BUYING GUIDE - OUTBOARD PROCESSING
For Analog console users, you will need some form of outboard gear to get you what you need. In the least, this would include some graphic EQ's, compression, and some form of an effect processor. For you digital console users, you may not necessarily be in the market for outboard gear, but outboard is definitely still very much a viable venue for getting the results you need in a live sound situation. It is not at all uncommon for digital console users (especially in the professional realm), to still rely on outboard gear.
The "best bang for the buck" EQ, is the dbx 1231. It's a very basic EQ, but it's quiet, sounds good, and is very reliable. The price (around $450 street) isn't bad either. I have had a lot of success with dbx EQ's in the past, and they remain a very strong candidate for what most churches need.
DBX does have a smaller & more basic unit if you are on a tight budget - which is the dbx 231 ($200 street). The throw of the frequency "sliders" are a lot shorter, but it remains a very effective, no frills graphic EQ.
If you need something with a little more options (limiter, feedback suppressor, noise reduction), the dbx iEQ-31 may be what you are looking for. At a street price of about $630, it's a little more expensive, but you get what you pay for, and the quality is definitely there.
An alternative to previously mentioned EQ's, would be the Ashly GQX3102. I love the layout of this EQ. Very smartly designed, and is made to be a true workhorse.
Other options are Klark Teknik, or BSS. The Klark Teknik and BSS offerings are very high quality, but you'll pay for it. There can be a difference in sonics, but not necessarily to the untrained ear. With that said, these are good quality units that will last a very long time.
There are quite a few options out there to choose from when it comes to compressors. Some of them are one-trick ponies, where as others are extremely versatile, and can handle a variety of instruments. Here are some of the "standouts" :
The DBX 1046 is a very useable compressor with 4 separate channels of compression; with a stereo link option per 2 channels. For most churches, 4 channels of compression is enough, and this compressor won't disappoint. I personally have used this compressor on many occasions, and we use this as a four channel limiter in our stage rack to "watch" the levels going to our mains to prevent clipping at my church. I have also used this compressor in a rack to compress individual instruments. I am impressed with its' simplicity and useability. If you know what you are doing with a compressor, it has manual mode where you can set each and individual control, or set it on auto, and it'll configure the attack and release times for you according to what it is "seeing" at its input.
If you don't need 4 channels of compression, DBX also has some more affordable 2 channel options like the 266XS, and the 1066.
At a recent survey of live and recording engineers, they asked them what was the most underrated, best bang for the buck compressor out there, and the result was the ART PRO VLA II Compressor:
This is basically a tube based, 2 channel compressor well known in the audio world for being a great low-cost compressor with surprisingly great results. This unit is very well known in the recording world, but is equally effective in the live sound world as well. Alot of folks use this compressor for bass guitar, drum subs, or vocals as well.
One of my favorite compressors is the RNC (Really Nice Compressor) by FMR Audio. This compressor has had rave reviews ever since it came out 18 years ago. Yea it's ugly, but the quality of compression is very difficult to beat at this price. If you need transparent compression (like a pastor's microphone), this unit is hard to beat, and especially at $175.
What is even cooler, is that you can purchase a product by a company called "Funk Logic," and put two of them together, and they'll fit in a rack mount configuration like this):
If you need a lot of channels of compression/limiting with gates as well, but don't want to spend a lot of money on several compressors, the Presonus ACP88 may be the right unit for you. This unit features 8 compressors/limiters/gates in one rack unit! These are discontinued, but can be had on the used market for a fair price.
No list of compressors is complete without mentioning the Empirical Labs Distressor! This is probably one of the most famous and well-loved compressors to have ever come out. It truly is a character piece; while also being extremely versatile. This is on the higher end in regards to quality and price, but it will not disappoint! This compressor is especially known for bass guitar use with its ability to add pleasant distortion and character. The first time I ever saw this unit, was when I played in a band that opened up for Waterdeep. The bassist they had that night had one in his rack, and it sounded killer! The Distressor is also great for Kick, Snare, or even Electric Guitar.
Reverb, Delay, and other multi-effect units
There are so many great effect units on the market today. It would take a massive amount of time to highlight every one that is out there, but here are some that stand out from the crowd:
The first unit that stands out as a great multi-effects giant, is the Eventide Eclipse. There is very little that this unit can't do, and at 2 grand, it better deliver the goods (which it does).
If you cannot afford the Eclipse, the TC Electronic M-One is a great alternative at a much lower price. Reverb and Delay are its strong points, and at this price, it really is a winner! This is one of my favorite units.
Another low/mid-priced unit with excellent reverbs, delays, and even dynamics effects is the Lexicon MX400XL. Lexicon has always been known for producing great sounding reverbs, and this box really does that well. The MX300 is also available (which is a little more stripped down and cheaper).
If you want a top-notch reverb, look no further than the Yamaha SPX2000. This really is a multi-effects unit, but the reverbs are what put the SPX line from Yamaha on the map. It's not a cheap device, but it exudes quality, while also maintaining ease of use, and "tweakability" (yea I know it's not a real word, but hey...it fits).
USED ISN'T A TERRIBLE IDEA
There were some really cool reverb / multi-effects units made back in the day. Here are some great units that you can usually get for a great price used :
The Yamaha ProR3 is a long time favorite of mine. Very useable box that can be had for about $400 used. When they first came out, they were twice that amount!
Yamaha Rev500. Decent reverb box for little on the used market. Probably set you back about $200.
**Just So You Know - I am not in any way affiliated with any companies mentioned. My selections on what the best gear is, is from direct personal experience with said items. I have nothing to gain by recommending any piece of gear, other than the piece of mind knowing you'll be getting reliable stuff that works.