I remember years ago very seriously considering purchasing a Neve 8816 whilst on tour in Japan. I loved the simplicity of it and the possibility of having that large format analogue desk sound without having the space or re-mortgaging my house. For those not familiar with summing, its exactly what it sounds like. The processing of ‘adding’ multiple channels together. The problem is when you add things together digitally, there is no error, no variation… everything is perfect, which, in audio land, is not always the most interesting sounding option. When you sum in the analogue domain however, there are usually subtle differences on each channel that translate to a wider, more colourful and natural sounding mix.
While I by no means don’t appreciate outboard hardware, its no secret I prefer to keep things ITB (In the box) these days. With how advanced analogue emulations have become, as well as the practicality, speed and ease that comes with the software alternatives far outweigh the pros of the hardware equivalents for me personally, a sentiment shared by some top engineers out there such as Andrew Scheps, I might add. Its not necessarily a new concept to do this in software. Apps like Harrison’s Mix Bus have been around for years now, but I wanted to take a look at more recent offerings. So, lets take a look at some of our options.
I’m listing this first as its currently my go to for this application and to my ears, sounds the most convincing. Its actually marketed as a channel strip plugin, modelling channels from a Neve VXS, SSL 4000 G and E series. Whilst the EQ and dynamics hold up well against the multitude of other emulations of these consoles components from other developers, what really caught my eye (‘ear’?) is the TMT technology employed in modelling these strips. Rather than model one strip off of a console, they went ahead and modelled 72! The beauty of this, is the software features inter plugin communication, so all thats need is not insert these across your DAW’s channels, and hit the ‘ALL’ button which in turn selects a unique channel model for every instance of the plugin automatically. In ‘Analogue Mode’ this result in a seperate channel model for both left and right signals, give you a total of 36 unique stereo channels, or ‘Digital Mode’ which uses the same model for both left and right giving you a total of 72. The resulting effect on your mix is really something amazing… its subtle, but gives you an incredibly natural added depth to you mix. They’ve recently also implemented this TMT tech into their new bx_2098 EQ (From the Amek consoles) which I absolutely love, with a full Amek console strip including dynamics processing planned in the near future. Add to the mix THD and VGain (Noise floor) controls and you’ve got yourself a great sounding summing option. I often employ these over stem mixes without really even touching the plugin controls with fantastic results.
Slate VCC and Waves NLS
While I’ve only demo’d the Waves NLS consoles, I do own Slate’s Everything Bundle and these are a decent alternative to going the bx_conole route. These have been around a bit longer and both function in very similar ways. There’s no channel strip here so all you’re getting is the preamps and signal path through the various channels… you do however have multiple models of consoles (Neve, SSL G & E, Trident, API etc.) with each plugin whereas the Brainworx plugins are a seperate purchase for each console. They both also feature assignable groups so you can easily dial in settings for multiple tracks over your mix instantly. Both also ship with bus versions and channel versions so you can effectively ‘model’ your own dream console right in your DAW’s mixer.
Presonus Studio One 3
I had to give Studio One 3 a mention here as its implementation of this summing process is something I’ve wanted to see more of ever since Harrison Mixbus was originally released. The variations between channels is built directly into the architecture of their mixer with ‘MixEngine FX’. The benefit of this is currently, any console emulation plugin has to live at a fixed point in the signal flow, namely on a channels inserts, but with MixEngine FX the system has access to multiple different points. Hopefully this is something we’ll see popping up in other DAW’s soon, perhaps even becoming a standard such as VST… it would be fantastic to see 3rd party developers jumping on board to create custom mixer plugins for any DAW to use. We’ll just have to wait and see, but the concept is very exciting indeed.