So what is summing, and why is analog supposedly better? Great questions. Today I want to briefly explain the issues at hand and help you to realize that you shouldn’t care.
What Is “Wrong” With Digital Summing?
The concept of summing is a simple one really. When you record and mix many tracks together (whether on a console or in your computer) you eventually have to mix them all down through a single stereo track (your master fader) so you can print (or render) a final stereo file. This process of funneling all your tracks together is called summing. Just like in math, when you add things together you get the sum of those parts.
This originally all took place in the analog domain, inside a mixing console. When digital recording and mixing was becoming a reality, people complained of the sound of the summing that was happening inside the computer. The argument goes that when you take tracks that are digital in nature and sum them together digitally, you get an inferior final mix. It is said that digital summing sounds cold, harsh, and broken.
Analog Summing To The Rescue
The solution then to this digital problem was to take individual tracks (or groups of tracks) out of the digital domain and sum them together in an analog console (or more affordably, an analog summing box like the Dangerous 2 Buss), and then take that final stereo analog signal and bring it back into the computer as your final stereo track. You could keep the advantage of digital recording and mixing in a DAW, but benefit from the “warm, wide, and huge sound” of the analog summing. That’s the idea at least.
Why This Debate Is Silly
There are two huge problems with this analog summing debate. First it becomes a crutch and excuse for poor mixing. Analog summing will not make your bad mixes better. More mixing will help make your bad mixes better. You need experience. Remember, there is no magic bullet in recording or mixing. If there were, no one would need to learn this craft. We would all just go out and buy what we need and instantly be churning out pro mixes.
Secondly there are many amazing pro mixers out there who DON’T use analog summing. They mix entirely in the box (ITB). Guys like Dave Pensado (Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilerra), Charles Dye (Ricky Martin, Bon Jovi, Sammy Hagar), and even my friend and fellow blogger Kevin Ward (www.MixCoach.com) all mix in the box. Their work speaks for themselves.
At the same time some of my other favorite mixers like Mixerman (check out Zen And The Art Of Mixing) and Fab Dupont of PureMix.net both swear by analog summing. These guys are incredible mixers as well and their work speaks for itself. The point? Analog summing is not the common denominator among these top mixers, their skill and experience is.
So What Should You Care About?
Now that you know that this debate about analog summing is silly and pointless in your quest for better mixes, you should get back to what matters: making more and better music in your studio. Proper use of gain staging, eq, and compression will get you a lot further in your mixing career than an analog summing box. I guarantee it.