Effect Order and Routing Ideas

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stubbsonic
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Effect Order and Routing Ideas

Post by stubbsonic » Sun Jul 22, 2018 1:27 pm

The purpose of this thread is to start a discussion about effect order and routing. As musicians choose the order for their effects, they are ultimately deciding how effects are "stacked", and how an effect module will influence the modules before and after it. With routing, there are two main configurations: serial and parallel.

I want to start with a little description of routing. I'm still learning about this, so I did some reading and am trying to clarify my understanding through writing.

Your instrument amplifier you may have either a serial or a parallel effect send/return loop. A serial effect send/return (pre-amp out/amp in) routes all the post pre-amp signal to the send jack (pre-amp out), and expects to have all the post-effect signal connected to the return (amp in). Alternatively, the amp may have a parallel effect loop which sends a "copy" of the post-pre-amp out to the effect send, but maintains a direct dry path straight to the amp, this configuration may include an effect volume control to control how much signal is returned from the effects loop into the final amp stage. The parallel loop should be used for effects that don't require more that 50% wetness.

Internally, most digital multi-effects processors (including Zoom pedals) provide only serial routing. Your instrument signal goes through the first effect module into the next and so on, until it passes through the last module to the output jack. If an effect within that chain has a wet/dry setting, this provides a little parallel dry path around the current module and on to the next one.

Some multi-effect devices offer a true parallel routing option. A serial path splits into two paths (often referred to as an upper and lower) which operate independently. Those paths merge before the output. Ideally, these devices allow you to move individual modules into various positions that are either pre-split, on the "upper" path, on the "lower" path, or post-merge. At the split and merge points, there can be level controls to adjust levels in to and out of the parallel section.

A parallel path allows you to isolate specific combinations of effects. For example, a distortion path can run parallel to a clean path, with each path having different effects. Or, a pitch-shifted upper path can have its own unique effects, and along the lower path the original pitch has a different set of effects. Similarly, you could add effects to a delayed signal separately from a dry signal. Or split the signal by frequency range using a crossover, and send frequencies above a frequency point to one path, and below that frequency point to the other path-- giving each part of the spectrum its own effects treatment.

If your multi-effects unit lacks an internal parallel path, you might be able to use a utility pedal (like the Xotic X-Blender) or a small mixer, along with a second multi-effect or a few single-function pedals to configure a more complex effects system.

With a mixer approach, much of what is available will depend on the features of the mixer. You can run your guitar into a multi effect and the output of that into a mixer channel. Or, if the mixer has a high-impedance input (for guitar or bass), you could plug your instrument directly into the mixer and route everything from there. If the mixer has channel-inserts (send/return loops right after the mixer's preamp stage) you can connect your multi-effect there for pre-split effects. Aux sends and buses can also be used to route signal in and out for parallel paths. Some mixers have bus inserts and/or mix inserts. A digital mixer can let you store presets which can be recalled (some even have MIDI or foot-switch scene selection). How to configure this setup depends on what equipment you have and how you envision the flow of signal. It requires considerable planning and experimentation.

I welcome your ideas and contributions to this discussion.
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NucleusX
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Re: Effect Order and Routing Ideas

Post by NucleusX » Mon Jul 23, 2018 12:07 am

Nice write-up. 2 things came to mind while reading.

First is the FX Loops. FX Loops on guitar amplifier's are typically the serial type. It seems to be the much more prefered default
implementation over a parallel type. Some amps offer a parallel FX Loop, or even the extended ability to have a switchable choice
of both serial and parallel types, and often accompanied with some send/return/mix gain dials on the back panel, but serial is by
far the most common. The main reason why serial is much more common on amps, is because a serial FX Loop can be expanded
upon, and made into a parallel FX Loop externally with extra hardware anyhow. To most manufacturers, it's seen as a wasted
feature they'd rather not consider to keep the bill of materials and final costs down to a sensible level.

The good news is, both serial and parallel are possible on an amplifier with just a serial FX Loop alone.

MFX pedals, such as the newer high end ones like the Helix or GT1000, are beginning to implement parallel to an advanced level,
both internally, and externally. That simultaneous internal and external operation is key to making it all come together into a
meaningful way. For the majority of the guitarists that have less capable MFX hardware as compared to the aforementioned, they
are typically limited to mostly serial internal, or serial internal with serial external, and with very limited parallel options unless
you choose to break out externally, which can mean all the difference if you have it. The difference with MFX pedals in comparison
to amps, is that MFX pedals have finite, or limited amount of DSP resources at its disposal. If said unit has no FX Loop at all, but
has the advanced serial/parallel possibilities within its own internal paths, the bulk of the processing burden is placed on the DSP
processor, which commonly runs into the DSP wall once you start using its internal routing to its full potential. There is obviously
a balance to be struck here with these kind of units. If said unit has a serial FX Loop, it can be made a parallel one, externally, just
as the amplifier. The DSP load balance factor is also no longer an issue, as the extra DSP burden can be offloaded via external means.
There's also a difference in limitations to be aware of between MFX pedals with serial internal/external, vs MFX pedals that have
parallel internal routings. Without parallel internal routing, you might be able to create a parallel path using the external serial FX
Loop, but you can't do anything about the serial internal limitation if there are no parallel internal options. If you don't have an
advanced option to configure the internal FX in parallel with your external FX, you're limited to incorporating your parallel external
FX Loop, into its very limited serial internal path. The most benefit and flexibility is achieved with full serial/parallel together with full
internal/external options combined. And with that, you can circumvent %100 of the tone roadblocks typical on serial MFX pedals.

I thought these where important distinctions to make and understand when comparing serial/parallel, and internal/external routing.

Secondly, you mention high impedance inputs on mixers. That is true for the high impedance nature of passive pickups, but the
lines blur if you're using low impedance active pickups. Typical impedance at the output jack of active's is around 25K, vs 250K/500K.
Imagine an EMG active with a pre amp or afterburner, with the 9/18/27 Volt mods. Things really start to get interesting then. More
gain and less impedance in that situation. Leaves you to wonder whether D.I's or high impedance inputs are really all that necessary.
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stubbsonic
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Re: Effect Order and Routing Ideas

Post by stubbsonic » Mon Jul 23, 2018 10:05 am

Thanks, NucleusX.

Even the lowly Pod HD500 has a parallel path, with a moveable external loop-- but as you say, limited DSP.

With an X-Blender, a single parallel path is created-- it acts like an aux send/return to mix with the direct path, so that could be added at any point in the path.

There's one specific effect order thing I'd love to get opinions on: whether to place a wah pedal or envelope follower before or after distortion

It would seem to me that having the added harmonics of the distorted signal would give the wah "more to work with".
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Re: Effect Order and Routing Ideas

Post by NucleusX » Mon Jul 23, 2018 12:44 pm

stubbsonic wrote:
Mon Jul 23, 2018 10:05 am
Even the lowly Pod HD500 has a parallel path, with a moveable external loop-- but as you say, limited DSP.
That it does, and you actually have to dedicate 1 of the FX Slots to the FX Loop itself for it to function. :?
stubbsonic wrote:
Mon Jul 23, 2018 10:05 am
There's one specific effect order thing I'd love to get opinions on: whether to place a wah pedal or envelope follower before or after distortion
Mostly personal preference, but my choice in all that is wha before distortion. Wha's fall within the Filter
category by essentially being a variable bandpass filter. Meticulously tweaked gain character is sensitive and
easily perturbed by what comes before and after. In the case of applying EQ to distortion, I also put it before
the distortion stage. I feel it has more of a subtle effect on distortion character over-all, which is a good thing
if you want to retain it, but also acts as more of a natural built-in tone stack typically within gain stages. I
apply almost the same logic to wha. It seems more natural there, and a less exaggerated effect compared to
being post distortion. It really depends on what effect or tone you're hunting tho. There might be instances
where you'll want both results of pre and post at different times.
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Re: Effect Order and Routing Ideas

Post by stubbsonic » Tue Jul 24, 2018 10:50 am

NucleusX wrote:
Mon Jul 23, 2018 12:44 pm
In the case of applying EQ to distortion, I also put it before the distortion stage. I feel it has more of a subtle effect on distortion character over-all, which is a good thing if you want to retain it, but also acts as more of a natural built-in tone stack typically within gain stages. I apply almost the same logic to wha. It seems more natural there, and a less exaggerated effect compared to being post distortion. It really depends on what effect or tone you're hunting tho. There might be instances where you'll want both results of pre and post at different times.
Thanks. That makes sense. The distortion will product upper odd harmonics on post-Wah sounds, so it will (hopefully, tastefully) obscure the effect of the wah on the signal. But if a darker sound is wanted-- where the highs are rolled off reliably, post distortion makes some sense.

I'll do some more experiments.
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Re: Effect Order and Routing Ideas

Post by NucleusX » Tue Jul 24, 2018 9:27 pm

Just to add to my previous post.

In reality i actually use multiple EQ's (of varying types) in my paths at different points. The large amount
of DSP available to me allows me to add a lot more FX for granular control over things. The distortion/gain
stage is flanked either side with an EQ. The pre EQ helps me deal with mud or thinness, and makes subtle
changes to distortion character, where as the post is to polish the final distortion product to pass on down
the line, and has much less impact on distortion character. I also have another EQ right at the end, before
the outputs for an over-all final EQ. An EQ up here helps me battle varying output conditions if i where to
change amps, or prefer to practice at night on headphones. Some also use EQ's around distortion a as
momentary mid lead boost. Then there's the essential Parametric, to cut annoying frequencies in gain.
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Re: Effect Order and Routing Ideas

Post by stubbsonic » Tue Jul 24, 2018 10:31 pm

That is absolutely marvelous and helpful info. I've put one EQ in my path, but didn't really think about approaching it that way-- multiple points, and as a mid-lead boost. That's clever. All of that is clever.
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Re: Effect Order and Routing Ideas

Post by NucleusX » Tue Jul 24, 2018 10:55 pm

You picked a fun subject ! There's many possibilities and ways to skin a cat with various FX roles and order's.
The hard part is remembering them all ! One of my fave's is pitch shifting before distortion. Putting it there helps
to combat the ever-present flaws in polyphonic tracking, which is still quite a challenge for manufacturers to
overcome. Very much like the Wha, being pre, its not exaggerated, and its receiving clean signals to work with
rather than distortion, which masks the tracking flaws. Post distortion amplifies the tracking imperfections.
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Re: Effect Order and Routing Ideas

Post by stubbsonic » Wed Jul 25, 2018 9:51 am

I was wondering whether (or why) a distortion didn't make pitch easier to track, since there is less dynamics and the waveform is more square. It must be that with distortion, the zero-crossings are not as easy to analyze.
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Re: Effect Order and Routing Ideas

Post by NucleusX » Wed Jul 25, 2018 10:42 am

stubbsonic wrote:
Mon Jul 23, 2018 10:05 am
Even the lowly Pod HD500 has a parallel path, with a moveable external loop-- but as you say, limited DSP.
I wouldn't go so far as to say the parallel options in the POD HD are "advanced" tho, fairly simple in comparison.
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Re: Effect Order and Routing Ideas

Post by stubbsonic » Wed Jul 25, 2018 7:42 pm

NucleusX wrote:
Wed Jul 25, 2018 10:42 am
I wouldn't go so far as to say the parallel options in the POD HD are "advanced" tho, fairly simple in comparison.
I don't have much of a basis for comparison. My Lexicon MPX-1 (which is probably the nicest sounding effect box I have), has a simple split path. But that UI is non-intuitive.

The Pod HD at least allows one to have an external loop, plus moving things along the pre-split, upper, lower, and post-merge points with some level controls. This Boss GP-10 that I have, does have a kind of weird conditional split thing-- modeling mode on one path, magnetic pickups on the other path, then they merge. Lots of cool options there.
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Re: Effect Order and Routing Ideas

Post by NucleusX » Wed Jul 25, 2018 9:57 pm

When things move along and get better in the routing department, I'd like to see the FX Loop options expanded.
If it was, the parallel options would open up. Generally, as it is now, the FX Loop can only be wedged between 2
internal serial FX blocks, with both send and return. What we want, is the ability to be able to split both send
returns without being confined to each other, where you can send from between 2 serial FX blocks, and return
back into another 2 other serial FX blocks further down the line, or any point in the chain you wish really. Just
that ability alone could deal with most parallel situations. 2 FX Loops with this ability would cover it all i think.
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Re: Effect Order and Routing Ideas

Post by stubbsonic » Wed Jul 25, 2018 10:36 pm

That does sound pretty ideal. It's more lanes of data to process, so it would require enough CPU muscle; but having that degree of flexibility is right on.

I'll tack on that if these FX processors all had Envelope followers, and triggered Envelope generators as Modulation Sources, along with LFO's that could have both depth and rate modulation-- and a little mod matrix, you'd be able to do some really heavy stuff. The MPX-1 gets partway there.
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Re: Effect Order and Routing Ideas

Post by NucleusX » Thu Jul 26, 2018 1:23 am

Certainly sounds ideal, but is it realistic ? probably not. All these units play a balancing act of features vs price
point. Unlikely we'll see that in the mid to low tier MFX pedals anytime soon. Like you said, it's gonna need more
DSP muscle. The unit first needs to be capable of handling more simultaneous FX in serial/parallel to begin with,
if we are to flex the extra routing potential. I have no idea whether 2 FX in parallel consume more DSP resources
than 2 in serial, but I'm sure it's a bit more complicated than that. AFAIK, the DSP chip is the single most costly
component in a MFX pedal, apart from maybe the chassis. I doubt you could achieve any of said upgrades without
starting from the ground up, and putting the DSP chip, or chips, under hard scrutiny. There's nothing to stop you
from doing a lot this externally with multiple units and pedals if you have them, but if you don't, it mightn't be
the most practical or cheapest option to go with, especially if you're satisfied with what you have already.
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Re: Effect Order and Routing Ideas

Post by stubbsonic » Thu Jul 26, 2018 12:09 pm

There must be enough guitarists who are drawn to the appeal (and affordability) of having one MFX unit vs. a chain of pedals. That's why they keep coming. I don't know very much about Helix, but it seems like Line 6's approach was to have a modular approach to the chain. I don't know which Boss or Digitech or other devices have split paths.

I could have been enticed into that Helix world, however, the Pod HD experience was so disappointing, my friend-- a big pedal geek-- got one wasn't thrilled with the sound or selection of modules, and ultimately I hadn't heard anything to make me think they addressed a dynamics problem that few seem to complain about.

Another option some people seem to be working with is the iOS multi-effects systems (like Yonak's ToneStack, or Bias JamUpPro or Bias FX). It's a bit of a catch 22. I'm a bit sensitive to latency (which I learned the hard way from an old bass Pod), and an iPad is going to have some latency-- and audio will easily glitch regardless of buffer size settings perhaps unless you have a recent iPad, or a more pricey interface or both. I have neither, not willing to risk all that $$ to find out the latency is only marginally tolerable. But I don't mind, I hate the idea of using an iPad as my effects processor anyway.

If Zoom made a "universal" (for guitar, bass, keys like the MS-100BT) flagship, with a parallel routing path & ext loops, if they made it expandable (maybe not a built in exp pedal, but inputs for pedals & switches)-- and they followed up with regular firmware updates, well, I'd buy it.
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Re: Effect Order and Routing Ideas

Post by NucleusX » Thu Jul 26, 2018 10:49 pm

I think the amount of people drawn towards MFX pedals, and away from traditional pedals are increasingly growing.
Modellers are becoming so good at what they do now, it's beginning to become more difficult for guitarists to discern
a difference, or inferiority in the sound they produce. I'm particularly referring to the high end modellers. The BOSS
GT1000 has the advanced routing, it shows all that in the video i posted for you in another thread of yours. (10:50)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4Om6ad7Drg Both the Helix and GT1000 will do a lot of things we spoke of.
As for Digitech, they seem to be dropping the ball on advancing, been quiet and disappointing to say the least.

My problem with stepping up to the new level on offer there, is the price points at which they sit. They also create
a bit of an identity crisis with their older models. For example, back when i bought the POD HD, it was the best
modeller Line 6 had at the time, infact, the POD branding has been their top tier modeller for many years. When
Line 6 released the Helix, it created alotta confusion amongst Line 6 users. Was the Helix meant to replace the
POD branding, or did Line 6 create a higher tier than the POD and plan to continue updating it ? We still don't really
know. 5 years later and the POD line still hasn't been refreshed. Does the GT1000 directly replace the GT100 ?
If they're infact direct replacements, I'm starting to see a worrying trend of everyone getting on that train and
releasing all their new flagships at near double the cost of their last. Personally i can't see how this will pan out yet
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Re: Effect Order and Routing Ideas

Post by stubbsonic » Fri Jul 27, 2018 11:42 am

In addition to the improvements in modeling, there's also the ability to recall complex setups instantaneously, which in a live setting is a HUGE benefit.

Even with a patcher, you can't get instantaneous. You still have to go around and futz with stuff (I'm imagining).

I tried a Digitech RP360 and to me it sounded pretty nice. I was at a store and comparing it with the Boss GT-1. think I liked the GT-1 amp models better, but thought the RP360 had a little less of that default dynamic compression. I could be imagining it, but the RP360 seemed to have a cleaner signal path, but that could just be the way I was feeling that added dynamic range. The reverbs on the digitech were nicer (if I recall correctly). I have an older RP255 with built in lexicon-based reverbs that sounded pretty nice (though nothing like the magnificence of the MPX-1's reverbs).

Speaking of reverbs, the MS-100BT has a couple really stellar sounding reverbs (and some stinkers).
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