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Q: I would like to try a summing mixer. Will my old Tascam do?

An Audio Masterclass student asks, "I would like to try using a summing mixer. I have a 16 channel Tascam analog desk (very old). Would this be suitable? It is 16-8-4-2. How is that?"


A summing mixer is simply a mixer with only faders, pans and one or two other basic controls such as maybe an auxiliary send. Any EQ, compression or anything else has to be done in the DAW. (Some such devices seem to have no controls at all so only the actual mixing takes place outside of the DAW. I can't work out what happens about the pans.)

The Neve 8816 is a good example of the summing mixer breed. Connect up to sixteen separate outputs (you'll need plenty of separate outputs) from your audio interface and start mixing.

There are two reasons you might want to use a summing mixer...

One is because you distrust the accuracy of mixing in the DAW in some way. OK, you trust it to record, you trust it to edit, you trust it to EQ, compress and perform quite a number of other functions. But you distrust it to mix. That's fine, it's your call.

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Equipping Your Home Recording Studio

Another is to gain the sheen of the summing mixer sound. Although all of the products on the market in this category feature a wide frequency response, low noise and distortion, somehow somewhere in there is a 'sheen' that your work will benefit from. Like a high priest of the cult of the Flying Spaghetti Monster blessing pasta as it comes off the production line.

No, there's one good reason to use a summing mixer... because it's fun and it feels good. If you can afford one, that is reason enough.

And there's another reason if the summing mixer has faders, or an optional fader pack. Mixing on faders is considered by many to be a joy compared to the struggle of mixing with a mouse. Now that's an excellent reason.

So, if you want fun and feelgood, and to mix on faders, then yes your Tascam desk will be excellent for the purpose, as long as it still works properly.

But I do have to say...

Part of the point of using a summing mixer is to put your work through a Neve, through an SSL, through a Fat Bustard (yes, really) or something that has a little, er, exclusivity.

But through a Tascam...?

Don't get me wrong, Tascam make and have made some extremely fine equipment. They have also in the past made equipment that performs extremely well for its price point.

But if you buy a Tascam...

You're buying a Ford.

I like a Ford. I've had Fords in the past. I'd have a Ford again. But I prefer my BMW.

I've had Tascam and done good work with the brand. But for a summing mixer, I personally would have the Neve or SSL, or one of the 'boutique' models.

Now clearly this is just my opinion, and there is nothing in this that should put you off from what you want to do.

Sometimes taking the road less traveled can make all the difference.

(Apologies to Robert Frost who if he were alive today would be turning in his grave at my mangling of his magnificent poem.)

By David Mellor Monday January 3, 2011