About Mixing. Analog emulation, does it really improve my mix?

I’m wondering about analog emulation in a DAW (totally ITB). I have read a number of articles about this and it has piqued my curiosity, but also leaves me a little perplexed.

To summarize my reading, many suggest that to emulate an analog console for an audio track, we have to :

1 - Place a tape emulation plug-in in the first insert of each track to simulate audio capture from an analog tape recorder.

2 - Place a console channel emulation plug-in in the last insert of each track to simulate routing the tracks to an analog console.

3 - All other plug-ins, if necessary, are placed between the first and last insert.

4 - Place a 2-track master tape emulation plug-in on the last insert of the master bus to simulate mixing to magnetic tape.

Cubase has a few plugins that emulate magnetic tape such as Magneto II & III and Quadrafuzz also offers Tape simulation, some analog compressors like Vintage Compressor and Tube Compressor, but not really an analog type equalizer equivalent to an SSL for example.

As mentioned in the header of this thread, does wanting to simulate a recording and an analog console really improve and can influence the quality of a mix?

Can any of you guide me in this direction?

I think you’ll find so many arguments for and against that it’s almost meaningless to go by what other people say. In my opinion a lot of this has to do with which tools (plugins) you use and how you use them. It’s one thing to use a medium- to low-quality plugin on every track and then slamming it and on the other hand using a great sounding emulation and applying it moderately… and ‘correctly’. “Correctly” meaning in a way that makes sense considering the result you want. And if you want to use a tape plugin then maybe find videos on YouTube on how actual engineers used the real hardware the plugin is emulating… and try working it that way.

It’s just going to end up being about experience and desired results. If your mix sounds better then it is better. No listener cares how you did it. Does it make them tap their feet?

So I would just set it up roughly the way you did and start mixing. Apply very gentle amounts of each to start just to learn what it does to the sound. A/B with all on / all off (level-matched). Reference what are considered to be great recordings using analog, in the same genre as your music. Check how classic records were produced…

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For me personally , they aid with the area’s i’m short on knowledge with , they help with the needed harmonics with the certain Q facts of eq’s and each company emulates in a different way .
Ive personally found Acustica Audio plugins the be the most realistic to the Analogy sounding ‘Polish’ . For instant , their new technology works on the preciseness of transients of each frequency in the Eq which removes smearing or blur between frequencies so much so the latest sampled Hardware (Neve, SSl ,Api ) are all in one plugin with independent console’s per band , Yes they are sampled not algo emulations and they IMO really do take your mixes to another level IF you are lacking in certain Skill areas

I’ll take good algorithmic over sampled any day.

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I like both , my go to Saturation is the SSL X sat , great little saturator , quick and simple but sounds great , we just have to admit the digital world is just too clean for our ears/brain

No. Of course not. It depends on what you are doing.

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What I understand is that everything is ultimately very subjective. Having the most efficient plugins according to these characteristics and using them poorly will not improve a mix in any way. A good reference always remains the most useful tool in order to obtain a mix corresponding to a certain standard.

So a lot of people seem to view analog emulation as a guarantee of success when it really isn’t.

It is therefore not necessary for each track to include this type of emulation. This can be inserted on certain groups if necessary or simply on the main Mixbus.

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Indeed, Acustica Audio have very good products. Investing in them is something to consider.

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Well, that’s not quite what I said.

To the extent that the hardware used to color the sound; it’s indeed true that all audio went through those paths. So putting a tape emulation on a group rather than each individual source track is not going to be the same thing either in practice or conceptually. If you really want to emulate what was done in the past then you should have that emulation on each source. The same goes for a console / channel strip emulation.

On the other hand if you’re using samples you could read up on how for example a drum kit was tracked before it was made into a VST instrument. If that process included tracking to tape then adding a tape plugin is having tape “twice” so to speak.

I’m not sure this is really what I want.

Generally speaking, vocals, guitars and bass are the parts I will record. Everything else comes from VST (mainly Steinberg and Native Instruments) of which I cannot say for instruments that are not synths, whether the samples were recorded on tape or not.

I asked myself this question following the various readings that I have done which generally suggest (almost) that if you do not use analog emulation during mixing, it will lack roundness, warmth, in short could be uninteresting… As if emulation was a must to sound good, otherwise…

I thought that maybe some Cubase user guru could help me sort it all out. So why not ask the question here.

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I too think about it.

But I also think if I really have the best composition using the right combination of tools that I have really learned before handing it off to a mix engineer…who often uses the same tools, but uses them on a daily basis.

For myself, I feel I need to always focus on “bigger things” and let someone else with much more experience consider analog.

I know, you probably aren’t sending it to someone else. Then I guess you spend a lot of time trial and error, but ultimately did that pay out?

You’re right, I do everything myself, with the exception of some mastering which was done by specialists, but generally I do it.

Here are some instrumental compositions: Stream Renel music | Listen to songs, albums, playlists for free on SoundCloud

None of these parts use this analog emulation approach. I’m considering remixing these pieces, and I’m wondering about this approach, whether I could improve them using it. Certainly, it won’t make me a better soundman, I agree.

Like so much in audio engineering, the answer is it depends. You can, for example, use saturation to add warmth to a signal. But does that signal need added warmth or does it already sound fine and you’re only making it worse? Adding saturation might (or might not) reduce the transparency of the mix, which you may (or may not) find desirable. You can’t really substitute engineering criteria for subjective aesthetic decisions.

I think a better approach is to really listen to a sound and evaluate what if anything is needed for it to play its role and fit into a mix. Then figure out what you need to do to get there & decide if you need a hammer, screwdriver, or analog emulation to make that happen.

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I think one subtle potential effect of using the same analog emulation on all tracks is that they all get the same “treatment” and that can sometimes make it feel more like it all fits together. Conceptually it’s similar to adding a bit of the same reverb to different sources to make them sound like they’re in the same room. Of course the trick is to dial it in appropriately.

The other thing is that you can take a tape plugin for example and have most instruments sit at what is nominal operating level where it adds just a little bit, and then for some instruments you might push it a bit harder to get a bit of pleasant (?) distortion. Through this process as you adjust levels you’ll also slightly change the sound of it all (obviously) but what might happen is that you end up with (tape) compression which in turn makes you hit your dedicated compression slightly differently. You now might have tape compression after which you add a different type of compression. So your mix evolves differently if you have a different starting point.

If I were you - as I said earlier - I would try it. Take a track you already mixed and are happy with and just reset it and add these plugins. Then remix it. See where you end up.

I actually do think they sound a bit bright and “digital”. Reminds me a bit of 90’s ‘slick’ fusion jazz…

I’ll say again though that the quality of the ‘analog’ plugins matter.

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Very nice points above, I also like using analog emulations the way you read it, sometimes I may add a preamp emulation before the tape, so it saturates differently, after the tape could work too.

Making things glue together and maybe making mixing easier/different are definitely good reasons to apply this workflow.

Also with analog emulations (although you very probably already know - also just noticed that @MattiasNYC already mentioned it), proper gain staging is even more important than otherwise, using something like the free mvMeter2 (or any other VU meter) as the first insert, to make sure everything is going in the plugins with about 0dBVU (-18dBfs), is recommended.

Another thing to look out for, is that many of these plugins simulate noise as well, especially tapes but also (although in my experience at lower levels) channel strips.
So if every plugin is set to add noise/hiss across many tracks, it can eventually add up, that is why I usually turn at least the tape noise off on individual tracks and if more noise is needed I use it with the noise turned on but only on the master, but all of this depends on many things, so experimentation is needed.

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You are not the first person who has said this to me. This is one of the reasons why I did some research on this subject, analog emulation in a DAW. I think I’ll follow your recommendation and do a mix of one of my pieces. The choice of type of plugins is still very vast and I cannot afford to buy several to make comparisons. Generally, I try to get by with the Cubase plugins and the NI ones that I have. There are certainly better, so I will see with some free trials which companies offer this possibility.

Thank you for your comments which are very relevant.

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Thanks @augustenz

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