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So I've recently started helping out at a local community centre, which has a recording studio. Specifically, it has a live room and a control room, with an A&H Zed 436 36-channel analogue mixer and a Mac Mini running Logic with a PreSonus Quantum 2626 interface (8 in, 8 out). There's also a 28-in, 4-out analogue snake running from the live room into the control room.

I've done years of live sound on a wide array of desks and a wide array of genres, so I know how to operate both mixers and DAWs, but I've never really worked in a studio and I'm not sure entirely how the routing should be structured. I can figure out the snake by myself, but I'm unsure how the two processing chains on the mixer and Logic can really work together. It feels like one or the other would be fine, but having them both produces two conflicting mixing environments.

Currently my thinking is to have the interface outputs running into a couple of stereo channels and four mono channels on the mixer, so we can have the master output from Logic coming in on a stereo channel, plus a few more stereo/mono channels for anything else we want to send to the desk.

On the input side of the interface, I have four direct post-preamp outputs on channels 1-4 (for direct recording pre-EQ) plus the four group outputs (so I can choose any channel to be recorded by assigning it to a group). I think this gives the most flexibility as we can include the mixer processing chain, if desired, using the group outputs, but we can also just use the clean input (at least, on the first four channels).

I guess what feels wrong is that, in the simplest scenario (recording on direct channel outputs and mixing in the DAW), the mixer isn't really being used. We take the input audio directly from the mixer preamps into the audio interface to be recorded, work with it in the DAW, then play it back into the mixer (because that's what the monitors are connected to). In this flow, none of the actual mixing capabilities of the mixer are actually getting used - the same workflow could be achieved by ignoring the mixer entirely, and the interface is nice enough that that wouldn't be a reduction in quality either. I'm sure a smarter workflow exists in 'real' studios, but I'm also conscious that the Zed 436 is a live-oriented console, so perhaps it's just a square peg in a round hole. Perhaps the real solution is to invest in a couple of ADAT ADCs though, so we can get every channel in the mixer into the interface. That still skips the mixer EQ etc though, so I feel like a few post-EQ interface sends would be useful too.

I've attached an image summarising my plans below: enter image description here

I guess my main questions are:

  • What is the most sensible setup to use in order to make the most of both the mixer and the interface?
  • Am I right to feel like the mixer is a bit of a square peg in a round hole in this context?

Would be really interested to hear some thoughts on this from people more experienced than I in this realm - TIA! 😅

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  • As it stands, this question seems off-topic because the problem is not clear- this site is not meant for discussion- type threads. Maybe you would get some relevant information by asking about what the downsides are of doing studio sound 100% "in the box", or you could clarify the question by asking how to make the most of an analog mixer's features when used alongside a DAW.
    – Edward
    Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 0:12
  • See this page about open-ended or broad questions. I suggest editing to ask a focused, answerable question (and maybe start separate questions if there's more than one?). Commented Oct 25, 2023 at 16:03
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    Hey @Edward - Thanks for the feedback. I guess the question isn't explicit, but the gist is essentially 'how can I make the most of both an analogue mixer and an audio interface in a small studio?'. Owen's answer is exactly what I was looking for, so I'm personally satisfied, but I'll tweak the question title in case anyone else comes across this post. Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 12:47
  • (@AndyBonner - see above) Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 12:49

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I think, if you are a bit experienced in the field, it's not that much of an open ended question, you could phrase it as 'whats the use of an analogue desk in a modern recording environment' and having been involved in a few studios over the years I've seen the question come up a lot.

Basically, I think you have hit the nail on the head, it takes a really good desk to be better (or more worth using) than no desk given you have a good, modern audio interface. That said many community projects get convinced to buy, or want to see, a big desk because thats what makes a space look like a studio, right?

A modern interface takes care of all of it, so what exactly is the desk meant to do? It's a convenient monitor controller, it has some preamps/eq's that are probably inferior to those on the interface/software (most certainly with eq's) and it has some routing options that are fairly redundant for all but the more complex setups. You get much more flexibility sending a headphone mix out of spare interface outputs and a virtual aux than using the desk foldback. A desk has some neat ways of connecting to other outboard but each piece of such outboard is a real luxury in a smaller studio and again, unless you have significant budget, not likely to be much better than you can get on the interface or in the DAW.

A desk only really becomes useful to a small studio if it's REALLY good (incredibly expensive), or you have a lot of hardware to interface (also unlikely without a lot of funds) or you want to use super high end line-only, no frills interfaces. For the preamps and eq's to be worth using over those of a good quality modern interface requires them to be really something quite special. If you like the idea of mixing externally to the computer then that MAY be a reason, but you lose the ability to instant recall, will probably suffer from lower quality eq's and be limited to track count for not a lot of benefit. It IS a fun exercise, but usually only serves as learning tool for 'how it used to be done'.

Even getting to mid-tier, eg. a large Audient desk and some high quality line i/o interfaces, is a massive outlay for arguably no huge sound improvement apart from the hands-on feel. If you can spring for a Neve etc. then we start to get to different story where it makes making good records a lot easier (this is subjective, but from experience at some quality-point everything in the recording process just starts to feel easy, but who has access to that realistically?).

So coming back to reality, I think you've probably got your desk set up well. Maybe having the outputs on mono channels 1-8 and just hard panning 1-2 for the main stereo bus might entice the occasional use of the desk to mix on, stereo channels are a bit of an afterthought on most desks, design wise and their flexibility often limited, that said, perfectly valid to use them as master channels. Teaching people about using foldback for headphones has some benefit for learning audio routing. You could get another interface or two and really push for making semi analog mixing (ie, plugins, but summing on the mixer) a workflow but it may not be worth the worth the money.

In summary, imo unless the mixer preamps and eq's are something special (which they are not on the A&H zed) there's no real benefit in trying to include them, alas the low end mixer is not of a huge amount of use in the studio these day, much as I love to use one, and some fun doing old-school analog mixes can be had! But in most cases, it's a labour of love!

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  • This answer is exactly what I was after; thank you so much for the really thoughtful analysis! I'll share this with the other person in the studio and we'll have a think about where to go from here :) Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 12:51
  • No probs! All IMHO of course but I've sat at SOOO many setups like you describe and wondered the same thing!
    – OwenM
    Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 21:12

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