Hybrid control surfaces
Audio used to have two distinct processes, editing and mixing, but those too are merging. The automated console has been around for decades, but now the digital audio workstation (DAW), the editor, can be linked intimately with a mixer control surface. Editing and mixing can happily coexist if the workflow demands it.
One popular configuration is the hybrid. Modern DAWs have merged with the mixer control surface so that editing and mixing can be seamlessly combined or left separate if desired. The control surface has its own DSP, so it can mix independently of the DAW. This allows, for example, several DAW sessions to be mixed (dialogue, effects, Foley, etc.) with live sources, which could be music, ADR (automated dialogue replacement) or narration. This removes much of the constraints of older workflows; little problems with the edit can be quickly fixed during the mix.
This hybrid operation is aided by industry-accepted standards such as the EUCON control protocol. The DAW can run on anything from a laptop upwards, using the host CPU with the option of DSP acceleration on external cards.
The DAW has also freed the mixer from bouncing down tracks, once an essential process when the mixer ran out of tape tracks on a multitrack recorder. Of course, it may well be convenient to create a submix or stem of some tracks. As an example, if the dialogue tracks are combined as a stem, then it can be easily removed for a music and effects (M&E) deliverable.
No audio mix down would be complete without the application of the sound designer’s favorite effects. Although software plug-ins have largely replaced the outboard effects racks of analog consoles, the concept of adding that special sauce beyond the EQ and dynamics offered by the console manufacturer remains very much part of sound design.
Audio plug-ins use a number of proprietary interfaces that have become ad-hoc standards. These include Virtual Studio Technology (VST) from Steinberg and the new Avid Audio eXtension (AAX), which replaces the earlier Avid formats of Real-Time AudioSuite (RTAS), AudioSuite and TDM.
Apple may have turned away from it, but skeuomorphism is still very much alive, and even expected, for user interfaces in the world of audio plug-ins. The “tube” look seems to be favored for interface design, drawing heavily on hardware from the 1950s and earlier.