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What is a 'summing mixer', and will you make bad recordings if you don't have one?

Summing mixers are all the rage these days. But what are they? And is the magic worth the money?

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Here's the scenario - you make a multitrack recording with a computer-based digital audio workstation and you are just about to mix.

But then you wonder - is the workstation going to mix the tracks together accurately? Maybe it will get its digital sums wrong.

Perhaps it would be better to take individual analog outputs from all of the tracks and mix them in an analog mixer.

Yes, that should work. But hang on a minute - surely an analog mixer is overkill? All the level changes, EQs, processes and effects are done in the DAW. So nearly all those knobs and buttons are doing nothing but taking up a lot of space. And - damn - those Neve consoles are expensive!

But how about stripping out all of the functions of the mixing console apart from level, pan and pure mixing?. Give it, say, sixteen inputs and mix those inputs into stereo with no processing, just as they come from the DAW.

Hey - a perfect mix!

The Neve 8816 is an example of a summing mixer. It has sixteen inputs, level and pan controls, and hardly anything else.

Here's what Hugh Robjohns of Sound on Sound said...

"The critical issue is what the 8816 sounds like. The answer is simple: it sounds fabulous and sublime. Its huge headroom and the classic transformer mixing topology endow the mix with an effortlessly silky quality that just screams 'analogue' at the listener."

I could contrast this with what Digidesign has to say on the same topic, however they have so much to say that I will have to summarize it. Digidesign, in summary, says "It's a load of bollocks."

So either something is going wrong in the summing stages of digital audio workstations, or the Neve 8816 adds the glorious 'Neve sound' to the signal.

Well that's bollocks too because Neve equipment was originally designed not to have a sound of its own but to be as neutral as it is possible to be. I know that because Rupert Neve told me so himself.

So it seems we have something of a contradiction here.

So what are your opinions? Do you have a summing mixer? Do you want one? What do you think of the sound?

By David Mellor Thursday November 30, 2006
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