News From The Woods.81 - November 21, 2005


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published November 21, 2005

"Downsizing and Upgrading"

After much soul searching and plotting and scheming, I have decided to downsize the audio production studio and upscale the technology. To those ends, I sold the Soundcraft console in the equipment marketplace, and purchased a mixer with a much smaller footprint. In order to join the digital revolution but still be able to operate as an analog facility, I needed something which could be used in either world. Until recently such an animal did not exist with a middle market pricetag. We do not get enough business to maintain a large scale A/D console or even make the move to Digidesign. But when Mackie announced the recent introduction of their new line of ONYX mixers I felt the time had come. We now have a Mackie ONYX 1640 mixer with Firewire capabilities. 16 tracks of digital audio can now be recorded via Firewire to any of our computer workstations or to my notebook. For software we rely largely on Sony's Vegas and ACID programs, but also have on hand Sonar 4, Steinber'g NUENDO, Cubase LE, and GIGASTUDIO 3.0.

In addition, we have retained the ability to be able to record up to 16 tracks of audio in the analog domain to our TASCAM MS-16 1" 16 track recorder with dbx NR. The tape can then be played back through the ONYX and then to the computer. This way we can record drum tracks, etc., in analog and then manipulate the audio in digital after the fact. Our usual complimant of audio accessories and toys are still available on the analog side of the recording chain, and their software bretheren are available to us on the digital side. I feel this is the best of both worlds. Mackie's decision to offer a mixer at a lower price point meant that some features had to be eliminated, such as the ability to record inserted processing, adding reverb to tracks, and even EQ adjustments. My workaround was to add a TASCAM USB-122 interface at the main XLR output stage of the mixer. This enables me to create mixes (up to 16 tracks) with reverbs, processing, EQ, and inserts and send the entire stereo master mix to the computer. For quick jobs or what we call "in and out" customers who do not require a lot of heavy-handed mixing or more than 16 tracks per performance, I can create a final stereo mix from the analog multitrack deck, and using all the hardware at our disposal send the entire mix to the computer to burn a CD for the client. This solution is perfect for those small sessions or small budgets.

I have looked forward to this day with some trepidation. I love the "old way" of recording but see the distinct advantages of making the move to digital recording (it's hard to beat an UNDO button), but the "old way" of actually doing a "hands on" audio session is now a thing of the past. To me, the Mackie ONYX is like a SAAB, and the Soundcraft was like a Ferrari. I hate to give up the old girl but she is a thoroughbred and needs lots of love and attention in the form or regular routine maintainence by an on-site engineer. It is a board made for 24/7 session work, and I simply do not have that kind of business. I suppose I will get over the glee at watching customer's eyes light up when they enter the control room and spot that large format console. It has been replaced by a big wood desk with a (by comparison) teenie tiny little mixer. Of course the ONYX does so much more than the Soundcraft is capable of, but it does look quite dinky by comparison. And I have already mentioned that this upgrade means the old way of recording by just "grabbing a knob" and taking off with the mix is past. It will mostly all be done in the box from now on. But one must seize the opportunity to stay current in technology or it has a habit of leaving you behind. I hope that my solutions will enable us to stay current with digital technology while at the same time allow us to record in the analog domain as before. I will update the web site with images as soon as we get a breather. I have been working on a movie project now for over six months and we are nearing the end of the edit. I will report more on this movie in my "News From The Woods" column in the near future.