Analog Workflow in a Digital World

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As I have been getting back into the recording side of music over the past several years, I have been re-learning a completely new toolset—a digital one. While I am like a kid in a candy store with all of the tools that are now available (and affordable), I just haven’t found that joy I experience when behind a physical mixing console. Being able to visually scan an array of channel strips and make fader adjustments on the fly on multiple faders using all of my fingers is just one example, it’s like playing another instrument. On a screen, I can’t do that unless it is on a touch surface, but again, that lacks the tactile feel that an actual physical mix desk offers. As for my DAW, I have been using Reaper for quite a while now, and I love it. The Reaper team has approached the tooling the right way, and made it very affordable.

But a new contender came onto the scene a couple-3 years ago and brings a new approach to the DAW. Harrison Consoles released Mixbus, which is based on the open source Ardour engine, incorporates modeling of the components in their famous consoles. What I love about this package is that it has a “knob per function” mixer layout based on Harrison’s music consoles, laying it out exactly like a physical board. Additionally, the channels provide processing that would normally be gotten by using plugins, and again, this processing is modeled from Harrison’s boards which for just about all of us are out of financial reach (their boards cost about the same as a modest home).

Version 4 was just released and with it a lot of tweaks and improvements that previous versions lacked and kept me away from really adopting it. I am beginning the process of figuring out how to move my projects from Reaper to Mixbus, or possibly just use Mixbus during the mix and master phases. But I would love to use Mixbus through the whole process, so in the coming weeks I will be working with it to do some comparisons with the Reaper workflow. I have successfully brought over my key plugins and validated that they work in Mixbus, both VST and VSTi (virtual instruments). I have not yet worked with the MIDI editing features, but they look comparable to Reaper.

Either way, I am excited to work with Mixbus and the modeled signal path, tape saturation and metering features that set this DAW apart from the rest. It appears to have everything that I need and at the same time brings me closer to what I have really been missing from the “analog”/physical world. My long term objective is to integrate a physical mix console back into my workflow, and have it drive Mixbus. This would bring the workflow processes that I “grew up on” back and give me the best of both worlds.

What does your workflow and tooling look like? How well does it work for you? What would you change? Leave a description of your rig in the comments below!

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