When working with vocals and instruments in mixing, it’s important to use the tools at your disposal to the best of your ability.
As part of mixing we sometimes deal with what are called “inserts” and “sends”… they are quite helpful in ensuring that our mixing or audio production is easier, especially when working with a number of tracks.
You may have encountered these two terms and not known what they meant, which is perfectly understandable. There’s a lot to know and learn when it comes to audio production.
This post will give a description of what Inserts and Sends are. So you get a better idea of them and how you can use them.
With that said, What is the difference between inserts and sends?
In audio processing an insert is simply an access point built into the mixer.
Inserts basically allow the audio engineer to add external line level devices into the signal flow between the microphone pre-amplifier and the mix bus.
On most digital audio workstations you can do this, as well as route recorded audio to them.
There are various uses for inserts some of these are gating, compressing, equalizing, delay, reverb effects etc..that are specific to that specific channel or group.
Inserts can be used as an alternative way to route signals such as for multitrack recording output or line level direct input.
Inserts on analog mixers appear in various locations in the signal flow, depending on the vision of the designer.
Many mixing consoles offer a choice between two, three or four of the possible insert points by a combination of internal jumpers or links that can be modified by a skilled audio gear technician.
Digital consoles are designed to allow you to move the virtual insert point before or after the channel EQ and some allow the insert point to be placed after the fader and before the mix buses.
These are “soft” changes; the options depend, for the most part, upon the design of the mixer’s user interface and the extent of the processing power assigned to the insert function.
Inserted devices can easily be connected in series to create a string of inserted devices.
E.g. you could connect a gate, a compressor and an equalizer in series through the same channel’s insert. So all effects can be applied to that insert.
Most digital mixers allow for multiple effects to be inserted virtually, they also allow you to use multiple third party plugins as virtual inserts.
Send tracks are the routing equivalent to the aux-sends that can be found on multitrack mixing consoles.
In music production a given song is almost always made up of various multiple tracks, with each instrument or sound on their own track…
Each track can be individually adjusted in different ways such as adjusting the volume etc.
This can be done with hardware tools or simply software tools within your Digital Audio Workstation.
Send tracks are tracks that aren’t used to record sound on themselves, but they are mostly meant to apply adjustments such as volume, effects etc to multiple, perhaps even all, tracks the same way.
You can easily treat a number of tracks the same way with a single send track, which can save you lots of time and resources..
Digital sends are also a lot more flexible than their hardware equivalent, since any number of send tracks can be created as needed.
For more complex effect chains, send tracks also allow for their output to be routed to other send tracks, which can switch their routing to other send tracks in turn.
Digital send tracks using Digital Audio Workstations are a lot easier to use and offer a more hands off approach as compared to analog physical mixing consoles.
Key things to know
Sends work best with time based effects.
Time based effects, such as delays need an original sound source to work properly.
Inserts are used for direct processing.
If you need to compress a signal or maybe gate it to eliminate any annoying bleed or process it in any way that doesn’t affect the time of the signal.
Compressors are not time based effects, they are simply dynamic processors that work directly on a signal.
This is why you should use them as inserts.
If you were to use a compressor as a send you wouldn’t be compressing the original signal, you would be processing a copy that’s compressed but it wouldn’t matter because your original would remain unchanged.