02.

D.

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Guest tourtelot

Sorry to reply to my own post but I had an interesting coralary.  I have owned my digital SLR camera for about a year.  It dosen't produce photos that are nearly so lush as those produced by my Leicas and 'blads.  Which do I take more pictures with?  The digi.  Why?  It makes it easier for me to shoot more photos which is, in truth, what it is all about.

D.

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Well, that seems to be the arguement all right--feeds and flexibility vs. sound and who knows, reliability?  Have the Yamahas been stressed enough on nasty locations to know that they won't die at an inopportune time?  Wolf seemed to indicate he thought they were pretty tough.  And I guess if one is really paranoid, they are cheap enough that you buy two and keep one on standby.  Did you consider the outboard mic pre route?  (I know some a classical music recordist who does this.)  I know--really too fussy for film work on location.  How about this?  Do you figure you will need all 8 tracks of your recorder....how much of the time?  In other words, how much of the time will your rig be essentially recording one or two tracks, and how often will it be important to have 4 or more?  I guess you are figuring on needing the the full platter a lot of the time, and/or your clients are specing the job this way now.  I am in agreement that if you need to routinely run as complex a setup as you describe then the instant recall of all those routings will rock.  I ask this this way since I figure that Jeff W also works on pretty big movies, and gets along with what a 208 can do, also with an 8 track recorder.  Yes, I think I can add up how many Yamaha 01v96s could be bought for the price of a 208.  (8 or 9 I think.)  In my world, as in yours I suspect, we have to try to make this big techno shift without getting a whole lot more (or maybe nothing more) in rentals for the gear, thus we consider the Yamahas and pine futiley after the 208s and new Sonosax boards.

sorry for the ramble--I really have not been able to find what I want that I can afford.  Tell us about how you will power, connect and encart your Yamaha.

Philip Perkins

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Guest tourtelot

All therory for now, but for the fact that I know that it will fit on the cart.  My rig is in Los Angeles, the recording machines haven't arrived, and I am in Seattle. The Yamaha is 19" wide and 22" deep with a few, but not the bulk of the connections on the back.  It will JUST fit on my custom-built cart where the Sonosax (RIP, sigh!) once lived.  There was some stuff mounted in a built-in 19" rack above what will be the connections on to 01V96; a Sennheiser IEM transmitter, and my Lectro VR.  These will move to the top of the front-facing 12U rack that houses the drawer storage on my cart.  I will have to reduce the amount of storage by 2U which, as of now, is the only really distasteful part of the plan.  I have had a full 12U of drawers and having to remove things from the cart to live far, far away on the Camera truck is a bummer.  It is however, something I will find a way to do.

The real add-on problem is the Fostex DV824 which will have to live where the HHB Dat once lived.  There is a pretty substancial size difference between those two units!  The 824 will live on a supported 19" rack box, you know, the grey carpeted oned like in the rock and roll business? along with an Alesis AI-3 for a total of 3U.  The AI-3 will allow me 8 more inputs and outputs from the 01V96 via two ADAT TOSLink lightpipes.  The inputs are, as yet, unused, and the assignable outs will feed all my communications to my boom operators, video village, director PL, EPK and other recorders such as the 744T that I plan on running as a back-up, playback unit.  The DV824 will be fed from the digital output "slot" card in the 01V96 via a 25-pin Sub-D cable.

The DV824 will have every track assignable from the 01V96 and at least as a first step, tracks 1 and 2 will be all "old-school" 2-track mix a la Nagra 4STC or DAT from my cart's previous life.  Tracks 3-8 will be direct outs from whatever inputs are assigned from the 01V96.

Boy will I have a few butt-clenching days at the beginning of my next movie!  But I hope to have everythging all dry-runned(?) and be relatively confident before I push the "records "(via a very slick Rollogic unit, BTW.  Nice job David Ronne!) on Day 1.  I thnk it will be a pretty flexible rig, and sound good enough that no one but me will miss the sound of the 'sax.

D.

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I was excited about the capabilities and functionality of a digital console. I had owned a Sonosax SX-S and a Cooper Sound 106 and was quick to jump into the Zaxcom Cameo pool, and as many of you know it was the worst decision I ever made. On first listen at Trew Audio, I instantly noticed how thin the Cameo sounded. I also noticed the lack of mic gain. The biggest problem was the dependability and since my Cooper was quickly sold by Trew I opted for a new Cooper 208. I didn't want to spend all that money, but it sure is a beautiful board in both appearance and sound.

I would be hard pressed to go back with a digital board. The flexability was wonderful, but it could never outweigh the dependability, sound, current consumption, dependibility and sound... did I mention sound.

Brad Harper

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Welcome to the group Brad. I had a feeling you might have something to say about the analog vs. digital mixing panel debate. For the benefit of others here, I did have some conversations with Brad while he was trying to make the decision to upgrade his mixer. I had already had lots of experience with the Cooper (as had Brad) and also more recently then with the new Cameo Mixer. I was not willing to make a definitive statement about analog vs. digital because although I had decided that the Cameo was not for me I knew of several sound mixers for whom I have tremendous respect, had opted for the Cameo and would never turn back. Several of these people are still using their Cameo (even though it is a product that has been discontinued by Zaxcom). The situation today is quite a bit different than it was when Brad was having to make his decision, even though a relatively short period of time has passed. What I see today is that the need is increasing every day for a highly flexible and configurable mixing panel and there are many jobs for which most of the analog boards in use are barely adequate. With the exception of the new Sonosax, as I mentioned earlier, there is no analog board that can match the routing flexibility and functionality of the crop of digital mixing panels available today. This brings me to the other difference today and that is the availability of suitable digital mixing panels that even when designed primarily for the mass market music oriented customer can still be made very useful for our purposes. These panels, most notably the offerings from Yamaha, also now have a track record with many more sound mixers using them, much more than the limited number of people who used the Cameo. In its day the Cameo was the only digital mixing panel that was designed from the ground up to be a production sound mixing panel for our industry. The Cameo did have its problems and Brad was hit by most all of them I believe, and as I mentioned before it ultimately was discontinued from Zaxcom's product lineup.

I do not think that my experiences, or Brad's, with the Cameo Mixer should figure too largely in people's decision-making process today, analog vs. digtial, because there are so many more choices on both the analog side and the digital side. For me, the fundamental issue of how they SOUND is still a factor for me, although I am constantly being told by my well respected collegues that the new digital boards sound great.

Regards,  Jeff Wexler

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I see Cooper has a new console coming--306, that is quite small and would suit me very well, if I can afford it.  Anyone know anything about it?  I think it might even be smaller than a 106.  I'm hoping that Cooper decides to add at least one pair's worth of digital out to it.

Philip Perkins

Andy will be showing the new CS-306 at NAB I believe and it is considerably smaller than the 106. It's layout, design and form factor is very much the same as the 106 and the 208 with a flat panel, meter bridge, slide faders and so forth. It is not your trypical "bag mixer" and as a matter of fact probably could not be used in as bag situation at all, so it is not an alternative to the SD 442 or even the discontinued Cooper 104. I think it will be a very useful addition to anyone's kit as an extra mixer for remote work (insert car work for example) or for someone who wants to build up a very small, light and compact sound cart.

There may be some documentation available at the Cooper website. I have a .pdf preliminary spec sheet but I will have to find a way to make it a smaller file to post here.

Regards,  Jeff Wexler

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