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In The Studio: Is The Recording Console Dead?

In a world full of powerful outboard equipment and recording software, why would anyone bother with a console?
Article provided by Home Studio Corner.

I spent a weekend in the Chicago area installing an Apogee Symphony System for a client and doing some training. The install went surprisingly well, with no major issues aside from a missing BNC cable.

If you’re not familiar with the Symphony system, you should check it out. It’s a phenomenal PCI-based system that connects any Apogee converter directly into your DAW (in this case, Logic) with insane audio quality along with virtually no latency.

The system is a dream home studio setup, and it’s all centered around the Symphony system and a Toft ATB24 24-channel recording console (pictured above/left).

I have to admit, while I don’t use a recording console in my home studio, I grew very attached to the Toft board. It’s a great-sounding console with a ton of routing options.

There’s something about running an analog signal through an analog mixer that makes you feel like a real recording engineer. Of course, a great recording console requires a rack full of great converters and outboard gear.

In case you can’t quite make out the gear in the photo at right, here’s the list, from top to bottom:

click to enlarge

—Eventide H8000FW
—Furman AR15 Voltage Regulator
—Universal Audio LA610
—Two Empirical Labs Distressors
—Apogee AD16X
—Apogee DA16X
—Switchcraft 64-point patchbay
—Ebtech Line Level Shifter (8-channel)
—A second Furman power conditioner

Pretty sexy, right?

So you might ask, “In a world full of such awesome outboard equipment and powerful recording software, why would anyone bother with a recording console?”

I’ve heard some big names in the recording industry say that Pro Tools can do everything a recording console can do, and that they would never use a console again. All they need is a mouse and keyboard.

With that in mind, should console manufacturers be worried? Is it really pointless to have a console in your studio? I think not. While you certainly can create a great record without a mixer, there was something about that Toft console that just sounded good.

In addition to the rack of gear, my client also had some nice keyboards — a Korg M3 with the Radius module, an Access Virus TI Polar, and a Roland V-Synth. We ran these directly into the console. All I can say is wow.

While these keyboards are all awesome, they sounded even more amazing through the Toft. There was this fullness and warmth. The more I pushed the fader up, sending the signal into the red, the better it sounded.

As you know, in any DAW, you can push the fader up, and the signal will get louder, but the tone won’t change, until that nasty clipping happens.

While a more educated author could tell you all the things that are happening on the console to cause this, what I can tell you is that I definitely noticed a “fuller” sound through the console. This will come in handy, especially during mixdown.

Rather than adjusting faders in Logic, my client will be able to run the signals out through the board, where there is significantly more headroom than in a DAW platform. It can give you a leg up on your mix, adding more punch.

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Do we all need to go out and buy a console? Nah. But I have to say the Toft has significantly grabbed my attention.

Don’t count analog mixers out just yet. They’ll be around for a long, long time.

Joe Gilder is a Nashville-based engineer, musician, and producer who also provides training and advice at the Home Studio Corner.Note that Joe also offers highly effective training courses, including Understanding Compression and Understanding EQ.

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