How to use analog mic pre’s on a mixbus

Analog Mix Bus

You can completely mix in the box these days. It absolutely has a lot of benefits to mix in an digital environment. But on the other hand it can add a special flavor to a mix when some analog processing gets added. An easy and effective way of adding analog flavor to a mix is just to mix through a pair of analog mic preamps. How to use analog mic pre’s on a mix bus and what the differences are, I’ll explain in this article.

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Analog Mix Bus
Analog Mix Bus

What are the benefits?

Let’s first have a look on what the benefits actually are. The most obvious stuff is the extra analog flavor. It seems to sound a little more natural when going through some analog outboard gear at on point. A digital environment is very linear. Even this has it’s benefits for example this is very reliable. But nature ain’t linear and reliable. This is where analog gear comes in to play. Every piece of analog gear sound a tiny bit different. And even this tiny differences on the left and right channel can make sound music a little more natural. even when it’s not audible on the first impression.

Another benefit is the additional saturation which makes a mix sound fuller, bigger and more three-dimensional. This is often considered as “warmer”. The additional saturation can also be some kind of compression. Which rounds of the transients a little and reduces the digital harshness on the top end frequencies.

Together with this, it’s also about loudness. You can get a bigger perceived loudness with some additional saturation at the same peak level loudness. Compared two of the same tracks one with additional saturation and one without and level matched to the same peak levels the track with additional saturation seems to be louder even when it’s technically at the same volume.

Compare the sample from the video

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On the mix console you have on the first channel a sample from the mix ran through the analog mix preamps and on the second channel is the pure digital mix. You can compare these by playing around with the SOLO & MUTE buttons or panning one mix to the left and the other one to the right for example.

What mic preamps should I use?

What kind of mic preamps to choose absolutely depends on the style you want to mix. A good starting point could be a couple clean sounding mic preamps. They should not be too colorful as long as you are not know exactly which direction you want to go. Another advantage of a clean sounding mic pre is that it is versatile and you could mix a lot of different songs through them.

In my studio I’m using two PreSonus Channel Strips for this kind of stuff. The compressor and EQ sections are both bypassed on my mix bus and I’m just using the mic pre section for this. Another benefit of this channel strip is that I can add analog tube saturation to taste.

PreSonus Studio Channel Analog Channel Strip with Mic Preamp, Tube Saturation, Compressor and Equalizer

How to set this up?

In cubase we have the possibility to add external outboard gear in the insert section of each channel. At this point cubase is routing the signal out through the interface out at the point where the external chain is inserted in your signal chain and back in. This way you can use the external outboard gear the same way you would insert a software plugin. Cubase is handling the latency and stuff automatically in the background.

The only thing you need for this kind of routing is an interface with additional inputs and outputs. I’m using a UR44C from Steinberg for this setup. This is the most versatile way of doing it.

UR44C USB Audio Interface by Steinberg

Another way

If you haven’t multiple inputs and outputs on your interface you can run the signal through the normal outputs you have and back in through the normal inputs. But this can be a little tricky and you would need to plug the whole chain in and out every time you need it or not. This is way more effort to dialing this in every time than jut to leave it as it is on a couple extra Inputs and outputs.

How to use analog mic pre’s on a mix bus conclusion

Using analog mic preamps on a digital mix bus is an easy and affordable way to add analog flavor to a digital mix. This way you can get rid of some digital harshness, increase the perceived volume and add a little more warmth and three dimensional atmosphere to it.

If you have found your way to mix through analog outboard gear you can make it a part of your individual signature sound. For more ideas for your unique signature sound download our FREE SIGNATURE SOUND CHEAT SHEET!

Ask Audio Engineer Toby Schuetgens from Simple Life Studio to mix & master our song!

If you need your own tracks to be mixed or mastered, hit the button above and feel free to reach out.

Analog Mix Bus

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What is a “hybrid studio”?

First of all it´s about analog and digital equipment used in a studio. You can mix music entirely on a computer (aka “in the box”) these days. There is actually no need of analog gear except from a AD/DA converter (converts analog audio signals into digital audio signals and the other way around).

In the early days, when there have not been computers in a studio, it was all analog. Huge analog consoles and lots of analog audio processing electronics. So there are actually two domains: analog mixing and digital mixing.

The big benefits we have today is to combine best of both worlds. And in this case we are talking about a “hybrid studio”. In a hybrid studio setup is most commonly a computer the center of the whole production. But next to the computer there is also analog outboard gear used to take over on specific reasons.

Advantages of analog gear
Even we have lots of possibilities in recreating and emulating special sounds on a digital basis, there are always some reasons to use the original analog gear once in a time. And the main reason is “character”. Analog gear does react to the sound in another way than digital software does. Depending on how hard you hit analog gear with an incoming signal it may add distortion and / or saturation to the signal in a musical way. Especially when it comes to compressors for example. Using an analog compressor is something else than using an digital compressor. What does not mean that digital compressors aren´t good, they are just different.

Disadvantages of analog gear
The special character of analog gear has some disadvantages where working in the box is a lot easier. First of all it´s the possibility to recreate an earlier setting. Or just a recall of an earlier setting. When it comes to software driven equipment you can easily save your settings and reload it every time you need it. On analog gear you have to take notes or photos of the settings and you have to save them anywhere. To reset the settings you have to pull up these notes and you have to go through every single parameter to set it up the way it was before.

The next disadvantage is simply space. Analog gear might take a lot of space. And when you just need it once in a while it´s just a lot of dead space you could better use for something else. Next to the space, the price is also a big disadvantage. Real good analog gear just has still it´s price. It´s the purchase, the maintenance and the electricity.

Advantages of mixing in the box
Mixing in a box has definitely it´s advantages these days. Once you are familiar with it and know your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) in and out you really can make a lot of really good sounding music just on a laptop. The entrance into it isn´t that expensive as it would be on analog gear, you need less space and you can always save and open it up again.

Disadvantages of mixing in the box
But even when it´s so much easier in some cases in the box there are also some disadvantages. To get the best out of it you really need to know how to use it and how to create a good sound. Sure it is the same when it comes to analog gear but one of the problems of mixing in the box in this case is the huge amount of possibilities. Let´s take the example from above: a compressor. In an analog studio you might have a couple compressors and you have to decide about what could benefit the most from it. In the box you could easily use 10 different compressors on every single channel. But does that help? Certainly not.

When you use analog gear it adds a certain sound to a specific signal. It may do things to the audio that just sound good, even you don´t know what this thing is actually doing. An audio signal in the box is what it is. It sounds like the mic or the DI box has captured it and you need to dial a couple things in to make it sound really good. Don´t get me wrong both worlds assume some knowledge, but it feels like the analog domain is a little more natural than the digital domain what might make it a little more easier to achieve a sound that we are used to.

Combining both worlds
Luckily we are in a good situation these days. We don´t have to limit ourselves on one of both worlds. We can just hook them up together to mix in a box WITH analog outboard gear. And in my humble opinion this is the best we can do these days. When can mix a complete song in a box but when it´s necessary we can easily add analog character to it on the flight. And that is what a hybrid studio matters. A computer in the center of it all and some selected analog gear to add in to taste.