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Utilizing Analog Gear In Your Digital Set-Up

Digital audio has made it infinitely easier for artists to record their own music. Years ago, the process of making a record involved hours of writing, rehearsing and pre-production before booking an expensive hourly studio. Today, we simply click an icon on our screen and start creating.

The process may have improved, but the results have suffered in some ways. Artists can record themselves at home more easily than ever with digital interfaces, but these tracks often pale in comparison to those recorded with analog gear.

Thankfully, there’s a way to introduce some analog vibe to the digital tracks that you create on your own. Check out these simple solutions for integrating analog gear into your digital set-up!

Analog 2-Bus
One of the easiest ways to “warm up” your digital mixes is to print your 2-bus through a series of analog processors. Vintage King Audio Consultant Jeff Leibovich shares some of his favorite pieces for adding analog vibe to your tracks:

"Perhaps the most obvious choice is to get a vibey compressor to glue your mix together. The BAE 10DCF is a really nice choice, as is the API 2500.”

"The Retro 2A3 has vibe for days and is a useful 2-bus EQ for adding analog flavor to digital mixes. It’s also a GREAT tracking EQ.”

“If you have a 500 series rack, I'm a sucker for all things Avedis makes, so sending your 2-mix through his MD7 or padding your mix and going through an MA5 can provide you with some nice vibe too."

Integrating analog gear into your setup is a surprisingly straightforward process. Simply route two outputs from your interface through your analog signal processors via XLR and then print the mix back into your DAW using the inputs on your interface.

Leibovich recommends A/Bing the "in-the-box" mix with the "analog" mix to see just how much vibe you’ve imprinted.

Analog Converters
Printing your 2-bus through analog gear is a solid option, but it’s really just the icing on the cake. If you’re looking to add an extra layer of analog vibe to your tracks, Leibovich recommends using the Burl B2 ADC analog to digital converter, which features two transformer inputs that add analog vibe to any signal you track into your DAW.

“I know it's technically a converter, but one of my go-tos is the Burl B2 ADC. Based on how you gain stage, you can really get some vibe if you drive the transformers. I also love to use it for vocal tracking and general two-channel overdubs. It’s a great piece to use as a master clock too!”

Analog EVERYTHING
As your analog collection grows, you’ll eventually want to start processing signals independently, before they reach the 2-bus. At this point, you’ll need to integrate a patch bay into your setup.

Start by connecting the inputs and outputs of your interface or converters to the patchbay then do the same your analog signal processors. Some interfaces feature analog insert options, but in most cases you’ll have to follow the same process of routing signals out of the interface, patching them through an analog signal chain, and printing them back into your DAW.

Technical Concerns
Combining analog and digital processing can sometimes cause complications with gain staging, as analog systems measure amplitude in dBu and digital systems measure amplitude in dBfs. While these two scales are similar, they are fundamentally different. Analog systems measure amplitude in dBu, with line-level signals coming in at +4dBu. Digital systems measure amplitude in dBfs, and most digital converters can be calibrated so that line-level signals are measured between -18 and -20 dBfs — the optimum level for recording and mixing.

What About Plug-ins?
When it comes to the analog v.s. plug-ins debate, the battle will rage on for a long while. For Leibovich, there is a unique charm to analog signal processors:

“There’s something about working with analog gear. Over the years, plug-ins have gotten incredibly accurate at emulating the sound of analog gear, but we have to remember that plug-ins are only a snapshot of a specific unit at a specific time. As capacitors age and time passes, the sound of analog gear tends to change ever so slightly.”

While everyone is arguing about what's better, the rest of us will continue to enjoy the best of both worlds by combining the flexibility of DAWs and plug-ins with the unparalleled sound of analog audio.

Scotty-Iulianelli
If you’re interested in learning more about how you can integrate analog gear into your digital set-up, contact a Vintage King Audio Consultant via email or by phone at 888.653.1184.

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