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(If this sort of question has been asked before - I apologise, I've used the search function and can't really find anything similar. Please merge and close if so!)

I currently own a Behringer 8-bus desk, 8-track audio interface and DAW (Logic). I'm considering investing in an 8-track tape recorder to teach myself analogue audio processing, and it got me thinking; is there a real-world use for all four pieces of my gear in combination that could be practically used for recording?

It would of course be easy and hassle-free to record straight into my audio interface and process/mix in Logic, but, seeing as I have this desk lying around (I got given it by someone having a clearout), I might as well try and incorporate it into my workflow, for interest if nothing else.

So, my question is, would recording via the desk (utilising pre-amps, sends to rack effects etc), and then bussing to my audio interface and then mixing in Logic really bring anything to the sound (in terms of the 'warm' and 'colour' that analogue brings)?

Would the post-desk processed analogue signal be stripped of its 'analog warmth' if it's transferred to Logic for mixing?

Additionally, if I do invest in an 8-track recorder (trying to currently locate a cheap working Fostex A8), are there any recording configurations that would 'add' to the sound overall? The best I've come up with is Signal > Desk > mixed and processed to 8-track tape > 8-track tape recorder to Logic (via interface) for mastering - or is this just taking a longer route that will ultimately reach the same end-result?

I'm aware of course that there's only so much 'analogue magic' that a cheap old Behringer desk can bring to a signal (pre-amps are surprisingly solid however), but I'm just curious whether there's a use that will be more than just an exercise 'for the hell of it.'

Thanks for reading - all suggestions welcome!

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Not really an answer, but a bit long for comments…

To echo Dave's sentiment;
as owner of many old reel-reel machines, gathering dust in a junk room I would heartily agree.

Keep them for if you ever need to rescue something.
I have tape baking facilities for that eventuality, which have seen occasional yet important use over the years.

For all other considerations, stay analog until the very last wire, then go digital right at the DAW. The best of both worlds.

My own setup is mainly digital these days, but a friend of mine from back in my BBC days has his studio entirely rigged with old BBC analog consoles & outboard, vintage amps & mics.
It makes a beautiful noise.

At the very last cable he jumps to a 24 ch DAC & a DAW.
He tried for many years to keep going with a multi-track tape machine, but the sound quality was falling off & the expense of trying to keep it up to spec just got too much.

He never looked back since I wired in the DAW for him.

He now gets out on masters what his beautiful studio gear can put into the recordings.

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I happen to still own my Tascam 1/2 inch 8 track tape deck and I will warn you

DONT BUY ONE

while recording on tape seems like a "fun" idea its actually a nightmare. Ill give you a few reasons why (then ill get to adding analog to the chain).

Tape is expensive: 8 Track tape is not made in the quantity it used to be made in and does not last for ever it has a very real very limited recording life (if you want the quality to remain). Its been about 8 years since I bought a new real (I dont use it any more) so Im not even sure any one is still making the tape for these decks. Keeping that in mind you cant really use old tape either. Fullcompas still sells 1/2 inch but at $65 a reel I'm glad I dont use it any more.

The Quality is NO Better: I am not trying to say that TAPE quality is not better I am trying to stress that the consumer 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch decks are OLD and often improperly kept and will not deliver the quality you want if they work at all. At this point the motors will be out of balance (yes you need to balance them so the speed is constant) the heads were not properly demagnetized when they needed to be nor were they cleaned as often as they should have. Not to mention there are known issue with track leak on 1/4 inch 8 track units.

Rewind Time: RTZ take TIME on a tape deck its more than just a button push. You will quickly get bored of rewinding the tape and rethreading it every time you want to change reels.

Wires Everywhere: While its nice and easy to patch inputs to new tracks in the box on a tape deck you will need a patch bay and LOTS of wires. This gets messy fast and just adds another item to buy/maintain.

I don't mean to be negative about tape (I love certain vintage things) but I am trying to stress that some technology does not need to make a come back. There are great decks out there like the stuff Studer makes but modern HD rigs will easily out preform old analog consumer reel to reel decks. You are better off putting the money you would have spend on the deck to a good mic or preamp or something. The only reason I even used it to begin with is it was handed down to me so I had all the equipment already and was not out of pocket for any of it. As soon as I could I replaced the deck with a computer.

If You DO Buy One

Make sure you get one with an empty spool or you will need to buy that as well. Remember the tape that leaves the fresh spool has to go some where so you need a dummy spool. Most of these decks had phono inputs while most consoles these days output in 1/4 inch. You will need some converters or conversion cables. You will also want to get your self a head demagnetizer and some head cleaner (Im sure you can find it on ebay).

USING ANALOG EQUIPMENT

YES YES YES. This is very much a good idea and will bring a nice addition to your sound. Many studios have held on to their priceless Neve, Focusrite, SSL etc. consoles because the preamps are just so smooth. They use the computer much like a tape deck (or at least I do). Even using stand alone preamps like those offered by Focusrite (isa One) and Universal Audio and the like will add a nice warmth to your sound.

As for mixing down some people bus the signals back out individually and mix on the console while others mix in the box. This seems to be a bit of personal preference a bit of habit and a bit of end goal in mind all tied together. If you have a nice fader control surface mixing in the box can be easy but if you have a large console you may just be accustomed to mixing down on it. In the end of the day the recording may go off and get mastered so getting good input in the first place has always been my primary goal.

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  • Thank you Dave, this really contextualises everything and gives clear information, I appreciate it. – Ali Apr 17 '15 at 18:15
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(yes, 5 years later...) Excellent responses already! I've been considering/researching this question myself, so will contribute what I can. I am also a bit of a novice with a steep learning curve, so take my responses with a grain of salt.

would recording via the desk (utilising pre-amps, sends to rack effects etc), and then bussing to my audio interface and then mixing in Logic really bring anything to the sound (in terms of the 'warm' and 'colour' that analogue brings)?

That's purely on you to try it out and see if you like, appreciate or find use for the sort of coloration the desk imparts. Even falling apart equipment is often used deliberately for effect. The first garage bands deliberately slashed their speakers for distortion! Some award winning photographers deliberately use crappy cameras/film as part of their artistic vision. So it really depends on what you want vs what the equipment can provide. There is a use for everything, though, albeit it might be creative or less conventional.

Would the post-desk processed analogue signal be stripped of its 'analog warmth' if it's transferred to Logic for mixing?

No, as long as your bit depth, sample rate, S/N ratio and A/D Conversion are of sufficient transparency, they should accurately retain whatever sounds you hear UNLESS those sounds are ONLY expressed in the monitor outs signal path for some reason (in which case, you might creatively use THAT signal pathway as your out to the A/D Converter). however since you are imparting this sonic footprint at the beginning of your signal chain, you need be careful not to lose it in too heavy-handed processing in the box. Your goal from that point would be to subtly enhance, bring forth and steward that sound, rather than distort or bury it (unless that's a specific effect you're going for). Again, it's entirely up to you.

Additionally, if I do invest in an 8-track recorder (trying to currently locate a cheap working Fostex A8), are there any recording configurations that would 'add' to the sound overall? The best I've come up with is Signal > Desk > mixed and processed to 8-track tape > 8-track tape recorder to Logic (via interface) for mastering - or is this just taking a longer route that will ultimately reach the same end-result?

The tape and machine will most certain impart a flavor, especially if it's not in great shape. Whether it's something you want to add to the sound of the desk is up to you. I feel like the others did a great job of warning you of the potential of getting in over your head, depending on your expectations. But again, some people like the sound of a deteriorating tape deck. It's just a question of how much money, time, space, etc it's worth to you. The Digitech Obscura Delay pedal was created specifically to model the sound of a deteriorating tape echo/delay. You could add that sound in "more authentically" and "manually" if you wanted.

But that brings me to my final point: For me, personally, I am not looking to add "analog warmth" to my recordings so much as construct an "analog-style workflow" (with any mix of analog and digital equipment) for myself to learn the tactile fundamentals of analog mixing. For me, it's an educational process in that every DAW is some level of metaphor, analogy or abstraction from the analog recording and mixing process. I want a firm grasp on those fundamentals of signal chain routing and workflow and ear (vs eye) training, and a focused and, yes, an artistically-limited workflow before I engage too deeply with the abstract vagaries and complexities of a full-featured computer-based DAW and mixing in the box with a mouse and keyboard across screens and menus and abstract interfaces. I don't want to use that (imaginative/abstract) part of my brain for logistical purposes while I'm recording and mixing. I want to use it for creative purposes while I intuitively grab and tweak physical knobs, push physical buttons, and slide physical faders on a complete "What you see is what you get" physical interface in front of me with no hidden options or menus. So the psychological and pedagogical aspects of an analog workflow I think are certainly worth considering as "adding something" to the recording!

There is a risk of romanticizing analog, and I had to check myself to see if that's what I'm doing. I'm looking at a VERY simple 2 in, 4 out multi-track signal chain, where I am only mixing UP TO 2 mono or 1 stereo signal at a time in context of the rest of the recording (either individual mono/stereo tracks or/then mono/stereo stems and finally the stereo master), hopefully with some parallel processing. For me, the benefits of the limitations and reliability of a computerless system outweight the drawbacks of only having one type of compressor, one type of EQ, manual automation -- at least right now. Once I feel more experienced, I'm sure my perspective will evolve.

How I imagine that process will look for me is a multi-track recorder/mixer hooked up to something like a 6-slot 500-series module bay that has a stereo mid-side processor (IGS Bison) feeding a compressor/limiter (dbx 560a) and parametric EQ (dbx 530) x 2. (so Bison > compressor > EQ > compressor > EQ). This will give me some mid-side mix processing, the ability to mix stereo in parallel, and also the ability to sandwich compression with EQ or EQ with compression for mono tracks that really need it.

So hopefully it will remain pretty focused, compact, manageable, and give me good experience of learning the fundamentals, and I can take that knowledge and experience with me into the transition to a full DAW with a nice analog-style control surface.

(Yes, this is still on-topic, I swear!) To me, this is analogous to a composition workflow valuing the importance of abstaining from notating anything, for example, until the idea is really well developed and clear in your head. If you go to notation too quickly, you engage the wrong part of your brain and lose the creative thread. I've felt that sort of thing happen to me when I've "gone into the DAW" with too little analog-style recording and mixing experience.

So, apart from the sonic possibilities of imparting an "analog sound" to a recording, I think one of the greatest real-world uses of analog mixing combined with digital recording is psychological and pedagogical for those of us (me) who have a lot to learn about the fundamentals.

At the end of the day, it's great you're being thoughtful about it and not just doing it for the of doing it or for the "idea of it." Because of that, you'll figure out when, where and how to integrate analog equipment into your workflow and signal chain.

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