Steve O Chimes In

In a blog posted several months ago I asked why console manufacturers haven’t integrated third party plug-ins into their design structures. Steve Oppenheimer, a long time industry veteran and current Public Relations Manager for PreSonus Audio Electronics sent me an e mail that led to a conversation on the subject.

Steve O: “The most obvious reason that digital mixers don’t have an architecture for hosting third-party plug-ins is that there is no standard OS for digital mixers, and a variety of CPU chips may be employed.  With DAWs, you can count on AMD or Intel chips and Windows or Mac OS X. To support digital mixers, a plug-in company would have to write its software to each digital mixer’s CPU chip and custom OS, and that’s not likely to be financially worthwhile.

“A digital mixer that ran plug-ins directly would probably be a far more complicated beast to operate. That’s exactly the opposite of what most engineers want, especially for live desks, where you need to make your moves quickly and don’t want to get lost in menus and layers.”

GE: “Do you think that stability would be affected if third party software was introduced into a console?”

Steve O: “The mixer would almost certainly be less stable. In the studio, that would be a drag but probably no worse than a DAW wigging out. However, in a live environment, where many digital mixers find a significant user base, instability could bring down your entire show with disastrous results.  It’s one thing when a DAW crashes; it’s quite another thing when the FOH mixer crashes. Fortunately, a better solution is likely to reach the market in the next few years.”

GE: “I’m sensing the rapid approach of a sales pitch.”

Steve O: “At PreSonus, we spend a lot of time thinking about these issues. If the digital mixer is also a multi-channel interface with low enough latency that you can run a DAW with standard plug-ins, in real time, on a connected PC or Mac, then you can accomplish the same thing, and more elegantly at that because you would have all of the advantages of the DAW without creating special versions of the plug-ins. The mixer would not have to become more complex to operate because the plugs would run on the computer DAW.

“For example, the PreSonus StudioLive series has low enough latency that you can run a computer-based DAW with plug-ins, in real time, for use in live shows. Engineers use it this way often. It works because in a live setting, a few extra milliseconds of delay are usually not noticeable. But the latency is not low enough for use with real-time plug-ins in the studio, where you will notice those extra milliseconds. 

“However, advances such as Thunderbolt should help immensely because audio can move through that immense pipe much faster than it can through FireWire 800 or USB 3. We’re not there yet but I think interface manufacturers will lower latency sufficiently to run real-time, computer-based plug-ins in tandem with digital mixer/interfaces in the relatively near future.

GE: “In your opinion, therefore, would it be a mistake for console manufacturers to spend time and money attempting to integrate third party plug-ins into their boards?”

Steve O: “Yes, the solution you suggest would be prohibitively expense and is likely to be obsolete before it reached the market.

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