Professional audio engineers love the look and feel of a full size mixing console and the results from such systems can be stunning if used by a knowledgeable and well seasoned audio engineer. Digital mixing applications have caught up to analogue systems and, in some cases, have surpassed the amount of control afforded to analogue console users. Let’s see how they fare against each other in a street fight!
Analogue systems are tried and true and they have been around since just after the turn of the last century. Countless upgrades and new technology innovations have produced some of the most stunning analogue systems ever used in professional audio recording. Artists and engineers swear by their analogue consoles. Some of these dated systems belong in museums because they were used to record some of the most pivotal industry trends and are literally a part of history. They have character and charm, a warmth that is almost impossible to emulate and are so easy to use that some of them almost run themselves. So what are the problems? Time, space and money.
Large analogue consoles take up a lot of space, they have a lot of features and small motors that run the sliders and seemingly hundreds of inputs and outputs. They produce a lot of heat and use a lot of electricity. This is where digital audio mixing systems step in to save the day. These systems can be hardware based for the classic look and feel or they can be run as applications and edited from the user interface.
A digital mixing system, usually the main part of your Digital Audio Workstation application, contains all of the features and control that an analogue system does but it takes up considerably less space, even in systems that use two or more monitors. All information is displayed on the GUI and can be referenced by “pages” of information on your main display monitor. So we have solved the space and heat issues. What about time? We save time by being able to patch input and output signals on the fly right from the monitor, other than input cables sent to the sound card or pre-amp stage of your system there are no cables needed since patching is done digitally inside of the computer system.
Make and model selection should be considered carefully when purchasing a console. They only have as many tracks as the model design allows and come in 4, 8, 16, 24 etc so if you buy and eight track console and later need more you can’t add any. Digital systems coupled with professional sound card systems can record up to 256 or more tracks out of the box and can be upgraded later as technology evolves.
Last, but not least, we look at the overall time involved in setting up these respective systems. When an analogue system is manufactured it takes a lot of energy, parts, employees and a place to build the components. Then the finished units have to be transported to their respective dealers to be sold and then moved again when they are purchased. That adds up and by now the unit to be sold already has a considerable amount of cost inherited. Alternatively a digital application can be written on a home computer with little inherited cost other than time involved to perform the task. You can immediately download an application for digital audio when it has been released and use it immediately once it has been installed. Software code can be updated remotely. Repairs can be made remotely by manufacturers of software applications and it takes less energy to write instructions for an application’s code base than it does to manufacture knobs, motors and cables commonly used in analogue systems. Digital systems also produce less waste. When a program is no longer needed it can simply be deleted.