Modern Analog Consoles
All I’ve ever wanted was an analog desk. Since I started recording it was my goal to someday have a 24 track analog mixer to work with. I’m still not there yet, but the stuff you see above keeps me dreaming. These are some examples of a new type of analog console that a few boutique manufacturers have been releasing in recent years. Most are compact, relatively inexpensive ($30-40k instead of $500k+) analog consoles. They tend to be scaled down versions of classic large format consoles from the pre-digital age (the Toft ATB, for example, is a mini Trident, which was also designed by Malcolm Toft)
As a designer I find myself obsessing over the visual aspects of my musical equipment. Sometimes I wonder which I love most, how the machines look, or what they do. While I do think these newer machines are beautiful, I miss the old style interfaces which have shifted quite a bit from their original forms (see an example of an older Neve below).
This got me thinking about how little these machines have changed over the years and how I dislike even the most minor of those changes. I’m always amazed at how a subtle order has emerged over the years in pro audio interface design. It’s sort of like the mouse on PCs; the metaphors and interaction models have remained essential unchanged since inception yet no one seems to mind. I guess it’s a testament to how thoughtful the designers who pioneered these systems really were. Either that or we’re just slaves to habit.
At any rate, it’s all just fun to think about. The reality is that I don’t really need a desk like this. I’m rarely recording more than two tracks at a time so I have four channels of Neve clones and a patchbay — it sort of acts like a modular 4-track console (minus the faders and cool meter bridge). The only thing these would really come in handy for would be as a summing bus during mixdown and I have places I can get that done (although I do prefer having everything in-house).
15 Comments Leave A Comment
Anonymous says:April 6, 2010 at 6:24 am
Probably slaves to habit. Have you seen that documentary ‘Objectified’ where that designer is talking about how Digital cameras are still built with a shape that used to correspond to the mechanism inside and now means nothing at all.
mp says:April 6, 2010 at 6:44 am
@Anonymous. Part of the reason those forms exist is because they actually work very well from the user point of view. With the advances in technology there is more flexibility in the form and we’re seeing quite a bit of that already. One example is perhaps the single most popular cameras out there today – mobile phone cameras.
Anyway, back on the topic.
@Scott. Beautiful examples. If you’re seriously considering a mixer for yourself, you could look at the Toft ATB Series Consoles. Designed by the original Trident Series 80 designer, Malcolm Toft. I’ve heard good things about these and the price (all things considered) is relatively affordable.
MRH says:April 6, 2010 at 8:44 am
Just beautiful… I also have the same fascination, there’s a 16 channel Allen-Heath in the music store around the corner from my house that I often stare at on the way home. Nothing compared to these, but still a great design / gear-fantasy
Will says:April 6, 2010 at 8:53 am
These are Awesome, Scott.
I downloaded Coastal Brake & Adrift/From Home this weekend and I am tripping out daily to the wonderful sounds emanating from my earbuds. I’m trying to own the whole Tycho catalog; love the music & design!
grey says:April 6, 2010 at 9:43 am
Have you looked at dedicated analog summing buses? They exist for precisely the reason you identify.
ryan says:April 6, 2010 at 10:34 am
I recently got certified to use a recording studio with a 48 channel analog API vision console, which now that I think about it might be the most expensive piece of equipment I’ve ever been allowed to pilot.
I didn’t understand at first why a professional level studio might opt for fully analog gear as opposed to something with more digital integration (the furthest the API console goes is synching motorized fader automation with the MIDI timecode coming from the DAW), but as I learned how to use the studio it started to make much more sense. Using primarily consumer equipment before working at the studio, I was used to keeping almost everything minus mics and pres and monitors in the digital realm, which made sense economically, and seemed simple and flexible enough, but once you get the hang of a patch bay and a 2-fader console, your workflow starts to follow smoother patterns. Less clicking through windows, more reaching for knobs.
cmh says:April 6, 2010 at 11:39 am
We just picked up a soundcraft ts24. Gorgeous. Its like the control panel to the CE3K mothership. It happens to be the same desk that mixed the Titanic Film Score. For only 750 bucks. Seriously.
Scott says:April 6, 2010 at 2:57 pm
yeah, I’ve been looking at the ATB range for a while, but from what I’ve read they are about the same build quality as a Mackie (I already have a 1640) just with better EQ. But I have 2 channels of great river EQ and 2 channels of Neve EQ so I would never use the toft EQs anyways. I left them out of the article just because I was focusing on the super high end stuff, but I added it in since it’s a nice alternative.
yeah, but I need a bit more in the routing dept. + some EQ if I’m going to get something like that, so basically I am looking for a mixer / summing bus.
Dan says:April 7, 2010 at 2:41 am
thanks for this post, i have the same fascination but luckily i get to work with a neve vxs and a 88r every day. They really are amazing pieces of kit and it never ceases to amaze me what you can do with them..
im not sure its a slave to habit thing though as i can’t honestly think of a better way of laying out a console with the same ease of use you have what you need where you need it at all times.
bitbin says:April 8, 2010 at 1:28 am
Ive been working on an old Neve 8078 for a few years and it is awesome of course. But I have to say I am just as happy to mix in the box. Tracking with a couple of nice mic pre’s is always going to be essential as is fundamental recording techniques but ultimately as technology progresses it is inevitable catching up with the ‘sound’ of these beats in my opinion.
Perhaps the workflow and the feel of using outboard changes ones perception in the mix/tracking but that will change. Most people I teach today are more familiar with a laptop than anything with Neve stamped on it. Of course this stems down to the way we consume audio to.
As for the summing bus’s – Ive used a few and they dont really do it for me. Especially if you are having to D-A and back again!
ooops sorry – bit of a rant. Scott…more studio pics, recording and tracking techniques please! I wanna know about all your lovely sidechaining and use of saturated effects peas :-)
bitbin says:April 8, 2010 at 1:29 am
but they are lovely though. :-)
Pino says:May 4, 2010 at 12:39 pm
Scott, I have to say these pictures are so nostalgic for me!
I got into the industry when the change from Analog to Digital was going into the very large audio post-production facilities. I recall the most incredible workmanship when it came to wiring – the artistry, the labor, the hours.
The consoles were massive! And the tape! 35mm mag.
It’s sad to see that go. Now all there are, as you say, are remnants of that scale.
Andre Griffin says:May 25, 2010 at 9:50 pm
I have a Toft ATB32 and it’s great. The EQs are actually quite good. Although the master section can be a bit noisy due to the extra connections that were made for a FireWire card option that was never manufactured. But this can be remedied, and then it’s a superb console for the price.
Glen says:August 20, 2010 at 3:53 am
Having worked on software for the AMS Neve desks, I am a bit biased, but I remember when the 88R was being developed and designed to be a bridge between analog and digital with the automation combined with the classic Neve channel – nice to see people like it. The 8 ball is not one of my favourite bits – looks good, but I hated trackballs. How do you like the MCS interface???
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