Mixing console, or racks of preamps? Is it time to change?
There is something inherently wrong with the traditional large-scale mixing console...
It's big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to the distance between Channel 1 and the optimum listening position. (Apologies to the ghost of Douglas Adams for that one).
But really, a large-scale mixing console takes up a lot of space in the control room, it acts as a barrier between the engineer and the musicians, and it has a huge acoustic impact on the room.
Clearly, the mixing console has a useful function for the mixing part of the overall recording process. But let's think about tracking for the moment. Do we really need a mixing console for that?
One of the functions of the mixing console during tracking is to provide a monitor mix and foldback to the musicians. Any decent DAW can do that, with appropriate hardware outputs. So that is taken care of.
The other function of the mixing console during tracking is to provide loads and loads of microphone preamps.
Somehow in the wacky world of the early twenty-first century, console preamps have gotten a bad name. "What? Use console preamps? Any sane person would surely be using outboard!"
Well actually there's nothing wrong with the preamps in quality large-scale consoles. Indeed, Amek, API, Neve, SSL and other preamps are very well regarded.
But that console is huge, just for the sake of a few preamps.
So what is the alternative?
One answer is to put the console where it belongs - in the mix room. Then replace it with loads of outboard preamps - preferably different types so you have a selection of different sonic textures to play with.
But outboard preamps take up more space than the console they were meant to replace. So that's not going to work, is it? And who's to say that the combination of preamps you have bought will be to every engineer's taste.
But here's an answer...
The Focusrite Liquid 4PRE
The Focusrite Liquid 4PRE is a modeling preamp that comes loaded with emulations of pretty much any top preamp you could name. The '4' indicates that it has four channels of preampage.
And it's more than just digital modeling - the input changes electronically so that the mic reacts to the 4PRE as it would to a conventional preamp.
So the ideal solution would be to have a rack of Liquid 4PRE's in the control room.
Hmmm... but that's still going to get in the way, isn't it? And where a console is conveniently angled, a rack of preamps isn't anywhere near so ergonomic to operate.
But there is a solution...
Yes, the Liquid 4PRE can be remotely controlled from your Windows or Macintosh computer.
Remote control of preamps isn't common because always the gain has to be set using mechanical components. This cannot be done either electronically or digitally to achieve optimum results.
But the Liquid 4PRE uses relays to set the gain, which can be controlled remotely just as easily as they can be controlled from the front panel.
Personally I had my doubts.
I fully expected setup to be difficult and problematical. And then operation would be hit and miss.
The Focusrite Liquid 4PRE connects to the computer via an Ethernet network. If you have ever configured an Ethernet network then you will know that this is a task that can sometimes have you tearing your hair out.
But you know what...
I connected the 4PRE to my WiFi router (which has sockets too on the back), switched it on, opened the control software and...
It worked! Immediately without having to do any configuration at all, with no effect on the rest of the network.
Techies will understand that this is what DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) is supposed to do. But the world has an amazing number of non-techies who will be delighted that what is supposed to happen actually does happen!
The software allows straightforward control of preamp model selection, gain etc. And it can control multiple units.
So you could have a rack of Liquid 4PRE's installed remotely, and control them via the same computer that runs your DAW.
And remember that you have all those luvverly preamp emulations to choose from.
OK, who's going to be first with a multiple 4PRE tracking studio, with no conventional mixing console?
When you have set yours up, please let us know!