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Thread: Mixing/Mastering with "Stems" - I don't think I get it...

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    Mixing/Mastering with "Stems" - I don't think I get it...

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    I'm wrapping up a demo for one of my projects and a good friend of mine who works in the "biz" is going to do some mastering on it.

    Probably don't need it since we're just shopping it for some private party work, but I figure it's free, and since he has access to incredible equipment (not to mention 25 years experience) it can't hurt.

    Anyway, he asked me to send him the "stems." After I figured out how to give him what he wanted (Upright Bass, Instruments, Drums, Lead Vox, Backing Vox and Effects), I sent them off to him. He explained that he's going to send them through a summing mixer so he can use outboard analog leveling, etc. which I assume means another D/A conversion then a final A/D conversion. I've always thought it was best to stay digital after the initial A/D conversion, but he says with good converters it's not an issue.

    So I'm curious about the idea of summing these stems in the analog realm and why that is better than doing it in the DAW where I made the stems and applied the effects?

    Heck, I have a Steinberg UR824 that has 8 assignable outputs so I could theoretically send the Stems I created into my little Soundcraft mixer that I use for gigs and sum on that board and then go back into the UR824 as a final stereo mix. Would that be "better" than summing in my DAW? Or are these summing mixers somehow special?

    Done some reading but don't quite get what the advantage is... thanks.
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    I believe a summing mixer uses all passive components, but I'm not sure why that gives a better mix. Less noise, I guess, but not sure how much of a difference that makes from an ITB mix. I'm replying moreso to subscribe to the thread and hope someone comes along with a good answer.

    Your friend is right about the additional D/A/D conversions; it will be transparent with good converters.

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    There absolutely cannot be less noise (or distortion) in the analog summed mix than the digital. It also almost must change the overall frequency response, even if subtly. These things (the way the analog electronics fail to be perfect) are pretty much exactly why some people think it sounds better, but that is always a subjective thing, and most of it can be reproduced ITB with a little attention.

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    Yeah, it's not necessarily better. Just different.
    People summing in analog realm are looking for some unique character from the summing equipment.

    If you sum ITB the final render will, or should, be indistinguishable from the open session. Summing through hardware means it will sound different.
    Whether it's different good or different bad is down to the gear and the personal preference.

    You could certainly experiment by doing 8 channel (4 pair) summing through your mixer.
    Generally you'd send stereo pairs so maybe drums on 1+2, bass and lead instruments on 3+4, rhythm on 5+6, and vocals on 7+8?

    At worst you'll learn a little something about routing and the process. At best, maybe you'll like the results!

    (Edit: As pointed out later in the thread, there are 'clean, colourless' summing boxes too. I don't know why.)
    Last edited by Steenamaroo; 05-11-2016 at 15:29.
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    I guess for lack of something to do while the wife is out tonight, I might try rigging it up. I can see it being "different" sounding, but "better?" I guess we'll see. The way my buddy asked for the STEMS, he clearly has more than 8 total channels (which I don't) so he'll actually have the freedom to do more than just sum the mix back together. The drums are on their own stereo file, and the upright bass and lead vocals have their own mono files as well. Looking forward to seeing what he does, though I have to say, the mixes that came off the DAW ain't that bad

    Thanks guys for your thoughts on this. Got me thinking about it the right way at least
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nate74 View Post
    I guess for lack of something to do while the wife is out tonight, I might try rigging it up. I can see it being "different" sounding, but "better?" I guess we'll see.
    Why not?

    Quote Originally Posted by Nate74 View Post
    The way my buddy asked for the STEMS, he clearly has more than 8 total channels (which I don't) so he'll actually have the freedom to do more than just sum the mix back together.
    Hmm, hard to say. It depends how many stems he asked for. The point is to 'just' sum the mix back together. That's summing.
    If you start panning, eqing, adjusting faders...that's mixing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Nate74 View Post
    Thanks guys for your thoughts on this. Got me thinking about it the right way at least
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    It wouldn't be much different than any other analog mastering process - except for the number of stems (1 for a single stereo signal, [???] for multiple).

    That said -- I would *assume* that if he didn't hear an actual advantage to summing and processing individual stems, he'd probably sum digitally and make an analog pass -- again, assuming there is an advantage to the analog process.

    Only speaking of my own experiences -- 95 out of 100 times (literally, in my estimation) I use analog processing (along with digital). But with stems, 95 out of 100 times, I sum digitally. I certainly may apply processing to individual stems, but that's usually done digitally and then the 2-buss goes out to the analog chain. Going further, those individual digital tweaks are usually made while the 2-buss is passing through the analog chain.

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    Stupid question I know, but since we're on the subject. ... What exactly is a 'stem' ? It seems like a group or sub group, so why is it called a stem?

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    A sub group is a bus in a mixer. The audio coming from that sub group is the stem.
    Jay Walsh
    Farview Recording. I am also the forum spokesmodel for Terasyne Amplification

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    Aha! Thanks.

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