Mixing in the box got a bad rap early on because the sound of the mixes was a long way from the analog console mixes that everyone was used to. Today that’s not a problem as everything has improved so much that the most hard-core classic engineers have now embraced mixing in the box, and have even learned to love it.
How did this happen? When I look back over the past decade I see 10 improvements that have made mixing in the box the go-to method for mixing. Here they are.
1. Better DAWs
Early DAWs were limited in their ability to provide a console-like experience and the sound always seemed small and pinched. That’s no longer the case as consoles have gotten to the point that a few can sound totally analog, and the ones that don’t still provide a clean and powerful mix that’s every bit the equivalent to what’s available from a console.
2. Better Plugins
The plugins sound so much better, especially in the last 5 years. For one thing the emulations of beloved outboard gear have gotten so good that they’re now acceptable to even the purist mixers among us. Next generation plugins are going beyond the emulations to provide more parameter control than ever (as well as inventing new ones), and new AI-driven plugins are making time-consuming mixing tasks like EQing faster than ever.
3. Better Interfaces
Even the least expensive interface on the market today is surprising good and in some cases, even better than all but the highest end units available a decade ago. Most now employ some form of monitor control for speakers and headphones, something that was missing from the signal chain in the early days of DAWs that made mixing an awkward experience.
4. Better Work Surfaces
Where there was a time when mixing in the box meant using a mouse exclusively, today we have work surfaces that go from a single fader up to huge controllers that can be easily mistaken for an analog console and everything in between. That means that if you desire to use something beyond a mouse for mixing, there’s a work surface available to fit your needs and price range.
5. DAW App Packages Are Cheap
It’s amazing how powerful even the least sophisticated DAW is these days. Sub-$100 software packages now including everything that anyone could need to create a high-quality mix.
6. More Experience
The average mix engineer has much more experience driving a DAW-based mix today, observing that the gain-staging principles that we learned in the analog domain still apply. This has ensured that mixes come out big and round, rather than the small sounding mixes that confounded many mixers in the early days of digital.
7. Dedicated Summing Boxes
For those that still want that analog touch, there are now a variety of outboard analog summing summing boxes to add that final bit of mix magic. These boxes now run from rather basic and inexpensive, to very sophisticated and pricy. Either way, there are plenty to choose from today where once there were none.
8. Client Acceptance
Not only have artists, labels and managers accepted DAW mixes, but they now demand it. The need for fast revisions has driven this, since on a DAW you can have a quick update in a matter of minutes rather than the days it might take in the analog console days.
9. More Compatibility
Today we don’t think twice about bringing audio in from a different DAW. Where once upon a time that might have been it’s own separate nightmare, today it’s more of a small inconvenience, meaning that DAW preference or usage is no longer an issue.
10. Home Studio Proliferation
The power of a simple inexpensive DAW is astounding as compared to what cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to put together for an equivalent system in the analog past. This has lead to every artist and musician having some sort of studio in their home, and most of them now intimately familiar with the recording and mixing process as a result.
If you’re just beginning your engineering career, mixing in the box might be all you know or will ever know. The world changes and evolves though, as does the audio world, and sometimes those changes are for the better.
You can read more from The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook and my other books on the excerpt section of bobbyowsinski.com.