Pro Audio Files

Analog Summing: Can You Hear the Difference?

On most mixes, I try to incorporate some type of analog summing.

It’s been a part of the sound of popular records for quite a long time, so I at least attempt the process to see if it has a positive effect on my mixes.

Certain engineers swear by it, others argue the difference it makes is negligible.

Regardless, both hardware (Dangerous Music) and software (Waves) companies have provided affordable options for engineers who want to incorporate the sound. In the case of the Waves NLS, the concept of a plugin emulating an exclusively analog process is peculiar, but I still find it very usable.a

With the audio examples below, I’d love to see if you can identify which have been summed through analog gear, and if you think it has a positive or negative effect on the mixes.

Here’s what you need to know about the clips:

  • The summing was done by sending 3 auxiliary tracks through an SSL Duality, one for the Drums and Bass, one for the Guitars and Keys, one for the Vocals. I used a slight amount of on-board EQ, and also incorporated the Manley Vari-Mu (Drums and Bass) and ELOP (Guitars and Keys) compressors, but these pieces of hardware aren’t applying any gain reduction, I simply wanted to get the sound of the electronics.
  • I’ve tried to keep the summed and non-summed versions very close in overall volume so you can judge based on the difference in timbre and dynamics, not amplitude.
  • I have provided mastered and non-mastered versions for each of the songs so you can hear how analog summing affects later processing (if at all.)

I’m excited to see the results of this listening test, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic. I’m still in the process of finishing the masters for this soon-to-be released record by Ugly, Ugly Words, so any feedback is much appreciated.

Check the comments to find out which one was summed!

Rebound — Not Mastered:

A:

B:

 

Rebound — Mastered:

A:

B:

 

Warrant Officers Song — Not Mastered:

A:

B:

 

Warrant Officers Song — Mastered:

A:

B:

 

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Ian Vargo

Ian Vargo

Ian Vargo is a Producer, Mixer and Audio Professor based in Los Angeles. He has worked on numerous major label and independent records. Get in touch on his website or learn more from him in his new Mastering in the Box course.

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  • Keken Chhetri

    Subtle, although tracks B sounds a bit full? sounds like it jumps out at me a bit.

    Could ‘B’ be analog summing?

  • Jae

    I feel like I can hear the most difference
    in the drums — especially the kick.

  • Steve Boaz

    I chose A to be the summed mix. Whether A or B “sounds better” or “pops” or whatever may be totally subjective, A sounded like the summed mix to me. I also feel that more tracks summed would equate to a bigger difference.

    I always have a mix that starts out in the box, and goes through a board. For me, there’s a definite change while mixing, however, when I record the 2 track again digitally, some of that depth and space is lost.

  • I chose A as the analogue summed mix as well. I felt like B was more full and A sounded more like an 80’s production. However, with that said, the difference is pretty negligible and without the A/B comparison you wouldn’t notice a difference at all.

    Interestingly enough, on Rebound, I prefer A on the mix but B on the mastered version, while on Warrant Officer’s Song, I prefer B for both the mix and the master. But I feel like A is probably analogue summed.

    Whether I chose wisely is yet to be seen.

  • Brad

    It won’t play for me for some reason… but I do feel like mixing 3 stems in analog would be MUCH harder to hear than mixing 100+ separate tracks. Hope it will play on my comp at home!

  • Robert Shaw

    A had the most separation, and i think thats what analogue summing adds, so I vote A.
    i agree that 3 tracks is not enough for the summing to properly take effect, and hence why it sounds not quite so full as B

  • Chocobo

    B does feel more exciting.. or I’d say it breathes more, especially with the guitar track. I guess that’s the out board compressors’ work done on B.

  • Correct answer: B was summed!

  • Ian

    Thanks to all that read and guessed. B was in fact summed!

  • Ill Soul

    lmao before i read the comments i chose B only because the pieces of gear you chose are known to roll off the top end (some alot and some a lil bit) and low and behold B had it lol

  • Pete Woj

    Great article and test! I knew that B was the summed version because of the headroom you gain in the round trip which is “perceived” as volume loss. I always set up an ITB and OTB print track in my mixes. I’ll print at unity gain to each, and no matter how hard I hit the converters in my summing box the summed version is always quieter than the digital print. I love that head room I gain from it because I don’t have to panic if my gain staging is a little hotter than id like it to be in a busier/larger mix. I love analog summing, but I strongly believe it depends on the song and type of music you’re mixing if its the right print to use 🙂

  • Albert Kaugh

    I chose “A” as the analog sum after listening to the top 2 tracks. It sounded rounder, a bit slower, puffier.

    It’s critical to note that digital summing design can vary hugely from one system to the next. For instance, one of the most sophisticated and expensive DAWs on the planet (which I shall not name, but is very DSD-friendly) has really poor digital summing. Mixes on this DAW can sound pinched and smallish and even subtly granular when pushed. And yet some of the most common mix engines I’ve used sound superb, including Sonar, Magix Samplitude / Sequoia, Reaper, and Ableton Live.

  • Michael Brown

    B sounds better! I can hear individual instruments better. A sounds 2 dimensional. As a listener, I would spend more time with B. Less fatiguing. Fascinating! I wrote down my comments before looking at answer…

  • El Gennaro

    Wow, there’s a big difference. I didn’t expect the contrast to be so clear.

  • ApathyNihilism

    Preferred A in “Rebound”, no preference in “Warrant”. Even in “Rebound” the difference is so subtle that on another day I might prefer “B”. Thus far, I don’t see the point of analog summing. Other factors make so much greater difference.

  • Tanaka Mutaviri

    This was awesome.I can’t believe more people chose A!Sound is awesome.

  • Carmelo Santini

    Interesting. On Rebound I thought B has a fickle/weaker sound that was thinner and flatter but I wasn’t listening in my studio. I slightly liked B better on the second one. I was like oh it definitely must be A on rebound, funny I liked the in the box one better.

  • Tyler Moonshadow

    I really don’t find the need to use analog summing. Although I believe my recordings have quite a bit of analog warmth to begin with due to the fact that I still use an old-school analog board when tracking. Hell, if I could still find the tapes and machines I’d go back to recording on two Adat decks.

  • jpmarin

    On the first track a little more than the second, the stereo image sounded a little wider (to my ears) on A than B

  • which was summed? B, right?

  • Andres

    I think Rebound version B is summed and Warrant Officers Song version A is summed.
    Would be cool if you actually told us tho, smh.

  • Chris O’Driscoll

    They must have changed the comments on this site, but an archived version of this page has the answer in the comments as B is the summed version for all. Figured I’d help the next person who came along.

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