Improving the signal chain

What does everyone’s overall signal chain look like for recording and/or the mixing stage (or do you mix on the way in)?

I typically just go straight into my converter if its a synth but I recently decided to deploy my small Allen & Heath mixer. Do most people use an outboard mixer going in? How do you handle FX routing and when?

  • Guitar/Bass - through pedals and straight in to interface (meris polymoon -> meris mercury7 -> boss re-20 -> elektron heat) -> Interface
  • Modular (which I do mix within the system, either with quadratts or ER-301) - MI Veils -> Mannequins RIP (modular to line) -> MI Veils (Optional) -> Interface
  • Loopback (from computer) - through same pedal chain -> MI Veils -> Mannequins RIP (line to modular) -> MI Veils -> Interface

Those two stages of Veils before and after rip are great for being able to gain stage, especially pre-RIP. RIP needs to be pushed, IMO. At the levels my modules run, it’s transformer step down amount is a little bit lower than line.

I’m having difficulty with finding a send/return system with the modular being able to use the pedals for keeping the noise floor low enough for my taste for recording.


Tons of options of course, but my plan largely depends on what I’m tracking. If I’m doing synths I’ll run through a passive DI, into preamp, possibly into compressor BEFORE tracking, but also possibly waiting on that and tracking first and THEN compressing later. The Drawmer 1973 three band compressor appeals to me for electronic music because it seems ideal to dial in a really great kick (if I’m doing beats) or dial in the highs and mids just right (if I’m doing the stuff I’m currently doing - weird harsh brittle buzzing and whirring).


you could just flick the switch on the front that says mic/di to get a line input,
like we did on this track [me and sam played for 20 min to tape, then I edited/made a loop in protools, then laura sang two passes of vocals and I edited it into this…electronic/computer music, then it (the 12" powerbook computer output) went through the signal chain listed above] :slight_smile:

and/or you could just record everything inside the computer (aalto, parc, monolase) and sing vocals into the iPhone voice record app, email it to yourself
(like we’re doing now)
next single comes out on lunar new year 2019 (k-blamo bandcamp)

I looked at the Bastl Hendrikson for this but was curious about the same.

Everything in the market is made to be mounted in a modular case but its not really something that needs to be in a modular system, IMO. I was curious if there was a standalone type box with its own power source (battery, even) that could accommodate high quality components/transformers without the space constraints of a module. I guess I’m describing a mixer.

Out of curiosity, why do you use a DI>preamp for line level sources (i.e. synths) rather than just run line in to the interface? Is it a technical constraint of your setup or a creative choice?

I don’t right now, but the idea/hope is that it would bring out more of the color of the pre-amps if I pushed it more on that end. That said, it isn’t required and may not even be preferable depending on goals.

If you’re really into transformer color, check out the RND 551 EQs.
Transformers on input and output , just running audio through without EQ is fabulous.
And very usable EQ on top of that.

I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately and I kind of feel like I’m in a similar place to @sellanraa in terms of having the instruments I want on hand but looking at the signal chain.

Having just spent some time getting a simple DIY “patchbay” into my rack, I can patch easily from my modular (or other hardware) into 8 channels of a Soundcraft EP8, and also send and return 2 stereo channels if I want to use Euro effects (like Clouds or send stuff into a Morphagene), pedals etc. I’ve really been enjoying building pieces completely through that setup, but the question is how best to capture them as either a final stereo mix or ideally, with stems so I can adjust things a bit after the fact.

Right now, I can take direct feeds from the 8 mono channels into my MOTU Ultralite Mk3 via inserts on the channels, so I can record stems pre-fader directly into the computer.

The one part that I’ve not yet sorted out is that I’d also like to take the stereo mix from the desk into the MOTU as well, in order to capture the live performance as such, or to make it easier to send stems back out to the desk and capture effects separately if I want to mix in the box.

However, I’m out of inputs on the Ultralight, so I’ve been looking for a A/D converter that I could use with the S/PDIF input on the Ultralight, or possibly something with both A/D and D/A if I wanted to send a mix out of the box for some kind of finalising process.

The idea of having some kind of mastering converter seems to fit in here, and the option of getting something that can be nicely driven to get some colour does appeal, as oppose to something that is just clean but could potentially get nasty if it clips.

While I’ve got reasonable monitoring (Dynaudio BM6As), it seems out of line with the rest of my setup (in terms of the quality of the room, the actual desk etc) to be dropping in a really “serious” converter (I guess the likes of Mytek, Burl, API). A second hand Apogee Rosetta might be an option, but I wonder about whether there are other “interesting” options for the same kind of spend give or take a bit (a TC Finalizer - seems like a wild alternative but maybe…?) 500 series is also interesting (had no idea there was a DIY scene there) but I’d still need to solve the A/D D/A converter if I want to keep the other channels free for tracking.

I’m not sure about going for something older and cheaper like a dbx 386 (probably with replacement tubes) if it is going to sit in that “mastering” position but I’m probably more interested in having something can can have character than something that is just brutally clinical, so maybe that’s worth a try.

Will definitely have a look at some of the pointers above. If anyone has additional suggestions I’m all ears.

So I’ve been where you are with I/O capacity. My initial thought is that I don’t see much point in deploying high end converters if this will ultimately not be the signal you intend to mix. If you were to send the stems out of the box for analog summing, analog 2 bus processing, etc., then it would make more sense to deploy the Burl there (if you already have a 2 bus summing/processing chain at your disposal). Otherwise, you are putting the cart before the horse, in a way.

My recommendation… get a new audio interface. I have an Ultralite Mk3 and ended up purchasing a UA Apollo Twin as well. I use them in an aggregate device in MacOS. If you don’t want the preamp modelling of the UA ecosystem, then the options are vast. You could probably find a 16x16 line I/O MOTU like the 16A for half the price of a Burl - the 16A has ESS Sabre converters too. Another option would be upgrading to the newer Ultralite mk4 which adds optical I/O and AVB giving you far more options as far as auxiliary converters go. An Ultralite mk4 and an Audient ASP800 would be a very flexible system and about half the price of a high-end 2 channel ADC. You would still have enough I/O to process a 2 bus chain as well.

If you are on Mac, then there’s no reason you couldn’t use an aggregate audio device and run 2 interfaces which opens up your options considerably.

:slight_smile: great idea, mixing is fun!
mixing is a 'performance
folks used to have fewer options than we do now (sub-mixes, which track gets compression, etc)
one possibility is to 'just decide that the motu converters are enough, and six stems is enough, and take the main outs from the mixer (1,2 motu)
bingo, this is 'the track
anyways, we’re lucky

I think it should be clarified that while the UL MK4 is in MOTU’s “AVB” family of interfaces in terms of driver and console, it does not have the AVB ethernet port.

FWIW, I use an Ultralite MK4 with an old Traveler MK1 ($120 score!) hooked up via ADAT I/O.
I also have an old Flying Cow 24bit spdif A/D-D/A hooked up to it.
18 ins and 20 outs, plus MIDI, over USB 2.0 with Sierra.
Everything is clocked to the newer UL MK4. And the older interfaces sound tighter because of it.
It all sounds lovely, and only cost me about $730 all told.

I use the UL MK4’s outs and ins for stereo outboard processing, also. It’s great and better than a Rosetta. I’d say it holds up to any non-thunderbolt era Apogee converter.
Sold my old AudioArts 8x console as I prefer to work with Waves NLS for summing instead.

My only complaint about the UL MK4 is the screen is BRIGHT!!! The marketing photos don’t show this very well.
If using it indoors, do yourself a favor and cut of these “Dim-It” cling sheets to a 1" x 2.5" rectangle and apply it to the screen.

Definitely not worth it. I had one for a few years, and even with NOS Mullards it was just okay.
An AVB driver MOTU, sending out through some quality transformers for character is much more worth the money and taking the time to process.


Thanks for the perspectives everyone. There’s lots of good options (including working within existing limits!).

I’ll certainly have a go at creating some hybrid interfaces on the Mac OS side of things. It’s encouraging to hear people’s experiences of new MOTU gear standing up well against revered older pieces of gear like the Rosetta and even newer high end gear.

I did some A/B comparisons of recordings (and live signal) taken from the insert point of my desk and routed through my DAW via the Ultralite vs the the same modular synth signal going straight out of the desk to my monitors. I could tell the difference but actually got them very close. In the process I learnt a bit more about sound of the desk itself (why is the direct signal a bit brighter/more open? oh, I still had a touch of high band EQ on that channel).

So even the process of thinking through my signal chain and workflow is getting me more into what I can do with the tools at hand.

@AdamJay - I’m curious about how you find the Flying Cow converters as I was also looking at that as a simple utility option that would fit quite well with my current space and portability goals.

Definitely getting a clearer idea of simple steps that I can take to keep shaping the final sound of a mix - many thanks!

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They’re okay. I wouldn’t master through them. I think I paid $65 for mine on eBay last year.
I use it for less important channels. TT-606 clap, DR-110, stuff, etc.
Higher input count is nice.

Since it has A/D and D/A, you can clock it externally, and that has helped clean up the image. With improved clocking I’d say it sounds as good as most MK2/MK3 MOTU interfaces.

This one would also serve the same purpose, I reckon. But with an added “tonal” option (but unbalanced inputs)

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Just wanted to mention that I’ve been using this little box lately - its not much more than a box of resistors but its cheap and gets the job done.

The real benefit of this being that you can attenuate your modular quite a bit (up to 30db, in addition to whatever pad settings you have on your preamp) which allows you to crank your mic preamps or whatever other line or mic level inputs you want to serve your audio to and generate some color/distortion. I’m taking the output straight from my modular into the interface with this box in between - Cold Mac is my output device (soon to be TXn :slight_smile: ) and the L2P gets it in a very usable range without an output module taking up space or a mixer in the signal chain.


i know i recommended the api 512 above, but been hearing amazing things about these CAPI clones, especially the vp28. great, possibly better than the original, cheap DIY option for anyone who doesn’t mind a kit:


Oh cool, 500 Series DIY is interesting but curious about rackmount DIY stuff as well… know if they do that?

They have a summing mixer that I believe is relatively new. Up to 32 channels I think.

Hey so im quite in this same spot myself…ive got gr8 tools for composing so quite satisfied. But ive always been a bit unhappy with the quality of mix which has kept me from putting stuff out there.

I have ben slowly adding things like effects for wetting things up and give additional space and movement as I was previously recording everything dry.

The OTO trio has been really great in this regard. Recently got BOUM which has proven very useful and its now in every jam.The compressor is pretty nice and gets me those uber punchy autechre style kicks ive long craved with the ability to saturate. Nice for some Gated reverb too.

Making real far out percussive industrial electronica and like some retro sounding doom ambient type things.The sound im getting out of the jam is pretty satisfying but defo looking at ways of tightening it up overall and fixing things like harsh mids n highs. And the other issue I face sometimes is a mix sounding a bit dull when comparing to more modern stuff. Im inspired by the 80s production style from bands like The Residents and Art of Noise.

Thx @sellanraa for the tip of about the drawmer 1973! Im really interested in something like this. Has that been working for you as expected?

And also @madeofoak on the overstayer MAS. That looks cool too. Ive never looked at limiters before but i have a mate that loves chucking on ozone on the master for everything and it does sound nice.

Ive got a bugbrand Comp thats sadly seldom used but hope to change that as when it is in the chain it for sure adds tightness.

The other box thats really caught my attention is the LTLF Silver Bullet 2 bus processor. Im sold on the technique of using saturation for gluing things together and I like the idea of a BAX eq in there for sweetening purposes. So i was thinking of pairing that with a more full featured EQ like the elysia xfilter or on the break the bank side there is the API 5500 which seems very sweet indeed. Finally there is this handsome audio ZULU passive tape sim that seems a super cool box of tricks at a decent price.

Anyone had experience with any of these things?

The other side is getting something like those 500 series ADAT cases which is quite appealing as it seamlessly integrates with my interface and no need to route things via the patchbay. But its got this eurorack constant swap things out vibe that im not a fan of but maybe it would not be like that in this scenario?

I’m also intrigued by the Silver Bullet. I just picked up a Chroma preamp with the FET filter module installed. Haven’t had time to make great use of it yet, but the design is awesome and the build quality is excellent.