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Bring in the Noise
Mac Audio Column
by Mark Fassett
Intuit Multimedia Production
Today's computers are remarkably capable for recording, processing, editing, and otherwise manipulating audio. However, the one area that they are not ready for prime time is their mixing capability. Sure, they work great when you're mixing tracks you've recorded TO the computer hard drive. However, the dreaded latency makes mixing the output from MIDI devices and your effects returns a dicey proposition at best.
Sure, you can (and many people do) record their MIDI tracks to their hard drive as audio.. and when you want to use some of those cool plugins like those from Waves or Cycling 74 to manipulate these tracks, that's the only way. But this still remains more than a little inconvenient and inflexible. What if you decide you want to use a different sound from your sound module? What if you decide that snare sound isn't quite right and want to choose another one?
The reality is, most of us who are working with host based processing need some kind of external mixer, whether digital or analog. As much as many of us would like to do without one, there are many benefits an external mixer offers, including monitoring while recording and utilizing effects sends and returns without latency.
Since we're recording to the computer in digital format, a digital mixer often makes perfect sense. It can be used as an outboard a/d and d/a converter with the benefit of keeping the audio circuitry out of the noisy environment o the computer. Since you don't need a/d or d/a converters on our sound card, the sound card itself is less expensive. You are not going through extra a/d and d/a conversions if you connect your mixer digitally to your sound card. It gives you hands on control of mixing and effects. It allows you to record without latency by monitoring your audio via the input channel.
So what would make the perfect digital mixer for those of us who are using digital sequencers? The answer differs for everyone, but in my opinion these would be the ultimate features:
Does anyone build a board like this? Not now. The closest models to this feature set include the Yamaha 01v, Event Ezbus, Panasonic da7, Tascam tm-d4000, and Spirit digital 328. Hopefully, more of us will speak up about the need for these features and manufacturers will respond.
Remember, though.. in my opinion, digital mixers are a transitional product. Eventually, we'll be able to utilize a product like the Digidesign Pro Control to control all of our DAW parameters in the native world. Processors will be powerful enough to allow very low latency while still giving you enough remaining horsepower for all the effects, soft synths, and processing you need.
For now, though, digital mixers are a great way of addressing these issues.
About the Author:
I work for a software company producing audio, video, multimedia, and web projects. I use Pro Tools Mix on a G3 upgraded 8600, Bias Peak, TC Spark, and Sound Forge for audio production and Avid Express, Final Cut Pro, After Effects and Premiere for video production. My home studio is build around a G4 upgraded 9500 running Cubase VST, and Sonorus Studi/o sound card, and a Tascam TM-D4000 digital mixer. You can see more about my studio and musical projects at http://www.particlesalad.com, or email email@example.com.
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