Dangerous Music

Summing DAW outputs gets dangerous

Summing is a hot topic these days. For many engineers, the best way to deal with the issue of DAW summing is to avoid it altogether — feed the individual outputs from the DAW into an external mixer or summing box. The folks at Dangerous Music (studio owners/engineers/technicians) felt this was the right way to go, built their own summing box, and somewhere along the way got into the business of manufacturing and selling it. Soon they realized that if you’re foregoing a mixer, there are a few other things you need: monitor control, and cue/talkback for starters. So they created boxes to address those needs, too.

The flagship of the Dangerous Music line is the Dangerous 2-Bus, a dedicated summing box. Built from top-of-the-line analog components, it’s designed for one purpose: to combine the outputs of DAWs to stereo. It doesn’t get much simpler than this: The 2-Bus has 16 XLR inputs, which are mixed down to a stereo pair. There are two sets of outputs, both on XLRs. One is intended to feed your mixdown recorder, the other set goes to a monitor controller (such as the Dangerous Monitor; see below).

The 16 inputs are arranged into eight pairs. Each pair has 6 dB boost and mono switches — that’s it. No level control, panning, or anything else. The output has a Gain control that offers 10 dB of attenuation in 0.5 dB steps; just enough to let you tweak the output a bit if necessary.

The idea is that you send signals out of your DAW as stereo stems (or submixes), or as hard-panned mono feeds. If you have stereo stems you send them into a pair of inputs — obvious, huh? If you have mono outs that are panned, submix them and run them in a pair of 2-Bus inputs as well. If you have center-panned mono outs, assign them to direct outs, send them into a pair of 2-Bus inputs, then hit that pair’s front-panel “mono” switch, which sums them to the center of the stereo field. As an example, I was working on a rock track that had six tracks of drums: kick, snare, left/right overheads, and left/right room mics. I brought these tracks to six outputs on my DAW. The kick and snare outs went to 2-Bus input pair 1 left and right; I hit the pair 1 mono switch, which summed them to the center of the stereo field. The overheads and room mics were brought into input pairs 3 and 4, and left in


Anything else you need to do must be done in your DAW; the 2-Bus is solely about summing. And it does a great job. The 2-Bus isn’t a “color” or “warmth” box. It’s a clean, clear, pristine analog path that preserves the detail in your digital tracks. If you’re concerned about your DAW’s summing, the 2-Bus is one of the best ways I know of to circumvent the problem. Just one thing for the wish list: inserts on the stereo out so you can patch in a compressor or EQ and still rely on the 2-Bus outputs to feed your mixdown recorder.

If you’ve gone with a DAW and summing box, then you’re likely struggling with monitor control and source switching. While you can do it in your DAW, it’s nicer to have a box with real knobs and switches you can reach for…and that’s just what the Dangerous Monitor is. But the box does more than that.

Monitor has seven stereo inputs. Three of these are analog on XLR connectors. The remaining four are AES digital ins on XLR; each digital input has a corresponding AES thru connector for routing to another destination. Monitor has a built-in digital-to-analog converter (supports up to 96 kHz) that’s fed by the AES inputs.
There are two sets of monitor outs, main and alternate. Monitor also has two meter outputs, one analog VU, the other digital. These can run to an external meter or phase scope, or can be routed to the Dangerous MQ (see below).

Up front, there are switches for selecting the seven inputs, and a 21-position stepped attenuator for volume control. In addition, there are eight function switches. A pair of these serve as left and right output mute and another pair are phase (polarity) switches for the outputs. The remaining four switches are used for monitor dim, output mono, main/alt speaker selection, and a 6 dB pad for the analog meter output.

In use, Dangerous Monitor is a treat. It sounds great — clear, clean, and no self-noise. There are plenty of inputs for most applications, although it would be nice to have dedicated S/PDIF and/or optical digital inputs in addition to the AES ins. In practice, I was able to route the S/PDIF out from my reference DVD player into an AES in (using an RCA to XLR adapter cable) without difficulty. There’s no need to worry about clocking when using the digital inputs; Monitor automatically clocks to the selected digital input.

At EQ we don’t review “beta” or prototype items, since so much can change before the product actually ships that such a review would be obsolete before it was published. In this case, however, we’ve made an exception. The Dangerous MQ isn’t shipping yet, but Dangerous Music included one with the 2-Bus and Monitor so that we could evaluate a complete system. Keep in mind that the information contained here may change before the product is available.

The Dangerous MQ is a versatile box designed for metering and cue/headphone/talkback. There are several sections to the unit. The first is the cue mix. MQ accepts a stereo input on XLR; normally this would be backing tracks that you’re overdubbing on. When used in conjunction with Monitor, the stereo input is switchable between the output selected on Monitor or the “cue in” XLRs on the rear panel. There are two additional XLR inputs that can be mixed in with the stereo cue input; these might be a vocal microphone feed or whatever instrument you’re recording. All four inputs are mixed and sent to the MQ’s headphone amp. The idea is to circumvent latency and headphone mix problems common to working with DAWs without an external mixer. In practice it works great. For tracking lead vocals, I created a submix of the background tracks and sent it to two of my DAW’s outs. These were routed to the MQ’s cue input. My vocal mic was routed to one of the mono inputs. Nice to be able to reach over for a knob to adjust the background-to-lead mix as I was tracking.

As mentioned, the MQ has a headphone amp. This feeds two front-panel jacks with accompanying level control. It also feeds a rear-panel XLR output for driving headphone breakout boxes. The amp can handle a load as low as 4 ohms — quite a few high-impedance pairs of phones, in other words. The amp offers plenty of level, and is clean.

Also built-in is a talkback mic, controlled using the included handheld switch. The switch cable terminates in a regular XLR, so if its 12’ length isn’t enough, you can use a regular mic cable as an extender. Turning on the talkback mic also dims the stereo cue by 12 dB. This option is internally switchable if “orchestra” style talkback is desired.

Last up is the meter section. There are two stereo meters, VU and digital, which each have their own XLR inputs. I routed the analog meter output from the Dangerous Monitor to the MQ’s analog VU input, and the Monitor’s digital meter output to the MQ’s digital meter in. The mechanical VU meters operate as expected; the digital meters accept AES format input, and can accept sample rates up to 96 kHz. The digital meters show both average and peak levels.

You don’t have to use the Dangerous boxes together, but as a team, 2-Bus, Monitor, and MQ work extremely well together, comprising all the essential functions of the master section of a console. The sound quality of all three is exemplary, and given all they do, they’re very easy to connect and operate. If you’re a DAW owner looking to solve summing and monitoring problems, these tools are for you. They don’t come cheap, but they do the job extremely well.