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Outboard gear or Plugins?

Member for

18 years 8 months
Should I Build my studio setup around rackmont gear, or are plugins of high enough sonic quality to do the job?


Member for

20 years 8 months

Ethan Winer Thu, 04/10/2003 - 07:13

We've been discussing this in theplug-insforum.

To me there's no question thatplug-inscan sound great. One huge advantage is price - one plug-in can be added to any number of tracks. Another is total parameter recall. And no flaky patch cords to worry about either. :)


Member for

21 years 3 months

archived member Thu, 04/10/2003 - 09:44
Just supplying the other half of the debate...

I'm a big fan of hardware as well as software. It all comes down to how you work and what your budget is.

I come from a guitar/electronic experimental music background, so I like to be able to have the "hands on" control of hardware. Also, the beauty of hardware is that in a studio with a few people, one of you can take a piece of gear such as an FX processor, sit in the corner with it and have a play while everyone else gets on with whatever. The "standalone" nature of hardware is a big plus for me.

Cost/performance is obviously biased towards plugs. But some of my favourite hardware was found very cheaply at the back of music shops- things like analog/digi delays and old mad guitar effects. Don't discount any type of audio processing because it can be fun to play with sound :D

Also, if you go with an all-in-one DAW, but you only have limited analog in/outs it can be a problem integrating external hardware effects, so plugs, as Ethan mentioned, saves extra cables and input/outputs.

Good hardware will last a lifetime (hopefully ;) )
so it can be an investment. Mics, preamps, compressors and EQ's can hold their value well. But because of the rapid progress in software and PC/Mac hardware, and the constant upgrade battles, software/DAW can't keep it's value as well.

The best thing to do is decide what sort of work you'll be doing; whether you'll work alone/with a band, on electronic music/live band recording etc. This will help with e.g. how many inputs you'll need, how many simultaneous tracks to be recorded etc.

Hope you get it sorted!


"Oscillators don't, amplifiers do....."

Member for

19 years 5 months

Kurt Foster Thu, 04/10/2003 - 10:21
I agree with Mark on all points. I like good front end gear as well as using plug ins. Stock plug ins that come with programs like Cubase work well but can sound a bit "generic". Not a lot of flava'. The bonus when using a cool limiter like a Manley EL OP or a 1176 on the way into the box is, when you add a bit more of the "stock" plugs at mix, the color from the compressor you used on the way in is still present and it sounds as if all the compression is from that nice compressor.

I have always liked compressing just a little on a lot of things like vocals, bass and guitars to tape when I worked on analog back in "the old days" but now that I am working in DAW, I have been learning that compressing even kick and snare a bit is a “good thing”. I would have never have done this in analog or for that matter even on ADATs but it seems to almost be a necessity with DAW. Otherwise I have to turn all the other elements way down to get a good balance. By compressing the kick and snare just 2 or 3 dB I seem to be able to get the bass, guitar and vocal tracks to run closer to unity gain.

As Mark said, a good limiter/compressor like the 1176 or a LA2a and quality mic pres like Neves and API’s can be considered an investment. If you buy smart, from a private party, you should at least be able to get back what you paid at purchase should you ever decide to sell. Many times you can even make money after having a real cool toy to use for several years. The same cannot be said for software based products that have a limited “shelf life”. But you have to be willing to pay the price of admission. The danger is once you start using quality mic pres and compressor/limiters you will be “hooked” and nothing else will do. You will become a “gear snob” looking down upon the “unwashed masses” that track with prosumer grade gear. Use with Caution ….. Kurt