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A very simple, compact analog-style recording and mixing signal chain and workflow?


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(I had a hard time choosing which sub forum to post this in, it's about gear and workflow, but I think mainly gear)


I'm looking to put together my first dedicated (literally, tiny!) music production space. It will mostly be focused on composition, arrangement, recording and mixing physical instruments (keys, bass, drums, guitars, mando, etc; electric and acoustic). Some super-simple solo instrumentals (I have a 30 minute concerto for solo guitar that I composed in 2015 and I still need to record) up to some more complex poppy multi-instrumental arrangements with vocals. All sorts of stuff, folky, bluesy, jazzy, funky, poppy, rocky, groovy. You know, music. The space is literally tiny, as in it's literall in one corner of a tiny house. I have a section of 7 feet of wall space, and part of that will be taken up by a fairly nice digital furniture-style piano. I will line the walls above and to the side with shelves and am thinking about designing a flip-down standing desk for a workspace. The rest of the space has other instruments/furniture but could house some outboard gear on shelves, etc. Nick Batzdorf knows about this, I was going to buy or build one of his VI composer's desks until we had to downsize our tiny house and I had to go back to the drawing board :)

I'm finding that I don't really do well with DAWs, symptoms: distracting and frustrating, inconsistent and unreliable and so I haven't been able to get as much work done on my solo projects as I've wanted. ONE of the problems is a vicious cycle: every time I try to get "in the box" I feel like the box chews me up and spits me out. And I think a part of that is that I just need a bit more tactile experience with recording and mixing OTB. Another issue might be that I've never had the luxury of a dedicated DAW computer. It's always been a multi-use laptop. I really want an analog-style multitrack workflow for recording, mixing and mastering, as much outside the computer as possible. I want knobs and buttons, not screens. I want one function per feature, not 7 (with 6 hidden). I want dedicated hardware. That's the gain knob. That's all it does. That's the variable Q knob. That's all it does. That's the threshold knob. That's all it does.

I currently have a Avantone CK7 into Tapco Mix60 that I run into a Tascam DP-006, which would be near-perfect (if a little cramped) for my current needs if it had 24-bit recording and the ability to route a submix of individual tracks or stems for mono or stereo processing through an outboard M/S matrix, compressor, EQ and FX (track-assignable stereo inserts??). But it only has stereo/dual mono in and stereo master out and of course the DAC is IMO an afterthought because I'm supposed to dump my tracks into a computer and I've avoided and tried and avoided and tried.

I don't need a ton of tracks -- minimum stereo recording and a minimum of 6 mono (3 stereo) playback for the MTR, and a minimum of 4 mono/2 stereo outs because I won't be mixing more than a mono or stereo signal (individual mono or stereo tracks or mono or stereo stems) at a time, but need to do so "in context" of the rest of the signal. So if I can't have the entire MTR project playing at once, then I can at least have a mixdown of it (with or without the specific target tracks being mixed). And for recording I can always bounce and mix down :)

I was thinking of a little stereo/dual mono 500-series kit (e.g., dbx 560a compressors + dbx 530 EQ behind something like an IGS Bison M/S module up front) maybe with the Zoom L12 (which looks like it can do 4 analog outputs) as the mixer/MTR/mic pres and something like the TC Electronics M100 for outboard signal processing. The Zoom L series seems to be the only MTR/mixer I can find that has latency compensation for DAC/ADC and outboard DSP and the ability to route submixes for outboard processing, but I also need to confirm that. From what I've read on these forums, latency is less an issue compared to a workflow that is constantly doing ADC and DAC. I don't want to assemble such a system only to find that I have latency and misalignment issues or I'm screwing my sound simply by mixing it! I was hoping maybe someone with more experience can shed some light on this.

How I imagine that process will look for me is a multi-track recorder/mixer hooked up to something like a 6-slot 500-series module bay that has a stereo mid-side processor (IGS Bison) feeding a compressor/limiter (dbx 560a) and parametric EQ (dbx 530) x 2. (so the linear chain is M-S > compressor > EQ > compressor > EQ). This will give me some mid-side mix processing (the Bison has inserts on it so I only need one, thankfully!), the ability to mix stereo or dual mono tracks in parallel, and also the ability to sandwich EQ > compression > EQ or compression > EQ > compression for mono tracks that really need it, without needing to repatch the module order on the chassis (which is also an easy possibility). I'm not looking for "magic" so much as "bang for buck" flexible tools that do several things well. Adequate and effective. Accessible. And a known quantity. Physical. Tactile. Visible. The psychological aspect of this for me is huge. A DAW is so abstract and I have yet hear of someone who hasn't had a noticeable buffer xrun in the middle of a project for no apparent reason, even on dedicated systems.

Ideally, I really want to try to learn a nice, concise and reliable and stable analog-style workflow that lets me focus on my arrangements/recording/performance before I attempt to go back into learning and working with the more abstract, less tangible complexities of a computer-based DAW. I enjoy pushing buttons, twisting knobs and tweaking faders and don't want a keyboard or mouse or tons of menus involved in the process yet. To me, this is analogous to a composition workflow valuing the importance of abstaining from notating anything, for example, until the idea is really well developed and clear in your head. If you go to notation too quickly, you engage the wrong part of your brain and lose the creative thread. I've felt that sort of thing happen to me when I've "gone into the DAW" with too little analog-style recording and mixing experience. I just get lost and shut down and the creation stops and I hide behind my unrecorded lead sheets and instruments...which means I compose more! But I'm not getting anything finished and it's piled up for YEARS :(

So, apart from the sonic possibilities of imparting an "analog sound" to a recording, I think one of the greatest real-world uses of analog mixing combined with digital recording is psychological and pedagogical for those of us (me) who have a lot to learn about the fundamentals. So if I really drill down, here, I want a very tactile, limited non-digital analog-feeling experience (even if it is digital) that helps me stay focused and doesn't overwhelm me on the front end. I don't necessarily want all the A/D D/A, latency, etc. Maybe the latency isn't really an issue. Maybe the D/A A/D won't be anything worse than a Beatle's or Hendrix record. Modern sound quality is pretty amazing. I can't help but wonder what the engineers who recorded Wes Montgomery's Full House album with a literal truckload of equipment would think about today's offerings from Tascam and Zoom (e.g., the Model 12 and L12, respectively). I doubt they would turn their noses up at something like that or complain about mic pre quality! I am willing to consider a dedicated computer setup if it can acheive that experience of dedicated knobs and buttons for a focused workflow and completely forget I'm working on a computer. As in, display optional. Turn it off and mix with the ears. That sort of thing. I'm good with computers, but don't want to be. I don't know. I feel like a sonic babe in the digital woods here. Haven't set a budget yet.

Please. Haalllpp?

I've written a lot more on this topic while researching. This is already the TLDR. Apologies. But also you're welcome for not dumping the full-length version onto you. It does have more colorful language...


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With context out of the way:

1. If you were going to set up an analog-style computer-less (and screen-less) multitrack recording and mixing workflow using modern/new (vs vintage/used) equipment, how would you go about doing it?

2. Would the example setup I posited pose any glaring problems from your perspective/experience?

3. Do you have alternative suggestions that maybe I haven't thought about?
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