In the last lesson, I discussed the some of the uses for Auxillary Sends. In this lesson, the topic will be using Aux Sends for Outboard Effects Processors.
First the basics: What is an effects processor? Effects processors are used to enhance the original signal that is coming into the board to make it sound better. Examples of these types of processors are reverb units, digital delays, auto-tuners and equalizers (though equalizers are not typically used off of the Aux Sends).
The Aux Send channel is used to send a signal from the particular channel (or sub mix) to the effects processor. Typically, the processed signal is routed back to an effects return that is either on the specific channel or submix, but you can also route the effects return right back into an unused channel (If you do the latter, make sure you have the Aux Send that you are using to send the signal turned completely off or you will get some nasty feedback). You use the aux sends for this because you may want to put a vocal track (for example) through a reverb unit so that it doesn’t sound so dry, but you don’t want to put the band through that same reverb unit with the settings that sound good for the vocal.
A word of caution: There are lots of opportunities for introducing unwanted sound artifacts into your mix when you are doing this. Typically, you have the Aux Send gain, a volume control on the effects unit itself and a return level as well. Because you can control the gain at three different places, it is easy to either not get any return back to the board, or have the gain up too far at one of these locations and end up distorting the signal. The best way to avoid this is to start with low levels and then gradually increase them until you get the desired effect. It will take some time to get it right!
In order to really “tune-in” your effects, turn all of the output from all other sources out of the mix and just listen to the effects return. Most “modern” outboard effects have either an input meter or at least an activity or clip indicator for the input signal. Adjust your send and your “input pot” on the effects unit to get a good signal, then adjust the “output pot” and effects return levels to see what you get. If it is distorted, plug headphones in to the effects unit (if available) to see what the sound is like there. If it is distorted in the headphones, then the input signal (Effects/Aux Send) or input level (pot on the effects unit) is causing the problem. If it sounds fine in the headphones, then it is in the output side.
Once you have your output levels set, then you are ready to reap the rewards of effects processing.
In our next lesson, we will discuss effects processors in more depth: What they are, how they work and what the benefits are.