In order to successfully utilize effects plugins in your projects it is essential to have a good understanding of effects beings used as insert effects or simply inserts and effects being used as send effects or simply sends. The following tutorial aims at shedding some light on this topic. We will focus on the essential parts only and will postpone details on other components such as input level of an audio channel or channel strips to other tutorial pages.
Inserts vs. Sends
Let’s first visualize the path of an audio signal in Cubase. First, the incoming signal is routed through the inserts stage which possibly contains a single insert, a cascade of inserts or no insert at all. In this process, an insert will affect/processes the entire signal. This means that the output of the insert will exhibit a signal which is very likely different from the input to the insert. The input to the send consists of the signal either tapped before (pre-fader) or after (post-fader) channel-fader. In Fig. 1 these different paths are denoted by the dashed-blue and dashed-red lines, respectively. More on this distinction later. The level of the signal entering the send stage is usually controlled through the send-level. This is useful since many plugins operate optimally at a certain sweet spot. After being processed by the send itself the send output is mixed with the post-fader. In this way the signal processed by the send is blended with the unprocessed signal at the input to the send. The proportion of the signal processed by the send is determined by the return level.
Inserts obviously irreversibly alter the entire signal whereas sends provide the possibility of maintaining the original signal and controlling the amount of the send effect being blended with the unprocessed sound. In music-production jargon the original signal is referred to as the “dry” signal whereas the signal processed by the send is referred to as “wet” signal. Typical inserts are level-processing plugins such as compressors and EQs whereas typical sends are reverb and delay plugins. However, there is no rule without exception and in fact parallel compressing is a good example of using compressors as sends.
Pre-Fader vs. Post-Fader
A signal being routed through the pre-fader path (blue-dashed line in Fig. 1) enters the send stage unaffected by the channel-fader setting. In other words, it simply “hits” the send at a constant intensity irrespective of the channel-fader level. In contrast, a signal routed through the post-fader path (red-dashed line in Fig. 1) enters the send-stage at an intensity determined by the channel-fader level. This obviously has implications on the nature of the effect. A good example is a reverb effect. For a post-fader setting, the characteristics of the reverberation tails added through reverberation will change based on the level of the signal at the input to the effect. The level of reverberation will change in unison with the dry signal level. This may be desired or not and is therefore highly dependent on the application.
A Simple Example in Cubase
Let’s have a look at a simple example in Cubase. The project contains a tiny little jazzy guitar lick which was recorded into an audio channel (channel named GTR in Fig. 2). A compressor was added into the inserts stage and two effects namely delay and reverb (green-colored channels) were added to the sends stage.
This can also be seen in the mixer console window in which gives us a more compact representation.
To add an insert to the GTR channel, select the channel and click on the “Inserts” section of the inspector (see red-highlighted Inserts section in Fig. 2). The insert section will expand. Hover with the mouse over the right-hand side of the first insert slot in the list. A downwards pointing arrow accompanied by a “Select Insert” dialog will appear. Click on the arrow and select the desired plugin for the list of all available plugin effects which in our case is the compressor.