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  DAW Summing Article

Note: It's now 2011. I wrote this article in 2003, and DAW technology and sound has changed since then.  I'm only posting this for the sheer recording of how it was back then. When I wrote this article, I was discussing digital and audio differences with Lynn Fuston on the 3D Audio Forum. He made an excellent comparison of 30 different DAW summing busses to see if different they sound different. To answer that question, he made a mix on all of the systems -- I got the CDR and evaluated the sound of those systems.

I recommend going to Lynn's site and purchasing his comparison CD so you can hear for it for yourself. By purchasing his CD, you'll find out which system is which. Meanwhile, my listening experience was done on 3 separate evenings, so I did my best to stay fresh - yet I know that with 2 or 3 more listens it's possible I might shift my opinion here and there. I wrote all my findings out before seeing which platform was which, so I couldn't be swayed by any previous experience with those systems I was familiar with.

Different summing methods do sound different. When the quality of any given system is well established, the differences are small. But it all comes down to references (what you compare with) and preferences.

Note: I have re-arranged the order from Lynn's CDR in order to group things that are more similar. To find the differences you hear, purchase Lynn's DAWSUM CDR. Check his site for other shoot-outs of mic pre's, mics, and more.

Another note: Analog summing boxes and analog consoles get a variety of responses here. I find that major contributing factors to analog summing are the D-A converters hooked up to these boxes, the audio interconnecting cables, and the quality of the power cord going into the wall. We use the Nautilus Master Technology Commander (completely Discrete Class-A - made by Inward Connections) here for our analog summing, along with top-of-the-line D-A's and cables, as well as high-end power cords.

NONE of the comparisons below used high end power cords, or documented high-end audio cables. The openness and articulation and "flavor" of any analog summing box relies on all elements involved. Today, higher quality audio components and lots of upgrades to firmware and software have evolved. With that said, let's check out my findings from 2003!

Dawsum CD A

JV's highest ratings:
Pro Tools High Density vs. 5, Mac OS9 - Most open, best defined, wide snappy highs, clarity of vocal enunciation, detail. Musical and revealing.

Pro Tools Mix+ through Lynn Fuston's analog Pultec EQP-1A3 (and more)... Close to PT HD because of more apparent level and better mid-bottom punch (not surprising because it's going into the analog domain) but not as much separation (not surprising due to that nice vintage Pultec). Really it's a tie with the one above if you want a more solid sound. The analog element is a different "flavor" so your preference is important when picking the method you use to make your final product.

Yamaha 02R-96 (HWMxr-Digital) - Close or tied with PT Mix+ because the sound stage is good, warmth and highs are excellent, but not as much separation as PT HD.

Digital Performer - Very nice - wide - a close, more analog sound right along with PT HD, but PT HD still has better piano dynamic distinctions, and the vocals are more articulated, but this is one of the best - and newer versions are probably even closer.

Trident 24 analog summing console w/ Pro Tools High Density-192 - Good muscle on highs and lows, good apparent level but a hair less exciting on the upper top.

Vegas: Nearly tied with the Trident, articulates well, good level.

Paris: Snappy high-highs, good separation and live sounding, but not as punchy and a hair thinner than selections above.

Sony Oxford (HWMxr-Digital) - Nice fat analog sound and attitude, but not as open on top as selections above.

Now for the details on all platforms tested:

Pro Tools LE - Upper highs are more apparent, but broken up and a hair spitty and more hashy sounding than Paris.

Pro Tools Mix+ 5.1.1 on OS9 - Good, highs not as high as Yamaha 02R-96, bass doesn't speak as well as Yamaha 02R-96, Paris has more open snappy highs.

Pro Tools High Density 5, OS9 - This was my first pick, as noted above. Very musical sounding. Highs are more evenly balanced than 1A which is snappy, but thinner. Good vocal projection and organ sings out more musically than Paris. Verb at end is very musical compared to Paris. Most evenly balanced.

Pro Tools 6 on Mac OSX - Close to Logic (less muted) and extremely close to Panasonic DA7

Pro Tools Mix+ (source file was Mix 24) through [Lynn's] Pultec EQP-1A3. This platform was routed D > Mytek 8x96 > Pultec (in BYPASS, transformers only) > Mytek AD 2021. - Highs speak better than Trident 24 (see below) analog (could be fewer electronics than the Trident's ciruit path), bass notes are better separated in PT HD (a common note about digital), but the mid bottom is fuller on this one. Yamaha 02R-96 (below) snaps nicely next to this but the apparent level isn't as good as this. This is a near-tie with PT HD - but it has that analog fullness.

Paris - Cleaner highs than Pro Tools LE, but similar sounding. More emotional than Pro Tools LE. Crisper upper top than Fairlight.

Logic 5.5 OS9 - Good, but a hair muted vs. PT HD or Digital Performer

Soundscape - Muted highs.

Logic 5 OS-X - Better than Soundscape, but the Manley 16x2 is better than Logic or Soundscape (and Sony Oxford HWMxr-Digital is more open sounding).

Nuendo - Good, but PT HD has better separation and better top. Sony Oxford (HWMxr-Digital) is more analog sounding.

Pyramix - Good, but PT HD is more snappy, Digital Performer is more live with better vocal articulation.

SAW - Ok, but not great - a hair drab

Studio Vision Pro - Better than SAW, but not as open as DP4, Yamaha 02R-96 or PT HD.

Cubase - Snare is duller than Studio Vision Pro, blurrier than PT HD, less separation than Studio Vision Pro

Sonar - Better than Cubase, not as good as Manley 16x2, PT, Yamaha 02R-96. Paris is more exciting, better highs.

Cool Edit Pro - Good apparent level, but PT HD has more separation between instruments and a better sound stage image. Mid bottom a hair bigger than PT HD.

Samplitude - Good but not as punchy as Sony Oxford (see below) , and PT HD has better separation.

Vegas - Nearly tied with Cool Edit Pro. PT HD is snappier, Sony Oxford has still thicker bottom but this one is excellent.

SSL 9000J analog console using Pro Tools 888/24 DA/AD (HWMxr-Analog) - Very natural, better than Pro Tools Mix+ 5.1.1 on OS9. Better apparent level than any so far. More evenly projecting than PT HD and excellent separation.

Trident 24 analog console -- using Pro Tools-192 and Apogee 8000 converters (HWMxr-Analog) - More open highs than Sony Oxford , more level than Yamaha 02R-96 or Cool Edit Pro. Highs have nice muscle, but not as exciting as Paris. Good punchy mid-bottom - not surprising as it's an analog board and those Apogee converters help.

Dangerous 2-Bus--RADAR 24 Nyquist DA / Cranesong Spider AD (HWMxr-Analog) - Top end is much slower and rolled off than Paris. Horns are not as tight. Snare is less immediate than Paris.

Manley 16x2 Line Mixer using Pro Tools HD-192 converters (HWMxr-Analog) - Good, but Paris is still snappier. Snare sounds a little compressed. Articulation of bass is not as good as Dangerous 2-Bus, and the snare in Dangerous 2-Bus has better transients.

Sony Oxford (HWMxr-Digital) - Transients aren't as snappy as Paris, but there is a nice apparent level in the mid bottom and the bottom is punchier than Paris. Bottom goes lower than Yamaha 02R-96 (HWMxr-Digital), but Yamaha 02R-96 (HWMxr-Digital) highs are wider, more open. Kinda analog sounding.

Sony DMX-R100 (HWMxr-Digital) - Duller than Paris or Panasonic DA7 (HWMxr-Digital) - not so hot - Sony Oxford (HWMxr-Digital) is better for bottom and musicality, and the Panasonic DA7, Logic 5.5 and PT 6 on Mac OSX all have better top articulation.

Fairlight - Bottom and mid bottom isn't as nice as Pro Tools High Density 5, OS9. Yamaha PM-2000--RADAR 24 Nyquist DA is a little grainier on the top than this one. Tail on reverb at end isn't as long as Pro Tools High Density 5, OS9.

Yamaha PM-2000--RADAR 24 Nyquist DA / Cranesong Spider AD (HWMxr-Analog) - Bass not as defined as Paris Slightly duller and less lively than Paris. Upper mids are slightly more smeared than Paris.

Yamaha 02R-96 (HWMxr-Digital) - Even better than Digital Performer. Bass speaks very well, highs seem to go higher than PT HD but the separation between instruments isn't as good as PT HD. Verb is good, warmer than PT HD with a hair fuller low mid.

Panasonic DA7 (HWMxr-Digital) - Good, but not as good as PT HD or Digital Performer

Tascam DM 24 (HWMxr-Digital) - Not as natural as Trident 24 analog, highs slightly broken up, PT HD has more definition.

What comes to mind, is that real engineering isn't about the platform, because in a lot of cases these puppies sounded very similar, such that the average Joe couldn't tell the difference if you paid them to sit and listen. What counts is the recordist who is committed to great sound will find a way to make his or her gear work to their liking.

Years ago (when I wasn't mastering) I upgraded my recording gear from a Soundcraft board and 1" Otari 8-track machine to an MCI JH428 console and an MCI JH24 machine. I was shocked at how dull and washed-out sounding my MCI recordings were next to the ones made on that dinky Soundcraft! Yikes - some upgrade!

So I put $18,000 of custom modifications into my MCI gear and the sound quality completely changed. Legendary mastering engineer, Doug Sax, stated at that time that an album I engineered was "The cleanest record [he] heard all year." (and no - it wasn't January!)

It wasn't the board that made my recordings come to life, it was my commitment to great sound and my intention to achieve that. That old MCI 428 only had a 3-section eq (with my own modified frequencies) but along with some cool outboard stuff, that simple board worked wonders.

Many new up and coming recordists of today have tons more options available to them than I did back then... but in the long run, their intentions will be the key to their success in the audio industry.

A very special thanks to Lynn Fuston at 3D Audio for making this extraordinary test possible.

Created 02/02/03 • Modified 03/20/05

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