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Thread November 22, 2014 editorial: comments

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1 November 22, 2014 editorial: comments

Are Presets for Wimps?

I’ve heard some engineers and recording musicians say that every patch that you use on an EQ, compressor or other digital-signal-processor plug-in should be built from scratch. They say that using a preset is something only an amateur would do.

Now I am all for learning and understanding the controls on my gear, and am also aware that every piece of audio you apply a processor to is different and deserves its own treatment in context to the song. Nevertheless, there are plenty of plug-ins out there with excellent presets, which can get you at least part of the way there, and save you a lot of time. 

It’s been my experience that if the presets are really lame, chances are the plug-in is, too. Sure, there will be a few clunkers in any plug-ins’ preset collection (just open any guitar amp modeling software and you’ll surely find some ridiculously over-processed preset sounds), but if the majority of them are of poor quality, it isn’t a good sign.

Well-made presets, on the other hand, provide you with a good opportunity to learn. For instance, if you’re wondering what’s an effective attack setting on a compressor for a kick drum, checking out the attack on several kick presets can give you a good ballpark idea of a starting point. Similarly, going through the presets on a delay plug-in can often provide you with ideas for unusual effects that you might not have been aware of otherwise.

In addition, many plug-ins have “guest presets,” where well-known artists or engineers contribute their own settings, which are often quite useful and good to learn from.

Yes, it would be great if we always knew exactly how to achieve specific results from our plug-ins, but there’s nothing wrong with learning from a preset and using it as your jumping-off point. As long as you ultimately let your ears be the judge, you’ll be in good shape. So if you read about somebody who scoffs at presets — and the people who use them — don’t listen.

Do you find presets to be helpful? Let's discuss it.

By the way, I've really been enjoying the discussions we've been having in response to these newsletters. Remember, you can always post questions and comments directly in our forums, as well. I try to answer whenever possible, and you can also count on getting great responses from the super knowledgeable Audiofanzine community.

Have a great week.

Mike Levine

U.S. Editor, Audiofanzine


I agree 100% Mike. You can learn something from anybody. I very often will go through presets to find a ballpark sound, and then tweak it to my taste. I've also found some very different sounds that I would've probably Never come across without listening to presets. Good article. Thanks!
Providing they are good to begin with, presets are not a bad starting point. However the suggestion to avoid using plugin presets even though they may sound good,tells me the engineers in question like doing long arithmetic or driving around in the dark without any headlights.

The bottom line is; who cares what approach you use as long as you get the sound you’re looking for, surely this is the most important aspect of sound engineering!!

Mike, I think these guys who gave you this advice have been spending far too much time out in the desert, and its time you brought them in :)

[ Post last edited on 11/24/2014 at 11:56:57 ]

Agreed. I think that the anti-preset argument is based on the premise that if you really understand the parameters and controls in your processors, you'll know how to correctly set them for any type of sound. We should all strive to have that level of understanding, but it isn't mutually exclusive with using presets when convenient.