Balancing Send & Return FX Levels

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This topic contains 19 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by Profile photo of Mike C Mike C 3 weeks, 3 days ago.

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  • #98217
    Profile photo of GrahamF
    GrahamF
    Participant

    Hi Everyone,

    I would appreciate some advice on setting volume levels for effects please. There seem to be three controls – levels from individual input channels to the FXSend, Master FxSend and Master FX Return to LR, Aux, etc. To get the balance of the effect across channels, you press Mix on FXSend and then adjust the input sliders.

    My question is how do you decide on the relative levels of the three volume controls – Channel FXSend, Master FXSend and Master FXReturn? For example, I could:

    1. Set Master FXSend and FXReturn to 0dB and adjust the Channel FX Sends to get the levels that I want (that makes overall FX adjustments difficult).
    2. Set Master FXSend to 0dB, and adjust Master FXReturn to get the overall FX level right (plus individual Channel FX Send level setting).
    3. Set FXReturn to 0dB and adjust Master FXSend to get the overall FX level right (plus individual Channel FX Send level setting).
    4. Gang the Master FXSend and FXReturn volume levels together (plus individual Channel FX Send level setting).

    Maybe setting high levels on the Channel and Master FXSends, and low levels on the FXReturns, gives me a better signal to noise ratio?

    From a usability point of view, it would be great to remove the FXReturns from the surface, but obviously I can’t do that if I need to use FXReturn to control the overall amount of the FX.

    I would appreciate your advice on this.
    Thanks,

    Graham

    #98367
    Profile photo of Mike C
    Mike C
    Participant

    I normally run the FX send masters around 60%, the gives a little more for finer
    adjustment on the channel sends. The FX returns kind of vary depending on how much overall level of the FX I want in the mix.
    The channel send levels will vary as well depending on the needed of FX on a channel by channel basis.

    As far as FX return levels on the main surface layer think about assigning then all to DCA.

    #98374
    Profile photo of Brian
    Brian
    Participant

    Which effects channel (send or return) do you expect to change during the show? It could be both (especially given the type of effect you need), but generally we probably find ourselves choosing one channel to adjust most often during the show. For me personally, this tends to be the FX return channel, but there really isn’t a right or wrong to this question.

    Because I change the FX return channel most often, I’m going to set the FX return channel fader at unity or perhaps -5db. Then I will adjust the FX send level until I get the overall desired effects level in the mix. Then I will adjust the FX return fader going forward and doing this gives me the most granular control of the FX return level I hear in the mix because we all know that the faders are not linear. So by setting the fader to unity or -5db, I have much finer control over the levels than I would if I am running the fader at a lower level like -15 or -20db. (Ultimately this isn’t a huge issue however because I end up using a FX DCA as described below and because that fader normally sits at unity, I have that granular control where ever the FX channel ends up).

    Basically I set the gain structure of my FX return channel just like any other channel except I use the FX send channel as my “gain” knob to do this.

    As far as my routing, for vocals I route all my appropriate vocals into a group and also run any vocal effects on those channels into the same group. This way I can use the group to change the vocal levels in the mix and it also changes the FX levels to keep everything equal. However I also run a vocal FX DCA for all the appropriate vocal FX returns so that I can independently increase or decrease the amount of FX in the vocals including turning them all the way down/off when appropriate.

    #98385
    Profile photo of Mike C
    Mike C
    Participant

    Graham

    I got email notification of your response but it has not shown up here at least yet!

    Putting the FX returns on the DCA gives you a easy way to bring the overall FX level up, down or muted with one fade.
    Put that DCA in the main mix layer or maybe in each layer that has active mic inputs.

    Maybe set up a lower layer on the board that has each of the individual FX returns so you
    can still get to them.

    You mentioned using a 1.2 second delay on the vocals, that’s a long delay to use all the time on vocals, maybe for a special effect with in one song, generally vocal “thickening” delay is around 100ms with one repeat.

    Could you post a link to one of your live stream recordings?

    #98387
    Profile photo of GrahamF
    GrahamF
    Participant

    Hi Mike and Brian,
    Thanks very much for your help. Those are very useful suggestions.

    We are running the GLD-80 in a traditional stone built Anglican church building. It has quite a lot of natural reverb, which is partially deadened by a carpet. We are running front of house for people in the church itself, but due to COVID-19 restrictions nobody is allowed to attend at the moment. We are running a live stream for people to watch from home. In more normal times, we will run the FOH (LR) and AUX stream mix in parallel.

    I am using each input channel’s standard EQ and compression functions. These are tailored, depending on the type of input. I send the vocals to FX1 for short reverb with a 1.2s decay time. The intention is that FX1 reverb comes and goes before the church reverb kicks in. FX2 provides a longer reverb with a 3.6s decay time for the stream, to add a sense of space that you naturally expect when watching video from a church building. I also add FX1 to the stream, as that seems to make vocals sound better. I have experimented a bit with delay to thicken the vocals, but that its not an established usage yet. I also use lighter touch compression on the output channels to glue the mix together and limit the output to the stream.

    I like the idea of using a DCA to control all effects, as we have had some unfortunate accidents when an effect has been left too high in the mix at the end of the previous service and it was hard to find the source of the problem at the next service. Being able to kill all effects at the touch of a DCA button would come in very handy sometimes. I can’t find a way to gang FXs, so I guess DCAs are the only option.

    I have not been using groups, but I would like to. The challenge is scrounging enough output mixes. My idea (please feel free to comment on it) is to use three groups – 1. Foundation (drums and bass guitar), 2. Instruments (acoustic guitars, cello, oboe…), and 3. Vocals.

    I want to turn on the in-channel compressors for each group, so that I can glue each group together and moderate it. I want to balance the three groups against one another and hope that they will govern themselves to at least some extent. I also plan to insert Dynamic EQ into the vocal group, as I hope this will smooth off vocals and give them some more presence. I think other less qualified sound engineers may find it be easier to understand inserted effects than using send-return.

    Thanks again for your help,

    Graham

    #98388
    Profile photo of GrahamF
    GrahamF
    Participant

    Mike,

    My apologies. I wrote a long thank you and reply. Then I edited it and it disappeared! I’m not sure what I did wrong. I have submitted a new reply to Brian and you.

    Sometimes, I say delay, when I mean decay. I meant to say that the decay time on FX1 (FOH) reverb is 1.2s and on FX2 (FOH + stream) reverb is 3.6s.

    Your advice on the delay time is nonetheless very welcome. As you have probably gathered, I am new to this game, so I am having to learn sensible values for a lot of settings that you would choose without thinking. I have been setting the Stereo Tap Delay for 1/8 or 1/4 note at 90 bpm. Most church songs seem to be at about 60-100 bpm. I guess that gives more of a delay effect, rather than vocal thickening?

    Thanks again for being so helpful.
    Graham

    #98389
    Profile photo of Mike C
    Mike C
    Participant

    Ok the reverb decay is 1.2 seconds not actual repeat delays!

    Your idea for three groups works perfect, I’ve done that kind of thing many
    times.

    When using processing audio groups make you un assign the channels that
    are assigned to a group from the main LR mix.

    #98391
    Profile photo of GrahamF
    GrahamF
    Participant

    Hi Mike,

    Here are a couple of links. I have picked a song near the end of the first service. I was not on the desk and might have balanced the sound a bit differently, but it gives you a feel. They are using a backing track, which adds a level of confusion as to what you are actually listening to – e.g. there are some backing vocals and even bass guitar in the backing track. If I had been playing my bass, I would have turned the backing bass track off! In a couple of places, the backing track goes quiet and you can hear just guitar and piano:

    https://youtu.be/Rr2uEBXW4hM?t=3846

    This is just a solo vocalist with piano. Please don’t listen to the song before 45:50, as I accidentally left the service leader’s lavalier mic switched on. I was distracted by another problem, so I didn’t notice for an embarrassingly long time!

    https://youtu.be/2rT0eVUqXpk?t=2750

    Any comments welcomed,

    Thanks,
    Graham

    #98392
    Profile photo of Brian
    Brian
    Participant

    Right now we are just using two groups – band and vocals. This is because we are currently running FOH, IEM mixes, and our stream mix (we double patch our 32 inputs so the stream has unique channels to use) all from the Avantis and we quickly maxed out the 42 available busses. On a side note, I am actually in the process of moving our IEM mixes to a X32 Rack that we have (via Dante) because this will free up 16 busses that I can use to increase our group totals in FOH and stream.

    Even having just a band and vocals group makes it really easy to keep the vocals “on top” of the mix. Of course you can do this with a band and vocal DCA, but having them in groups allows me to use a EQ, compression, and other effects on the groups. For example, I actually use a Dyn8 on the vocal group that is set up to act like a gate (but is much more transparent than a gate) that effectively cuts the gain on the vocal group whenever there is no speaking/singing. We do this because we are also in a brick building with a huge decay rate (probably like yours) and any open mic will add a lot of natural reverb when we may not want it. We do the same thing (using a Dyn8) on the pulpit mic and it also makes a huge difference in our stream mix because we can effectively get rid of the echo – especially when there are short pauses in the speech.

    #98393
    Profile photo of Brian
    Brian
    Participant

    I figured I would post an example of what the Dyn8 sounds like on our pulpit mic. You can definitely hear the echo in the room while the Pastor is speaking, but as soon as there is a break in speech, the Dyn8 cuts all frequencies by about 6-10db. This does an effective job of getting rid of the echo and room noise in the stream, but it sounds very transparent. I doubt anyone even notices it. https://youtu.be/CgT3t1tq-zo?t=2538

    #98404
    Profile photo of Mike C
    Mike C
    Participant

    Graham

    I listened to your videos, the first one with the band and tracks, I would pull the overall reverb level back some.

    Brian
    I could tell what the DYN8 was doing.
    I have used a very light gate on lectern mics in big cave rooms to help keep the room noise out of the system when no one is talking.
    Got to be carefull with a gate in that application, you need to use a very light threshold setting with a little hold time, a smooth release time, and only about a 6db closed attenuation level.

    While were having show and tell here’s a link to live stream service video from a couple weeks ago when I was at the board at a local church I do some work for.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtJHkb44eDM

    #98411
    Profile photo of GrahamF
    GrahamF
    Participant

    Mike,

    Thanks for the advice. The backing track has a lot of in-built reverb, so I think having it so high in the mix made the reverb feel overdone. I can’t say I’m a great fan of backing tracks, but they do provide a foundation for a band that is less confident. The click track also has instructions vis in-ears like “go back to the chorus”, which is useful for both the band and the PowerPoint operator.

    Did you feel the reverb was still overdone, when the backing track dropped low, or on the video with solo singer and pianist? I came home from one service and played it on my hi-fi and I was happy with the level of reverb. Then, I replayed it in the study on my Mac with cheap sound system and the reverb sounded excessive.

    The video of your church was interesting. You are fortunate that your preacher is willing to use a lectern mic. Our service leaders prefer to use lavalier mics, which are a nightmare. They are omnidirectional and pick up noises from the back of church, lighting fans and church reverb. We have to EQ them to death to avoid feedback. I certainly don’t use reverb on those channels.

    They also have unpleasant background hiss. I have tamed it to some extent by adjusting the transceiver sensitivity. I have set the noise gate to take out the hiss. Like you, I found that I had to be careful not to remove all of it, otherwise it was too obvious. I think I reduced the depth from -10dB to -20dB, which you may feel is still too harsh. I also played around with the release time, so that it did not cut off too suddenly and give the audience a shock. I have been quite cautious with the threshold, to avoid the risk of the speaker cutting out when he/she is speaking quietly.

    Thanks,
    Graham

    #98412
    Profile photo of GrahamF
    GrahamF
    Participant

    Brian,
    Sorry I should have been thanking you, rather than Mike, for the video link. Some of my answers to Mike, should really have been to you, but its too late to edit them. It’s great to have a pastor who is also a musician. I was pleased to see him playing a jazz bass with my favourite sunburst colour scheme.

    The GLD-80 does not have Dyn8, but it does have Dynamic EQ and Multi-band compressors. What settings are you using on Dyn8 to reduce the echo?

    I thought you might be interested to watch a couple of videos that I have found from All Souls Langham Place. Being located in the centre of London, they are blessed with some superb musicians and an excellent production team. They manage to create a terrific vocal presence and sense of atmosphere. They are sometimes use a lot of reverb, but it is not obtrusive. I would love to know how they do it:

    Thanks,

    Graham

    #98418
    Profile photo of Mike C
    Mike C
    Participant

    Graham

    For what it’s worth I was listening to the videos with headphones.

    Yes depending on how the person using a lapel mic speaks lapel mics can be
    a challenge to say the least and even more so in large reverberant rooms.
    Directional lapel mics help but also compound the issue when someone turns
    their head to the side while talking reducing the pick up level.
    Yea I feel 20db is a lot of gate attenuation for the spoken word mic input.

    What wireless system do you have, getting correct gain structure starting at
    the body pack is key.

    I watched through the All Souls videos, impressive productions.
    Do you know are those a live streamed broadcast or recorded and posted later.
    The audio had a feel of a lot of post production or at the very least mixed live
    for the video in a controlled isolated room/studio.
    I would have like a bit more the drums in the first Christmas video!

    #98495
    Profile photo of GrahamF
    GrahamF
    Participant

    Sorry for the delay in replying. I was on sound this evening, so I was able to check the wireless transmitter. It is a Sennheiser EW 100 G2 Sk100. One of the microphones we use with these transmitters is a ME 2-II omni-directional clip-on microphone. I set the transmitter’s sensitivity to -20dB, because the preamp was clipping. The GLD-80 has gain set to 5dB and trim to 3dB. We are still getting hiss on that channel. The keyboard player was asked to play some quiet background music during prayers, which was enough to open the noise gate. I may adjust the transmitter sensitivity to -10dB and drop the gain and trim to see if that reduces the hiss.

    I agree that the All Souls videos seem to have had quite a lot of post-processing. The second one is definitely a CD recording with video as well. Some churches, such as Bethel, seem to have honed them settings to such a level that they can live stream sound at almost the same quality as a recording. They even sell a sound template that can make your band sound like Bethel’s! You have to buy a MacBook, DAW and plug-ins first. Their sound is rather over-produced for my taste, so I would not take that direction myself.

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