Digital or Analogue Desks?

  • Jon Matanle

    Sound Engineer

    Everyone raves about digital sound desks but really what to people prefer?

    • 19th Mar 2014
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    hmmm well for me it all depends on the situation.

    When i've been behind the desk for a musical or drama production, digital desks are a god send in terms of automation and getting cues spot on.

    However, with Live Sound events a manual desk do just as well as their digital counterparts, possibly better as there are (sometimes) less settings to fiddle with and you can just focus on doing your job so to speak.

    For me it's subjective....hmmm

    • 3rd Aug 2010
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  • Jason Walsh

    Sound Engineer

    Hi guys I tend to agree that an all singing and dancing digital desk is a fantastic thing to use if you know your way around it and have time to program it to do what you want or need it to do.

    But If you are "going in cold" onto a sound check in a venue and there is no time to think and the punters are coming in in 10 min's then give me a good analogue desk every time for the quickness of it.

    • 3rd Aug 2010
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    For me, it comes down to the application. As previous posters have pointed out there are pros and cons either way.

    For live audio work, such as bands etc I have to go analogue every time. I like having a good overview of the whole desk, and know that as soon as an issue arises I can jump on it straight away.

    However, for more theatrical performances which require accurate replication of the sound time after time, again and again every day, then digital wins for me.

    I think alot of people have created this huge divide between digital and analogue consoles, whereas in reality it is just a case of picking the right tool for the job, much like speccing any other piece of audio gear.

    • 19th Aug 2010
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    I not massively experienced in a range of sound desks, but have worked with good quality analogue, and kind of know what I am doing with them. I also feel more comfortable with them because I know that if I twizzle THAT knob it will do THIS...etc etc...

    But even though I would LIKE to say that I probably perfer AN to DIG in sound, I guess that they have different benefits.

    I have far more experience with LX than sound, and in LX i have also worked with desks ranging from AN desks and dimmers, up to fully DIG stuff and got to much prefer DIG LX.

    I would like to work with DIG sound much more to get to know the difference better, but judging by what others have said the "accuracy", detail and replication of DIG is a major advantage in numerous circumstances.

    However, to be more honest, surely isn't AN on the way out? We use DIG sound and technology all the time, and with the grwoth of computers, programming, software, file sharing and music/sound production being heavily DIG based, isn't DIG pretty much where ALL sound will go?

    Not sure myself, I lack the technical sound experience, but would love to hear what others say!

    • 19th Aug 2010
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    I think it will be a long while yet before we see analogue consoles totally disappearing. I know of several touring sound engineers for bands that specifically request 'no digital' on tech specs, but I presume that is a result of them having done the job for so long using analogue.

    I am no expert in lighting, but i know a bit. The oppourtunity to move to DMX in the LX world is a no brainer surely (other than conversion costs for venues etc) as most lighting consoles I have seen still have functionality in common with older 0-10v consoles, you just have the benefit of being able to send a shed load of channel control down one cable rather than having a ton of 0-10v control lines.

    • 19th Aug 2010
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    Oh indeed - and to be honest, even though as you say the DMX was a "no brainer", but I don't know much about digital sound.

    I'm not a huge sound tech person, but I'd like to learn more about it and see some DIG desks/equip in action more. The closest I have got to it is using the optical transfer to make my mini-discs for the last show I was MD and Sound Tech for!!! (Analogue desk though, of course!!!)

    • 20th Aug 2010
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    As it has been said above the best desk is really defined by the application.

    Also by the budget, a Midas XL8 is one astounding desk with a ease of use once you know what you are doing and is easy to set up. Although it has a price tag of around £170,000. The thing which people are scared of is they don't trust digital because they have had it built in to them that computers fail. So they kind of think digital will fail at the worst possible time.

    Analogue is so much easier to use if you are going in cold as most desks are set out the same and it is easy to figure out the routing etc. where as digital desks vary in layout and some are more complicated.

    When choosing between the two decide the budget, if you can't afford a 'decent' digital desk don't bother go for an analogue every time.

    I can't say one is better than the other as they both have strengths and weakness's you just have to use what you feel comfortable with.

    AJ

    • 21st Aug 2010
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    Forgive my lack of knowledge here...but £170,000??? Whoa!!!

    • 21st Aug 2010
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    When the XL8 first came out a few years ago it cost around $335,000 so about £200,000. It is not a cheap thing by any means but it does allow for 2 engineers to working on the same channel at the same desk at the same time.

    The I-live by Allen and Heath is a good little desk around £13,000 for the desk and a stage box with 56 in 16out. Although I find it an utter ar*e to navigate. Its what I said in the comment earlier. You get what you pay for.

    • 21st Aug 2010
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    Yes, I have just been looking the desk up online and as with everything, as you say, you "get what you pay for". My brain understands that more with lighting - you COULD save money and buy a cheapo profile for £100-150, but it just won't do the job as well as a nice Source 4 or an SL which have a much bigger price tag!

    Is that desk portable enough to tour with? So if you were doing a huge show - like a massive musical with full orchestra and loads of other sound requirements. And just like DMX made the practicalities of LX simpler, do digital desks do the same for sound - or is that just a whole different bag of tricks?

    • 22nd Aug 2010
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    Well I was working a festival and we had an XL8 FOH and pro6 monitors nice little set up we had. The XL8 is not the most portable of things I think it weighs around half a ton and took about 8 of us to tip it even on its easy tilt.

    What I can gather you are saying is that you have a huge pit orchestra you can set the levels of each section of the orchestra and have one person mixing the sections of the orchestra and one person mixing the individual instruments. Which is were you get the huge flexibility with the desk. You can do some ingenious routing configurations and adding multiple desks on the same system which send 'data' to each other.

    • 22nd Aug 2010
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    Well I was working a festival and we had an XL8 FOH and pro6 monitors nice little set up we had. The XL8 is not the most portable of things I think it weighs around half a ton and took about 8 of us to tip it even on its easy tilt.

    What I can gather you are saying is that you have a huge pit orchestra you can set the levels of each section of the orchestra and have one person mixing the sections of the orchestra and one person mixing the individual instruments. Which is were you get the huge flexibility with the desk. You can do some ingenious routing configurations and adding multiple desks on the same system which send 'data' to each other.

    • 22nd Aug 2010
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    Ahhhh, now that sounds really interesting. I suppose a major thing would be at control end, with the routing and such. When I was much younger and first came across DMX and had no clue what DMX 512 was I was somewhat confused about the idea of having 512 Channels! If you stuck 512 1K lanterns methinks a lot of theatres would begin to fizzle and pop! It wasn't until I cam across the idea of Moving heads, Scrollers and the likes that I began to understand the idea of DMX and digitalised lighting more.

    So, with what you were saying about how you can utilise the digital desk, have two operations, link desks together and so on, so forth, there is great potential...almost limitless.

    Does it also help in terms of music production? What I mean is, in using MP3 and MP4, and all other sound file extensions - does working with more of a "computer" sound desk help at all, maybe by allowing editing or digital control that an analogue desk could not do without additional add-on (digital) equipment?

    I am very intrigued by these digital desks and sound systems! Must see one in action!

    • 22nd Aug 2010
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    It helps with the production aspect that you can easily record sound via AES/EBU and recording in to a digital workstation. For example Digidesign who make protools make the VENUE desk which come with pro tools built in and allow for easy recording. Most digital desks allow you to add cards these cards range from digital sends and receive to analogue. So you just get a card which can help with how you are recording. For example you have a pro tools HD system you would get an AES/EBU card and plug that in the HD system.

    The fact that you are saying about sound manipulation is that you can do it off the cuff on the desks but will take a bit of skill as digital desks come with inbuilt effects. The easiest way to play MP3 etc. is to edit the sound first then burn it to a cd then you can play it normally off a CD.

    • 22nd Aug 2010
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    Just found out the theatre i have recently joined...has just bought a Soundcraft Vi1, or something like that! Maybe I'll get to see the desk in action!

    Is that like a "proper" digital desk?

    • 26th Aug 2010
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    It is a digital desk a 'proper' one like you say it has its merits just depends on how they have it set up.

    All desks have pro's and con's the VI series have some nice fx by lexicon built in. Which negates the need for expensive outboard gear.

    But I do like the soundcraft desks both analogue and digital.

    • 26th Aug 2010
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    Oooooh, methinks I will try to get to work on sound for a show and see how it works! Like a very spooky coincidence, this forum thread and then coming across a desk!

    Thanks for all the info you've given me!

    • 26th Aug 2010
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  • Jonathan Mckee

    Sound Technician

    Xl8 are amazing seriously aprouching one was scary but tbh it's fairly well laid out similar to an analogue witch makes it alot user friendly,I'd Highly recommend them to anyone (if you can afford it!!!)

    • 18th Sep 2010
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    Its like comparing an adjustable spanner to a full set of spanners... both do pretty much the same thing just depends what you are doing...

    Some digital desks require more understanding to get quality sound i.e. m7cl input gain has jump in noise floor when you hear the click when turning input gain which is worth bearing in mind, whereas vi6 have fully floating point a/d converters so sound great even with low input levels... therefore running an m7 hitting only the first green light on the inputs, means the signal wont be as good resolution as it could be.... also there are lots of other things which affect the sound such as comp and eq settings, e.g. type 2 eqs on yamaha seem to sound smoother etc etc

    • 5th Apr 2011
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