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A couple questions relating to Presets:
Are presets one of those things that most people turn their heads from? Or are they actually commonly and widely accepted for use in Audio Production?

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question is far too vague and open-ended, thus impossible to give a substantial, valuable answer. –  Shane Kilkelly Jun 19 '11 at 13:02
    
it would be helpful to know whether the OP is asking primarily with synthesizer presets in mind, or effects. –  Mark Heath Jun 19 '11 at 18:23
    
the electronic music community has some varying opinions on this, but not exactly presets. many in the dubsteo music community hate the overuse of the Modern Talking osc built into Native Instruments Massive synth –  Travis Dtfsu Crum Oct 30 '12 at 4:12

2 Answers 2

There are three main objections to presets that I have come across:

1) Presets are often over-hyped in order to sound impressive in a demo context. For example the first patch on a synthesizer is usually a very lush and elaborate sound so that holding down just a single note results in a fully produced soundscape, often drowned in reverb and delay. But such sounds tend to be hard to fit into a real world mix. Exactly the same tends to be true with guitar effects - they are designed to sound good in the shop, but the presets may not work well in the context of a band.

2) With some effects, presets don't always make sense because they need to be set up specifically for your source material. A classic example is the threshold control on a compressor. You can't easily make a "vocals" or "bass guitar" preset for a compressor since you don't know what level the incoming signal will be at. This means that users can naively dial in a preset whose controls are inappropriately set for the material they are working with.

3) Presets are thought to encourage laziness - rather than learning to use the effect/instrument properly and exploring its sonic capabilities, you just look for the preset that gives instant gratification. In other words, the presence of presets can stifle creativity.

Having said all that, I prefer my effects and instruments to come with presets. They give me sensible starting points, and show off a wide variety of possibilities that I may not have discovered manually.

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I think it was more of an issue in the past, where synthesizers came with much fewer sounds that, as a consequence, were easily recognized.

For example, the factory preset sounds of the venerable Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer can be found in countless pop hits from the 80's and in many cases, with little or no variation from the factory preset. Once the DX-7 became popular in mainstream music, some musicians and producers wanted it exactly for the preset sounds, while others went out of their way to program sounds that didn't sound like the factory presets.

I think presets are useful as starting points. If you're searching for a sound that blends in well with the rest of the music, presets will often give you a good idea where to start. Today's synthesizers and samplers often come loaded with thousands of sounds and with an incredible array of effects and parameters that can changed. As Mark Heath points out, the presets might be beefed up with excessive reverb, etc. but such effects can usually be tweaked or removed.

Presets are also important for musicians in live settings, especially if you're improvising or take requests. So even though some people might disregard the presets in the studio, they still serve a vital role for the countless musicians on the stage.

The way I see it, it's ultimately all about finding sounds that match the expression or effect you want to impart with the music. Whether you start from a preset or from scratch doesn't really matter as long as you reach that goal. That said, I would probably spend some extra effort to tweak a factory preset with a very recognizable sound.

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+1. My favorite quote I've heard along these lines is "I constantly use the Acoustic Guitar preset on my acoustic guitar." –  Warrior Bob Jun 19 '11 at 20:23

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