So you bought a B.A.D…a budget analog desk? Well done. Welcome to the early 90’s.
You will receive endless advice about what converters are good enough to be plugged into your new purchase. When this thing was made, its owner was probably plugging black face ADATs into it, and running at 16 bits AND felt good about it as 10k got them into the digital studio world. Bear in mind the previous year, people didn’t take you seriously unless you had a 2” machine. Sure, maybe you had your cute little 1/2” or 1” 16 track, or MSR24 if you were fancy, but as the A&R guy was convinced “Sounds great, but you need 2” for real bass” nothing juicy was coming your way, demo boy. But now ohh yes, you are digital, and we can make MASTERS!
Here’s the actual truth: literally any converter on earth made today is better than what was originally plugged into it. So…don’t sweat it.
One of the first “big” people I got to work with in my humble studio was a producer called John Brand and he HATED “that plastic little piece of sh*t” which made me feel pretty bad as obviously I was proud of my third, and best sounding thus far…plastic little piece of sh*t. His issue? The spacing of the knobs and the way they felt. Sound wise, he didn’t care. In fact he came because I went digital, yes - with those crappy converters. All analog desks, no matter the budget have A sound, and that sound is different from no desk. So back to your new purchase. Let’s look at some pros & cons.
Pro - You will have 24 perfectly ok preamps and a bank of powerful EQ at your fingertips and experience the best workflow for tracking possible by using an inline console. It’s freeing to reach out and grab a few knobs and be done, never mind trying 8 kinds of preamp, or EQ plugins.
Semi-con - Often - no pads on your mic inputs. Usually this isn’t an issue, but sometimes…well, you’ll find out. Headroom: don’t expect endless headroom like from an API or something. The clip light goes on, you’re 5db away.
Con - You may also experience some mysteriousness with noise, hum and ground loops if you plug actual outboard into it. The outs on the Topaz are unbalanced. Depending on how old it is, moving faders may also be interesting.
Pro - Not related to the desk itself, but since I assume you are using a DAW, you now have top end automation, and muting available - not available on ANY budget desk at that point. Midi muting…what a pain in the ass. Same with VCA based automation…you really think that’s helping your audio?
Con - If it breaks, you are in trouble. Unlike a big boy desk, it is not modular, meaning that if a channel dies you have to take every knob off the entire desk as its all mounted on a single plate. This alone is one reason it cant be considered a professional desk. If you have spend any time in a pro studio you quickly realise things break, and it’s the tech guy who keep the whole place running. Upside - the preamp chip will cost you $5 to replace.
Con - that workflow doesn’t come for free. You need to wire the damn thing in! For everyone’s suggestion you go the full patchbay route, remember you’re probably going to spend more wiring it in that it cost at this point!
Semi-Pro - You now have analog summing!
Um, well, yes but don’t get too excited. Is your audio really better ( More 3d! Increased separation! More depth! ) for going out through your budget electronics and another set of D/A and A/D ? Only you can decide. Or is it just the super low level hiss adding some mojo? Or maybe the converters adding some brightness?
The bottom line is enjoy it. You’ll experience old school workflow, the joy of grabbing knobs and getting instant results. It will not the the desk stopping you from making something great. Maybe consider getting your PSU upgraded for better performance ( plus it’s OLD at this point, those caps may be on the way out ) but run it into the ground and make some records!
Yes, the guy who writes this is Bald, English and mixes records at baldenglish.com