Summing Mixers | From Then To Now
Summing Mixers are no longer a 'new kid on the block' kinda' idea, they've been around for over 15+ years now and because of this, there are plenty of variations on this theme available.
My first adventure with a Summing Mixer was with the original Dangerous Music 2-Bus ( which was the first summing mixer available in 1999 ) which I later used alongside the original Tube-Tech SS2A Valve Summing Mixer, This was back when Pro Tools I'd just upgraded to 7.4.2 HD and I was using a TDM HD3 rig with Digidesign 192's at 24/48.
I remember my initial testing back then was probably what most new 'owners' try. You take an existing mix and start summing the channels, or stems out and then 9 times out of 10 you sit there going..hmm ' I can't really hear the difference'. Then you start convincing yourself that you CAN hear a difference to justify your purchase.
As I now know first-hand, this is the wrong way to go about testing a Summing Mixer. I've been there and had the same confusing results. A mix that has been mixed ITB won't work when just summing out. All your decision-making and balancing has already been made to a different ITB sound. It won't necessarily be 'better' just different ( being 'better' is, of course, subjective anyway ).
Once I started mixing 'through' the Dangerous 2-bus or Tube-Tech that was when I felt there was a noticeable headroom and imaging that I was unable to get just ITB. It soon became that when I was mixing Indie/Rock/band tracks I would use the Dangerous and when I was doing Jazz and minimal acoustic instruments in Istanbul I would use the Tube-Tech. But sometimes running drums though the Tube-Tech worked better so it was great to have both options available. This worked nicely for a good few years until I started updating my I/O and clocking to run off the Crane Song HEDD 192 and also took my sample rate up to 96k.
I wasn't unhappy with the Summing Mixer sound, but I felt that my mixes ITB were getting better and by now the plug-ins had improved, and the ITB mix engines were improving. Over time I stopped using both these Summing Mixers, more as much for convenience really, as many sessions were being sent to different collaborators due to faster broadband being readily available and I had to make sure everything was compatible.
Now fast forward to my current setup and I'm back using a Summing Mixer again, this time, a Solid-State-Logic X-Desk which I've been using for about 2 years now. One of my collaborators uses a Neve 8816 Summing mixer, and another the Shadow Hills Equinox and none of us would look back.
So Why Full Circle?
Well, I'm now running ProTools HDX at 88.2 or 96k with improved converters and clocking, I have found the added pleasure of squeezing the best out of both the software and hardware hybrid studio. I have many hardware boxes from CraneSong, Dave Hill Designs, SSL, Thermionic etc and I feel these magic pieces of kit work better without the constant AD/DA hardware insert I/O that I used to use, and the Summing Mixer is an extension of this mindset.
All my outboard is back on a couple of large patch bays and I have plenty of i/o on my AVID convertors. But the biggest change was strapping my Obsidian compressor across the Insert point of the SSL XDesk and just getting that extra depth of field that I'd forgotten was missing until I went back to external summing.
Now I know first hand that there are a lot of very successful mixers who are working ITB and are having amazing success that way.
Likewise I know many who are using large format consoles like SSL's, API's or Neve's so there isn't a 'right' or 'wrong' way to go about mixing, but I do feel that whilst my initial Summing Mixer decisions were based upon what I deemed was necessary with probably older converters, and perhaps less headroom based DAW design, these days I actually prefer working through the Summing Mixer from the start for the sound.
The gain staging, the 20 channels of summing and the way my analog gear reacts allows me to keep the AD/DA conversion down to a minimum which is no bad thing I feel.
Software Console Emulation ?
Now I jumped on the Slate VMR plug-ins a while ago, and when they ported their VCC ( Virtual Console Collection ) into it I was all over it, testing every version of Classic Console available and usually ending up with the Brit 4k E or Brit N in use.
There are also lots of console emulations from the likes of McDSP's Analog Channel to Waves SSL4000, REDD or their own 'summing plug-in' the NLS Non-Linear Summer.
So no need for Hardware summing?...Well, I see them as both useful and often end up using the Slate VCC in conjunction with the X-Desk just to provide some variation or vibe.
And this is the point.
If you enjoy working with a Summing Mixer and the sound works for you, then it's right.
If you don't and you like to stay ITB, then that's right as well.
How you get to the end result is a journey, and whilst a fan of plug-ins I'm much more of a fan of hardware. This coupled with my summing now provides me with the tonal palette and ease of workflow to achieve the results I need quicker than purely ITB.
My Summing Mixer is my Mixbuss rather than my ITB Mixbuss...and it really works for me.
Summing Mixers | A Selection
Danish designed all valve classic in their latest incarnation providing 20 channels ( 10 x stereo pairs ) of Summing on XLR inputs. Stereo inputs 1 and 2 can be configured as 4 mono inputs.
The Neve 8816 provides 16 channels with level, pan , cut/solo and cue control, monitor level control, headphone out and talkback, basically everything you require for externally summing and control. With two of their custom Carnhill transformers and a stereo width control, this has proved a popular unit.
This USA made Tree Audio product uses all discrete Inward Connections Class A Amplifiers inside the 8 into 2 summing mixer. A stereo buss insert switch accompanies the mixer style layout and controls.
The Nicerizer 16 Mk2 features 16 channels on XLR inputs, Transformerless Class A discrete line inputs and Transformer balanced Class A outputs with 16 detented front panel pan pots and 2 MixBusses. Also with a stereo width and metering from the front panel.
Apart from the impressive styling, this is a 32 channel class A summing mixer, with two GAMA mic preamps which are used for the makeup gain. These can also be used for tracking or DI and by utilising this design you can choose between 3 types of transformer colour on the summing mixer : Nickel, Steel and Iron. Featuring a passive monitor control and headphone this is one serious contender.
Straight out of the Rupert Neve Designs lab now comes the 5059 Satellite with 16 channels of summing with level, pan, inserts and master Texture control. Featuring his custom Transformer designs and the Texture control where Silk and Silk+ can fine tune the tone and harmonics on each stereo send, this is a very flexible sonic summing mixer.
If 16 or 32 channels aren't enough for you then Coleman Audio have the 48 channel RED 48. With a control room monitoring section featuring 3 stereo selections and a stereo insert point, the extra nice touch is a remote box with a Penny & Giles master fader for fades and talkback, slate and dim controls.
The 2-Bus that started it all has had a facelift and redesign bringing 3 different custom colour circuits to the mix in the new 2-Bus+. The new Harmonics mode - with odd and even distortion, Paralimit mode with FET style limiter and X-Former - which is through Cinemag transformers with an exclusive core-overdrive circuit all provide new sounds in the prestige sounding summing mixer. Still designed by Chris Muth this is the latest and greatest from the company that kicked it all off.
The 2-Bus LT is a 16 channel version on D-sub connections but still retaining that Dangerous Summing sound in a 1u package.
Passive summing is something that has been popular with designers as it allows the end user to decide on the makeup gain and colour by their own preamp choice. It also keeps the cost down. The 16 channel Roll Music Folcrom was the first and I believe originally designed for Steven Slate.
D.A.V. Electronics have released their 32 channel version of the Passive summing mixer, with all connectivity on D-sub connections for ease of use, without outputs on XLR.
Two styles of summing are covered by SSL. The Sigma Delta provides 32 channels of summing with DAW recall via the new Delta Software that is used on their flagship Duality and AWS consoles. Routing and connectivity are controlled via Ethernet control and provides the SSL sound with recall.
The X-Desk is a more traditional layout being based on a small format desk design allowing up to 20 channels of summing, 16 on channels and 2 stereo returns. Connectivity via D-sub, as well as Monitor control and talkback, makes this a very practical tracking and mixing summing desk.
The Fat Bustard MK2 is a 14 channel all valve passive summing mixer with Top and Bass lift control plus filters. There is an attitude control to add extra harmonics and Stereo width controls. Also available in Limited Edition Racing Green
The Little Red Bustard is the new 16 channel summing mixer from Thermionic Culture, an attitude control adds 2nd Harmonics alongside a new Air control with inputs all on XLR.
Polish designed 24 channel summing with 8 channels of analog saturation with a magic module that widens and thickens the mix.
Crane Song | Egret
Crane Song have a slight twist on the summing mixer with the Egret 8 channel D/A summing box with 8 channels of colour control, with pan, level, plus mute and solo. Insert points and aux sends with headphone output finish off the Dave Hill designed unit.
Summing Mixers come in a variety of channel counts, panning options, some with Valves, some without... Some channels are wired hard L and R, some allow some panning and have provisions for Mono channels. Levels can be set from within your DAW ( which is how I work for recall ) or on the units themselves in more of a 'mixer' type style. For a full range of summing mixers available please follow the link below for pricing :