Study Hall

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Roundtable: A Range Of Approaches & Concepts On Signal Processing

This time we're talking about signal processing, including plugins, onboard console DSP, system processors, and analog units as well.

This time we’re talking about signal processing, including plugins, onboard console DSP, system processors, and analog units as well. Do you have a go-to problem solver along these lines that’s an important part of your work? And/or maybe an interesting application for something standard, like using channel strip processing in a novel way?

Our panel takes it from here…

Steve Milner: Working with any type of spoken word or vocal channel these days, it doesn’t take long before I’m looking for a dynamic EQ to patch in. Unlike some dynamics tools we use, dynamic EQ provides the controls to be far more precise in reducing unwanted sounds without changing the overall tone. Addressing specific frequencies with the ability to focus in with a tight Q and apply compression or expansion can be helpful in live settings.

At the channel level it can be magic for dealing with plosives and other unusual sounds. One of the first things I patch when working on a Yamaha CL or QL console is the 2-band dynamic EQ for things like lecterns and key vocal channels. A 4-band version is also available if there’s need for more processing.

At the group level, dynamic EQ can be a great way to again maintain the natural tone of the sources while avoiding the clutter that can build up as things get loud. In other words, it helps in keeping more of the fullness of a group at lower levels but pulling back in certain areas to maintain its position in the mix naturally as levels are pushed harder.

Already have some of these tasks covered by multiband compression? It might be worth a second look to see if it’s really the best tool. For many tasks that don’t require processing the entire frequency range of a source, you might enjoy something more precise. It’s important to remember that a multiband compressor by nature divides the source using crossovers into those separate bands for processing. These crossovers will introduce phase shift that you may prefer to avoid.

So give dynamic EQ a spin next time you’re fighting a tricky source. It’s a fun one to use and a great tool to have in the arsenal when the need arises.

Steve Milner’s dynamic approach with the Yamaha QL console platform.

Chris Grimshaw: Most of what I do is pretty standard – it’s difficult to imagine a problem that a good parametric EQ couldn’t solve! One useful trick that I keep up my sleeve, though, involves USB audio interfaces. Sometimes you could really use a few more XLR inputs instead of a bunch of 1/4-inch line-level inputs. Most USB audio interfaces will work as a stand-alone mic preamp and provide a line-level output – all you need to do is power them from a wall wart and away you go.

Becky Pell: I’m old-school in my approach – I don’t use plugins and place a high value on getting the foundations right. I find that getting the instrument tuned properly, choosing the right microphone, paying attention to positioning, taking care over gain structure, and utilizing high- and low-pass filters mean that I’m getting the best from the input at source. It sounds very obvious, but I do see a lot of newer engineers throwing plugins at a problem that would benefit from a more ground-up approach.

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I never use graphic EQs, preferring the fine-brush approach of a parametric. The processing I do turn to the most is multiband compression/dynamic EQ which is onboard with DiGiCo consoles. In the old days I’d sometimes insert a BSS DPR 901 dynamic EQ across a vocal, which does the same job. I find that, used carefully, these tools solve the problem of singers not liking compression on the vocal in their monitors – it just allows me to smooth out any harsh frequencies without them feeling that “suction” effect of even a subtle broadband compressor.

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