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Outboard gear: Desks vs hardware

Broken Bells. Not pictured: Dave MacDonald and his huge stack of outboard


DIGITAL MIGHT now be the norm in live sound, but sometimes it doesn’t always suit a particular band. When Dave Swallow mixed FOH on Manchester scene survivors James’s tour in April 2013, he felt a retro approach was the right way to go. “The band grew up in the analogue world,” he says, “and I took the opportunity to use older kit.” Swallow mixed on a Midas XL4, with an Empirical Labs Distressor [analogue knee compressor] and BSS 901 on Tim Booth’s vocal. He also had an SPX2000 and an Avalon 73, with the drums parallel compressed through two sub groups featuring more Distressors. Swallow is currently working with The Bloody Beetroots (a pseudonym of Italian electro-house musician, DJ and producer Sir Bob Cornelius Rifo). The engineer says this act is more into bitrates, so it “makes sense to have that in the digital world”. For this tour, which runs until this August, Swallow is using an Avid Profi le, although occasionally he has to use a house desk.

of audio companies would have standard outboard racks with something like eight channels of compression, eight of gating, one DDL and one or two reverbs or multi- effects units,” he says. “One of the big advantages of digital consoles, and one that might be taken for granted now, is the ability to insert a compressor or gate on any and every channel at will and choose from a range of effects units, whether plug-ins or built in. I would prefer to

choose a console that gave me not only a good sound but has good built-in channel dynamics and a range of effects units, so I would only resort to outboard units for specifi c purposes.” Of the younger generation of live sound engineers, Steve Bunting agrees that “things have obviously changed” but observes that the reliance on outboard has not disappeared, merely shifted “from corrective tools to creative tools”.

Bunting has been a freelance FOH, monitor and systems engineer for eight years, with credits including The Original Wailers, Kim Wilde, Boy George, Pixie Lott and, most recently, Swedish jazz-pop group Bo Kaspers Orkester. “Things like analogue outboard

graphic equalisers, gates and bog- standard compressors, which now proliferate within digital consoles, have virtually disappeared,” he comments, “while there are more valve compressors and top-shelf effects engines appearing. In terms of rack-space, there are defi nitely fewer items than there used to be.”

In the last 15 years,

Dave Swallow has moved from a predominantly analogue background and worked with artists from Amy Winehouse to Underworld, mixing on Yamaha, Soundcraft and Allen & Heath desks. “For my wish list, I would be really happy with compressors and a few Empirical Labs Distressors, which sound brilliant and are really transparent,” he comments. “But it depends on the music.” (See ‘Horses for courses’ box.) While Swallow says using onboard

Ferdinand – as well as dbx 160 compressors and TC Electronic M2000 processors. He has mixed on most digital consoles but often prefers to use plug-ins, such as SSL tape saturation, rather than the onboard processing because he wants to “get some of the warmth back into the desk”. A major infl uence on live sound

today appears to be the expectations of concert-goers, who want to hear almost exact reproductions of the CD or digital download. “Since albums are now crafted with plug-ins, the overall sound has improved dramatically and live productions are expected to follow suit and deliver the sound of the album in shows,”

McDSP’s Live Pack includes the Channel G Compact, DE555, FutzBox, MC2000, ML4000 and NF575 plug-ins

processors is usually far more convenient, having outboard racks meant engineers could glance over and see what everything was doing, whereas integrated systems means going through everything one by one on the channel strip. Over his 24 years in the live sound

business, Oz Bagnall built up a sizeable collection of outboard gear, although he has sold some of this in recent years. “I used to have a set of AMS reverb–delays, which were 12-bit and sounded unique. But now they’re fully emulated by new plug-ins.” Bagnall still takes out a Midas XL42 channel strip for the vocals of many of the artists he works with – who include Ellie Goulding, KT Tunstall and Franz

32 l PSNLIVE 2014

comments Noam Raz, market manager for Waves Live. “There is also the opportunity for pre-production – engineers can work on the sound in their home studios, preparing sessions ‘offl ine’ and therefore saving costs and time.” Davy Ogilvy is a longstanding live sound engineer now working with a relative newcomer on the music scene, Tom Odell. Ogilvy says he has “completely moved on” from his earlier analogue desk and outboard approach to digital consoles and onboard processors, which he says he always uses if he can: “Onboards are enough to deal with most things.” Ogilvy works with a range of consoles, including DiGiCo and Yamaha – very often the CL5. With Avid desks, he uses “lots of plug-ins” – but instead of the modern practice of applying them through

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