Sound engineers and music producers talk about them all the time, but what exactly are they? Do you know the purpose that they serve and how they are incorporated into various audio productions? If you are serious about working in the audio industry professionally, then you must ask this vital question first – What is an Outboard Gear?
This will be a rather short article, as I only plan to provide you guys (my awesome readers) with a general and brief explanation about outboard gear. But don’t worry, as we will cover enough major topics, so as to give you a decent understanding of today’s subject. Alright, let’s not waste any more time and dive into it!
Outboard Gear – Say What?
Also widely known as “outboard equipment” or simply “gear”, an outboard gear modifies the sound of musical instruments. Most outboards are essentially external effects units that can be incorporated into a live sound system or in the recording studio. These units are different from the ones built into mixing consoles or plugins used in editing software.
The term “outboard gear” can sometimes be associated with digital signal processing (DSP) boxes, that are commonly used in recording studios. Let’s take a look at the various types of outboard gear available in the industry:
- Analog-to-digital and digital-to-analog converters (ADC / DAC)
- Musical instrument digital interfaces (MIDIs)
- Microphone preamplifiers (“microphone preamp”, “mic preamps” or “preamps”)
- Equalizers (“EQs”)
- Compressors/limiters, noise gates (Dynamic effects)
- Reverb, flanging, delay, echo, chorus etc. (Time-based effects)
Originally, any piece of audio equipment that existed outside of a studio or venue’s main analog mixing console, is called an “outboard gear”. But nowadays, analog effects units are also considered to be “outboard gear” when used together with computer-based digital recording systems, that are free of mixing consoles.
Well known examples of professional outboard gear include UREI’s analog dynamic range compressors (such as the LA-2A and 1176), early multi-effects units (such as the ones made by Eventide), and physical or digital reverb processors invented by EMT and Lexicon.
Electronic keyboards that are “MIDI” compatible, drastically changes the way musical instrument sounds are produced on stage or in recording studios. These keyboards produce digital signals when their keys are depressed. The signals are then processed by outboard synthesizers to reproduce original digitally sampled instrument sounds, such as pianos, strings and wind instruments. This way, users of such devices can reproduce the sound of virtually any instrument.
There you go, a very simple and basic overview on outboard gear. Not a very hard subject to understand isn’t it? Well, I hope you guys will now be more confident when dealing with various audio devices!
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