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When The Console Falls Over: So You REALLY Want A Console?

Brandon Drury —  February 13, 2012 — Leave a comment

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I want to make it clear that I’ve written this little article in pieces starting back in October of 2010 when I got the console and continuing on today.   I wrote most of this article when I was in the midst of setting up my Toft ATB32 console, (4) 96-point patchbay setup and added my thoughts over time.  The plan is to follow it up with my current thoughts on owning a semi-large console.

The Dream

For years I’ve dreamed of having a big ass Neve or SSL.  Once I recorded my first band, I had this gut feeling that I was going to max this stupid thing out.  (That “stupid thing” being this craft of recording and not necessarily the band.:D).   No one really told me that the hardest way to build a big fancy studio is to start with a small one.  That’s another topic, but it reminds me of that joke about the fastest way to become a millionaire is to start out as a billionaire and start an airline.

Regardless, I had high hopes of getting to “the top”.  I’m certainly not anywhere near the end of my journey, but over a year  ago I made huge progress towards this elusive goal.

The Reality

Much like some movie where you find that the love of the game of football is nothing but a big business with Al Pacino’s boss basically forcing people to play doped up so his stock goes up or something, the “bigger studio” has it’s drawbacks.

First off, I didn’t go all out…..at least not yet.  I had eyeballed various consoles ranging from totally impractical to mostly impractical and finally landed on the fairly impractical Toft ATB32.

What’s not practical about a Toft ATB32?

Even though I had to take the screen door off in order to get the box in the house, I bought a $160 dolly just to make sure this thing didn’t take a dive when getting it into the house, and I had to invite a buddy over just to lift it onto my table thing,  my non-audio brother sees it and says, “I thought it would be bigger”.  Oh well. :rolleyes:

The screen door was easy.  That took four minutes of my time and probably only four four-letter words to complete.  No problem.

I paid an additional $500 for big ol’ batch of cables, 2 96-point TT patchbays, and a bunch of headaches.  My entire living room looked like the Indiana Jones snake pit.  It hurts to even think about it.  So what was I doing for the first three weeks?  Soldering!  What else?  Nothing.   Just soldiering.

Another story, which I’ll  get into later, is  in order to install the meter bridge, I had to turn the console upside down.  Of course, I had to make arrangements for my brother to come over just so we could flip the console and toss it on the couch.  I asked him to pull out of all the ¼” jacks in the back.  I went off and looked for a blanket to pad the console in its inverted state.  Five minutes later I came back and he was STILL pulling out jacks.  I’m not using all the possible inputs on the console (it has multiple inputs per channel), but I got bored counting after 140.

Lots Of Jacks

What are all these jacks?  Each of the 32 channels and 8 subgroups has an TRS line input, a TRS insert, and a TRS direct out. (I’m not using the XLR ins.) That’s 120 jacks.  When you factor in 6 aux sends, 8 FX returns, 2-bus outs, 2-bus inserts, and whatever else I’m forgetting it doesn’t take long to see why this is such a damn mess!

Pretty much every one of those 140 1/4” jacks was soldiered by myself or one of my buddies who helped.  Considering I can get through about 12 of these jacks per hour, that puts this thing into a bit of scope.  Each of those jacks costs $1.33 new at Redco.  So there’s a good $200 in 1/4” jacks.  That, too, also puts this console mess in scope.  Don’t forget that most of these are balanced so every jack has 3 wires to soldier.

That doesn’t account for the stripping, tinning, and soldering the other three wires at the patchbay end.  It doesn’t account for the design of the patchbay either.

Designing A Patchbay

Design? Yes, DESIGN!  You do have to DESIGN a patchbay.  A Comprehensive Guide To Patchbays

You can’t just sort of start soldiering and hope you didn’t screw up.  You have to plan the thing WELL.  This is the kind of planning like figuring out what you want to be when you grow up.  You can’t halfway start until you halfway THINK you know where you will end up.

I had planned for 3 patchbays and sort of forgot about inserts.  Whoops.  I hopped on the Redco website.  I picked up a new patchbay, some bulk cable, and a variety of connectors.  That only killed me for another $760!  The puts the cable bill up to $1276.  Bla!

It turned out that I needed more snakes, another patchbay (for FX Returns and such), and more connectors.  That bill was $470.  So that brings us to $1746.  Bla!  Bla!

Again, let me recap.

Things I Didn’t Expect To Deal With When “Commissioning” A Console

 

  • Taking screen door off
  • Buying an expensive dolly
  • Dealing with half the purchased cables being screwed up and needing re-solder
  • Dumping additional $760 on wiring paraphernalia
  • Dumping another $470 patchbays, jacks, and wiring

When The Console Falls Over

Of course, I already knew I had a hell of a soldering gig anyway.  I planned for that.  I had not planned for lateral movement in my console table design.  Yup, I was sliding the console out of the way to get to the rear and the damn leg broke off.  I knew my design (yes DESIGN…again) was very strong in the downforce department, but wouldn’t take much from the side.  Oops.  So add, “Lesson in lateral table strength” to the list.  (This is unacceptable for me as I’ve watched numerous construction documentaries on the triangle this past year.)

The good news is I was the one sliding it when she lost her leg and the console started to go.  My ancestors fought off saber-tooth cheetahs so I could have that kind of in-the-clutch reflex.  I managed to catch it and rig it so it wouldn’t hold over while I rethought my design….again.

Note:  Keep in mind that this console does not need to be “commissioned”.  It’s a plug in and go kind of console….not too far up the food chain from a Mackie at least in terms of ease-of-installation.  A console with manuals the size of a set of encyclopedias actually needs to be “commissioned”.  They use this term because “install” is what the guy does for your rent-to-own DVD player.  Commissioning sounds more like switching Poland over to capitalism, executing the D-Day Invasion, or maybe building a damn in which at least 20 people die.

D-Day and economic switchovers are practical if you have every resource on Earth.  For example,  I believe it’s quite common for studios with big ol’ consoles to also have double doors.  Not only do they have interns that COULD help, they just hire ex-linebackers and therefore don’t need them.  Us home recording guys, who are used to doing everything ourselves, are at a serious disadvantage with this console stuff.  The jury is still out as to whether the Pyramids were built by slaves.  All I know is if you want to hook up even a “practical” console, stay sane, and not ignore your website for 3 weeks, it’s highly recommended that you kidnap someone from the nearby tribe and force them to do your work.  Just be sure to be politically correct and exploit all races equally.  SMILEY

5 Days Later

It’s been five days and I’m still soldering.  I did the unthinkable and blew a small fortune on Apogee converters (One Apogee AD-16x and Two Apogee DA-16x’s) which require the use of db25 connectors* as opposed to the standard 1/4” and XLR cables I had made about a year ago.  These look like printer cables from the old days, but allow you to send 8 balanced signals through one little jack.  I could see this being helpful on some kind of live recording rig where you needed to hook 8 racks together in 12 seconds.  For my much-more-set-in-stone setup it’s a bit tedious.  Then again, tedious has been my way of life here lately.

* Denotes foreshadowing music for next week’s article.

Forgetting Everything!

Last night I fired up Cubase for the first time in two weeks.  I had forgotten the shortcut key for snapping to the next bar (J).  It’s clear that soldiering fries the brain.  Either that or a person will quickly forget their own name if they don’t use it.  That was a hair demoralizing.  I’ve never went more than a week without opening Cubase.  Yuck!

10 Days Later

Soldiering is finished (so I think!).  I’m now in the testing phase.  I installed the 2 main patchbays for the console to function and so far I’ve not had one bad cable.  I would NOT have predicted that.  The only goof up so far is 3 of the aux sends (from the console) used wires that were too short.  Oops.

My meter bridge came in today.  Since I have the “Pilot” version of the ATB32 (not the 2.1), it turns out I have to flip the console over.  That means I have to unhook all my wiring and invite a buddy over for a while.  There was a cool video on installing the ATB32 meter bridge on Youtube.

I did play around with the EQ a bit on a mix I had done a while back.  Wow!  I can see why Fletcher from Mercenary called this EQ “panty wetting”.  I can see that this console and I are going to get along just fine when I get the damn thing set up.

Not Even Necessary

The funny thing about the console is I don’t NEED it.  In fact, you may have read my section in Killer Home Recording: Setting Up entitled “Why You Don’t NEED A Console”.

The truth is, the only new, functional thing I get from the console (which I couldn’t do before) other than ergonomic and aesthetic benefits is the ability to sum signals on the way in.  That and I have EQ on every channel on the way in.  That’s it.  I’m excited by this notion, but in and of itself this feature probably isn’t worth all that much to most of you.  Other than that, I could do pretty much everything digitally using my RME HDSP5296, Cubase 5, and a few good plugins.  This includes everything from monitor sends / headphone mixes to custom volumes for each of my studio monitors (when my ruckus unit is jamming).

Update:  While I could TECHNICALLY do quite a bit of this using just my RME’s software, it would not be NEARLY this functional in a real situation.

Update2:  Not long after the console I decided to pursue hardware synths.  Those WOULD NOT be anywhere near practical without the console.

Update 3: I had no idea just how badass it really could be to sum multiple guitar mics to a single channel, EQ it, compress it, and record it to a single track.  Wow!!

I want to make it clear that most of my motivation for wanting a console was convenience.  I’m not expecting any life changing impact on sound quality.  I’m certainly not expecting to listen back to my work in four or five years and be able to point out if a song was a pre-console mix or a post-console mix.  We’ll see.

2 Months Later

Drum Tracking

I love the console.  I tracked the best drums of my life (in my tiny little room).  Being able to EQ on the way in was outstanding.  I’m not sure what it is, but for every GOOD decision you make earlier in the process, it seems to give exponential benefits later on.  Adding some top end to the hi-hat is a no-brainer.  I may as well get it out of the way now.  I’ve made my views on analog EQ known.

I have to admit that I had to be very careful with the EQ choices I was making.  The isolation between my control room and live room would rate dismal on the strokability scale.  However, even in this totally unideal situation, I’m 100% positive the EQ made life better for me.

The full-blown patchbay setup was a mega pain, but now it takes me 10 seconds to patch in a compressor.  Just for fun (and the fact I had the extra time due to the efficient setup) I tossed my Royer R121 in front of the kit at about 4′ high and crushed it to death with the Distressor.  It wasn’t quite like running a room mic through a Marshall Plexi, but not too far away.  This ended up being the driving force of the entire session.  It led to us overdubbing the cymbals, which will lead to some ultra fun mixing options.  Without the console, I’m positive we would not have ended up in such a happy place.  You don’t need a console to record drums with no cymbals, but in this case we did.  It’s one of those interesting hands that life sometimes deals you.

Mixing

I’ve not attempted to do any full-blown analog mixing.  It gets crazy when you have about 1/3 the stuff you need for full-blown analog mixing and trying to do all kinda of hybrid crap with plugins here, hardware there.

I just finished mixing a project in which I summed with the console.  The project was tracked about a year ago.  This was the first project I had mixed using the console and UAD plugins, all in a new mixing position.  Basically so much changed that it’s impossible to say what the impact of the console was.  All I know is it turned out fantastic.  Even though this was a sludgy rock project (some of the time), it had a clarity and 3Dness to it that I haven’t heard in my mixes.  We got it very loud without sounding smashed and boring.

So I can’t say which tools contributed to this, but I’m not giving any of them back.

Vocal tracking

The singers love zero latency.  I don’t think I covered it intensely enough here: Latency As Vocal Producing Obstacle Part 2. Having the hardware reverb permanently on FX Return #2 has been ultra-time saving.  Direct monitoring as a default way of working can not be beat.

Fast Forward To Feb 2012

All of this was written 16 months ago.  What are my thoughts on the console now?  Was it worth the cash and extreme investment in time, cables, etc?  Do my mixes sound w a r m and “analog”?

Tune in to this same bat channel next week.  ;)

Brandon

Saved Comments


Stan_Halen – 02-14-2012, 01:21 AM
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Quite the Saga. I can’t wait for the outcome …

bayouland’s Avatar
bayouland – 02-14-2012, 08:54 AM
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You are correct with you’re opening statement, “Consoles are like marriage.” Just like a good wife, after a while they suck less.

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vikascorleone – 02-14-2012, 09:00 AM
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Quite a write-up! This is worse than the ending of Kill Bill Vol.1. Can’t wait for Vol.2!

paul999′s Avatar
paul999 – 02-14-2012, 11:07 AM
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It is awesome to read another persons experience with this console insanity. In my experience I’ve rewired my console every 6 months to a year because I learn what I didn’t like about the last set up. I’m pretty happy where I am but we’ll see how long that lasts. Patch bay planning is crucial. I’ve spent days planning my patch bays and constantly adjust things to my “next” plan.

m24p’s Avatar
m24p – 02-14-2012, 11:13 AM
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Consoles are like marriage in that everyone thinks they want one, but most aren’t willing to go through the cost, effort, and emotional energy to get one working? Some of them, once you get them working, go incredibly smoothly, and others are finicky the whole time. And they help you make awesome babies/mixes. Or something.

ritchie’s Avatar
ritchie – 02-14-2012, 12:50 PM
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Personally, I love having lots of desks.

GAS;
I have; Roland VM3100 pro w\fx , Tascan Dpm 4000, 2 x tascam dpm 8000 desks, multiple yamaha dmp 7 desks (about 6) the dmp series rack modules , the dedicated yamaha hardware controller for the dmp 7 series….

I have a yamaha desk for live gigs, (and I can also use the little digital Roland desk desk , an excellent analogue soundcraft spirit 32 x 8 x 2. which will live in the controll room along with the 2 x big tascam 8000 ‘s.. (Yes, I know, I have enough gear for 8 x control rooms … But let me defend this terrible case of ‘gear aquisition syndrome :-)

=============

I love real desk meters and channel solo lights and illuminated mutes and sends and channel strips that light up at night, and especially, I really love having lots of big tactile fader ‘real-estate.’

Each way of working has it’s uses and it’s disadvantages , but personally I hate mousing around all day and additionally being forced to stare into a laptop or into multiple video monitors all day to do so on a mouse which has no ‘feel at all’.

I have a laptop and an Echo firewire with mic in’s and out’s so if I want I can record anything anywhere with a few decent mics , but if I add a small desk and I can quickly add many mics and in my opinion much more intuitively get a ‘working sound’,

It is not fun for me to drag or rotate knobs on a screen on my laptop or on multiple monitors. .

For me, each mixer sounds very different and each has different uses. The mic pre-s on all ae different, as are the line and summing amps in the respective channels.) ;

The Big Tascams;

I love the summing algorithms on the tascam 8K desks.
People have said that they are better than Euphonics, and I agree. It is very easy to recall any snare room for example. Very intuitive to do ‘hands on’ mixdowns with real hands on multiple faders.. II can also record and automate fader events in Nuendo, and in parallel, do sample editing and mixdowns and mastering in Cool Edit pro or Sonar or Cubase SX, or whatever software I’m running. .

Having worked with jackfieds from the post office days , I would not use multiple jackfields at all. , I do not consider jackfiels useful for anything except as exhibits in museums.

Each desk has different mic and line input characteristics, each has different headrooms…

The soundcraft spirit is excellent desk for analoge mastering as well as for recording, and I love the ‘musicallity’ of the eq.

I have never found that mastering sound in any software (and i have a lot of software)
I do like the look of Roland Sonar X1 pro though :-)

For me, channels should be ‘played’ as musical instruments maybe …

I never have that ‘I’m performing a mix and I have to do it right ‘ feeling, with a mouse or a joystick.

I love well designed desks (be it analogue or digital desks with real knobs and faders, and of course I have decent software I, so easily have the best of both worlds. With desk/s, or minus desk and with the simplest and cleanest of front ends .. Each have their strong and weak points in signal capture and treatment.

richard
bg

brandondrury’s Avatar
brandondrury – 02-14-2012, 01:12 PM
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Consoles are like marriage in that everyone thinks they want one, but most aren’t willing to go through the cost, effort, and emotional energy to get one working? Some of them, once you get them working, go incredibly smoothly, and others are finicky the whole time.
…and ultimately life isn’t all that different from the 8 years you lived with a girlfriend before you tied the not. This is probably the biggest issue.

, I do not consider jackfiels useful for anything except as exhibits in museums.
What’s a “jackfied? That sounds like one of those UK words that us less-polite folks ditched for something more vulgar.

rocksure’s Avatar
rocksure – 02-14-2012, 03:00 PM
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Nice article. Look forward to reading the next installment. One slightly off the track question though. Have you ever used/heard a Trident 80 series console? I like the sound of those old Tridents, and I am wondering how the Toft compares to those. Similar or Way different? Same league or poor cousin?

Vic Demise’s Avatar
Vic Demise – 02-14-2012, 06:45 PM
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Brandon-
I just love the way you write about this stuff.
I feel like I lived the whole experience myself.
The fact that you just put it out there, the good and bad, the smart moves and the short-sighted decisions (live and learn stuff) really gives your articles credibility.
Face it, most people want to come off like they’re totally cool and competent in everything they do, which is sort of understandable, but less than sincere.
The fact that you refuse to lie to yourself, or your readers is why I keep coming back!

Ken J’s Avatar
Ken J – 02-14-2012, 09:26 PM
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Since you are now somewhat experienced, I got a little solder job for you.

Stan_Halen’s Avatar
Stan_Halen – 02-14-2012, 09:50 PM
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That job will take like 30 minutes, tops? (kidding)

Alix Azoff’s Avatar
Alix Azoff – 02-15-2012, 02:17 AM
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Sweet ! I want an SSL and 10 years of tinkering

Alix Azoff’s Avatar
Alix Azoff – 02-15-2012, 02:20 AM
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Heres the pay off
Yours

Alix Azoff

LazyE’s Avatar
LazyE – 02-15-2012, 02:22 AM
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Quote Originally Posted by bayouland View Post
You are correct with you’re opening statement, “Consoles are like marriage.” Just like a good wife, after a while they suck less.
lol,

i`d aggree with that :-)

Ken J’s Avatar
Ken J – 02-15-2012, 05:24 AM
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Quote Originally Posted by Alix Azoff View Post
Sweet ! I want an SSL and 10 years of tinkering
Just keep dreaming sweetly because if you get one, it could turn into a nightmare.

I posted the pictures as a joke for Brandon because of the soldering but in reality configuring any large console is a real pain in the ass. Things start out nicely but when you get into it, you find more and more things needed to be take care of.

brandondrury’s Avatar
brandondrury – 02-16-2012, 02:30 PM
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Have you ever used/heard a Trident 80 series console? I like the sound of those old Tridents, and I am wondering how the Toft compares to those. Similar or Way different? Same league or poor cousin?
Yes, I’ve heard the Trident 80b on probably half the records I own….maybe 1/3. 2 of my favorite rock records (Offspring Smash and G n R Appetite) were tracked on an 80b.

I guess I really do need to give the preamps in the Toft a shot to see if they do anything interesting. As is I have 16 channels of outboard and didn’t wire my setup to even use the built in pres.

As is, well you’ll see in the next article. I’m absolutely POSITIVE that the Toft ATB32 is NOT anywhere close to the 80b in terms of vibe or character because the ATB32 doesn’t do a whole lot. I may be doing something wrong.

Since you are now somewhat experienced, I got a little solder job for you.
Give me 15 minutes and a pound of meth and it’ll be done. (Can you even buy meth by the pound? I thought it was a liquid. Maybe not.)

For some reason I was actually expecting more total hell in the back of the SSL. I guess since it’s spread out over 40ft (or however long it is) it doesn’t look so horrendous of a job from that angle. I’m sure if all your patchbays went to a single rack it would get CRAZYYYY in a hurry.

Brandon

Ken J’s Avatar
Ken J – 02-17-2012, 06:32 PM
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Actually the hell begins when the logic in Solid State Logic takes a dump and isn’t logical any more. Then all hell breaks loose with the programming and you don’t know what you are going to get. LOL!

Pete55′s Avatar
Pete55 – 02-21-2012, 03:23 PM
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Quote Originally Posted by brandondrury View Post
…and ultimately life isn’t all that different from the 8 years you lived with a girlfriend before you tied the not. This is probably the biggest issue.

What’s a “jackfied? That sounds like one of those UK words that us less-polite folks ditched for something more vulgar.
It’s what you call patchbay

Sungoddess Studios’s Avatar
Sungoddess Studios – 02-22-2012, 11:35 AM
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There are many Items tat you can use to speed your journey along.
self centering drill bits.
screw gun bits in various shapes and sizes. 0,1,2,3, philips, various slotted, hex allen, and security
All are compatible with standard battery drills.
PS, magnets are not recommended around electronics.

glenlata’s Avatar
glenlata – 02-23-2012, 06:25 PM
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so um yeah, I don’t think I want a console anymore, I mean I never did, but yeap now its a bet.
raqim666 – 09-19-2012, 07:50 AM

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I guess you need a console if you need some preamps… if you don’t, that s just too expensive for just summing or monitoring etc…
I have 4 better pres than the ones in my trident 8t,which is like the atb I ve heard, so I use 12 preamps from the console. For 2600e 2nd hand, that s 200e per pres… good for me!
I ve compared the pres of the 8t/atb to a bunch of outboard pres:
they are as good as tlaudio white pres, spl goldmike 2
less good than ua610 or telefunken 676(of course)
they are very usable pres, with 60db of gain, and great eqs!
after I use the board to do some summing, outboard compression and eq on stems.Dont know for sure if that s improving my mixes in itself, but the workflow suits me well. Very different work from ITB.

 

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
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