Is it possible to create an industry-standard mix using only a Macintosh G5 and Digital Performer?
A recent question we received asks whether it is possible to create an industry-standard mix using nothing more than a Macintosh G5 and Digital Performer software.
This immediately raises the question of exactly what is an industry-standard mix?
I suppose that the answer must be that if you played half a dozen newly released recordings made by seasoned industry professionals, and slipped in yours among them, then you wouldn't be able to tell which was which.
'Industry standard' has no technical parameters. If it sounds right, then it is right.
It is also without doubt true that unless the multitrack recording that you are mixing is of a professional standard of writing, performance and recording, then an industry-standard mix will be an impossibility.
So imagine the scenario. Out of the blue a record label has sent you a hard disk with a multitrack recording of a well-known artist, recorded by one of the top tracking engineers in the business. And they are asking you to mix it. (Sounds like a good premise for a new reality TV show!)
The first question is whether your Macintosh G5 and Digital Performer software are technically up to the job.
There is no mention of any hardware interface here, so the sound output will have to be from the G5's audio socket. Now it is true that the analog audio from a computer is likely to be degraded by the interference that is created inside the electrically noisy environment of the computer. This will be at a low level, but it could be an issue.
However, you are likely to be mixing directly to hard disk, so at no stage will the audio enter the analog domain. You will have to monitor your mix via the analog output, so you will be basing your mixing decisions on a slightly degraded signal. My opinion however would be that this would make such a small difference that it would not affect your mix.
In common with other high-end software, there is no reason to doubt the ability of Digital Performer to handle audio impeccably. Just as car tire manufacturers know that they should make them round, audio software designers know what to do to ensure there are no technical compromises. They have known that for more than a decade.
So there are no technical reasons why a mix made using a Macintosh G5 and Digital Performer should be anything less than industry standard.
But what about the facilities offered? Can a G5 and Digital Performer compete with a mighty SSL mixing console and a whole rack full of outboard equipment?
Well, the SSL mixing console offers control over levels (which are automated), EQ and compression. Generalizing to any of the major recording softwares, this is all available as part of the standard package. You can have EQ and compression on every channel if you want, just like an engineer working on an SSL.
Now we are approaching a problem area. Although the EQ and compression plug-ins provided as standard with your audio software will be fully technically competent, will they offer the subjective quality of sound that SSL equalizers and compressors can?
The answer is likely to be no. The response curves of equalizers are a significant influence in the overall shaping of a sound. Although mid-range EQ's tend to sound similar to each other, high and low frequency EQ sections can sound distinctly different. It may be necessary to employ more sophisticated plug-ins on certain tracks. Same goes for compression.
The other major rack effect in a conventional studio is the digital reverb unit. You know, there's nothing that sounds like a Lexicon 480L, and a mixing studio is not complete without one. Currently, plug-ins struggle to manage the same level of subjective quality.
Having said that, great mixes have been made with nothing more than a Yamaha SPX90 – the first ever multi-effects unit that came out in the 1980s. It didn't sound too good even by the standards of the time. But a great engineer can often get more out of the equipment than the designer put in.
Coming to a premature conclusion, taking all of the above into consideration I would say that an expert engineer could produce a mix on a G5 with Digital Performer, or Pro Tools, or Logic etc. that would be considered industry-standard. It might not be exactly the same as could be achieved by other means, but the standard would be just as high.
There is one thing lacking from the G5/Digital Performer package – the control surface.
Mixing with a mouse is certainly possible. But it doesn't compare to the luxury of having all the controls spread out in front of you. With a conventional mixing console, you don't have to engage the brain's analytical engine. You mix by what you hear, and feel your way to the perfect sound.
When you mix by mouse, you have to think, plan, analyze – and all of this higher consciousness activity detracts from creativity. You can't do anything on impulse and see what happens. You can't either balance one control against another because you can only control one parameter at a time.
So the missing component is the control surface. Granted, increasing numbers of control surfaces are coming onto the market. But most have very few faders and are not sufficiently easy to operate as to become intuitive.
I would say that a control surface would need at least 16 faders to cover how ever many tracks you are using. The faders should be switchable in groups that you design, not merely in banks of 1-16, 17-32 etc. And there should be large assignable panels with every control you would need for EQ and dynamics.
Then it would be possible to say with certainty that this equipment could indeed create an industry-standard mix.
With a good engineer of course. It won't happen by itself.