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Outboard gear: Desks vs hardware

insertion points, he goes old- school by using the auxes for reverbs. “I put delays on Tom’s voice, and I’m still using auxes and returns to send out and bring back the signals,” he explains. “I never do it on the inserts because with 12 VCAs I’ve got control over all the returns and band groups. That means I can tweak things as I go along, but if they’re on the channel you have to play around with the machine itself.” At DiGiCo, managing director

James Gordon says the company’s consoles offer two insert points on every channel, which can be selected for internal processing, external plug-in effects such as Waves or any other IO. He observes that improvements in modern electronic circuits have given desks the power to process many digital effects at the same time as doing the basic heavy work of mixing. While acknowledging that

outboard gear “will always be out there”, Gordon says economic realities, as well as the convenience of onboard or plug-in technology, have had an impact on the more traditional effects market: “If you look at the R&D costs of developing hardware, it’s expensive, especially when the business depends on selling thousands of units, which isn’t going to happen now that every DAW and console has compressors, gates and de-essers built in.” In some cases, particularly for

small venues and tours, the desk and rack have almost become one, as with the Soundcraft Si Performer 1. “It is a 19-inch rackmount console that has the equivalent of 448 rack units of processing,” comments Soundcraft product manager Sean Karpowicz, “so a Si Performer 1 is approximately 1/56th the size of its equivalent outboard processing. And that’s without factoring in the mixing console bit.” Derk Hagedorn, worldwide

marketing manager for live systems and the Artist Series at Avid, comments that other practicalities have ensured digital effects are now the preference on live sound productions. “There are the logistical cost savings of not having to carry round racks of harmonisers and other processors,” he says. “All these things, like TC units, have plug-in versions and they’re not losing any quality. There are also workflow advantages from having integrated effects. Not only are you able to drive parameters from the console, you can link to snapshots and events without reaching over to a rack.” Avid is working with many outside plug-in developers including Sonnox, Crane PSNLIVE 2014 l 35

“There are still some pieces of outboard equipment that are either too specialised or have a spot in the signal chain beyond the console, but they are not numerous any more”

Song and McDSP, which now supports Windows AAX and, through its HD product line, the SL3 live mixing system. Colin McDowell, founder and chief executive/technology officer of McDSP, agrees that the move to digital consoles and availability of plug-in options has reduced

the amount of outboard gear required. “There are still some pieces of outboard equipment that are either too specialised or have a spot in the signal chain beyond the console, but they are not numerous any more.” The audio world is more consistent today, and Ray Furze

Colin McDowell, McDSP

concludes by saying that better sound systems allow audiences to hear more of what the engineer has been listening to all along: “We always try to get the best seat in the house, but I have often thought that a lot of the subtleties and effects we try so hard to achieve got lost in the

vast acoustic spaces, so hopefully the increasing quality of PA and computer sound prediction are improving this. But with most of the punters being happy with the sound of MP3s, the cynical old sound man side of me sometimes has to wonder if anyone notices any subtleties at all.” PSNLIVE 2014

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