When is it Smarter to Send or Insert When Mixing Music?

live sound reverb and delay

When you’re mixing music there are two ways to affect the audio you are working with. Whatever your processor does there are two ways to make it work on a signal. Either by using it as a send effect, or as an insert.

But what’s the difference between the two?

What’s a send effect

Send effects are used when you have an original signal that you want to modulate, modify or process in any way without affecting the original signal. Your original signal sits there by itself unchanged but it has a separate copy being effected.  You hear this with delays and reverbs; the original audio is there as well as the delayed signal working together to create a nice effect.

You use auxiliary sends to copy the original audio to a separate track where you further process it.

What’s an Insert?

An insert is used when you want to process a signal directly. You insert an effect, such as a compressor or EQ directly onto the original audio. This is when you do not want to retain the original audio file. You want to change it completely(or subtly) and only hear the processed part.

So when is it smarter to use sends or inserts?

Well, you want to use sends when you are using time based effects. Time based effects, such as delays need an original sound source to work. How would you know a signal was delayed if it didn’t have an original un-delayed track.

Inserts are used for processing directly. If you need to compress a signal, gate it to eliminate bleed or process it in any way that doesn’t affect the time of the signal.

Compressors are not time based, they are dynamic processors that work directly on a signal. That’s why you should usually use them as inserts. If you were to use a compressor as a send you wouldn’t be compressing the original signal, you would have a copy that’s compressed but it wouldn’t matter because your original is still unchanged.

Breaking the “Rules”

Of course, there are instances where you can break the rules. Using compression as a send is a well known trick. It even has a swanky name, The New York Compression Trick.

Mo Volans’ easy parallel compresison article on Audiotuts teaches you how to do a similar thing without using a send. You can just use the compressor as an insert as you normally would and then use the mix slider to apply the parallel compression.

Guitarist that use delays, reverbs and modulation effects in their signal chain are essentially using time based effects as inserts. But most guitar effects have a mix parameter to allow you to blend the two signals.

You can do the same thing with your DAW. For instance, if you have a guitar track you can usually insert modulation effects as an insert. Just be sure that you’re blending the two signals. You don’t want an insert to be 100% wet(or effected) since you won’t have any of the original signal.

Summing up

It’s smart to use send effects when you want to enhance a signal without eliminating the original. By adding a delay to an already nice sounding signal you just make it sound better.

The opposite goes for inserts. Use insert effects when you want to change the signal completely. Inserts change the signal with dynamic changes like compressors, or tonal changes like EQ.

Both methods have their uses, and both are used for certain situations.

How are you breaking the rules lately?

For more mixing tips like these, sign up for my free EQ course. You will get over 70 hacks to clean up your mixes and have all the track work together instead of fighting each other.

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  • hello,
    thank you for your useful tips. it just made some terms so clear for me.
    hope to hear more from you

  • Sweet Bananas

    Yes it’s good to read this reminder at my point of experience and development as a “recordist”. I’ll avoid using the term engineer as I can’t draw or write a signal path let alone explain it. Just good ears for QA and trying to understand the enormous power of plug-in TBE’s. Particularly with mono inputs…keep it coming mate

  • grant tregellas

    Hi. Are there any common applications for using reverb as a send pre-fader? Obviously there must be, as the option is available. I just would like to know if you know any common uses? Thanks

    • Well, one of the cooler applications I know is pulling the actual fader all the way down and only playing the “wet” reverb sound. You couldn’t do this with a post-fader reverb since the reverbs moves with the track fader, but with pre-fader it bypasses the track fader so you can essentially mute it and let a massive drum cathedral sound all on its own, for instance.

  • Elliot Scann

    47 pages of mixing advice for $27.00??  How can you possibly cover such a vast subject in such a short tome?

    • I don’t. I cover the strategies of planning and visualizing the mix. I don’t give you every mixing advice there is in the world, since that would be impossible. There are chapter on every aspect of the mix, drums, vocals, guitar and such, but I devote a lot of time to the more subjective aspects of mixing, with a few popular songs as examples for instance.