Outboard Gear

Chapter 2. From Analog Sound to Digital Audio

2.7. Outboard Gear

What is outboard gear?

Depending on the taste and budget of the recording engineer, the amplified electrical tension, representing the signal containing our frequency information, can be directed to outboard gear to pre-process the signal before entering the digital domain through the Analog to Digital conversion (see Figure 5: the first box marked “P” is in fact the placeholder for outboard gear). It is called “outboard gear” to contrast with devices available “on/in the board” (mixing console) or, nowadays, with software available in the box (ITB), meaning on the computer. Note that outboard gear seems only to concern gear being used before the digital domain, even if technically speaking, whatever device is used after the digital domain also is outboard.

Some people put mic preamps in their outboard gear list. Although this is technically correct, I prefer to follow the logical signal path and talk about preamps just after microphones; from now on, whenever I mention outboard gear, this includes mic preamps

Should I use outboard gear?

Whether outboard gear should be used or not is a matter of personal preference. If you do not know exactly what you want to achieve when you are recording a sound source, leave the signal unprocessed for as long as possible: this will let you add or correct aspects of the sound later. If you do know what sound you are looking for and if you know how what you are currently hearing through monitoring will come out after layers and layers of processing, then pre-processing can be a very effective tool to gain time and energy in the mixing process later. Most professionals use outboard gear to pre-process the signal as a part of their “magic”.

Compressors

Hardware compressors play a large part in how professional studios treat the analog sound. You will find a few models with their classical use in the table below (see here and here for more on the topic). Some of these hardware units have received the digital treatment and are available as plugins from various software companies. Do they sound as good as their original analog fathers? You will be the judge of that.

Maker Model Price Use
API 2500 $2800 Drums, master bus
Art Pro Audio Pro VLA II $300 Color
Empirical Labs EL8 Distressor $1350 Drums
Fairchild 670 Vocals, drums
FMR Audio RNC 1773 $200 Clean compression
Joemeek SC2 Bass
Solid State Logic XLogic G-Series $4200 Master bus (“glue”)
Summit DCL200 $3150 Vocals
Teletronix LA2A $6500 Vocals, bass
Teletronix LA3A Vocals
TubeTech CL1B $3200 Vocals, bass, guitars, keys
Universal Audio LA2A $3500 Vocals, Teletronix LA2A clone
Universal Audio 2-1176 $2000 Vocals, UREI 1176 clone
Urei 1176

Vocals, drums, bass

Table 7 Hardware Compressors

Equalizer

Equalizers might not be everyone’s first choice of outboard gear (preamps and compressors seem to be), but hardware EQs have their aficionados who will swear by them for their tone and coloring abilities. A few famous models are displayed in the table below, alongside more recent cheaper units.

Maker Model Price
API 550b $1100
Ashly Audio MQX-2310 $380
George Massenburg Labs GML 8200
Kush Audio Clariphonic Parallel EQ $1600
Lang PEQ2 $3300
Millenia NSEQ-2 $4150
Pultec EQP1A3 $3700
Rane ME 60S $600
Speck Electronics ASC-T $600

Table 8 Hardware EQs

 

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