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TECHNOLOGY ⸜ digital recorders

Or about computer sound recording systems

It all started in January 1971 with the world's first LP with digitally recorded material. In a long chain of successive recorders - among DENON Digital, SOUNDSTREAM, 3M, ProDigi, DASH, ADAT, RADAR - DAW, or DIGITAL AUDIO WORKSTATION, is the latest development. And this is its story.



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No 223

December 1, 2022

DIGITAL SOUND RECORDING – a method of preserving sound in which audio signals are transformed into a series of “pulses that correspond to patterns of binary digits (i.e., 0’s and 1’s) and are recorded as such on the surface of a magnetic tape or optical disc.

„ENCYCLOPÆDIA BRITANNICA”, →; accessed: 12.10.2020.

OWARD MASSEY BEGINS HIS MONOGRAPH ON British Recording Studios with an invocation of Edison. However, instead of focusing on the technical aspect of his groundbreaking invention, points out its impact on art:

In 1877, when Thomas Alva Edison invented the phonograph, our world changed forever. For the first time, great performances could be recorded permanently and thus to be listened to by millions. The technical innovations that followed - new devices and technologies to manipulate and alter sound - led to the construction of specialized studios optimized for recording. Eventually, recorded music evolved into a whole new field of art that led to an epic cultural change in the 1960s spearheaded by artists such as the Beatles and their producer and innovator Sir George Martin.

⸜ HOWARD MASSEY, The Great British Recording Studios, Lanham 2015, p. 1.

Because the sound recording process is one of the kinds of art. Moreover, this art is inextricably linked with technical and technological developments, as well as with changes taking place in music. These three elements are inextricably linked, influencing each other, mutually stimulating, but also inhibiting.

How important it is to understand these dependencies is evidenced by, for example, the titles of the most important university studies on the recording techniques and recording production, to quote: Chasing Sound. Technology, Culture, and the Art of Studio Recording from Edison to LP by SUSAN SCHMIDT HORNING, Modern Records, Maverick Methods. Technology and Process in Popular Music Record Production 1978-2000 by SAMANTHA BENNETT or Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music by MARK KATZ.

⸜ THOMAS KESSLER’S, a musician and sound engineer, home studio • photo Thomas Kessler.

Samantha Bennett, a researcher and associate professor at the music department of the Australian National University, writes:

Hysteria (Def Leppard’s album – ed.) would have never have sounded like Hysteria does, if Loder (John Loder, producer – ed.) had recorded it using his 8-track tape recorder, installed in the independent, punk-bands oriented Southern Studios. The Joshua Tree (album by U2 – re.) would not have sounded like The Joshua Tree does, if SAW (Stock, Aitken, Waterman – an English producer trio, ed.) programmed it using LinnDrum and Publison, recording it on a DASH recorder.

The choice and application of recording techniques are therefore as important as the choice of musical instruments; the balance between recorded sound and production techniques and intentions affecting musical aesthetics is an extremely important element that contributes to the integrity of the recording (...).

⸜ SAMANTHA BENNETT, Modern Records, Maverick Methods. Technology and Process in Popular Music Record Production 1978-2000, New York 2019, p. 10.

The popular view, spread over the years, usually unconsciously, about recordings is that it is a work "servant" to music and also a "technical" work. And 'technique' in the eyes of musicians and most music consumers is at the other end of the scale between artist and craftsman. It is often synonymous with subordination. It's hard to imagine a more inaccurate approach.

Perhaps it is so, that it is this that caused so many albums to be incomplete in a way. Even if the musical side is above average in them, the method of production, choices made in terms of musical expression, forgetting that it has its sonic dimension, cause that its musical expression, its depth, intentions of musicians and producers are not in fully articulated. They are often so distorted that they are hard to understand.

MICHAELL JARRETT's brief introduction to the chapter entitled Recording to Hard Drive shows how technology has shaped music. Producing Digitally. 1991-2013, the final chapter of his book Pressed for All Time. Producing the Great Jazz Albums can atest to the way technology shaped music. As he writes, starting from the 1950s and the spread of magnetic tape as a sound recording medium, albums production no longer had to focus solely on the prerecording phase. When recording on acetate, the act itself was the end of a long process consisting in choosing a studio, setting up horns, and later microphones, musicians - something that followed a period of rehearsals. Not much could be done after this phase. Which is not to say nothing at all could be still done, but that's a topic for a separate article. Anyway, only a magnetic tape made it possible to edit material on a scale that no one had even imagined before.

Another revolution was the invention of the multi-track tape recorder in the mid-1950s. Thanks to this development, rock musicians received a tool that "liberated" them from rigid time limits and allowed them to spend weeks and months in the studio. This was one of the reasons why the migration began from established, old studios to independent studios, run not by staff in white coats, but in jackets, sweaters and T-shirts, operating without pressure and pomposity. They were, moreover, exceptional individualists who give their albums a personal dimension. As an example of such an album, Jarrett cites Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, which is entirely the result of post-production.

⸜ LOGIC PRO by Apple • photo →

Reel-to-reel digital tape recorders entering the market changed little in this respect, because it was about a simple translation of the ways of working from analog tape to a digital one, without changing the way of thinking about music. And even the inexpensive ADAT digital recorders did not correct it - except for one thing: they enabled professional sound recording in small studios, thus opening the world of "great" music to young, little-known bands and performers (more → HERE).

One might think that the rules of the game were revolutionized by a hard disk recorder, a non-linear recording system, which was the RADAR system (more → HERE). It turns out that it wasn't it either. As I pointed out in articles devoted to this technique, producers and musicians treated it simply as a "tape recorder", but with immediate access to the material. They did not yet understand what opportunities opened up before them and what problems they brought with them. They had no idea that the world of music recording is changing in a revolutionary and irreversible way. For the first time since the invention of the sound recorder, music has become detached from the medium, and the medium from the physical objects. From that moment it was not so much "heard" as "seen". This is how the Digital Audio Workstation era was born.

Digital Audio Workstation


A digital audio workstation (DAW) is an electronic device or application software used for recording, editing and producing audio files. DAWs come in a wide variety of configurations from a single software program on a laptop, to an integrated stand-alone unit, all the way to a highly complex configuration of numerous components controlled by a central computer. Regardless of configuration, modern DAWs have a central interface that allows the user to alter and mix multiple recordings and tracks into a final produced piece.

⸜ Entry: Digital audio workstation, w:, accessed: 2.05.2022.

The DAW is the newest and, historically, the last of the systems used for recording and processing the sound signal in a long chain of such techniques. In the Polish nomenclature, the terms "workstation" and "digital" are used, treating them as obvious - there were no other "workstations" before. Instead, there were complex analog and hybrid systems with recorders, mixers, external devices such as: reverbs, compressors, limiters, etc. DAW replaces them all. This type of station can be simply a laptop with installed software, sometimes supplemented with external analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters and an input and output system. The whole studio in one place, almost on the operator's lap!

⸜ A screenshot from CUBASE PRO 12 by STEINBERG • photo →

„Sound on Sound” magazine lists the fifteen most important workstations, and add a few less popular ones. Among the fifteen, four were crucial for the development of music: ABLETON LIVE, CUBASE, LOGIC PRO and PRO TOOLS, of which three (except Cubase) are currently most often used. And the most famous is one of them, and it is from it that the common term for a program of this type came from - of course, we are talking about the PRO TOOLS system. Its name is ubiquitous, and it was musically immortalized by GZA, an American rapper, member of the band Wu-Tan Clan. His fifth studio album is titled Pro Tools (2008).

Of course, not everyone agrees with the above list. MUSIC RADAR’s list of the ten best DAW stations according to its editor Ben Rogerton, does not include Pro Tools. ABLETON LIVE, a program from 2001, came in the first place, LOGIC PRO from 1990 by Apple (it bought it in 2002) in the third place, and CUBASE by Steinberg that had its premiere in 1989, in the fourth place.

The point is, there's no such thing as a universal DAW. Hence the discrepancies in the assessment of individual stations. A Digital Audio Workstation is simply a program or package of programs linked to peripheral devices. And like any software, it is more or less specialized, more or less targeted, and more or less flawed and unreliable. I would like it to be clear: this is only a PROGRAM. And we all deal with programs, and each of us has probably had issues making us want to destroy something, because some software stopped responding or started acting in a completely unpredictable way. Workstations are no exception in this regard.

With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that modern productions use various programs at the same time, usually Pro Tools and Logic, where the former is used for recording and mixing, and the latter for samples, editing, etc. In fact, there are as many solutions as < b>producers, mixing, sound, and mastering engineers. GARETH JONES, one of the sound engineers hired to record DEPECHE MODE's Exciter, says that most of the pre-production and production of the album was done using Emagic's LOGIC PRO station. In turn, MARKBELL, the producer of the album, had Cubase installed on his laptop, and Pro Tools worked in the studio and most of Dave Gahan's vocals were recorded with it.

Jones told Keyboard magazine that he was asked to join the team mainly because of his Logic Pro skills. Nicholas De Gonzaga, a Grammy award-winning sound engineer specializing in mixing the album, said simply:

We did Depeche Mode’s Exciter album with three DAWs: Logic Pro, Cubase, and Pro Tools HD. Each has its own strengths. No one DAW was better than the other one. It was more about being able to work FAST! Marc Bell (producer) loved using Cubase, Gareth Jones (producer and engineer) loves Logic Pro and I love Pro Tools. We devised a system wherein only one DAW (Logic Pro) would be the final master. The other DAWS were used to record overdubs and then transferred to Logic Pro.

⸜ LIYA SWIFT, Who Uses Logic Pro?,, 1.12.2019, accessed: 2.05.2022.

There are plenty of examples of a hybrid work. William Orbit recorded on his old Atari ST with Cubase for years, then turned to Pro Tools. Brian Eno works exclusively with Apple's Logic program, and the Exciter by Depeche Mode, as we read, was created using as many as three different programs: Pro Tools, Logic Audio and Cubase.

To be clear on this point, let's repeat that the industry magazine "Sound on Sound" in its guides lists as many as fifteen major DAWs and a few minor ones: ACID Pro, Ableton Live, Bitwig, Cubase, Digital Performer, FL Studio, Logic, Mixbus, Mixcraft, Pro Tools, Reaper, Reason, Samplitude, Sonar/Cakewalk, Studio One (→; accessed: 9.06.2022). What's more, in the latest edition of the TEC (Technical Excellence & Creativity Awards) in the "Workstation Technology/Recording Devices" category, the winner was Universal Audio's LUNA Recording System v1.1.8 (more → HERE ).

For some reason, however, Pro Logic has become the "workhorse" for most major studios. Not the only one, but always present. The list of the "best recording studios" published in the "Billboard" magazine in 2002 listed Pro Tools in the HD version in almost every one of them, i.e. working with a high-resolution signal. And it was this program that was the basic element constituting their "modernity".

Pro Tools

HISTORICALLY, THIS DAW WASN'T THE FIRST. Understanding that we are talking only about a fragment of the possibilities offered by modern stations, the first device of this type was the digital SOUNDSTREAM system by Dr. Thomas G. Stockham, or more precisely the Digital Editing System integrated with it. It was based on the DEC PDP-11/60 minicomputer with a program written by the founder (more about the Soundstream system → HERE). It included a 14” Braegen hard drive, an oscilloscope for displaying and editing the signal waveforms, and a video screen on which the system was controlled.

⸜ AVID PRO TOOLS CARBON, or a combination of a software and external devices • photo →

The capabilities of this proto-station were small. Compared to cutting and gluing the tape, copying tracks and ripping them to the next ones, muting, etc., i.e. manual, mechanical activities that had to be done using an analog tape recorder, the convenience that this system provided was extraordinary. In addition, copying tracks and inter-ripping them was virtually lossless, because the signal did not go beyond the digital domain.

These advantages were used by many bands that recorded the material in the analog domain, but edited and mixed it with the Stockham station. Simon Barber says one of the first rock bands to take advantage of this opportunity was Fleetwood Mac, mixing and mastering Tusk (1979) and Fleetwood Mac Live (1980) albums digitally.

At the same time, synthesizers and samplers gained importance and became recording devices in the hands of many musicians. One such album Digit by KLAUS SCHULTZE, released in 1980. From the mid-1980s, however, Apple computers became one of the basic tools in the hands of musicians and sound engineers, and they remain so until today. Although they were already available in the late 1970s, it was not until the launch of the Mcintosh and Apple II in 1984 that, as Bennett says, cemented the company's position in the computer market.


AT EXACTLY THE SAME TIME, the American company Digidesign, founded by Peter Gotcher and Evan Brooks as Digidrums, released electronic drum software. In 1989, their first DAW - Sound Designer - appeared on the market. In the same year, they developed another program, Sound Tools, an early version of what we know today as PRO TOOLS. This system made it possible to record sound from external sources or via the MIDI protocol, directly from electronic instruments, initially on four tracks. Let me remind you, that at that time DASH digital tape recorders offered up to 42 tracks.

The Pro Tools v1 system was a rack-mounted device based on two Motorola DSP cards. The signal could be edited using a computer screen, using many "tools". It was an editor working in real time, enabling signal processing in a way that had never been seen before.

It quickly turned out that its capabilities are so great, and the internal complexity so great that recording engineers began to specialize in using only this program. The already mentioned Wiliam Orbit, a man working with the Cubase program, in 2009 hired a person only for the recording of the My Oracle Lives Uptown. Ian Robertson was credited on the cover as "Pro Tools Grand Master".

This system, as soon as its stable HD version was released, was installed in Abbey Road studios. MELVYN TOMS, who worked there at the time and kept the devices operating, said in an interview with the author of Capturing Sound...:

Today we are all familiar with computers, but back then they were just a means to an end. Take, for example, a classical music editor who had to recover from the shock of being told to throw away the scissors and plywood, which were the tools he controlled all those big, bulky devices with. It was so slow and tedious it's hard to believe. And now we told them to forget about it and put them in front of the workstations. (…)

It turned out that I wasn't able to get any information because there was no internet at the time, nor was I in contact with the right people to help me solve the most pressing computer and systems problems.

⸜ SAMANTHA BENNETT, op. cit., p. 65.

However, the fear of technological shift has been unable to stop the tsunami of change. Because DAW workstations are more than just recorders. This is their primary function, and as noted by RICHARD JAMES BURGESS, who deals with the history of music production, the truth is that a DAW does not oblige producers or musicians to anything. "The DAW is a device that - he says - can record a live session from start to finish, just like Edison's Phonograph did (...)". However, the fact that it "does not obligate" means nothing. The workstations quickly became "magic boxes" from which ready-made, i.e. recorded, mixed and mastered products jumped out.

When the first Pro Tools program came on the market in 1991, it cost $6,000. It was a fraction of what you would have to pay for a car or a high-end MIDI instrument. Although the market was still dominated by the Synclavier and Fairlight, instruments allowing for the digital recording of music, Digidesign created a license on the basis of which other creators could develop their product; the manufacturer's Synclavier recorder, by comparison, cost $250,000 and occupied half the control room.

A year later, more than 3,000 PT systems were operating in the studios. In October 2002, Billboard reported that among the hits on its Hot 100, it was number one (overall) for most popular recorders AND mixing stations. Even studios specializing in country music equipped with digital tape recorders used the Digidesign product as an alternative recording system.


THE FIRST HIT THAT WAS RECORDED, MIXED AND MASTERED on a Pro Tools computer system was Livin' Vida Loca by RICK MARTIN and it was released in 1999. A moment later, also in 1999, another all-digital hit was released, CHRISTINA AGUILLERA's Genie in a Bottle. Producer David Frank, responsible for the successes of Chaka Khan's I Feel for you (1984) and Phil Collins' Sussudio (1985), installed Pro Tools in his Canyon Reverb studio, where he integrated it with the EMagic Logic DAW system. In this recording, apart from the vocals, there were no live instruments at all.

DAW owed this "coronation" to the changes that were taking place in it. Version v4, released in 1997, offered 24-bit recording on 24 tracks. Let's clearly say that it took six years for the system to be comparable to a 24-track analog tape recorder, not to mention 48-track Sony DASH recorders, or 128 (in the highest configuration) ADAT tape recorders. Anyway, GREG MILNER in Perfecting Sound Forever points to 1997 as a turning point.

⸜ AUTO-TUNE In addition to the number of tracks and bit depth, the manufacturer added to the program a new so-called "plug-ins" in the set called AudioSuite. Plugins are specialized mini-programs simulating the sound of instruments, compressors, limiters, reverbs, and even specific microphones. It was enough to include it in the program and you could get sounds close to the original ones, but for a fraction of the amount that would have to be spent on their "hardware" equivalents. Over time, their number has increased to such an extent that you have to specialize in them. However, there is one that each of us knows without even knowing it - Auto-Tune.

In 1996 (or '97, according to Milner), at an AES convention, ANDY HILDEBRAND, along with his wife, a singer, talked to one of the distributors about his Infinity program. Hildebrand was a musician, flautist, who went on to earn a PhD as an electrical engineer. He worked in the oil industry, specializing in the processing of seismic data. After eighteen years, however, he returned to his studies and took up composition. Experimenting with synthesizers, he noticed that the loops they produced sounded really bad. Problems arose when several instruments had to be looped at once. So Hildebrand wrote an algorithm to solve this problem. This is how Infinity was born.

⸜ A screenshot from AUTO-TUNE plugin • photo → ANTARES

During the conversation in question, his wife mentioned that it would be great to have a program that would help her avoid singing of of tune. It turned out that this was the same problem as with loops, and that his program could be used to auto-correct the pitch. A year later, during one of the industry events, at the Digidesign stand, Hildebrand showed a working program, which he called Auto-Tune.

Since then, this plug-in has been the basis of most recordings. A large part of the perfect melodic lines and perfect solos are effects of its use. It allowed musicians and singers with imperfect skills to make perfect recordings. GLEN BALLARD, sound director for Canadian singer ALANIS MORISSETTE's ADAT album Jagged Little Pill, said:

DThanks to the technology available today, it is very easy to do a lot of things. First of all, it's easy to postpone certain decisions because you can literally record as many tracks as you want and keep them all. (…) Secondly, you can of course clear everything: you can equalize the out of tune tones in the vocals, you can also equalize everything in time domain. You can do all of this, at least on paper, perfectly.

⸜ HOWARD MASSEY, Behind The Glass, San Francisco 2000, p. 24.

Ballard, however, immediately adds that he doesn't do it himself. Thanks to the tools available in Pro Tools, he is looking for something he calls "magic". The problem is that this "perfection" is artificial, very plastic. Miller quotes CHRIS LORD-ALGE, who believes that once we hear this plug-in in vocals, we can never "unhear" it.

The American mixing engineer, who has mixed for the likes of James Brown, Chaka Khan, Tina Turner, Joe Cocker and Muse, adds: "The advent of Auto-Tune has created what I call the 'car horn effect'. On a lot of pop records, and even some country ones, every note is perfect, and when a few notes come together harmonically, it sounds like a horn” (p. 343). That's true. And yet... Auto-Tune is more than that.

As Milner says, although this program was written as a tool to correct imperfections, it was quickly used as a filter, an audio processor. And that's how it will be remembered. Because the incredibly characteristic voice of CHER in the song Believe from 1998 was achieved thanks to setting its level to the maximum. For years, the producers working on it - Mark Taylor and Brian Rawling - did not want to reveal how this effect was achieved and said that they did it traditionally, using a vocoder, an electronic sound synthesis device invented in 1938 by the American engineer Homer Dudley, back then working for Bell Laboratories.

Horney draws attention to what every humanist should know - testimonies of participants in events, i.e. biographies, are a highly problematic source of knowledge. In the long run, doubtful. Anyway, after some time, this effect was replicated by other producers and engineers, which earned it the name "Cher effect". Milner points out that the overuse and ubiquitous use of this plug-in has led to lowering the bar for musicians and recording engineers. The "fix-it-in-the-mix" approach, i.e. postponing recording problems until the mixing stage, known from the times of the dominance of multi-track analog tape recorders, took on a new meaning.

However, this does not mean that plugins are bad in themselves. It's just a tool, maybe even an instrument. It all depends on how you use them and who does it. Thomas Kessler, the author of the Close to Silence album, mentioned at the beginning, reached for a plug-in simulating the sound of a concert grand piano:

For recording, I use a hybrid system where the piano sound is added to several Steinway Model D piano sound simulators that I have selected myself. This is my, as I call it, "FrankenSteinway".

⸜ WOJCIECH PACUŁA, Thomas Kessler „Close To Silence”. A review of German composer’s album, „High Fidelity News”, Oct. 5th 2022, →, accessed: 12.10.2022.

He needed it to enlarge the sound of the Yamaha piano, on which he recorded the entire album. This Yamaha is from 1975, not in a great shape and sitting in his bedroom. The effect of these treatments is amazing - the sound is clean, but also deep. You can hear that the instrument was recorded very close, you can hear its crackling and other sounds, and yet the sound is outstanding.

On the other hand, DAMIAN LIPIŃSKI, a mastering engineer known from excellent reissues of albums by Maanam, Perfect, Siekiera, Aya RL, etc., says that he uses plug-ins and external devices to work on materials, and that he works in a hybrid system. However, he immediately adds that "there is no magic - VST plugins prevail for many reasons", and the most important of them is time. Plug-ins also give, as he goes on, more possibilities for individual settings and are not worse than the analog one: "In principle, they are simply better, but you have to choose them and use them sensitively." Most importantly, he says, avoid "Mastering in the Box" do-it-all ones. He sums up his email to me as follows:

Although… It all depends on the type of music. There is no simple answer and no simple way. You have to listen and know what you want to achieve. Today's plugins - sometimes supported by hardware - are a completely different than, say, 10 years ago...

⸜ MIX-IN-THE-BOX When I visited JACEK GAWŁOWSKI's studio in 2016, I was surprised to see a beautiful, though relatively small, SSL AWS 900+ mixing console (more → HERE). I knew that Jacek deals with the mixing, he prepared T.Love or Fish Emade albums in his studio, but I expected to see a complete computer system, without an analog mixer.

The Grammy winner for the mix of Randy Brecker plays Włodek Pawlik's Night in Calisia in the Best Large Jazz Ensemble category, told me then that he was thinking about switching to the "in the box" mode. He chose not to because the analog console guarantees much better sound. However, the matter is not as simple as it may seem and that convenience and cost are often more important.

As MARK WALDREP, head of AIX Records, points out, Pro Tools is not a standalone device, such as a reel-to-reel tape recorder. It consists of several separate components, such as the main computer, sound card, rack-mountable board with inputs and outputs, and software. The I/O or input/output device connects to analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters and, typically, VU-meters.

The DAW station, as already mentioned, allows not only to record and edit the recorded material, we can use it not only to master the material, but also to mix the entire material. This way the signal doesn't have to leave the computer from the recording to the finished "product". It is then said that the material for the album was prepared "in the box". This allows the whole work to be done in the digital domain, without converting the digital signal to analog and back to digital (A/D and D/A).

⸜ MARCIN BOCIŃSKI and his mastering studio • photo →

In DAW systems, there are two main "tabs" that we can use - EDIT and MIX. “Individual stereo or mono tracks,” continues Waldrep, “are recorded and then displayed in the EDIT tab. The same tracks, after editing, can be displayed in the MIX tab. And it will be a complete, albeit "virtual", mixer, with faders, inserts, etc., allowing you to connect external devices, potentiometers and panners (knobs used to "set" instruments in a virtual stereo or multichannel space). The mixer can do all this on the computer screen(s).

Mark Waldrep sees the advantages of such a solution, as he clearly laid out in his book Music and Audio: A User Guide To Better Sound. This is an important voice, because AIX Records was known for years for excellent analog recordings, and Waldrep himself was one of the biggest admirers of the Nagra IV-S tape recorders. Although he does not use Pro Tools, but the Nuendo DAW system, which records material with a resolution of 32 bits, his system is a "hybrid", i.e. it mixes "in the box", but uses analog external devices:

Working in the all-digital domain, compared to working with analog devices in the signal path, has advantages and disadvantages. One of the stronger arguments "for" is the certain and familiar nature of digital settings. When you set a reverb level or a pan, a fader level or a plug-in parameter one day and you want to repeat those parameters another day, you just call up the previous Pro Tools session, reset everything to the previous settings. It's magic.

⸜ MARK WALDREP, Music and Audio: A User Guide To Better Sound, Pacific Palisades 2018, p. 325.

The second major advantage is that with in-the-box operation, you don't need to use D/A Converters when going to an analog mixer and then A/D Converters when going back to your DAW. The not-so-great sound of early DAWs working with analog consoles was caused by not-so-good converters. Burgess, on the other hand, says the problem was early DAW systems was that they did not have enough computing power to handle complex real-time operations. At the same time, it evokes memories of people who thought that the mix "in the box" loses somewhere the fullness and depth of the original tracks. However, as he adds, the emergence of these opportunities was a real revolution, and today it has become the reality in which we live (p. 145).

So we have supporters of working in the analog, digital and hybrid domains, and this hybrid option can have many depths. Nowadays, in 99.9% of cases, however, it will be an entirely digital recording, sometimes only mixed using an analog mixer. The larger the studio, the more likely it will be the latter case. It's just like Gawłowski said - a high-class, analog mixing console is unbeatable in some respects. I say this from my own experience, both professional, as a sound engineer, and audiophile, as a reviewer of audio devices and music albums.

The choice between mixing in a DAW or using an analog mixer is not only technical, but also generational. This is not a rule, but an observable regularity: the younger the sound and mixing engineers, the more often they reach for digital tools, and vice versa. A conversation between BOB CLEARMOUNTAIN and JESSE RAY ERNSTER in Tape Op magazine illustrates this perfectly.

The former is known for his work on albums such as Born in the U.S.A. by Springsteen, Tattoo You by The Rolling Stones, Avalon by Roxy Music and Let's Dance by David Bowie. The latter, although younger, has two Grammys, including one for Kanye West's album Jesus Is King. Bob mixes on the SSL G and Jesse mixes in the box with only modified Yamaha NS-10 speakers.

Jesse, representing the younger generation, says he needs technology to bring ideas to life as quickly as possible. For him, it's a simple reduction of steps that allows him to express himself more fully as an artist. On the other hand, for Bob, the work has a linear dimension and consists of many micro-steps that logically lead to the intended effect. Jesse leaves the "big" changes to the very end, working in a kind of "chaos" for a long time. This is only possible because it works on computer:

It’s those thousand little micro moves that get you there. Michael Brauer [Tape Op #37, #131] has an expression he’ll use: “I’m in.” Two, three, or four hours in, after he’s been crawling through the muck and sorting and moving, “Okay! It’s sendable. We’re in”. I’ve completely adopted this.

⸜ JOHN BACCIGALUPPI, Jesse Ray Ernster & Bob Clearmountain on Mixing: “We’re in!”,, Sep/Oct 2022.

Having said that, the whole thing needs to be summed up briefly: the most important thing is something else anyway - music and musicians. Robbie Adams, who recorded U2, Smashing Pumpkins and Leonard Cohen, says mixing musical material is a human experience. “People matter,” he says, “and devices and their quality are secondary” (Bennett, p. 117).

All others

PRO TOOLS IS NOT THE ONLY DAW SYSTEM YOU WILL encounter when listening to music, be it streaming, CDs, SACDs, or LPs. I have discussed it because it is the best known, so showing a fragment I am talking about the whole. What you have read about this DAW can be applied to any other. To tell the truth, it is not very popular among sound engineers and they accept its presence as inevitable, but not necessarily loved.

As we read on the MIX ONLINE portal, Billie Elish's brother, FINNEAS, records her voice and the music himself in the Apple Logic Pro X system (more → HERE). Also PAWEŁ "BEMOL" ŁADNIAK works with Apple Logic. His main mastering system, however, is Steibnberg's WaveLab, which he has in a chain with all external devices and sources.

The aforementioned Damian Lipiński uses the MERGING PYRAMIX software with dedicated HAPI and Anubis converters of the same company, in the Premium version. Damian believes that for him a specific DAW has no practical meaning and that they are "transparent for the needs of signal acquisition, because the acquisition part happens in the A/D converter and it is the only and decisive factor".

As he wrote in an e-mail to me, Pyramix is self-sufficient, but for mastering he uses, same as "Bemol", the Steinberg WaveLab program. There is no difference between them, he says, but he just got used to WaveLab. Pyramix is an essential tool for him as he is one of the few DAWs that supports DSD. Yes, most SACDs and DSD files come out of this machine. So studios such as Esoteric Mastering or Chandos Records as well as Sony recording and mastering studios use it.

And so I could go on endlessly. The point is that a DAW, a computer with inputs and outputs, is the final stage of democratization of the art of sound production. It is the cheapest way ever to record, mix and master music. The availability of recordings increased dramatically with the introduction of ADAT digital tape recorders into the market, but it was computer DAWs that made it possible for literally anyone to work on music.

⸜ Morten Lindberg’s studio with MERGING PYRAMIX DAW and Genelec speakers • photo →

However, it is so that the democratization of art, and that is what sound production is, associates with lowering the average quality of her works, in this case - recordings. Exaggeration, lack of skills, huge ego, and often a simple lack of talent allowed flooding the music market with bad and very bad sound. This is not a problem of DAWs, because albums recorded in recent years by the famous ECM label, such as Anouar Brahem Trio’s, recorded in Pro Tools in Swiss RTSI studios by STEFANO AMERIO, sound great. A very nice sound, although working "in the box", was achieved on Joachim Mencel's album, reviewed by us, entitled Brooklyn Eye (more → HERE). And Mateusz Sołtysik mixed and mastered it in the digital domain, using the ProTools 12 HDX DAW. It is always an intersection of human skills, musical material and tools available to him.

The danger lies not in the dissemination of small, "home" studios, but in something else. I don't know if you saw such an image: a camera in a recording studio, semi-darkness, some lights are flashing in perspective, and the sound technician is sitting in front of a large monitor. There's nothing wrong with that, except that it's a huge change in paradigm. As I read somewhere, I can't remember where, the engineers in the studio stopped listening to the music and started looking at it. In the sense that they are interested in traces "burned" in the program, and the sound is only secondary to them.

Bob Clearmountain has already talked about mouse clicking in the context of computer problems. BRIAN ENO, on the other hand, sees both advantages and disadvantages:

"The problem remains the interface with the computer keyboard. There are certain decisions that you make on a keyboard that you wouldn't make on a guitar, and vice versa. You have to stay aware when you start working with a computer that you're on a very tilted playing field. You're more likely to do some things than others. It can be very interesting when you try to do something that isn't within the normal inclination of the computer.

⸜ PAUL TINGEN, Brian Eno. Recording Another Day On Earth,, October 2005; accessed: 9.06.2022.

However, regardless of how we assess them, these are changes with far-reaching effects. And lowering the average sound quality is just one of them. Others are a change of thinking about the recording as a "work", and even a change of thinking about the music itself. Not for the first and not the last time, new technical solutions have set music on new paths. The problem is that most of the time it's a path to nowhere.

To verify this, in the next two parts we will look at and listen to some recordings made with various types of DAW stations - from Depeche Mode to albums from the "Polish Jazz" series. Let me already invite you to read them!


⸜ SAMANTHA BENNETT, Modern Records, Maverick Methods. Technology and Process in Popular Music Record Production 1978-2000, New York 2019.
⸜ MICHAELL JARRETT, Pressed for All Time. Producing the Great Jazz Albums from Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday to Miles Davis and Diana Krall, Chapell Hill 2016.
⸜ HOWARD MASSEY, Behind The Glass. Top Record Producers Tell How They Craft the Hits, San Francisco 2000.
⸜ HOWARD MASSEY, The Great British Recording Studios, Lanham 2015.
⸜ MARK WALDREP, Music and Audio: A User Guide To Better Sound, Pacific Palisades 2018.

⸜ JOHN BACCIGALUPPI, Jesse Ray Ernster & Bob Clearmountain on Mixing: “We’re in!”, →, Sep/Oct 2022.
⸜ SIMON BARBER, Soundstream: The Introduction of Commercial Digital Recording in the United States, „Journal on the Art of Record Production” November 2012, Issue 07, →, accessed: 12.10.2022.
⸜ WOJCIECH PACUŁA, ECM. 50 year of perfection, “High Fidelity” No 187, November 1st 2019, →, accessed: 17.10.2022.
⸜ WOJCIECH PACUŁA, RADAR – Random Access Digital Audio Recorder, “High Fidelity” No 211, November 16th 2019, →, accessed: 17.10.2022.
⸜ WOJCIECH PACUŁA, Thomas Kessler „Close To Silence”. Recenzja płyty niemieckiego kompozytora, „High Fidelity News”, October 5th 2022, →, accessed: 12.10.2022.
⸜ BEN ROGERSON, Best DAWs 2022: the best digital audio workstations for PC and Mac, →, June 9th 2022, accessed: 17.10.2022.
⸜ LIYA SWIFT, Who Uses Logic Pro?, →, 1.12.2019, accessed: 2.05.2022.
⸜ PAUL TINGEN, Brian Eno. Recording Another Day On Earth, →, October 2005, accessed: 9.06.2022.
⸜ STEVE HARVEY, Finneas on Producing Billie Eilish’s Hit Album in his Bedroom, →, January 28th 2021, accessed: 17.10.2022.

⸜ ‘DAW’ in:→; accessed: 9.06.2022.
⸜ ‘Digital Audio Workstation’ in: →, accessed: 9.06.2022.
Gareth Jones on Depeche Mode's new album "Exciter" and on Emagic Logic, →, accessed: 9.06.2022.
Rooms At The Top, “Billboard”, August 28th 2002.