From a simple equalizer to a complex multi-band compressor/limiter, signal processing has a profound effect on audio work of all kinds. Correcting problems such as poor intelligibility, adding distinctive tonalities to recorded tracks and live performances, warming up an overly dry room, providing well-defined professional quality dynamics, all these and more fall within the realm of the signal processor.
Be it a musical event, political rally, religious gathering, product rollout, or recording and mixing soundtracks for CD’s, film, video and television, signal processing is an indispensible tool for mixing engineers who work in the fields of live sound, recording, and broadcast environments. It’s no secret that great mic preamps, smooth equalization and steady, even dynamics are the key elements that separate professional sounding results from amateur efforts.
While signal processors now come in various sizes, shapes, and electronic formats, the widely known standalone device that fits into a standard equipment rack was the only available form factor as recently as two decades ago.
Next on the scene came the influx of digital mixing consoles, many of which touted built-in signal processors including compression, noise gates, reverbs and more. As effective as they have proven to be, they do not always jive with the end result that the producer and engineer want to achieve.
Now, of course, there are digital plug-ins; these are software packages that run on a platform, often a digital console, and are able to emulate the sound and behavior of popular mic preamps, compressors, reverbs, flangers, equalizers and other devices that once were only available as expensive, stand-alone hardware. Though brilliant at space saving, and unmatched in eliminating connectivity issues such as ground loops (not to mention the cables and racks themselves), it’s generally agreed that most plug-ins can emulate hardware processors in the range of a 60 to 70 percent. Rarely can they provide the magic that resides in the remaining percentage. After all, a digital representation of a hand-built, ultra-low distortion discreet microphone preamp is not going to replace the superior hardware itself. This becomes quite clear when you think about it critically. At best, the digital portrayal can act like it’s in the same family, but it’s not a true blood relative.
Fortunately, a modern solution exists. For situations in which hardware is demanded over software plug-ins and there are many of them it’s possible to mix and match various high-grade hardware modules from an ever increasing pool of manufacturers in a 500 Series