At first glance, the Liaison is not much more than an insert switcher. Plug in six of your outboard processors, and you can use Liaison’s front-panel buttons to switch your processors in and out of two stereo buses. The buses can be used individually, or they can be daisy-chained to form a single bus. Additionally, a parallel-processing loop offers a third bus whose processed output can be blended in with the output of the second bus. Physical relays are used throughout, with the benefit being true hard-wire bypass when inserts are switched out. All of the bus and insert I/O utilizes XLR connectors, so patching in your outboard gear can’t be simpler, and four monitor outputs via a DB25 connector tap the signal, pre and post each of the two buses. A built-in memory bank can save four presets for easy and efficient recall, and on top of that, if you start with a preset and meander from it, you can switch back and forth between the saved preset and the new configuration. That pretty much covers what the Liaison offers.
So, why doesn’t this review end here instead of continuing with several more paragraphs of usage notes from me and three others below? Because once you read our commentary, you too might realize that the Liaison is more than just a box that routes audio.
In terms of basic functionality, a patchbay and a couple channels of a line mixer will do what the Liaison can do. But as most of you will agree, the physical process of patching and repatching can be a significant hindrance to your audio artistry. Not only can it dissuade you from trying something new, but it also greatly limits your ability to efficiently A/B different signal chains. By the time you’ve repatched everything, you’ll have forgotten what the original chain sounded like. On the other hand, with your processors plugged into the Liaison, switching processors in/out, or even changing the order of the processors, is as immediate as pushing a button or two. VCA or opto compressor? Well, let’s compare. EQ before compressor? Sure, let’s see if that sounds better. Something a little too wobbly? Hmmm, let’s bypass each effect until we find the culprit.
When I track vocals, a typical recording chain starts with a mic preamp feeding a FATSO Jr (Tape Op #24), which is then followed by a band-pass filter and two compressors. One compressor does light, broadband compression, while the second compressor is set to squeeze a filtered, midrange-only signal. The two outputs of the compressors are then blended, with the goal being a vocal track that can sit strong and center in the mix without loss of all its character. A number of factors influence my choice of compressors, but once I’ve settled on the chain for a particular singer, I usually don’t vary from it, especially when the act of repatching will put brakes on a session that’s otherwise moving smoothly. Moreover, I usually commit this kind of processing to the recorded track while simultaneously recording an unprocessed “safety track” next to it, oftentimes applying similar tricks upon mixing. With the Liaison, I’m able to plug in a filter, an EQ, and four different compressors. Switching between combinations of compressors; choosing what to filter or EQ; and blending the broadband compression with the EQ’ed compression — all that is just a matter of pushing buttons, while sitting in the sweet spot no less! Furthermore, with one of the Liaison’s buses routing the signal to the DAW while the other bus operates on the output from the DAW, I can easily audition a different configuration when I play back the recording — and then switch back to the original setting instantly when it’s time to hit record again.
During a recent session, I swapped the order of the EQ with one of the compressors upon playback, and ended up with a wonderful bouncing of the vocal that moved with the staccato rhythm of the lyrics — a nice, serendipitous outcome that wouldn’t have occurred if I’d been relying solely on my patchbay. Later, while mixing down that same song, I used the Liaison to route the mix-bus effects. For one section of the song, I wanted the whole mix to pump a little against the bouncing of the vocal — but in a very subtle way. I set up one bus of the Liaison on the sidechain loop of my Safe Sound Audio Dynamics Toolbox (Tape Op #64), while the other bus, which had the main signal path of the Dynamics Toolbox inserted into it, handled the mix itself. Also connected to the Liaison were an API 2500 program compressor (#52), an ESE Lab 2176ULN limiter, a Rupert Neve Designs 5033 EQ (#57), and a Dangerous BAX EQ (#79). Using a combination of EQ and limiting on the sidechain, I was able to drive the Dynamics Toolbox into just-noticeable pumping. Then A/B/C’ing the API 2500 and BAX, and swapping the order of the two, I settled on a mixdown path that worked for that section of the song. Once that section was printed, recalling the settings for the rest of the song was easy. I hope this doesn’t sound complicated — because in practice, using the Liaison is dead simple.
Anyway, as promised, let’s hear from other users. Claude VonStroke is an acclaimed DJ, producer, and founder of Dirtybird Records. Mastering engineer Adam Gonsalves, who produces Square Cad: The Mastering Podcast, owns and operates Telegraph Mastering. And Jeff Lipton (Tape Op #34) of Peerless Mastering has mastered most of my recordings as well as countless albums in my library from some of my favorite artists. –AH
I have the Liaison set up in a rack next to my desk. Inside the rack is a 32-channel Speck line/summing mixer for all my keyboards, turntables, and outboard sound devices. Then the Liaison is set to route any of those sounds through a series of effects. Right now, there are a couple of Eventide boxes, an API 2500 compressor, a Korg Kaoss pad, and a Thermionic Culture Rooster all involved. The sound can go through any of these or all of them just by a simple button push.
Then on the other bus, I have the ability to take my computer audio into the summing amp on my Dangerous D-Box (Tape Op #61), which I also use for monitoring. This summed sound can also go through any of the devices in the Liaison chain and then back into the computer as either an analog-summed mixdown or single tracks routed through the analog equipment. For example, I often do stuff like sending 808 drum sounds out through the distortion circuit on the Rooster and the API compressor, and then sample them back in. That’s two button presses to make that patch on the Liaison. Three button presses, and it’s going through the Eventide Space. Four button presses, and we’ve added the Kaoss pad’s filter section. One more press, and I just took the Rooster out of the chain. One more press, and I flip-flopped the Kaoss pad to come before the Eventide in the chain. So cool. And the way the Speck mixer is interfaced now, I’m playing my MOOG MIDI’ed up to my Arturia Origin (Tape Op #83), and they are both going through this same chain, or I’m talking in my mic through this routing.
This setup might sound confusing, but it’s all very simple once you see it. Once I got past the cabling phase, I found myself using all my gear again. I believe the main hang-up for most people is that they just don’t want to deal with cables and patching. They want it to be fast, and this is very fast.
–Claude VonStroke, www.dirtybirdrecords.com
The Liaison as a whole imparts no noise or distortion to your signal. The switching of inserts is managed by beefy relays that are as transparent as any I’ve ever heard. Hooking it up to test equipment provides basically the same reading as hooking the test equipment up to itself! No distortion or noise is audible or even really measurable. The only thing about the Liaison that isn’t totally quiet are the buttons used to switch inserts in and out of the chain. They respond to your touch with a satisfying tactile click. This isn’t usually a problem, but it would be nice if the buttons operated silently. When I’m working on tracks with pops or noises that require removal, the clicks tend to sound exactly like my “targets”. This is a quibble and by no means a deal-breaker. In every way that matters, using the Liaison is sonically a non-issue.
The front-panel position of the sixth insert point caused some disagreement between a few friends and me. They argued that few people will use a permanent insert via the front of their rack; therefore the Liaison only has five “real” insert points and one added for “novelty”. While I agree that I’d never keep a sixth piece of gear perpetually connected via the front panel, if you look at the back panel, there’s no room for a sixth insert there, and I’d rather have that sixth on the front than forgo it completely. I like to get together with colleagues and friends for gear shootouts and double-blind tests, and being able to hook up a piece of gear quickly to the analog nerve-center of my studio is great in those instances. Plus, five rear-panel inserts is plenty, and if you need more, you can subdivide your gear into commonly used “chunks” to free up insert points. For example, if you always use an EQ and a compressor as a pair, simply wire them together and have them occupy a single insert on the Liaison.
The Liaison can improve the versatility of some pieces of gear with the use of the parallel blend function. For example, I love the sound of my Gyraf Gyratec XIV EQ immensely, but its sonic footprint is often too much for mastering. With the parallel path, I can engage the G14 and bring in the EQ’ed signal way below the main signal (let’s say –20 dB), so the track picks up a bit of the G14’s color without all its greasiness.
One of the best features of the Liaison is the monitor outs. With one D-sub connection, you can monitor the signal at four points in the chain: before and after Bus A and B. This remedies “Rabbit Hole Syndrome”, where as you get into processing and move further from the source, your perspective can easily become skewed. It’s easy to convince yourself that things sound better after loads of processing, but by pairing the Liaison with a monitor controller that has room for a few analog sources, like the Dangerous Monitor ST (Tape Op #60), you can hear the effect of your processing decisions at each stage of the chain and compare them to the unprocessed signal. When switching back and forth, it’s scary how often what you thought sounded “better” actually just sounds “different”. The usefulness of this feature is huge, and Dangerous deserves major props for including it.
–Adam Gonsalves, www.telegraphmastering.com
Being able to switch devices from one bus to the other is extremely useful. Using Bus A for Mid/Side processing and Bus B for traditional stereo L/R, it’s cool to be able to switch processors between M/S and L/R so readily. The ease of setting up parallel compression should also be noted, but I wish that the blend knob were detented for better recall.
The fast switching is amazing. In real-time, I can audition how changing the processor order affects the mix. Without the Liaison, if I am rearranging the order of two processors, I will print two versions of a song so I can A/B between them. And even though each of my audio devices already has its own hardware bypass, it’s nice to have the switches in one place. Furthermore, the Liaison works well with my Dangerous Master with two of the Master’s inserts assigned to the buses of the Liaison.
–Jeff Lipton, www.peerlessmastering.com
By enticing you to play around with the order and amount of processing you apply to a signal, the Dangerous Music Liaison gives you the impetus to rethink how you record, mix, and master your music. Whether you’re an at-home recordist or a certified engineering professional, the Liaison has the potential of turning you into an audio ninja. I think of it not as an insert switcher but as a creativity enabler. ($2399 street; www.dangerousmusic.com) –AH
Hybrid mixing is here to stay. (Required reading: "What is Stem Mixing?" [Tape Op #87]) This may explain why our friends at API Audio, with their rich history in analog gear, have "thrown-in" to the...