How many is too many plugins ?

Discussion in 'Tracking / Mixing / Editing' started by pcrecord, Sep 14, 2015.

  1. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    I was listening to Pensado's Place #224 on youtube and they got to a solo vocal to mix in 60 seconds.
    Thing is, 6min later he's still adding plug-inson the track and via buses..
    I stopped the video right there and just started this thread.

    Man how many of you, just like me, went for hours on a mix and then listen to the before and after and realised that we've just lost the essence of the tracks.

    What's the problem, to many plugins available ?
    I seriously think about removing many unused plugins (let's say those I haven't touch in the last month)

    How do you go at it ?
  2. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    There are many times when I will use plugs, but just as many times that I won't.

    I don't ever add them simply out of reflex, as in a "just because I have them" reaction... If I'm using something, then I promise you that I have a particular purpose in mind for it; it will be something that I know I want, and because of this, I'm specific in what I choose.

    I may have played around with each of them when I first got them, just to see what they could do, and how well they did what they do... I think that's natural, to take them out for a test drive... but honestly, I don't have any sort of pre-designed DAW Project Template where I've inserted certain VST's to certain tracks, subs or auggies in advance.

    Often, I'll use them to color tracks, or add character, and there are times when I will use one particular EQ over another, other times I might use a gain/channel modeling VST - maybe something like an SSL, API or Neve channel strip emulation, while other times I may be looking for more of a tube-like character, ( I like Samplitude's Tube Stage VST for this) and, still other scenarios where I'll reach for a specific compressor/limiter. Sometimes it's an LA2/LA3 VST, or similar Opto style like a Focusrite Red, and other times where an 1176 or similar FET style will sound better, and still other times beyond those, where I'll use something more transparent and less obvious ( I like both the stock Samplitude Compressor and the Waves R-Channel compressor for that scenario). Sometimes the scenario might involve adjusting transients, other times I may choose to use specific plugs in M-S mode to add some space and width.

    It's all contextual for me... I can never say what I use with any regularity, because each mix scenario is different, and, I have to have a reason for using what I choose, a particular tool for a particular task...and that depends greatly upon what I am working on at the time.

    And, other times where, as I said... often I don't use anything at all; it all depends on the project, and how it morphs and changes as more tracks are added or subtracted along the way, or as the way I want things to sound will change throughout the journey of the mix.

    I guess I could use a modern pro analog control room as an example; Let's say that you had "carte blanch" access to multiple racks of hardware processing, with conceivably and virtually every processing device imaginable - LA2's, 1176's, DBX's, Pultecs, Lexicons, Yamaha Revs, Eventide Harmonizers, TC Reverbs, ...preamps by Neve, SSL, API, MCI and Harrison... Graphics and Parametrics and Delays and Exciters and Phasers and Flangers ... and Wangdoodlers and Snofflejaggers and Doppleboppers .... and Lions and Tigers and Bears Oh My and a Partridges in a pear tree ... LOL ...virtually everything you could ever want... Would you really use them all at the same time, or for that matter, would you ever even use any of them every time?

    I don't think we would ... just because they are there doesn't mean that we would automatically start reaching for TT Patchers to connect up everything to anything to everything.

    I feel the same way about plugs. Just because you have "all" the plugs, doesn't mean you have to use them.

    They're all just tools; it's really up to the user to determine what they do, and when they are needed, and how they are used.

    IMHO of course.
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  3. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    There two tipping points. One is when the music gets thinner and smaller that's usually the limit. The other is the buildup of the same plug-ins resonances/tendencies. With digital plug-ins your working with binary exact duplication's. So any buildup occurs at the same spot over and over. I call this exhausting the plug-ins sound

    When you have the same scenario in analog the similarities aren't quite so exact or even close between certain things.

    I think eventually plugin manufacturers will catch on and 'multi model' different analog pieces so there is some variance when using multiple instances of the same pluggin.

    Frequency/resonance buildup from multiple instances (varies by plug-in) and the whole mix I general thinning is when that last instance puts it over the edge in a detrimental way for me.

    I'll use multiple different brands and versions of the same emulated gear (1176 for instance) to try and combat this.

    Also I use a lot of busing.
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  4. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Plugins are weird cuz some stand the test of time and others are obsolete as soon as the next one is out. I find reverb plugins generally sound better and better. Same with eqs. The softube eqs are my new fav I think. You guys using any 'old' stuff.? Pensando and a lot of people use that masterworks eq.
  5. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    I feel like digital performer Mac quad at the studio usually sonically farts after about 15-20 instances. That's when it starts to thin out over there.
  6. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I wasn't making sonic comparisons between analog gear and digital emulations...some are very close, while others aren't even in the ballpark...

    I was making the analogy about how often pieces/plugs are used; and that if we were to be working in a studio environment that had racks of real hardware processors, we probably wouldn't use everything that was there, either... just because it was available to us; and that I look at plugs the same way - that just because I have them doesn't mean I feel obligated to use them. ;)

    One other thought in regard to Pensado's Place - don't forget that his show is being backed ( heavily) by certain advertisers; companies like Waves, Avid, Softube, etc., so he is featuring products from those companies more than others (that could very well be just as good), in order to continue being funded by those manufacturers/advertisers. So, of course he's using Pro Tools, and of course he's using Waves Plugs ... Because they're paying for a major slice of his show.

    This doesn't necessarily stop him from occasionally talking about a particular Slate or a UAD plug in; but he's going to give more time to those companies who are funding him. It's only natural.

    LOL... if you think about it, in a way, what he is doing isn't really all that much different than what some of the 1950's/60's TV shows that were sponsored by cigarette companies did - like comedian Phi Silvers, for example... smoking a Camel cigarette on camera, and telling the viewing audience how "smooth" it was - did he do this because he really felt the need to share with his audience his personal smoking experience with Camels? No.
    It's possible he didn't even smoke Camels - it's even possible he didn't smoke at all... No, he did it because his show was sponsored by Camel Cigarettes.

    The only real difference between Dave Pensado and Phil Silvers is that the Waves 1176 plug won't give you lung cancer. ;)



    Attached Files:

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  7. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    Thats so easy to do, I feel because everything you add in the way of a plug-in can give you the sense it makes the track sound better, its so easy to get sucked in by the process and before too long you have a train of them chugging down the track....
    Theres' a good argument there for A/B 'ing with the original mix track without plug-ins and using it to refer back to???
    - I think I'd have over 100 including the natives, and thats a conservative estimate. Iv'e come to the realisation that I'm not going to buy another if I can find a free one that can do the same or similar. I definately need to cull out the ones I'm not using at all.
    Thats' also a conundrum, as I feel you'd download more being free just to try them.
    And now I think its better to try to get the most out of the ones Iv'e got.
  8. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    More and more I'm reverting to using almost exclusively the Fabfilter's suite. They are clean, transparent and do their job very well.
  9. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    I hear the Fabfilter EQ is pretty good, although I have not used it. How do you find it?
  10. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    My thoughts are very similar. I need to get into my VST folder and get rid of everything I don't ever use. Many are, as you mentioned, trial versions - all of which have expired by now - and there are also several that I did purchase over the years, and either don't like anymore, or don't ever use. Most of these types are older 32 bit VST's - and I need to be clear and say that it's not only the fact that they are old or 32 bit that deters me from using them - I have a few older 32 bit plugs that I still find very useful - but the bulk of them have been upgraded and improved upon so much as modeling technology has advanced, and I've since purchased newer 64 bit versions, or different replacements.

    For example, as I've mentioned in a previous post, I still use an older 32 bit version of Waves R-Channel, because I really like the compressor in it; it's nice and clean, and much more transparent than some of the other GR plugs I have, some of which are meant to impart color and character, and that's fine when I want that - but I don't always want it.

    I've been using Samplitude Pro X Suite as my main DAW platform for almost 2 years now; and so many of their stock plugs sound great - for example, I love the 116EQ ( I find it to be just as good as the Fabfilter EQ); I really like Am-Munition, which is a stock Stereo/M-S Program Limiter; I also dig Am-Pulse, which is a transient modeler... so many of the plugs I use come with Pro X Suite and Pro X 2. I also like that these processors were coded for the platform; and while you can pretty much load any plug into any platform these days, my own opinion is that - at least with some things - using these stock processors is better because they've been designed to work with that DAW specifically.

    There are a few stock Samp VST's that I feel are "just okay"... not jaw-droppers - for example, Samp's built-in reverbs and delays don't sound nearly as good to me as some of the other Third Party reverbs and delays that I have ( I also find Samps stock verbs and delays to be kinda limited in user-defined adjustments); and this is where these various other VST's start to accumulate. I have a Pultec EQ plug from T-Racks ... do I think it sounds just like a real Pultec? No... but that doesn't mean that I don't like what it does do, and what it does sound like.

    As far as some of the other plug emulations, I can't say whether they are true to the original hardware or not, because I've never used the hardware versions. One of these would be the various Fairchild 660/670 emulations, now being offeredd by almost all the major plug makers these days ( UAD, Waves, IK-TRacks, Softube, Steinberg, Slate etc.)... and because the real models are so rare, I've only ever had the opportunity to have been in close proximity to a 670 only one time in my 35+ years of studio experience - but I didn't really "use it" myself. I was an assistant engineer at the time, and a producer rented one from Dreamhire for a mix session over a weekend. I was able to follow the instructions of the head engineer when he would tell me what to do with it, and I was able to listen to it, but only within the context of those songs, and with that one engineer... I certainly didn't know enough about the various controls on it at that time to adjust anything on my own; I doubt I would have been able to do anything productive with it - although from what I heard, it sounded fantastic... but because my own use with it was so very limited, I can't say whether these various 660/670 emulations are true to form or not.

    OTOH, I have mixed on both E and G Series SSL consoles, and the T-Racks SSL channel strips I have sound amazingly close - to my ears, anyway, and I'm speaking from the experience of having actually mixed on those consoles several times.
    In fact, when I first tried the SSL E-Series Channel Strip, I was adjusting settings based on a sort of muscle memory; remembering settings I had using for things like kick, snare, etc., and what I remembered doing on the real thing, and I was knocked out by how ridiculously close the plug was in terms of how it reacted to my various tweaks, and the sound I wanted to get. To me, it was spot-on to a real SSL E Series.

    In the end, I think we need to consider that just because some of these VST's are not really the same as the real models they are attempting to emulate doesn't mean they still can't be useful; and also understand that what might not sound close today, could very well be damned close tomorrow.... because of the lightning-fast advancements that are being made in modeling.
  11. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    I use Pro Q 2, it has all the features you would expect, easy to use and it sounds great. I love how each points you add are not tied to an order, you can sweep them and change the Q in one move by pressing ctrl on the keyboard. It's a time saver. Also find the real time Spectrum display very usefull.
  12. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Donny I was talking about the 'stacking' effect of adding the same plugin model multiple times in the project, being less forgiving than in analog, because of the nature of each. Not whether or not it sounded similar to the hardware. Rather that hardware pieces models aren't identical copies of each other, where a plugin, is an exact copy of itself each instance. This adds to an accumulation of its resonances, which is not as forgiving as its analog counterparts in the same situation.

    If I stack 10 BF1176s, (for some reason) because the plugin instance is the same code repeated over a and over it builds up. If they were hardware they would be in various conditions and ages. This means that while very similar, you getting slight differences in frequency responses and resonances, and the inaccuracy of moving parts and voltage, these when stacked, likefor instance 10 hardware 1176s, would not exhibit the same audio choking or bottle necking. If plugins had various 'takes' of the same plugin, that loaded by choice or randomly when you instanciate it, you could vary the responses of them slightly to 'spread out' the sound s but more. Rather than 10 resonant peaks at the exact same frequency, you would get some mild variations similar to analog.

    Sweet job w the 676 D, closer than I've ever been!!!!!!
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  13. pcrecord

    pcrecord Don't you want the best recording like I do ? Well-Known Member

    That's a very clever and important point right there ! Simulations, often have 1 algorithme and lacks of the unpredictable sounds analog gear will produce. My tube preamps don't ever sound the same. Maybe my ears and monitoring systems don't allow me to hear the difference once they are all warmed up, but I can hear the difference from cold to warm.
    I once heard a engineer say tube units should never be powerdown...

    This is one favorable point toward having multiple plugins that may emulate the same hardware but done differently by their makers..
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  14. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    I like that analogy. It's another version of the "single mic in a bedroom" approach to recording, as mentioned in this quote from Jan 2014:
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  15. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Same for people doubling lead vocals or psuedo group backups. Changing the mic position polar pattern and placement can help defeat "bedroom buildup" lol I've always said the first thing my 414 did was disappoint me by showing me how bad my bedroom sounded.

    I wonder what the bottle neck point is on busing, if it works similar to plugins. I can imagine a lot of digital splits with various processing can be a phase nightmare. I've yet to find the recipe, but busing has significantly decrease my plugin use.

    For some reason I don't find the same stacking type artifacts on digital mixers on in daws that have an eq or channel strip on everything channel by default. It seems to stack better or not bottleneck at least. im also a fan of channels trip plugins lately.
  16. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    If asked which plugs I use most frequently, I would have to say that it's probably channel strips, and very rarely do I use the same strips across the mix. I might use Waves SSL E's and G's for drums, T-Racks Neve's for vocals, bass, and B3, API for guitars, and Slate VCC's for Buses... but again, I don't automatically reach for those - or any plug - just because I have them.

    Generally, if I'm going to be recording any LV's, or BV/harmonies, I'll often switch up mics between those two ( as well as using different XFO's and OpAmp combinations in the pre from take to take on the BV's ), to avoid having all the vocals sounding the same, tonally. Although sometimes, it's as simple as going from a 414 to a U89 and altering the position of the mic in the room. Bos ( @Boswell ) has mentioned the advantages to using different mics and different positions many times in previous posts.

    As Kyle mentioned, the "bedroom sound" is often attributed to those lower budget home recording rigs where there's usually just one pre/I-O ( and generally an entry-level caliber model at that) and just one condenser mic ( also often of a more budget grade) and, tracking it all in the same space - so vocals and OD'd backing vocals can end up all sounding the same. This often makes it difficult to obtain definition in the mix, and is usually - and mistakenly - compensated for by using "extreme" amounts of EQ on each track in order to define them...which then adds its own set of problems. I've experienced this first hand, and have been guilty of it myself; after I'd sold my commercial studio back in '03, and when I first made the move to a much-reduced in size "home" recording rig. It was almost as if I was starting all over as an engineer when I made the move from some pretty nice gear down to a home setup. I found myself having to work a lot harder at getting decent recordings and mixes at hoe than I ever had when I had my real studio. Some of this was expected, but a lot of it came as quite a surprise to me; it was almost as if I was a rookie again. It took a long time to re-accumulate certain better pieces of gear, and to get acclimated with the room I was in at home, before I started turning out mixes that I wasn't ashamed of.

    I think that this tends to occur far less often when better gear is used, and when recordings are made in better sounding rooms. There are many reasons why low budget home recording rooms/rigs often fail to produce good sounding mixes; just a few of these reasons are...

    First, better quality gear - like preamps - can be pushed more and driven harder, and quite often, pleasing harmonics are added when nice gear is pushed to a degree, as opposed to cheap pre's, which tend to crap-out when they are pushed.
    Better quality gear also includes better microphones; and rooms with higher budgets will have a variety of nice mics to choose from.

    Second, a good-sounding room gives you the ability to switch up the location of the mic(s) from take to take, allowing slight to moderate variances in the tone - but very few of those different locations within the room are ever bad locations, because the room itself sounds good all the way around to begin with. And, as we all know, mixing is much easier, and much more productive, when you are working in a room that you can trust.

    The third reason - which seems to have been endlessly debated - is that better conversion allows for better recording quality, and the "stacking up" of low quality sonics doesn't occur in nicer converters as it does with cheaper conversion, especially when multiple tracks are stacked and added.

    It's not impossible for a home studio to get a good sound; but money needs to be invested into better gear, and sometimes, rooms need to be altered - sometimes with treatment, sometimes with modification to the construction - and sometimes with both - in order to get an environment where you can record with better sonics to start with - sonics that are more pleasing, better sounding, less problematic, which in turn results in far less "fixing in the mixing".

    So often, mixes done in home recording rooms end up being "repair" sessions, often a futile attempt at compensating for cheap gear, cheap mics, and a poor sounding rooms...

    ...and any engineer can tell you - there's a big difference between a "mix session" ... and a "repair session".

    IMHO of course.

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  17. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    LOL... I love it when Bos likes one of my posts. It's a professional validation that I'm on the right track to knowing what the hell I'm talking about. LOL
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  18. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    +1 I thought the exact same thing.
  19. Davedog

    Davedog Distinguished Member

    Too much of anything will spoil the soup.

    On the other hand, there are certain emulations in the plug-in world that do their job as they should. And they do it without detriment to the other tracks surrounding the ones they are used on. There are also tried and true pieces of gear that are ALWAYS first choice for a particular use or a particular source.

    Has continued trial and error over a span of time and styles of sessions cemented these to first usage? Damn straight .

    I have a LARGE library of stuff. It all works. Most of it is esoteric in nature if you get right down to it though there are inceptions of particular devices that may do the same thing as everyone else's only maybe with a twist or an extra sumthin sumthin.....

    So, at the end of the day, a mix I have up may IN FACT have several incidents of the same device all over the mix and I could most certainly choose another device to do the same job but don't, even though its readily available. I used to worry about the multiple usage of the same thing coloring the mix in a negative way and this would still be true except at a certain level, these things become reliable tools without a negative impact. i have zero problem using my old trusty U87 for any number of things in a session and this remains true for the few plug-in devices I have chosen to use as the basics in working a mix. I haven't found ANY styles of music or sources that these few things don't absolutely knock it out of the park on.

    There may be something to the plugs that are written for particular programs working better for that program than others, but the way code is written and implemented I'm not sure this a provable situation. Maybe they OPERATE more fluidly or perhaps they load faster and take up less cpu load with a program they have been a native part of, but digitally soundwise speaking I wouldn't want to try and prove that.

    I also agree with the Pro-Q EQ's. Brilliant and easy to use and no discernable phasing.

    When it comes to certain plugs, I will always use the UA versions over all the others. A UA LA 2A is very very close in sound and operation to a hardware unit. UA reverbs, especially vintage emulations ,are also very good. They retain the edgy and gritty sounds you'd expect from a 40 year-old device only without the noise. Waves makes an excellent SSL channel strip. I'm partial to the G and use it as a DSP plug on everything drums while tracking. My templates are all setup with these on drum channels. The Harrison UA EQ's are great. As are the UA API stuff. I also like T-Racks and the POD preamps are really cool.

    I really don't see any of these devices as specific to one genre or the other. I see my mixing all of it together as genre specific.
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  20. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    Nor do I, Dave. The only thing specific about them is whether I feel I need them ( or not) for whatever I happen to be working on at the time.

    I really like the T-Racks 1176, SSL E Strips, Neve 1081 and the Focusrite Red 3 Opto; I also love the Softube LA2, The Slate VCC and Virtual Rack - but I don't use any of these all the time; I don't load them out of "habit", nor do I have a project template set up with them pre-inserted on certain empty tracks; ( like an 1176 on snare, or a Fairchild 670 on the drum bus, or a Focusrite Opto on backing vocals, etc.) and I certainly never use them just because I have them to use.

    I use them only when I feel the mix will benefit from using them. That's it, that's all.

    Sometimes, the TR 1176 is perfect for snare drum; other times, it's the built-in compressor on an SSL E Channel Strip, sometimes I'll choose the stock compressor in Samplitude, or the Waves R-Channel compressor, both of which I find to be very "clean" and transparent ( compared to the others).

    And other times? Other times I'll use nothing at all. It's entirely dependent upon the context of the project I happen to be working on at that time.

    But I certainly don't feel that any of them are "genre specific". That kind of categorization and thinking is too limiting, or at least it is for me. They're only specific to me ...and what I'm working on at the time, and what I choose to do with them. ;)

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