Is an Analog-Digital Hybrid Recording System the future and the best of both worlds? Here at Faders Up Oh we will tackle the hard questions. The simple answer is yes.
What is the difference between analog and digital? So how does it work? What do you need to accomplish such a thing? What is an Analog-Digital Hybrid system anyway? I am so glad you asked....Here are a few ideas to make up your mind if it is something that could work in your recording situation.
When discussing analog-digital hybrid systems the first thing you need is digital which would be any DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). I own Pro-Tools HD. All DAW's include the following items: a computer, an audio interface, and a software program to record the signal. Digital has gotten a bad rap since it first came out. Everyone thought it sounded harsh. While that may be true, the real reason is: there is little to no harmonic distortion added to a digital signal. It is clean. We have been programmed by listening to music that has been recorded analog for decades.
In the analog-digital war keep in mind analog is not clean. Harmonic distortion is added to the signal by the machines themselves in a musical or pleasing way. So wait, you are telling me that analog equipment is distorting everything we have listened to for decades? Absolutely. So is digital better? Absolutely. I know, I know, all you analog guys are already throwing poison darts. Keep them down for just a bit longer and let me explain the concept of Analog-Digital Hybrid systems.
Question: why would you want to record from a large analog console to 2-inch tape anymore? Computers are faster, more reliable, less costly, editing music is easier than analog..... and shall I go on? I know the answer is analog sounds better right? It depends on your perspective. Remember analog equipment distorts the music. So why not just do the same thing it inside the computer? Now you are talking. So what else do I need? You need analog gear. Using both is essential in our Analog-Digital Hybrid system.
You can't use just any analog. You need a way to integrate what we love about analog to what we love and respect about digital. You need an analog summing matrix. In my opinion, that summing matrix combined with your microphone pre-amps are the mixing board of the future. Mine is a 16 input and two independent stereo output Dangerous 2 Bus LT. The two stereo outputs are the summed result of the stereo audio inputs. Wait, back up, summed?
Think of it this way your mixing board has a bunch of channels, and they are all sent to the main Left and Right output so your audience can hear you at a gig. It is the same principal. All the inputs routes to a stereo output that we can hear. But in the case of the Dangerous, it is two of the same signal that we can use independent of the other. It allows you to send one signal directly to your monitor system. The other can be sent to your analog goodies to be "analoged" or distorted pleasingly. Then that analog/digital signal can be routed back to your Daw to be recorded as your final mix.
Another reason why having two stereo sends are important is the fact that you can listen to the difference between the summed signal, and the result of adding analog to that signal. That is not entirely accurate. The signal going straight to your monitor system without going through additional analog gear has already gone through analog summing. So it is a little analog as well.
OK back to our analog vs. digital dilemma: How do you get the analog signal back into your DAW? You choose two inputs on the interface and route the analog stereo signal path back into your DAW.
Remember I told you I have Pro-Tools HD? I also have the Dangerous Music 2 Bus LT (summing matrix as I mentioned above) and I have the Dangerous Music Monitor ST. So I route one stereo signal out of the 2 Bus LT right to my Dangerous Music Monitor ST. It gives me my reference. Then I route the second stereo signal out of the 2 Bus LT to my analog gear (500 modules). It includes the Rupert Neve 542 (stereo pair), 543 (stereo pair), and the 551 (stereo pair). The signal ran through my analog hardware is routed back into Pro-Tools. I instantiate an AUX track with that stereo return on it. This way I can also add plug-ins to that chain and that AUX track is then bussed to an Audio Track to print the result.
The other way I use analog gear is to hard wire it to an interface in Pro-Tools. Then you can instantiate the analog equipment as a plug-in. It is already delay compensated for the round trip in and out of the computer. Think of it, analog gear as a plug-in. I am just wrapping my head around this concept because I am just starting to try it. So after routing your bass to an analog sub-harmonic EQ, you could still add a plug-in after that analog round trip. So you see, using digital is not evil, or harsh, or right or wrong. Why not use technology to your advantage and not curse it?
Finally we come to the most important argument in this epic battle of analog-digital systems - cost. The cost of an analog mixing board and 16 track 2-inch tape machine is astronomical and even more to maintain. A current Rupert Neve 5088 16 channel large format console is 71,00.00. A current used Mara Machines 16 track 2-inch analog tape machine fully restored and aligned is $10,000.00. We are talking almost $80,000.00 - more if you want to record more than 16 channels at once. The cost of the rig I just told you about is less than one-fourth of that brand new.
So is analog truly better or just an entirely different animal than digital? Is the sound worth three times the price? You heard what I purchased. The future is here. I hope this helps you decide if an Analog-Digital system is for you. Happy mixing.