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Q. What recording/mixing tools do you recommend?

By Hugh Robjohns

My collaborator and I are attempting to set up our two studios with as much commonality as possible in terms of equipment and acoustic environment, as we live a long way from each other. I trained as a sound engineer nearly 20 years ago, so I naturally gravitate toward hardware solutions to our recording needs, whereas Adrian, my collaborator, currently favours a Mac-based system using a Focusrite Saffire and Logic Express 7.2. We have both set up identical monitoring setups but we have now come to a stage where we want to achieve compatibility with our recording and mixing tools. We mostly record guitar-based music, using Reason for basic sequencing and synthesis duties.

We have looked at both analogue and digital desks (namely the Toft Audio ATB16 or 24, and Yamaha DM1000), as well as the possibility of a DAW controlled by a hardware controller (Tascam's US2400 controlling Logic, for example). We realise that all the options will involve quite a lot of investment of both time and money, so we'd really appreciate some advice before we take the plunge.

Paul Mayon

Technical Editor Hugh Robjohns replies: This is an issue that is becoming more and more common these days. Obviously, the most traditional and familiar route for you would be the analogue desk and hard disk recorder. You'd have instant hands-on control with very familiar facilities and workflow techniques, no latency to worry about and no software upgrades to keep up-to-date. A good analogue desk will always hold its value quite well, too. However, exchanging material with colleagues, or returning to old projects, is not particularly convenient, as all the desk's settings will have to be noted and replicated, which is less than ideal.

Replacing the analogue desk with a digital one brings advantages in terms of being able to store snapshots of settings and mix automation, but some people find digital desks less intuitive to operate, and there will always be the debate over sound quality. The DM1000 is a great mixer and hugely flexible, but it won't hold its value in the long term.

Therefore, the option that I think would suit your situation the best is to use Logic and a control surface. Logic is a very accomplished MIDI + Audio sequencer and, if used on a properly specified Mac, should be capable of meeting all your recording, signal-processing and mixing needs internally. That means you could save a project, send it across to your colleague, and he could open the project with everything — including audio, MIDI, plug-ins and automation — exactly as you set it up. Reverting to old projects is easy too: just open the file and absolutely everything is exactly as you left it. I know several people who now work in this way — exchanging projects between geographically isolated systems — and it works seamlessly.

The main argument against using a DAW to record and mix everything is the ergonomic one. Staring at a screen and wobbling a mouse for hours on end isn't really a good idea and often gets in the way of the creative process and workflow. The obvious way around that — or to at least minimise it — is to use a decent hardware controller. There are several options here, but the Tascam US2400 you mentioned seems to be very capable and is attractively priced.

On balance, I think the DAW and hardware controller option would be the most appropriate and flexible solution for your circumstances, and a Logic setup with the US2400 should work very well indeed. Of course, there will be something of a learning curve, but I think you'll find it worth the effort. 

Published November 2006