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Hardware Vs Plug-Ins.. What sounds better?

Discussion in 'Pro Audio Equipment' started by ChrisH, May 23, 2012.

  1. ChrisH

    ChrisH Active Member

    This has been debated many of times, but I would really like to know the opinions of the professionals on here.
    Does a high end outboard compressor really sound better than a quality plug-in? Assuming you know what you're doing.
    I'd also like to know the same for Limiters, gates, and reverb.
    If there's a easily noticeable difference then I'll save my money for hardware versions of the goodies.
  2. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Of course! If its a quality product.

    But not everyone hears the same, expects the same, has the same monitoring system, room, converters etc. So even though I hear all the subtleties, you may not and therefor, will state your opinion on a forum and it will be bias to this.

    That being said, I also take advantage of plug-ins. I find I need or want less of them and use a great DAW . Sequoia 12 is my DAW of choice but most others will do just fine too. Sequoia or Samplitude however, have awesome plug-ins that are just what the doctor ordered. I basically need no more than what it comes with. If I do, Most of that I look for in hardware. So the addition of a few fine analog gems to juice up a mix makes things really interesting.

    Its all about mixing your sound up so its not all digital. How you do it, what special gear you use and where you put spice in the chain, are the secrets that you will discover when you go OTB in search for that extra touch that separates you from the generic sound everyone else settles with.

    And this is of course, bias to how I hear it all.
  3. MadMax

    MadMax Well-Known Member

    I've directly compared a couple of plug-ins to their hardware counterparts... I use the hardware 99% of the time.

    The plug-ins sound pretty good, and in many cases, are just fine, but the hardware just sounds better... especially when I get tracks that are all digitally generated and the clients wants a bit warmer/natural sound. To my ears, nothing compares to analog-n-iron to get there.

    In some cases, I have preferred a "different" plug-in to the hardware in my racks... so IMHO, it comes down to using what you have, and getting to know what each will do.
  4. ChrisH

    ChrisH Active Member

    I imagine the hardware is more consistent with the sound on each attack or transient spike?
  5. Mo Facta

    Mo Facta Active Member

    I've found it takes a lot more of a "turn" to make plugins get similar results to a hardware unit, whether it be compression or EQ or whatever. In other words, I find myself being more aggressive with plugins to hear the results I need. Sound quality debates around this can go on forever.

    Cheers :)
  6. Laurend

    Laurend Active Member

    No plug-in emulation sounds exactly the same as its hardware counterpart. That's a pure marketing scam IMHO. Emulations have just a different sound. Not better or worse, just different.
    What sounds better is a correctly tuned processor whatever it's hardware or software. Real knobs on a dedicated user interface make things happen quicker and easier on hardware. The plug-in option has this little magic which is you buy one, you can insert many. No clear winner for me.
  7. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    Well I've done comparisons and the plug-ins that I wish sounded and performed the same as the hardware do not. They are close until your start listening to detail and are building complex music or want things to stand out a certain way.

    Is that detail worth it?

    I'd say yes and no.
    If I am basically interested in electronic music that is boom chuck drums, big bass dominant around 80hz, mostly keyboards and loops, pop vocals that need automation, autotune and, I'm not looking for silk found in high end EQ's, plug-ins are good enough.
    But if I am looking for a sonic detail and a sonic sheen, and are producing complex music, there is no doubt the real deal has an advantage.

    Plus, something that were all missing is, sonic variety with DAW's. All of one way makes a boring mix and a more difficult mix to be satisfied with including a song that you can listen to for long periods of time.
    Mixing up your sound with choice hardware combined with choice plug-ins to me is the smarter move. You don't need a lot of hardware but the right hardware sure makes a big difference.

    Until you use both, you cannot know what you are missing.
  8. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Guest

    In another for instance, back in the 1970s & 80s, the reverbs I used were gigantic devices that had to sit in a quiet room because they were electromechanical. About the size of a double bed with a gigantic piece of tensioned sheet metal known as a Plate Reverb. I have as yet to hear any software, plug-ins, emulators, regardless of reviews or opinions that sound anything like the original EMT Plate Reverb. I miss my plates. But one has to be practical about things more-so these days. So we just have to suffer through stuff that sounds different and utilize it to its fullest extent, these days. It's not horrible mind you, it's just different. Coca-Cola used to use real cane sugar. Today they utilize high fructose corn syrup. Close but no cigar. Cops can't eat as many doughnuts anymore because it's harder to chase down villains on foot. 2 inch tape used to cost $150 for 1/2 hour/15 minutes of record time. Today, $150 for a hard drive will get you one weeks worth of record time. Back in the day, we were restricted to 8/16/24 tracks. Today, you can have 128 or more tracks with 48-60 being rather common. Microphones were only available from a handful of manufacturers and were quite expensive. Today there are more microphone manufacturers than there are states in the United States. Today, we get all of our computers from China. Back in the day, we only got our computers from IBM, Control Data, Burroughs and you needed an entire 10,000 ft.² for one and just one. Today the same thing is in your pocket.

    Beam me up Scotty!
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  9. pan60

    pan60 Active Member

    I tend to favor hardware myself, but I do freely admit, I do not like in the box mixing. Personally I like real knobs faders and such.
    I think it is difficult to argue a digital processors as being better then a digital plug in. I do think there is a difference in sound and the analog pathway my be the only influence on that sound.
    I do not have the same confidence in digital ability to preform accurate interpretations of gear such as a plate reverb. I do like some digital plats but prefer the plate, the spring and so on.

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