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Outboard gear: Desks vs hardware

Does traditional outboard gear have a place in modern live sound?

Getting on board Digital consoles vs outboard effects

The rack of effects and processors next to the mixing desk was as much a part of the live sound experience as the main loudspeaker rig, overpriced beer and gaffer tape – and while not a thing of the past, outboard gear is not as dominant as it once was. Kevin Hilton plugs in to find out why

FOR ANY gig-goers with a technical bent, the front of house console is immediately dominating and impressive. But older tech fans are likely to have been more taken with the racks of boxes that at one time were the constant companion of the desk. Often black, sometimes silver, occasionally exotically blue or red, these were much more mysterious and compelling and provided extra excitement, warmth, depth and sometimes a little strangeness to the live performance. These days, the now-almost complete move to digital consoles and the growth of onboard and/or plug-in technology has reduced the former reliance on outboard equipment. But there is the thought that because modern loudspeaker technology – particularly the dominant line

30 l PSNLIVE 2014

No analogue EQs, gates or processors for sometime Pixie Lott engineer Steve Bunting: “[They’ve] virtually disappeared”


The prog pioneers-turned-unlikely pop stars were known for their precision in the recording studio, which was carefully translated to their live shows. Genesis’s four nights at the old Wembley Stadium in London, supported by special guest Paul Young, featured many racks of outboard gear, including four noise gates and four limiters, plus three Yamaha SPX90 effects units with different memory settings for each song. Also on hand were Roland ST3000s for long echoes and AMS systems on vocals and drum sounds. Genesis were mixed by FOH engineer Craig Schertz on a 32-channel Harrison HM5 console, with all stereo effects sent and returned through Harrison MP8 pre-amps.

array – has made sound quality even more consistent, processing is still a crucial component to give the audio more character. Dave MacDonald, who has

mixed front of house for Adele, Broken Bells and Frank Ocean, is not convinced plug-ins and new loudspeaker technologies have been a vast improvement for live sound and still sees a place for old- fashioned effects and processors: “I believe plug-in technology has made a lot of live mixes bland. The line array has made the art of live mixing a lot easier to gain a good result but without character, so outboard is a good solution to stand out from the crowd. Things such as old tape delays will always add an interesting flavour to a bland mix.” The transition to digital with both consoles and DAWs took longer in live sound than in the studio, partly due to the longer development of specific systems and the wariness of many FOH engineers. “I was cynical about plug-ins, mainly because I wasn’t a Pro Tools user at the time [they started to come in],” says Simon Honywill, who started his career in 1979 with RG Jones Sound Engineering and lists Carreras, Chris Rea and Goldfrapp among his credits. “But when I got into it I was really blown away and never looked back.” Honywill made the shift to digital desks through the Yamaha

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