Hardware vs Software plugins

Discussion in 'Tracking / Mixing / Editing' started by Animaldrummer04, Mar 8, 2012.

  1. Animaldrummer04

    Animaldrummer04 Active Member

    Hey all, it's been a while since I posted anything but rest assured I've been lurking, stalking everyone's posts as they get sent to my g-reader. :tongue:

    I am still trying to figure out what setup I am going to want for my studio, and I've started buying some things already. I didn't think I would need a lot of hardware like compressors and reverbs (multi-effects) because there are so many VST plugins out there. However, I am discovering more and more that there is a popular opinion that the VSTs are not as good as hardware. Also, I read one of the Dummy books (Musicians guide to Home Recording or something like that) and it talked about how you want to compress the drums before the D/A converter, because you want to record with the mics hot but want to avoid the digital clipping sound - that's why it's too late to compress in the DAW using a plugin.

    What's up with this? Should I invest in plugins or hardware. I recently picked up an Aphex 651 compressor used from Guitar Center and a FMR RNC off of ebay, both pretty cheap. I am looking at reverb units right now, and was eyeing the Lexicon MX400XL or the MX500 but then I read somewhere that you have to know a bit about reverb to get those units to sound good (and all i know about reverb is that I want it and it kind of glues everything together when you are close-miking because your room sucks).

    Also, I was thinking about getting the MOTU 8pre 16x12 FireWire Audio Interface, but after reading up more I really am leaning towards the Focusrite Liquid Saffire 56 Firewire interface. Thoughts?
  2. IIRs

    IIRs Well-Known Member

    Horseshit. Nothing wrong with plugins, nothing wrong with compressing in software.
  3. sachit

    sachit Active Member

    I think it's a matter of workflow and personal choice. I've heard of many engineers who love to completely process the sound before they even hit the ADCs, and then they don't touch it in the DAW. On the other hand, loads of music is being completely ITB mixed nowadays. And then there's the hybrid system guys. If you're willing to spend some money there's really no limit to what you can get with software plugins and emulators, which would cost ten times as much or maybe more as hardware. Then there's the problem of hardware recall. There's no "Load Last Saved Project" button on your mixer/console, compressor, reverb unit, or EQ. Or your mics.

    So if you're the type who wants to sculpt the sound perfectly before hitting the record button, by all means get hardware units. You can also go hybrid, which will give you better flexibility. On the other hand if you can trust software to do the job for you, and you like to endlessly tweak your mixes, then dump the hardware and go to KVR.

    But in the end it's totally a personal choice.
  4. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    There are those of us from the old school that are into very hybrid oriented equipment situations. There is nothing wrong with properly written software. I like plenty of it. I also like plenty of analog equipment in my hybrid studio. I use both together and independently. Mixing and matching. I am a big proponent of utilizing some compression and/or limiting along with some equalization while tracking. And sometimes I don't. It varies from job to job and situation to situation. If I make everything sound right going in, there is less to screw around with going out. If everything is dry going in, it's a whole lot of stuff to deal with before it goes out. It's all in each particular job which each requires a particular workflow with what you do. The only necessary rule to practice is to not use too much gobbledygook when tracking. Some, just not too much. It's much harder to undo anything you have overdone. It's always easy to add extra stuff when necessary, if necessary. Since I specialize in live on location for broadcast & albums, I track with a lot of stuff and mix with other stuff that's not tracked. And I don't necessarily record PA systems like so many other people do. I don't want to hear the PA system on a recording. That's because it's a PA system not a recording. So all the microphones also must be split in order to feed the front of house, monitor mixer and the separate recording mixer/system/control room, generally in my truck and sometimes with fly pack equipment. Sometimes I'll just plug the digital multitrack machine directly into the PA board insert outputs. That's not my preferential way. So those recordings then get mixed through the analog console and enhanced in digital. Though sometimes, when that's not possible, I'll do it all ITB. And I still end up with something that sounds damn close to my analog way of doing things. Especially since I utilize the computer and software in a more analog oriented workflow within the computer. I generally don't rely upon but a couple of plug-ins of software. I find most basic multitrack software packages to be quite comprehensive and mostly without the need for third-party plug-ins. But that's only if you understand what the software is actually doing to begin with. You have to know or understand the difference of whether you want IIR or, FIR filtering. Whether you want lookahead timing in your software compressor/limiter software or whether you don't want lookahead timing. Whether you want soft knee or a hard knee compressor/limiter. Whether you want manual attack/release times or automatic attack/release times. Whether you want low ratio compression or high ratio limiting. And where you need your thresholds to be set. Unfortunately, I find many of the presets that are presented for you in software to be just guidelines and are frequently too over-the-top for me. But they are good for a start as a jumping off point. I frequently draw/create my own compressors and limiters along with downward expansion from the rudimentary basics in the multitrack software packages. Other folks go out and buy/purchase third-party plug-ins because they might be easier for them to comprehend and the user interface might speak to you better. Other plug-ins have truly unique features not found in standard multitrack software packages. But you've got to know what you want to do before you purchase third-party plug-ins willy-nilly. For instance, I discovered the Italian IK Multimedia T-Racks analog tube emulated processing software, years ago. It's one of my favorite. Unfortunately, I found most of their presets rather awful. No matter, I always tweak things the way I want them to sound to begin with. So I really don't rely on any of its presets at all. And a very little of the use of that goes a long long way. People unfortunately over abuse it and think that it sounds like crap. Well it does if you rely upon the presets and turn it up too much. That's not how I utilize it. And that's probably because I am so used to setting everything manually on my hardware devices? When I use the software like I use the hardware, it frequently comes out sounding much like the hardware. And there are so many software manufacturers with so many weird GUI interfaces, I can't stand those. The IK Multimedia products look more like and work more like my hardware stuff. So that speaks to me better. I'm not into cartoon like avant-garde GUI interfaces much. And that's another reason why I don't do Macintosh it's too cartoonlike.

    I never used to miss a Saturday morning Heckel & Jekyl or, Tom & Jerry episode.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  5. audiokid

    audiokid Staff

    well said Remy.
  6. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    Finally I said something right. Not often you know.

    So who is the lousy mother F...?
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  7. Animaldrummer04

    Animaldrummer04 Active Member

    Thanks everybody! What I'm hearing is it's all personal preference, but no matter what you use it's going to sound like crap unless you know how to dial in the sound you are looking for.

    I think I was wondering more specifically about compressing while tracking drums. From what I was reading, it sounded like if you don't compress drums while tracking before the D/A conversion there is a tendency to get that awful digital clipping sound. Since nobody brought that up, I'm assuming that's not an issue many people actually find troublesome.
  8. IIRs

    IIRs Well-Known Member

    Don't clip the converters and you won't get that digital clipping sound. Modern 24 bit converters have plenty of dynamic range for an uncompressed drum kit.
  9. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    16, 24, 32-bit converters make no difference. It's the all-important input & output amplifiers going into that converter and coming out of that converter that provides for the greatest input and output Headroom capability. Don't be confused by utilizing 24-bit. Everyone will tell you that 24-bit is capable of 140 DB of dynamic range, from the lowest of noise floors, to the highest peak output before clipping. So with small entry-level and affordable USB & FireWire devices, you are not going to find the same amount of input headroom and output had room as you would from a rather costly piece of boutique oriented equipment. Most entry-level devices cannot tolerate a peak input level of much greater than +18 and the same for the output amplifiers. Quality equipment, has no problem accepting peak inputs of over +24 while providing peak outputs of over +24. So it doesn't matter what bit depth you choose as most average stuff really is incapable of delivering anything more than approximately 100 DB of actual dynamic range. This can be very confusing when dealing with digital blah blah. It's misrepresentative of how much responsibility actually lies upon you. And that responsibility is proper to gain staging at every point with the electronics you are utilizing.

    Most digital metering in software is extremely accurate especially when indicating when you are "over recording". Some are actually purposefully " cheated " to indicate the peak .5 DB before the peak actually happens. And that's called a safety margin which could conceivably be misconstrued to being more tolerant from peaks. Peak indicators do not indicate that your recording is at its "peak". Rather, Peak indicators indicate you have already exceeded the peak and have arrived at the land of NO RETURN. (Insert Twilight Zone music here)

    So those converters indicating they are 24 bit capable can still mean that your analog side (microphone preamp) input may still not be capable of the same kind of headroom that those $500 per channel microphone preamps can actually deliver. That's because you are stuck with whatever a crappy little chip can deliver. Unfortunately the old adage applies, you get what you pay for. That doesn't mean that the inexpensive stuff can't be utilized to its fullest to obtain high-quality professional results. It does mean you have to understand something about the equipment you are utilizing. That doesn't come overnight unless you have FedEx deliver it to your brain cells. So even if you're recording absolutely positively has to be there overnight you might want to search for a FedEx plug-in for audio software?

    I use UPS which sometimes can be a downer
    Mx. Remy Ann David

    You are traveling through another dimension...
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  10. Animaldrummer04

    Animaldrummer04 Active Member

    Thanks Remy! Sometimes I imagine you moving faders with one hand and replying to all the noobs with your other hand. 24 hours a day. hehe

    I'm underway again, so access to this forum is spotty at best. Don't think i've abandoned my thread!

    As far as audio equipment, i've found that "cheap" and "expensive" and very relative terms. Is the focusrite liquid saffire 56 considered a quality preamp/interface? Or are we talking bigger budget?

    I just watched a video about proper gain staging over at The Recording Revolution, so I think I understand at least the basics concerning that. It is really killing me doing all this research and reading all these threads, but not being able to actually put the rubber to the road until early next year!
  11. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    I know just how frustrating that can be. And in fact, yes, I'm talking to my computer with my hands on the console. Yup, 24 hours a day. So in the past, while I answered a lot of those posts from the bedroom, most of them today come from the control room. At least mostly from control A as opposed from control B. A is the combo control room designed for video control, DJ booth, keyboard room, video editing, CD/DVD duplication, lounge and part-time brothel. While control B, is the big Neve control room. Both rooms in which have multiple computers & multiple wireless Internet links. All in a Mercedes 1117, 25,000 pound, 30 foot long turbodiesel truck. Yup, air brakes also. I love this rig. I've been married to it for almost 21 years.

    Thankfully it never snores like my previous and current partner.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  12. LittleJohn

    LittleJohn Active Member

    To the OP,
    There are many top producers (and lots of us small fries too) who do run drum mics through compressors on the way in. I imagine that some people may do it to "limit" the input as you have described ( to avoid clipping the input stages whether it be the A/D or any other input ) but I suspect you might find that "input protection may not be the primary motivation for compressing while tracking. Hey, what the heck do i know, but I can tell you that when I inline a compressor while tracking it is not in the least about keeping the A/D from clipping. It is about capturing that drum kit (or any other sound source) in the way I think is best for the recording. On the topic of "run the mics hot when doing drums", .. uh, well, ok, that may be true, not sure, but i doubt that you should interpret that guidance as run them so hot that you have to constantly be worried about blowing the top off of your meters. And last, (then i will shut up) I bet you will find that you can get great drum sound tracking with much lower input. Try shooting for about -18 Vu with peaks no higher than around -5Vu and exceptional peaks no higher than about +2Vu. See if you like it.
  13. Animaldrummer04

    Animaldrummer04 Active Member

    Thanks LittleJohn!
  14. RemyRAD

    RemyRAD Well-Known Member

    There is another example of tracking drums with compressor/limiter and gates. For instance, on certain multitrack recordings I've done with simultaneous live FM and/or TV broadcast, I'll just want to print 4 tracks of drums to the multitrack machine while the drums have 8 or more microphones on them. In those situations, I'll frequently go ahead and compress/gate tom-toms while leaving the overheads to you at some additional compression. So it goes down that way on the multitrack and I also have a mix sounding the way I wanted to for a live feed. Though it was different with my Sphere console in comparison to my Neve console because of the difference in internal routing and operational concepts. On the Sphere I could combine instruments and bust them out to their respective tracks, all dry, without processing, while having the processing on only the stereo mix bus. But in certain situations, then I would have a drum kit that I could not make sound like it did for the live broadcast because of the track production and then the inability to individually process individual drums within a stereo mix to the multitrack machine (to computer or standalone device). So sometimes, you just do it because it's necessary and it's what you want in the end. Not sure that came out right? And it's all just not limiting but compression or compression and limiting or just limiting, either way you're virtually unlimited as to what you can do in whatever limited manner you can. I'd like to expand on this further but I am late out of the gate.

    Got it? Get it. That's it.
    Mx. Remy Ann David
  15. Flagg Audio

    Flagg Audio Active Member

    If I had to spend money on hardware I'd invest mostly in preamps and mics, that way you're starting with a good source at the front end. If you get the warmth and natural HQ sound upfront, you don't need to add it down the line. Besides, you can only polish turds so much.

    As far as effects like compression, reverb, EQ, I prefer VST plugins. You can save setting, there tends to be more flexibility/options, and they're non-destructive. I find tweaking them and A/Bing stuff is fast that way. Plus, there's infinite instances of them. Mucking with hardware I tend to go, "Nah...", instead of experimenting whereas I can try 1,000,000 things out just for fun with plugins. Also, you don't have to dust VSTs!
  16. BushmasterM4

    BushmasterM4 Active Member

    To touch on "Plugin Presets" further. They can be extremely helpful to users, but as starting points. The first thing you need to adjust on any preset is the "Input" gain. Many times people will load a preset and say OMG that is way too distorted, thin, thick, whatever. It sounds bad because the input gain that you pump through the plugin may be lower or higher than what the vender used when the preset was saved. And the majority of the time all factory presets are saved when the input was at "Unity". But whenever you load a preset, be sure to lower the input, then slowly raise it up and down to get the feel of what the particular preset is doing to the track.
  17. Animaldrummer04

    Animaldrummer04 Active Member

    Thanks Bushmaster. Good to know!

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