Q: Are analog mixing consoles compatible with digital audio workstations?
This is an interesting question because the answer is so obviously, "Yes". But the response could just as easily be, "Why would you want to?"
Let's look at some scenarios...
Live recording direct to stereo
By 'live' I mean a situation where the instruments and/or singers are all performing at the same time, with no overdubs expected or involved.
This is a classic situation where the connection of an analog mixing console to a DAW is a marriage made in heaven.
Suppose you have an acoustic ensemble like an orchestra, choir or jazz band (amplified electric instruments are fine too, as long as no PA is involved).
Simply arrange your microphones the way you like, mix the sound the way you like and record the stereo output of the mixer into your DAW. You will come away from the session with stereo takes, ready to edit and sweeten.
What you can't do here obviously is remix the recording. The signals are mixed before they are sent to the DAW. There's no problem with this if you know what you are doing. Countless recordings have been made this way.
If there is a PA system involved, like at a live gig, then recording becomes a little more complicated.
What you often cannot do is record the stereo output of the PA mixing console. The reason for this is that the FOH (Front of House) engineer will take into account the sound coming from the amplifiers on stage. So in the FOH mix, the guitars will tend to be a little quieter than would be ideal for a recording. This problem gets less the bigger the venue, so you could probably record a stadium gig just fine; a cozy bar could be a problem.
The best option for live recording where there is a PA is to split the microphone signals using purpose-designed transformer splitters. This gives you the raw feeds to work with. Another option is to use the insert point sends of the FOH console. The drawback with this is that if the FOH engineer changes any of the mic gains during the show, it will affect your recording.
Live recording to multitrack
What you will need for this is for your DAW's audio interface to have multiple inputs. If you want to record sixteen independent tracks simultaneously, you will need sixteen inputs.
What if you only have an eight-input interface?
In this case you will have to pre-mix some of the channels, and accept that you won't be able to change these premixes later. You'll keep important tracks like the lead vocal separate of course.
Mixing a multitrack recording from your DAW
OK, why don't you just mix it in the DAW?
Well perhaps you want to get your hands on some real faders. That's a good enough reason.
Perhaps you feel that the analog sound of the console will give your mix some kind of benefit. If you really think that it will, then that's a good enough reason too.
Perhaps you are fed up with never being able to finish a mix in your DAW, because you can always go back to it and tweak it at any time later. Well if you mix on an analog console, when you decide that the mix is finished and print it to stereo, you can zero the console again. Now you can't go back other than by starting again. That's a good enough reason too.
To take multitrack audio from the DAW to the console, you will need an audio interface with multiple outputs. More is better in this case. Eight outputs won't give you much flexibility. Sixteen will be a lot better. If you have more than sixteen tracks in your DAW, you will have to premix some or invest in more audio interfaceage for your studio.
What we can see here is that there are a number of valid reasons for using an analog mixing console with a DAW. In all cases you have to consider the number of inputs and/or outputs that your audio interface possesses. The precise make and model of the console don't really matter, as long as it is of professional quality and in good working order.