Recording and mixing used to be simple. You had some microphones, hooked up to a console with built in preamps and effects, and it all dumped to tape. Somehow though, somewhere along the way someone went out and made things complicated by bringing in outboard preamps and effects and things went nuts. And now, many people getting into recording are simply confused and overwhelmed at the possible preamp and effects combinations available. I believe, it’s smarter to think of your studio with the mixing console mindset.
Via Audio Mix House Flickr
Consoles Only Have One Type Of Preamp
It might be hard to believe, but for many years people recorded all of their tracks with the built in mic pres on their console. Whatever studio they were in, that was the console they were using and therefore their preamp choice was already made for them. Recording on a Neve? Looks like you’ll be using Neve preamps. Tracking on an SSL? Yep, you guessed it, SSL pres are your only option.
My point is, engineers didn’t always bring in a variety of outboard preamps (basically ripped from other consoles) to mix and match to microphones. They just used the same pres across the board (no pun intended) thereby making their decisions easy. Instead of worrying about preamps, they could focus on something more important like microphone placement. What a concept!
Consoles Have Built In EQ And Compression
In tracking or mixing, one can go crazy with the unlimited number of outboard EQs and compressors to choose from. Want a certain flavor on your drums? Grab an 1176. Want a softer compression on your vocals? Go with an LA-2A. You can even get different sounds with certain EQ circuits. But not with a console.
Consoles are in essence a bunch of channel strips slapped next to each other. If you know one channel, you know the whole console. So after the preamp gain you’d likely have some routing, a phase invert, and then your standard EQ and compressor built in. Your choice was made for you. This forced people to focus on crazy things like pulling out the right frequencies and choosing between different attack times and settings on their compressor. Brilliant.
How To Apply The Mixing Console Mindset
How does this relate to you or me? Think about it. Your audio interface generally has all the same kind of microphone preamps, right? Much like a console. Your DAW of choice ships with at least one solid EQ and compressor, right? Much like a channel of a console. It seems obvious to me that if people for years made classic records with one type of preamp, and generally speaking one EQ and compressor, you and I can do the same thing.
Are there potential sonic benefits to matching preamps to microphones and using different EQs and compressors for color and tone? Absolutely. Is it critical to making a great sounding record? Hardly. Do yourself a favor the next time you start to believe the myths about your built in audio interface mic pres and the lies about stock plugins, tune out all the noise and adopt the mixing console mindset. Simplicity is king people.