Does my church/club/venue need a system processor?

Does my church/club/venue need a system processor?

This is one of the most common questions people ask me when they’re considering an install or upgrade of their venue.

It is possible – to varying degrees depending on the specific features of the digital desk – to handle all your processing / matrix / crossover / delay tasks right in the console. For example, the Midas M32 / Behringer X32 consoles offer the option of “real” crossover filters on the matrices (and L/R/M as of firmware v3) and alignment delay per physical output.

A vanilla high-pass filter will get the job done in many situations, but regardless of the specifics, this is really a job for parametric EQ. GEQ, which is seemingly more prevalent on the outputs of lower-budget digital consoles, is not really suitable for trying to create crossover / highpass / lowpass topologies. A PEQ is better, especially since many consoles allow you to swap a PEQ band into a highpass or lowpass type filter.

So how well it will work depends on the desk you choose.

That doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. I tend to advise against it, especially in systems that have a few different feeds to distribute (front fills, delays, sub, press, etc). You’ll also need to be very careful about setting the console’s recall scope / safe settings so as not to wipe out your routing matrix when you recall a new scene – and also make sure that the console has the ability to safe those parameters / exclude them from recall scope. This also makes things really tricky if you ever have to load a show file from a different venue, have a visiting band come in with their own file, or in a circumstance where you’d be swapping out the console. (Everyone says ‘we don’t do that’ and then something happens and they have to do it.)

Using mix sends for system zones is generally cumbersome, but it depends on the application. If you add an input, you’ve got to remember to flip into the mixes and route that new input where it needs to go. In a concert environment, I would say definitely run your front fills from a bus, because we don’t want things like drums in there, but in a spoken word or house of worship situation, this is not necessary and just adds complication, especially with volunteers running the console.

Generally I will advise my clients to get a capable yet affordable DSP – my go-to for stuff like this is the Ashly Protea series. I own one myself, and have put them in multiple installs, and they work great and have not caused me a problem. They are affordable, give you great capability, and don’t include fancy nonsense that raises the cost.

A little more cost up front buys much greater simplicity in the long run. The system matrix onboard the desk isn’t something I’d want to get into if I had volunteers or multiple operators running the rig. It also means that if something happens to your board, your whole system configuration and tuning just went down with it.

That’s the point of a system processor – to remove that stuff from the purview of the board operator. They can just mix and not have to worry about doing anything to get the system and all its subsystems to properly distribute their mix where it needs to go.

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