Resources for the Recording Musician
June 12, 2019

Analog Summing

Hello sir. I am hoping you’ll answer this question for me no matter what. I am wanting to do summing with my mixes. I can’t afford to buy an analog summing mixer and was wondering how to do it digitally. Not that I don’t know how to do summing I have a good understanding of how to do summing, but could you recommend any plugins to do this with? Maybe I already have something that would work in my DAW, Studio One 4 Pro. Thanks, I hope to hear from you.

The mixer built-in to your DAW is already doing the summing for you. Perhaps you don't understand what summing means? Route a bunch of channels to a "master" buss in your DAW, and they are all being summed together and you get the combined sum of all the audio tracks out of that bus. No plugin needed.

But analog summing gives your mix and analog sound. How do I get my digital summing to sound analog? Maybe a mixer plugin on the Master Buss? Is this the only difference between digital and analog summing?

Depends on what you mean by "analog sound". Do you mean distortion and cross talk and noise? There is nothing "magic" about analog that makes things sound "better". Normally what you are hearing when people describe the "analog" sound is some form of distortion... and certain types of distortion can "color" the signal in a pleasing way. Some of those analog summing mixers are designed to add some of that kind of color, or distortion, through the use of tubes or transformers (usually), and those are the more expensive ones. While other analog mixers are actually very simple circuits that are very clean, but they may have some insert points to allow you to add your own analog processing (such as compressors or maybe a tube preamp) to get the "color" you want.

So, if you want a digital mix to sound analog, you first have to define what type of "analog" sound you want... because it can go anywhere from almost as "clean" as digital, to huge amounts of distortion and noise (of all different types), and everything in between.

There are many plugins that emulate the analog sound of consoles, by measuring and capturing the frequency response and distortions that some of these analog consoles add to the signal. I'm fond of the Slate Digital plugins myself, and use their Virtual Console Collection and Virtual Mix Bus plugin on almost every mix. It's very subtle, but it does add some color. Slate also has some tube emulation plugins that can add more distortion if needed, in varying amounts and different colors. Waves also makes the NLS series of plugins, which emulates multiple different channels of several popular consoles, and is maybe my second choice for console emulation plugins. If you just want to play around with different types and amounts of distortion, Decapitator from SoundToys can be a lot of fun. That's for more obvious types of distortion, usually, but you can blend in subtle amounts to things like a vocal track to make it a bit more aggressive.

But, don't get fooled by all the hype, and especially all the people who try to say that only analog sounds good. More important than either analog or digital, or even which plugins (or hardware) you use, is the person doing the mixing. The only way you get good at mixing is with lots and lots and lots of practice and really learning how to listen in the right way (with good monitors in a good room). At this point in my career, I could be more than happy and make great sounding mixes with ONLY the stock plugins built-in to Cubase Pro (and I've done that for some clients who wanted me to send them a project to see how I mix). It's all in the person and their ears! Don't waste tons of money on expensive analog gear at this point... many top mixing engineers have gone completely "in the box" with nothing but plugins these days, and are turning out incredible sounding mixes.

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