LIVE SOUND 101: PROCESSORS
Now you got the right speakers and enough amplifiers to power them up, you are ready for the next step. Adding the right processors to your live sound rig will do wonders for your sound. You can make an average system sound emaculate. Every processor has a unique quality that will enhance your sound. Depending on what your system needs, sound preference, size of venue, type of music, etc… Processors are necessary to have in order to bring out the best from your amplifiers and speakers.
I will breakdown some of the different ones out there and tell you how they work, from a hypothetical standpoint of what the company’s claim and from an experience standpoint, how they worked for me. Just remember, most of what I am telling you is personal experience, all 21 years of success’ and failures. So if you experienced something different, I always say experience is the best teacher because I was told certain things as well and some of what I was taught was not always true or not always false. So here we go, I will review some of the most necessary processors that will take your system to the next level:
1. Loudspeaker Management System: DBX Driverack, Behringer DCX2496. I intentionally put this processor first because it is one of the newest processors out there that has dramatically changed sound reinforcement. It is almost necessary to have this if you intend to have a serious sound system for many years. A loudspeaker management system incorporates almost all the processors below. They include: 1. Digital crossover with selectable hi-pass, mid-pass, and low-pass filters with 12db, 24db, 48db slope cross-overs, 2. Equalizers, parametric and standard, 3. a brick-wall limiter, which will protect your speakers from rogue fequencies, 4. Delay, which sometimes helps with room acoustics and speakers, especially if they are far away from each other or if the tops and bottoms are not aligned, the sound will be off, and 5. only takes up 1 rackmount space in your rack and is super light with ultra high headroom, usually over 110db and 24 bit sound quality. When I first started sound, we had to buy all these processors separately, now you can get it all together. This will save you money, between $300 to $1000 for a good one. There are more expensive brands, but I have used the DBX Driverack and I own the Behringer DCX2496 and it is incredible what you can do with them. I especially like having the various type of cross-overs and equalizers in the processor. I can dial in any type of music with this processor and then save the settings, pretty crazy huh? I also can set the cross-over points on the top of the frequency and on the bottom end as well. I can roll the bass, mids, and highs any way I want. The parametric equalizer is similar to the equalizer you have on your traditional mixing board. Another favorite feature I love, but all sound engineers should have, is a 48 db slope limiter. This will save you from destroying your subwoofers. Once I set my cross-over points and limiter, I know that there is almost no way my system will go out. I believe that is the beauty of having a machine like this. And able to save all your settings is cool too.
2. Cross-Over: Analog, Digital, 12 octave, 18 octave, 24 octave, and 48 octave. This processor is needed when running separate tops and subwoofers. They cost around $80 to over $300 dollars depending on how much you want to spend. Just remember, the more expensive usually means the better sounding. You can only really notice this at farely high volumes. I personally, would try to buy something in the middle price range. All the high end stuff is way too expensive for the normal person, but for permanent locations and/or sound reinforcement companies, I would definitely get the high end stuff.
3. Compressor/gate: Attack/Release. You usually only need a compressor if you are running live sound and/or even turntables. With digital media or CDJ’s, you really do not need this. What it does is squash the sound to make it more present in the mix. So Vocals, instruments, and turntables are not always at peak volume. The compressor will help these type of mediums out, giving a better overall sound that can cut through the mix and minimize peaks and valleys in the sound waves.
4. Limiter: 12 octave, 18 octave, 24 octave, 48 octave, brickwall. All serious sound systems need this. Many people mistake this for a type of compressor. It is but not exactly. A limiter squashes the transients depending on how much you put. It also helps regulate fluctuations in the sound, like a dropped microphone. A limiter will save your compression drivers and subwoofers from being replaced, especially your subwoofers. Performers are not concerned on how they use the equipment, they only care about how they sound.
5. Equalizer: parametric, 15-band, 31-band. Pretty self explanatory.
6. Maximizer/Exciter: A maximizer enhances the sound by making it sound fuller or fatter. One of my favorite processors is having an exciter. What that does is make the high frequencies sound brighter in an analogue way where it does hurt your ears. And I just like how they sound, more natural would be my way of describing it. This especially sounds good with electronic music. Drum and Bass really sound good with this because of the way they use high hats and other sounds in the background. This helps bring out some of those types of sounds.