#2 - What's On Your Mix Bus?
This month we ask a group of producers, engineers and mixers to reveal their current mix bus processing...
My mix bus is mostly analogue, as I still think there's an indefinable mojo to a proper analogue mix bus. I sum all my drum parallels in my Thermionic Culture Fat Bustard which comes back into Pro Tools via a Roger Mayer 456HD where everything is summed in pairs through my Dangerous 2 Bus. The output of that goes to a Dramastic Obsidian compressor which is like a SSL Quad but with the bottom end of a 33609 and is amazing! That goes into the Thermionic Culture Swift EQ, which is hands down the best mix EQ I've ever heard and does something very special. Afterwards that goes into a Thermionic (yes, again!) Culture Vulture just tickling it a bit and adding a little saturation and volume. Finally that goes into the Roger Mayer 456HD which does what 1/2" tape used to do for me - a beautiful bloom in the bottom with the high frequency limiting that made tape so lovely! That is all printed back into Pro Tools via an auxiliary that has a FabFilter ProMB on it which just gives it a bit of a modern thing. Occasionally I'll do multiple mix busses in Pro Tools if I feel I need to compress the bottom end in a slightly different way and blend it, but for the most part the analogue is 90% of it. It seems like a lot but each of the boxes is doing a small amount of something important!
On my mix bus currently is one of my all-time favourite compressors, the SSL G384 ‘Greyface’. Having become very accustomed to the snap and punch it can bring to a mix following much time spent mixing on SSL E, G & K consoles it was an essential additional to my outboard when moving to a hybrid and summing based work-flow. I’ve spent time A/B’ing the G384 against some of the plug-in simulations. I was particularly intrigued when UAD released their update to the SSL G Series compressor, though I still found in a head to head comparison the G384 still came out as winner, with more of a deeper 3D character along with a feel of extra weight in the lows. Thanks to Smart Research and their ‘High Pass Filter Cable’ I am able to engage the side-chain resulting in smoother compression, allowing the bottom end through without hitting the compressor too hard.
I use three mix busses which are then summed to stereo. These three stereo busses are via Neve 1066 channels which are fed from Lavry Blue A/D converters.
- Bus 1 has a pair of Maag EQ4's
- Bus 2 has a pair of Cartec EQP-1A's and a Clariphonic EQ Rack
- Bus 3 has no inserts....yet!
- Insert 1 is a Dramastic Audio Obsidian Compressor
- Insert 2 is a GML 8200 EQ
- Insert 3 is a Smart C2
- Insert 4 is a Solid State Logic Fusion
My mix bus is predominantly Acustica Audio stuff. I generally view hardware and software as providing something distinct from one another, but with the Acustica software I find I can achieve a sonic result that I would normally associate with hardware. My mix bus chain starts with EQ. Which one depends on the source material, but it's typically going to be either Pink3, the API, always in the 550 mode, or Magenta3, the Massive Passive. I will normally be looking for some lows and highs in those, and then a high mid lift. That high mid will sometimes come from White2, a custom Pultec Clone developed by White Mastering. There will then be a compressor, which at the moment is usually El Ray, the RCA compressor Acustica developed with Greg Wells - slowest attack, fastest release. The compression sets in before the meter ever moves, so it often will hardly be moving at all. I then typically use Taupe, on the C4 setting, which is a dual mono version of the Studer A80, at 30 ips. There might then be a tiny bit of Izotope Ozone Imager, but more often I tend to use that further back in the sources. Finally there's a limiter that I generally use for listening copies, but it is sometimes in play on the mix itself. I'm currently using Newfangled Audio Elevate. It's a very cool 26 band limiter with adaptive gain, transient shaping and clipping. You have to be a bit careful not to go too far with the bells and whistles, but it's a great limiter. One further point: It's not strictly on the mix bus itself, but just before - I have a parallel compression running on everything except the drums and some bass elements. It's a technique that I adopted from Andrew Schepps, which he terms the 'back bus'. I use Boz Digital Labs Manic Compressor, in clean mode - It allows me to compress in dual mono, keeping the two sides of the stereo signal independent, and to finely tune attack and release to achieve the 'hand-off' effect that this technique is all about. The Manic Compressor gives you a lot of control over the levels of the wet and dry signal, as well as the final output. I have a preset which tends to stay the same, other than altering the release to match the material.
I'm currently using the SSL Fusion. I'm mixing in the box and using plug-ins on my mix bus, then I go out into the Fusion and print it back in and add limiting. I love how everything I'm looking for to finish my mix is all in one box : Saturation, Hi and Low EQ, Widening, and Hi-Frequency compression. I use the Drive as it brings everything forward, usually around 3 as I don't want the mix to be too crunchy. I then add some EQ, my favourite settings are +3db at 50Hz and 12k, this obviously varies depending on the mix and what's needed but in general I come back to those settings quite often. The HPF is a preference, I tend to leave that to mastering. The HF compressor is great to tame harsh mixes without making them sound dull, I wouldn't use this systematically, only a touch if needed, quite similar to a tape sound. I add about 1db of width to widen the mix slightly but you have to be careful as it sounds so nice and wide you can easily lose your centre elements. I also sometimes use the transformer circuit for enhanced low and hi end, I haven't tried the insert mode just yet.
On my mix bus at the moment is the Brainworx Townhouse compressor. I've been loving using this for my mix compression and it's so close sounding to the buss compressor on the SSL G series! I go between this and the UAD SSL Buss Compressor which is equally authentic. The UAD is more authentic to the original but the Brainworx seems to have a little extra excitement built into it. (I think it was modelled on a modded version of the compressor) which is why I think it sounds so good on the mix. I'm also loving the UAD Chandler Curvebender just for some gentle mix EQ. None of the frequencies ever sound harsh and any boosts sound really musical to me - so that's become a part of what I mix through these days!
Brendan explains their mix bus : We've quite recently modified our mix bus chain, which had been largely untouched for the past year or more. I’d been inspired by a great Tchad Blake video where he details his heavily-loaded mix bus and adopted more of a ‘top-down’ approach by using a fairly coloured processing template on the stereo bus as the starting point for each mix. As it has been for a long time, the first in the chain is Slate’s Virtual Mix Rack with the Trim and VCC modules. The Trim is there so that we can always ease up a bit on the input to the actual processing if things start to get a bit hot as a mix progresses. The VCC usually stays on the SSL setting. It’s definitely not a night and day kind of plug-in but we feel it’s adding something worthwhile. Next in line is the Brainworx Townhouse Bus Compressor. This is a recent change from the UAD SSL G-Comp that had lived there for ages. We do love the UAD plug-ins but we’d demoed the Townhouse a while ago on the recommendation of my friend Jake Miller. We're not reinventing the wheel with it : slowest attack, fastest release, 4:1 with a bit of a high pass in the sidechain, but it just seems to kind of lift the saggy bits of the mix up and put it all into place, like fixing a curtain with a few broken hooks. After the compressor is the Elysia Museq. Mix bus EQ is something we're pretty gentle with but we like the resonant low cut and the supersonic high shelf which adds a bit of air without bringing up harsher frequencies. We use it in M/S mode and boost a little around the vocal area in the centre and take some murkiness from the sides. This is where we used to have the Vertigo VSM-3 and Kush Clariphonic, but for now we've taken these out partly to change things up and partly because too many Mid-Side things start to mean we lose track of our stereo image. We'd intended to pare the mix bus chain back to no more than the compressor and EQ but we brought back the UAD Ampex ATR-102 which does something really nice to the mix. It imprints this overall tonal profile that makes it sound more ‘complete’…like a coat of sonic varnish or something. After this sits the Massey L2007 limiter. This is probably considered terrible form by most engineers but it’s a practice I picked up from Guy’s previous engineer after inheriting several sessions with plug-ins already in place. It’s essentially doing nothing but is there as a safety net against any errant digital overs that may sneak through. I’ll check to make sure it’s not being set off in loud bits but it’s just there to make sure everything is legal! Lastly is the Audified Mixchecker. This isn’t doing anything to the mix, but has a bunch of one-click settings to emulate a range of listening environments : Auratones, iPhone, laptop, car speakers etc. They don’t really sound like those things but they give a quick way of hearing the mix under compromised conditions so you can see how it holds up without any low end or in mono for instance.
My mix bus changes a lot. I tend to try a few different things and once I've found something that’s working for me and that particular artist's sound it then ends up as a starting point for any further songs I mix for them, or for the rest of the album/EP. Recently I've been using an Avalon 747 Stereo Compressor into a NTI EQ3 and then the Bettermaker Limiter, with clipping (no limiting) on one project. On another it's been Slate VMR VCC into Acustica Audio Green EQ then Fab Filter - 2x of them. One is doing some clipping and shaping of the sound that remains, the other one is just for a loud reference version. Keeping it the same on every song would bore me I think!
My mix bus is quite genre dependent and I often have quite a few mix bus branches and parallels. I’ll often have the Brainworx Townhouse Compressor, preceded by a UAD Pultec EQ and UAD Massive Passive on the main music bus, then flavours of distortion parallels and perhaps more compression. My favourite Mix Bus distortion options are Blackbox, Phils Cascade, FabFilter Saturn and including very occasionally a VHS simulator in Reactor. Final mix bus choices are often a Fabfilter Multiband, Dangerous Bax EQ, Ozone Vintage Tape and limiting. This could all change completely depending on the genre and makeup of the mix of course!