Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Inboard vs outboard

No, not ski boats.  But then again, inboard all the way.

Amplifiers.  The array of amplifier choices today is pretty dizzying.  Digital switching, hybrids, all analog, with dsp, without dsp, networked, whipped cream topping.  Okay not the last one, but it seems that way. 

I for one, am not a big fan of self powered cabs.  They do have some advantages.  The eq correction and crossover is built right into the box. You get a reasonably flat response without doing anything.  Plug n Play.  But it's the plug n play part that bugs me.  Now you have to figure out 110v to every cabinet, along with the line level feeds.  Granted you can daisy chain the inputs, but unless you've got serious outlets and cords, you probably can't daisy chain more than a couple of cabs on the power side. I can see it where a band or dj is just doing speaker on a stick gigs, 2 cabs and a sub or two.  But even then I think it complicates things.  You still need outboard dsp or at least a 31band eq for rooom correction.  Most of the onboard dsp is far to limited.

The excuse of amplifier racks weighing 300 lbs is no longer valid.  Although I am not a huge fan of the new digital switchers, watching Doug Hart of Hart Designs Etc pick up and carry a pair of 2kw behringer amplifiers, mixer board and dsp by himself without much effort was pretty impressive.  I've run the new Crowns, QSC's, and Behringer in the new lightweight amplifiers.  I sell the Crowns. They're all respectable.  The dsp in all of them is pretty limited though, at least in the lower priced models like I and most of you can afford.  It will get you a basic setup that works, that's for sure, or get you by in an emergency.  Combat audio, we've all been there. 

What you get with outboards is flexibility.  If an amp goes down you can always rig somehow to get all your cabs running.  If a self powered goes down, you're screwed.   Less 110v running all over the stage.  One batch of xlr's feeding the amp rack. In my opinion it's just better.  I believe it's simpler in the long run, especially if there's a problem. 

My personal preference is Ashly.  They are a hybrid, part digital, part old school iron.  Yes, you pay a weight penalty. The basic models really have no dsp whatsoever, just basic crossover and limiter settings.  But couple them with the Protea 3x6 and you have some awesome, easy, and utterly transparent horsepower to adjust your system.  Best limiters I've ever heard.  They make MVW cabs sound like no other amplifier we've tried. 

Weigh in.  I know this is a hot topic, and has been for a long time. 


  1. I agree with you on the powered/unpowered speaker issue. I can see an advantage in powered speakers on a very basic level (speakers on a stick), but beyond that, the advantage falls to outboard amps.
    After hauling old iron amps around for many years, I was impressed by the new lightweight models. I have two of the Behringer iNuke NU3000 amps, plus a DCX2496 speakers management processor and a 12 channel mixer, all in a 12 space rack. 6000 watts of power and everything I need that I can easily carry around by myself... even when I throw speaker cables and mics in the back of the rack.
    I was impressed with this setup... until... I compared it to Ashly power. Yes, the Ashlys are heavier (about double) but the sound quality difference is enough that I suspect anyone could tell. While the DCX2496 is quite powerful, the Protea is even more so, and it's easier to program.
    So... double the weight and double the money. Well, that's why I don't own them yet... Yet

  2. Ashly, period. I've been using a rack full since the HEAVY FET500 days.