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The Truth About Mixing in the Box

Hello lovely people! Hope you’re doing marvelously well. It’s Warren Huart here with Produce Like a Pro. As ever, please sign up for the email list somewhere down here. You can go to and get a whole bunch of freebies, and of course, subscribe, and apparently, you have to hit the bell.

Anyway, what are we going to talk about? We’re going to talk about the truth about mixing in the box. Dun, dun, dun! So what is the truth? Those of you that follow me know that I mix primarily in a hybrid fashion. What that means is I’m mixing inside of Pro Tools, and then I’m outputting through either this lovely old SSL, or my Cadec console over there. However, you’ll also know that I’ve increasingly moved towards mixing in the box.

Why would I do that? Why would I start to increasingly mix more in the box? Over the last few years, I’ve seen this trend grow massively. Guys like the great Neil Avron, Dave Way, both expressed in interviews with me how they’ve been mixing entirely in the box now.

Obviously, both of them are blessed with, like myself, a lot of beautiful front end. What does that mean? Well that means Neumann U47s, and U67s, and RCA ribbon mics, 1073s, and 312s, and Pultecs, and all of this wonderful stuff. Sometimes even transferring off tape and then putting into Pro Tools or whatever DAW. The point is, it’s like getting a lot of really incredibly well recorded, super fat tones makes it very easy to mix in the box! Of course it does!

When you hear Andrew Scheps talk about mixing in the box, he’s being given files recorded in beautiful studios with Neve consoles, and lots of incredible front end. The same thing with Neil. When Neil mixed Twenty One Pilots, an amazing sounding record that sold gazillions of copies, when he mixed that, it was something he had recorded in beautiful studios.

Dave Way, same thing. Dave has great gear at his disposal at his place. So that does make it a little — how shall I say, easier for many of us, because we’re dealing with rather large, fat tones also with the mentality of recording something that is pretty darn close.

If you recall my interview with Howard Willing, Howard said one of the things that he does is just strip off a lot of the plugins off the mixes he’s given. People give him stuff, which is pretty darn well recorded, but they have worked so hard to mix it that they’ve removed a lot of tonality, a lot of the girth, and they’ve ended up with these thin sounding tracks that they’re now trying to make sound huge.

So he removes all of these plugins, does much smaller moves, and gets incredible results. So the bottom line is, you can mix in the box, but I am pointing out one obvious thing. If you’re going to be mixing in a box and you don’t have the benefit of all of this incredible front end equipment, then obviously, the best thing to do is to emulate it! What do I mean by that?

Well I mean, open up your session. Use tape emulations, use stuff that dirties it up. Saturation, distortion, all of the stuff that we get used to by all of this fancy old equipment. A lot of it is adding weight to the signal, which is often called “warmth,” but I like to say “weight.” I mean, there’s transformers, and then tube distortion, etcetera. All of these things that make the signal bigger. Make it larger than life.

If you start off with signals like that, then mixing is a lot easier to process. If you can emulate it, like I said, with tape emulations, distortions, saturations, all kinds of different plugins, you’re really going to help yourself out.

So maybe start with a mix by soloing everything just long enough to hear how the tones are, and then fatten them up. Getting your gain to a decent level so everything starts to feel big, and fat, and weighty. Then start mixing.

The point is, you can mix in the box. You can entirely mix in the box. I find that I will come out and use hardware because I don’t have a plugin emulation that’s quite as easy. I have a dbx 120, which I use for the low end on my kick. I use it all the time. A lot of great mixers do. So I’ll break out just to kind of access that on my kick drum.

However, if there was a plugin that I knew, maybe one of you know a plugin, a plugin that does exactly the same thing, maybe I wouldn’t do that. I do like being able to access my buss compressor. I do like being able to access my EQs. There are many, many things that I do love. Could I live without them? Sure. I definitely could.


To me, having hardware in place is a quick and easy solution. Ever since I’ve had The Academy over the last year and a half, I have noticed that many, many people are able to mix in the box and still make the song sound massive. When I first started in Pro Tools, I mixed in the box. I started mixing in a box on a D24 system.

Then I went to a Mix Plus system. Still mixing in the box. It wasn’t until I got into HD and HDX that we started mixing on consoles. That might sound really backwards to you, well, it’s not, because it’s the way my career grew. My career was just when I was mixing in the mid-90s, I was only mixing in the box because I couldn’t afford more expensive outboard gear. So I only gravitated towards consoles by the mid to early 2000’s once I actually had enough money coming in to be able to buy them.

So it’s quite interesting that I know how to get great results in a box, but I like the ease of a console. So why would you choose not to mix in a box, and why would you choose to use a console? It’s as simple as this. Workflow. What is your workflow?

Do you like using a console? Do you like grabbing faders? Do you like the idea of having an EQ in front of you you can reach for? Do you like being able to have reverb and delay sends that you can just kind of do manually?

If you love all of those things, then keep a console! We have to move past the idea that one is superior to the other. Plenty of people we admire have already proved that it is irrelevant how you do it, whether you do it in the box or do it on a console like this, you’re going to get good results if you bring your a-game to it.

And then number two, really honestly, do you aspire to something? I personally wanted to be in Queen. You follow me, you know that I’m a huge Queen fan. I’ve always wanted to be in Queen. That was the reason why I made music. I wanted to be Brian May. So I loved the idea. I have a romanticism with large format consoles. I love the idea of sitting there with my band mates grabbing the faders and pushing things up and down. I love that. That’s a wonderful feeling.

However, if you don’t aspire to that and you’ve been making music for the last five or ten years and you haven’t been looking at that, there’s no reason necessarily to ever do it. So the reality is, it’s as simple as this, you don’t have to mix on a console anymore. You can mix in a box. There are many amazing sounding records that prove this.

I know guys that mix in the box that mix jazz records, and it sounds big, beautiful, and open, and if I told you it was mixed in the box, you’d go, “Oh, no it isn’t!”

It’s all about the sensibilities. It’s all about using your ears, using your talent, your creativity to make great music. Don’t let any piece of equipment, no matter what it is, hold you back. If you want a console because you like the aesthetic of a console, if you like the workflow of a console, then get a console! It’s completely fine, but there is ultimately no reason for it anymore when it comes to mixing.

However, I’m still going to battle on and create music the way I do, moving between in the box, mixing my Cadec, mixing on my SSL, I’ll do it each way. Now I feel like I’m blessed to have three or four different ways of working. Then I can choose which is best for the job. What is the best solution for the job today?

And that’s a blessing. I’m very, very lucky to be able to have those choices. But if you asked me, and I had to start all over again, a laptop, some amazing plugins, and a decent mic pre and compressor, then I’d be very happy.

Alright, many blessings. Have a marvelous time recording and mixing. Please let me know your thought process below, and I look forward to speaking with you all again very, very soon!


Warren Huart

Warren Huart

Warren Huart is an English record producer/musician/composer and recording engineer based in Los Angeles, California. Learn more at

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