Stage or Studio: The Pro's Guide to Using an Effects Processor

Millions of people each year watch television, listen to radio broadcasts and purchase recorded music, all of which have been produced using effects processors. These devices are used everyday in live music concerts, professional recording studios and even by the neighbor kid's punk band.

And as technology has become simpler to use and more mainstream, use of effects in audio production has skyrocketed. Some effects processors are simple to use and others are extremely complex. This guide is dedicated to help you remove the complexity, share some of the ways these wonderful devices can be used and provide you with useful information on the different types of effects processors in the marketplace today.

The Multi Effects Processor
Gone are the days when it cost literally thousands of dollars to purchase the equipment needed to produce special audio effects. If you were a professional musician in the 60's, 70's or 80's, the investment required to build out a recording studio or to produce the kind of high quality live sound you hear today was HUGE.

Names like Bradshaw, Soldano and Marshall and the equipment made by them were only for the elite and successful. Similarly, the only way to get multiple effects into the signal path was to "chain" them together. In extreme cases, specialized switching was required.

In the early 1970's, as personal computers and technology progressed, several companies began to experiment with creating devices that allowed multiple effects to be routed together within one device. The resulting multi effect processor was a hit with musicians and recording engineers alike.

As use of these devices became more main stream, other companies followed suit - or were working to produce similar devices during the same period - and the effect processor industry was born. Gone were the days when you needed separate stomp box style effect units. Now you could have your distortion, reverb, delay and equalizer in one box, powered by a computer processor. As the price for processor chips went down, so did the price for a new digital effect processor. And when used with the musical instrument digital interface (MIDI) specification, the control of these devices became simpler.

Today, though many argue that analog style devices allow the signal to remain purer, if you are budget conscious there is no need to purchase separate overdrive, compressors, flangers and noise gate pedals. If you are a keyboard player, a vocalist, a guitarist or a recording engineer, you will find that both analog and digital effects processing is essential to audio - and video - production.

The Guitar Effects Processor
By far the most popular multi effects units are the ones purchased by guitarists. These units account for the largest amount of sales for effects processors worldwide.

Today's guitar effects processors are used in many different situations. Advanced technology now puts the ability to mimic the most revered tonal qualities into a piece of equipment that costs less than $100, allowing even the most novice player to sound like his or her greatest guitar hero.

Combining the ability to model the sounds of specific guitar and amplifier manufacturers with the ability to connect directly to a digital recording device, these specialized signal processors have caused an explosion in the recorded music scene. Now anyone can produce a high quality recording using a computer or digital audio workstation easily.

Vocal Processors
Much like its guitar effects processor cousin, vocal processors have become a popular hit with vocalists. These devices allow the input of a vocal to control some of the finer sonic qualities. However, like most things, its use in moderation is recommended.

When effect processors are used with vocals, many things can be accomplished. A high quality unit can be used to correct pitch, create harmonies or control volume levels. In modern, contemporary music, artists are even using it to add textures not normally achievable without signal processing. Even someone who is mindful of their budget is able to afford one of these devices, though quality of the processing is the trade off for the reduction in cost in most cases. Even so, the resulting work will more than likely be better than anything that could have been produced 20 years previous and at 1/10th of the cost.

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