That Sound

I remember the first time I walked up to a Midas XL4. It was at the third Bonnaroo music festival in Manchester, TN. An afternoon set in one of the large tent stages. I was mixing foh for a great americana/bluegrass band called Acoustic Syndicate. I strolled out to the foh riser to see this large grey behemoth that I had heard so much about. I had seen the ads and read the reviews. Like my favorite Ferrari, I knew everything about it, except how it felt to drive. The audio provider had brought their “A” rig for this stage. A nicely tuned L-Acoustics VDOSC rig. Since it was an analog console and everyone used it, I didn’t get to touch the console until the changeover before our mid-afternoon set. I got my line check in the PA as the band was dialing in their wedge mixes. 30 seconds per input was about the gist of it. Dial up some gain, engage the high pass, maybe a little EQ. A few inserted compressors were roughed in. Out walks the MC and go! The mix made itself. I was used to digging in and forcing a nice mix out of random consoles. But this was different, The tone of each input was true and rich. EQ strong but controlled. The 6 channels of compression I had were barely needed. My mix on that Midas made all previous consoles seem thin and flat. That was the first time I remember being able to concentrate on the minutia of the mix, on the fine details that separate acceptable from awesome. Plus it was just fun to mix on. I had a habit of recording as many shows as possible back then and it was remarkable how much better the Midas mix sounded than any other recording from that summer. The tonality and timbre of the instruments seemed improved somehow, by the wizardry from Kidderminster, England. From that point forward, whenever I mixed on one, my day was going to be a good one.

When I started mixing Umphrey’s McGee, Kevin Browning handed off his Avid Profile mixing console. The Profile held top billing in the digital field at the time, due to its compatibility with ProTools plugins to help shape the sound. Virtual versions of famous outboard gear, previously unavailable except to a select few recording studios, were now cheap and plentiful. Fairchilds and Pultecs on everything!!! But I was never completely satisfied with the results of my work. After a year or so, we decided to consider something new and I demoed a few different digital consoles. The most impressive demo was the Midas Pro6 from Greg Rosenkrans at Big Mo Pro. We set it up beside our Profile at the Best Buy (Nokia) Theater in Manhattan. It’s a great sounding room, neutral and balanced. We took the third split from our snake and plugged into the Pro6 inputs. With the outputs routed into the secondary inputs of the house system processor, using the same EQ as the Avid, I built a quick mix with just gain and high passes with a few comps for safety. Don’t get me wrong, I was pretty proud of the mix I created on the Profile – a few nice plugins, ATI and API microphone preamps, some parallel compression via outboard tube compressors – in my opinion, a solid mix. But as I pulled together the mix on the Pro6, I was taken back to that day a dozen years prior. The tone and separation were second to none. The drum kit and percussion rig were the first to impress me. Rich tones with punchy attack. The overtones of decaying hits were detailed and full of harmonics. As I added more channels to the mix, I was blown away that nothing got lost. I had 56 channels in that mix and each channel could be distinctly heard with clarity and detail. The stereo field was wide with accurate placement and depth of field. Everyone in the room for soundcheck commented on how much better it sounded. We were able to switch back and forth while the band was playing and it was a noticeable improvement when the Midas was doing the work. The Midas Pro6 was the first digital console that I didn’t have to wrestle to a draw.

We liked it so much we bought a Pro9 and carried it all over the US mixing shows in every kind of venue you can imagine. Jump forward 4 years and we upgraded to a pair of ProX’s. Without a doubt, the best sounding console I’ve ever mixed on.

It’s one thing to talk about these superlatives in poetic terms, but Midas has the math to back it up. Starting with the famous XL4 inspired analog mic preamp, the high headroom circuit provides the most important transformation of the micro voltage signal generated by stage mics. Modern digital console manufacturers all rave that their preamps sound best. Listening to the major players, I don’t think I can hear a difference among them, but the Midas stands out. Clear and accurate with pleasing overtones when driven hard. But the next step I find much more influential to mix clarity: analog to digital conversion. Midas uses Cirrus Logic converters running at 96khz with 24 bit word depth. I’ve been a long time fan of Cirrus Logic after they beat Texas Instruments/Burr Brown in a double blind ADC shootout in my highly customized home theater system. Digitizing the incoming audio accurately is just the first step in the process. The concept of sample accurate latency alignment of the multiple signal paths is very important to the clarity of the final mix. This compensates for different latency times of various digital routes toward the final mix bus. Some of these features are available in other mixing consoles, but Midas has an edge I think other manufacturers lack.

One of my earliest complaints with digital mixing consoles was the loss of clarity as the channel count increases. Most digital consoles sound great when they’re summing 4 channels of input, but few digital consoles remain clear and detailed when summing 64+ channels into a stereo mix. Workarounds and techniques quickly became commonplace to counteract the problem: lots of EQ and dynamics to begin with and special plugins that do things not possible in the analog world. Smart people will always find tools to solve their problems and get the job done. But Midas solved the problem themselves in the summing bus. Buried deep within the Linux 40 bit floating point code exists a set of routines which enable me to combine 72 channels into the most precise stereo mix I’ve ever achieved. Wide bandwidth summing allows transients and leading edge frequencies to contribute vital sonic information to the mix. In my opinion, Midas continues its tradition of the XL4 in the ProX with the best summing bus in live audio.

In a time when modern console manufacturers want to load up their systems with all of the bells and whistles, Midas has concentrated on codifying what they already knew – rich preamps, powerful EQ and high definition summing. That sound is what I remember from my first Midas experience.

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Brandon says:

    I was at those Nokia shows. Best sound I’ve ever heard in that room. And every UM show since.
    Surely some of it HAS to be the engineer?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You are one of the best writers I’ve ever read (so much so that I just deleted the “sound” qualifier from my assertion), and yours will be the first — and only — blog to which I actually subscribe. Martin Frey shared your post about quitting the EQ habit on Facebook today, and after reading two paragraphs of it, so did I, tagging all my pro sound and recording studio engineer friends that I know will get as much out of it as I have.

    Please keep up the great writing, and thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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