2010 PRO AUDIO - are plug-ins getting close to pro hardware?

Discussion in 'Mixing & Song Critique' started by audiokid, Dec 1, 2009.

  1. audiokid

    audiokid Chris Staff

    Mar 20, 2000
    BC, Canada
    Home Page:
    Seriously, no wanker opinions on this one.

    Some personal insight and discussion on high end DAW's and DAW plug-ins

    My opinion - 10 years ago I sold my Fostex d 16 (which sounded really good) and moved into DAW world ( I should have just bought top quality hardware pre's, mics and processors). I thought it was going to make my music crystal clear (sounds like a drug ). Investing 50 grand into a daw studio and loading up on digi and waves expensive plug-ins, listening back, turned my good mix's into total crap ( sounds more and more like drug abuse lol).
    Back then I didn't know what the hell was happening because it was all just simply amazing doing all this sound, ITB. More tracks, more plug-ins, I was a glutten for digi gear, heading for both and audible and financial train wreck. I think those who invested like I did turned a blind eye on sound quality. How many of you have spent endless hours trying to fix a wrecked plugin effected mix? We all understand this more today and forgive the industry in general. Live and learn.

    5 years ago, I still wouldn't waste a dime on plug-ins because they were IMO still cool looking crap. Yes, I'm now really really jaded from wasting all that money on Alsihad back then. I cringe when I hear what people are paying for HD systems. I'm just glad I broke even in 2005 and learned what I know today. Don't get sucked into a big alsihad system. I just said that again for the 20 time over the last 5 years.

    Moving on... Reading the forums for 10 years has instilled what... investing in good preamps and mics is still a sound investment. Investing in plugins and/or 20 grand protools HD rig is a really bad investment, unless you are of course... PT HD because it is what's expected for real commercial studio status... We all know the reasons and this is another topic.

    Prediction... by Feb/March 2010, we are going to see a big change with the leader (digi) and feel sad for all those who invested big bucks in hd rigs over the last 14 months. Hope it wasn't you just reading this.


    Moving on...

    for 2010,

    IMHO, plug-ins obviously work and are getting better ( man they look amazing!) and... what about vsti! WOW!!! I like where this is going ( yet another topic).

    Back to the topic..

    Do the majority of all plug-ins still turn a great mix into clutter?

    Its still hard for me to get excited about them. The concept that they should be just as good, if not better than hardware, makes logical sense, not to mention having everything you want ITB. Its so logical and simple. I want to do all my work in the box! But, I'm still not investing in them and don't even load them into my new system ( yet). Am I missing something? Am I so jaded that I'm over the top and turning into an old fashion die hard?

    From the pro audio engineers conclusion, heading into 2010, what are your thoughts on plug-ins at this time?
  2. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Apr 19, 2006
    Home Page:
    The concept of plug-ins is good, but they sap the DAW's CPU power, increase latencies, limit track counts and stretch rendering times.

    I foresee generic outboard digital processing boxes that are able to run multi-lingual plug-ins, and have high-speed digital links to the DAW. The DAW's one remaining plug-in has the job of parcelling up the correct tracks and sending them to and from the external boxes.

    It would work with all the standard DAWs, and once the plug-ins are loaded up, the user interface remains unchanged. It would be a bit like a Digidesign DSP farm, but made generic, non-proprietary, modular, scalable and affordable. I am aware that there are offerings in this area already, but nothing that fully addresses these key design goals.
  3. hueseph

    hueseph Well-Known Member

    Oct 31, 2005
    Vancouver, BC, Canada
    Isn't this the concept behing SSL's Duende and UA's UAD2 cards? I think the only way to capture the quality of hardware is through convolution but not just a capture of the signal process but a direct emulation of the circuit.

    I know this is a stretch and from a self proclaimed hack. UA tries their best to follow this model. I think they do a great job. I still find some plugins have a tendency to create mud or odd artifacts. Plugin delay is a headache. I don't know if that will ever be truly compensated for.
  4. DefiningFreq

    DefiningFreq Guest

    a huge amount of mixing gets done ITB nowadays. for one, an EQ is pretty much an EQ. you're boosting and cutting frequency ranges. convolution reverbs sounds amazing, but they do have their problems with latency and CPU munch. VI's are replacing hardware synthesis in a big way.

    however, OTB compression is still a basic studio requirement.

    you make the most important point about mics and preamps. which is... what you do ITB starts and ends with what happens OTB. some people say you can't polish a turd, which isn't true, you definitely can (to a point), but it's not easy or recommended. starting with good preamps, mics and MIC POSITIONING, is fundamental to making good things happen ITB.
  5. audiokid

    audiokid Chris Staff

    Mar 20, 2000
    BC, Canada
    Home Page:
    DefiningFreq, Do you think all ITB eq's are pretty much equal then? My outboard eq is one of those pieces being replaced by the DAW's?
  6. audiokid

    audiokid Chris Staff

    Mar 20, 2000
    BC, Canada
    Home Page:
    Hey Boswell,

    Ya, I agree. I'd say this is where digi is going. Could be we're all going to be able to use their front end and as an option, but their, or other third party plug-in farm excels or what ever they are called?
  7. audiokid

    audiokid Chris Staff

    Mar 20, 2000
    BC, Canada
    Home Page:
    Hey Hueseph,

    I haven't had the opportunity to use UA ( you)?, They are in the front lines. I guess you've answered the question though, They are doing a good job but there is still latency? Is there still artifact clutter and image wash ( that's what I call it)?
  8. Boswell

    Boswell Moderator Distinguished Member

    Apr 19, 2006
    Home Page:
    Sure, but my next paragraph covered that point. The main issue is that all these schemes so far are proprietary, and, as far as I am aware, there is no generic external box that can run standard VST or other format plug-ins in a modular and scalable form. An industry-accepted way of doing this would immediately remove many of the principal drawbacks to using software-based processing in the small to medium-sized studio.
  9. siconova

    siconova Active Member

    Dec 1, 2009

    I paid a lot of money in plugins in the last years, but only to realize that they do their job, but sacrifices depth.. The last couple of months I found this


    I don't want to talk more on this because of someone thinking that I'm working for that company.. It is only that I'm satisfied with this plugin, and at the time, angry for all the money I spent on crap )plugins are so expensive)..

  10. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Jun 22, 2004
    Philadelphia, PA/ Greenville, DE
    Home Page:
    I one of those who definitely thinks it's betting better all the time. Less expensive hardware, less power consumption, less of everything, but more options and more flexibility, to the point of almost TOO Many choices. (Don't believe me? Just take a look at all those home-based studio environments doing just fine already, with mostly nothing more than plug ins. This alone has changed the recording industry as much as downloads have wiped out the commercial CD biz. It's not better or worse, IMHO, it's just DIFFERENT.)

    I don't think we need to wait till 2010 for the answer; we've already got it.

    The big studios will always have the real thing - very expensive vintage stuff; very very nice if you can get 'em. But it's harder and harder to maintain, and only the bravest and best-financed folks will have this sort of thing in the future. The rest of us will be running emulations. Very good emulations at that, and the bottom line is that it wont sound all that much different in the end. It will become like painting; choose your media; acryllics vs. tempura vs. pastel vs. charcoal, and so on.

    I've been ITB for so long now, I've stopped wondering/worrying. (PC-based, Sequoia & Samplitude, Sony Vegas, Final Cut Pro) I primarily produce music and video thats are supposed to sound "real" and natural; primarily acousctic type music of all sorts (Jazz, Classical, Folk, Opera, Choral, etc.) With the right approach, I can make my digital stuff as "Warm" and as vintage-y as any piece of brown oxide, without any of the analog pitfalls and shortcomings. (I've done enough analog recording to know how to do this, as have many others reading this.)

    I don't have the time and the luxury, either, of collecting anything more than great mics and pre's. Everything else is a losing investment. (go on, just TRY to resell those Rev 7s, Tascam consoles and Otari half-tracks!) The other hi-end & vintage outboard boxes are wonderful, but I consider them a hobby for others to pursue, not me. My plugs are fantastic, work as advertised, and don't get in the way of my sound. They help me CREATE the sound, but that's all I want anyway. (I don't want heat, hum, extra AC power consumption, and a tech (usually ME) to keep 'em all working.)

    Should I ever need a "real" Leslie tone cabinet, stairwell reverb, or tube guitar amp, I might go rent or buy one, but even still....those plugs are getting better all the time. I always ask myself: What is the goal here, and how much time/money do I have to acheive it?

    I know I'm not like others; I don't run a facility open to the public, and I don't have to be all things to everyone and have a slew of sexy gear to entice cliens. But that was never my goal anyway. I've had the fender rhodes keyboards, fender guitar amps, drum rooms, etc., and it's just no longer cost effective for what I do now. Fortunately, I can still hear what sounds good vs. crap in plugs OR the real gear.

    As for EQ; the lack of time-smear and ringing, inaccurate freqs., and so many other anomalies in the old stuff just makes me wonder why more don't hear the difference with great digital EQ tools. Oh well, that's why HoJo makes 28 flavors, I guess.

    Me? Plug away. I've got my favs and am open to more. You probably do too.
  11. hueseph

    hueseph Well-Known Member

    Oct 31, 2005
    Vancouver, BC, Canada
    Boswell: Right. I misunderstood what you were getting at. There is Muse' Receptor though it seems more geared toward VSTi. It doesn't seem to support any of the major players either. IE: Waves/Cambridge/Ik Multimedia. It does however suppport VST/AU/RTAS and is both Mac an PC compatible. Whether it will run your plugins is a crapshoot it seems. I can't find a proper compatibility list on the site.

    audiokid: I have a UAD card and it does sound great but even with the card I can only run a few instances of any of the higher quality plugs like the 1176LN and with this particular card I can't run the Fatso Plugin that I covet so much. lol. Latency is still an issue. I don't know how or if that will ever be resolved.
  12. Kev

    Kev Well-Known Member

    Nov 13, 2001
    when in the digital environment the algorithm or program is set and should not make mistakes or work differently next time it's loaded
    given the DSP is working and the process is NOT corrupted it should work the same
    analog gear will be influenced by many things , age, temp, interfacing, signal levels
    they can seem alive at times

    this reliability and repeatability is the something a computer and digital does very well

    As the programming gets better and better the emulations will get better and closer
    and yes there will be TOO many choices as with all software options
    the favourites will get to the top via good sound or good marketing
    as always be wary of the good marketers ... some will be fine

    interesting will be those DSPs that are available as both Hardware and Software ... like Virus
    why do they sound different ?
    are they the same algorithm or program ?
    the D to A converters ?

    as time goes on these issues get less and less
    I did give up on my Analog Desks due to simplicity of operations and workflow

    I LUV the old gear and outboard hardware BUT it is obvious where the future will lay
    for now Mic Pres and Amps and perhaps Compression will still be about in track laying and then later at Mastering

    BE aware that OLD gear needs to be working correctly for you to have the magic
    SO many people just DO NOT know what the magic should sound like and I know there are many 1176 and LA2's out there that are not quite right
    these may still sound cool and different and still be valid and some will need tender luving care to make right

    Guitar Amps ... tubed ... will be interesting to watch into the future
    the electric guitar as we know it today would not be how an electrical eng would want to make it today
    We have grown up listening to this sound and so want to repeat it

    New recording methods will lead to a generation that don't know the OLD sounds and as this happens there will be new sounds and the new DAW ways to make them

    A great time to be in this
    and the new generation do not know the tricks we had to learn
    sub group to save plug power
    obvious to us older units as we only had one or two reverbs ..... the newbies are tempted to put one on each track

    Understand the past
    Look to the future
    Never stop learning

    life according to Kev
  13. audiokid

    audiokid Chris Staff

    Mar 20, 2000
    BC, Canada
    Home Page:
    Is it time to sell high end graphs and processors ?
  14. AudioGaff

    AudioGaff Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2001
    Silicon Valley
    That would be mistake. It is the high end stuff that still has real value as a an audio tool and most of the time can not be matched ITB. If your talking digital, then that can be more of a product by product.

    Plugs have matured as expected, but are not the same as hardware. I find that hardware is more forgiving, easy to dial in and less fuss.

    I can not imagine ever getting rid of items such as my Massive Passive, Vari-Mu, Lexicon 480L, TC M5000 or three Eventides for any plugs unless those same makers made plugs and made them to be just like the outboard boxes. Even so, the zero CPU load and 100% stable use of digital outboard outweighs plugs everytime.

    Sure I paid $4k for my Eventide DSP4500 about 10-years ago with all options. That was only a few bucks over dealer cost and it now sells for less than half that, but I have gotten, and continue to get so much use and joy out of it that box that it was money well spent and is something that I hope works and can use for at least another 10-years. No plug is likely going to have that life span because of how fast things move and become obsolete in the computer world.

    I am still working on my first all digital mix project not using any analog outboard and I have to say it is a real fricken chore in workflow and effort compared to using all analog. It is taking me dozen of weeks and I am still not where I think it needs to be to be finished or where it would be if I was using all analog like I have always done before.

    I know for me anyway that there is no way that I could live with ITB without using at least a digital mixer of control surface without a min of 16-faders at one time. Without faders there is so much effort and work flow compromises, that it just takes most of the joy out of working or at least out of mixing.

    Sure I have a digital learning curve to overcome, but it is no surprise to me why wankers or pro's a like have such a hard time getting decent results.

    I am finding that while the DSP plugs of UAD, PowerCore and some other high end native plugs are better than yesteryear, and are quite useable and acceptable, you can't use them the same as analog including the direct analog emulations. They need to be more hand tweaked and used far more lightly to avoid the mush mix.

    I am willing to complete and try a few more projects, but I may not be able to hack ITB and need to go back to at least all analog mixing. I imagine it would have been easier all around if I never knew or had any experience in all analog. But I do, so ITB just really sucks in comparison.

    Those that start with, and only use digital/ITB will never know what they are missing or how much better it could have been so they muddle along with all the crap that goes with digital and ITB.

    I now have so much sympathy for all those that will never know what they are missing.

    You poor clueless bastards....
  15. Kev

    Kev Well-Known Member

    Nov 13, 2001
    I can't recommend that just yet
    not if they are the real deal
    but then
    I hung on to my ADATs for way too long expecting there to be trade in old archive tapes transferred to ProTools etc

    so what do I know ?

    the gear Gaff mentioned
    Massive Passive, Vari-Mu, Lexicon 480L, TC M5000 or three Eventides
    very sweet

    as he said with good hardware ... digital or analog ... to compare to
    heavy CPU loads can make even a good DAW seem like a toy

    and digital to digital transfers with a sub standard clock or distribution ... for whatever reason ... are all part of why the knowledge is not out there

    " You poor clueless bastards.... "

    sometimes I have felt this clock issue even on mixes purely ITB
    but I can't prove it

    and this is why I ... often ... still suggest analog transfers between digital boxes
    Mastering Suites with there HIGH spec analog mixer/switches and there phase/filter tricks still show the way

    everyday things get better
    even ProTools has a better sound than in the early days of MixPlus
    the newer mixers ... the spec is set BUT things do seem to get better

    I know Chris is OFF PT these days but that's not the point
    ALL the software writers are getting better at it ... but there is bad software and gear out there so beware and use your ears

    SO Chris
    if you have something truly special and in good condition that you do use often to get your results
    then hang on to it and look after it

    if you have something that you don't use and perhaps not the LUV for
    then think about liquidating it

    I'm interested to know if some of the modern Digital will stand the test of time and become LONG term classics ... like a 480L and Eventide thingys

    Waves Hardware ... L2 or is it L3
    Crane Song ... Head and others
    Disstressor ... brain fade ... does this have a DSP ?
    TC gear like Gold Chanel and DBmax have some true believers

    IF we stay with PCM then there is a chance
    must learn how to distribute that clock properly

    digital is so cost effective
    big bang for the buck and hard to ignore that
    we do seem to live in an mp3 world now
  16. Alécio Costa - Brazil

    Alécio Costa - Brazil Well-Known Member

    Mar 19, 2002

    Chris, I moved to HD Accel in 2007. Pro Tools HD 8 is a terrific software, sounds really good, a giant leap from PT 5/Mix Systems.

    I have reduced the number of plug-ins to 1/4 of what I used to have at my DAE folder. I gave up on Waves. Stayed only with Mc DSP, PSP, Tc Electronic and the Massive Pack bundle.

    I have also invested on pretty nice high end analog gear ( More sebatron Mic Pres, Crane, Pendulum stuff) and superior monitoring ( Dynaudio). Man, what a difference.

    PT8HD hepls your workflow a lot, but better a/d, monitoring and clocking were the main steps from that sound I used to achieve.
  17. soapfloats

    soapfloats Well-Known Member

    Aug 28, 2008
    Cincinnati, OH
    Home Page:
    I may be able to offer an outsider's perspective.
    Granted, I've only been doing this a short time, but every aspect of it has consumed me and I've been an active learner.

    So here goes:

    The background:
    I never got the chance to deal w/ any good OTB gear, excepting a few mics and pres.
    I am a DAW-child, and use plugs exclusively for verb/comp/etc (excluding my dbx 166, which gets used when tracking bass, or any other-transient happy source that can suddenly cause unwanted peaks).
    I DID get the chance to spend some learnin' time in a few very fine local studios, with the 2", the LA2As, Neumanns, Lexicons and such.
    My technical skills are rather lacking. I can sauter, strip, and cut wires. I can make rudimentary repairs of my musical equipment, but not so much my audio equipment. That is, I know my way around a toolbox and garage, but not so much electronics. This makes my OTB investment decisions all the more critical.

    My take:

    I am a slave to my CPU and my clocks. A few reverbs or channel strips, and it's stutter-city. Still working w/ Presonus on getting my FS and 2 Digimax's to jive right - that's another story.
    I hate using a mouse to control faders. Control surfaces look more appealing to me daily.
    I'd love to have some of the "golden toys" to make use of. Unfortunately, at thousands of dollars a piece, they're a long way off.
    I get clients regularly who marvel at the idea of using a studio like mine (project, in a church) that had a console. So that vintage stuff has allure for would-be clients as well as myself.

    While emulations and plugs will get better and better (good for me), they'll never be a substitute for the good old grand-daddies (bad for me). The only way that would be possible (as you've mentioned) from my perspective is if CPU load can be greatly reduced (if not eliminated), and the cost ratio remained the same.
    Still, there'll always be the factor of "You've actually got a "____"?!"
  18. AudioGaff

    AudioGaff Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2001
    Silicon Valley

    TC DBMAX lover hear. One of my secret weapons. It hass it's weakness like any box, but I have done some amazing stuff with that box.

    And the wanker projects that I have rescued, fixed and saved from the trash using it over the last 5-years has easily paid for it and other gear.
  19. Kev

    Kev Well-Known Member

    Nov 13, 2001
    and a many audio fellows from the video and film wold will agree
    a fast way to submit a documentary etc

    a good tool when used right is a very sweet thing
    can make us look very good

    but that is half of our trade or craft ... knowing a good sound and how to get there
    and conversely knowing a crap sound and then letting your crap detector do what you know it should ... don't get talked into keeping it .. it is hard to say NO to the producer
  20. audiokid

    audiokid Chris Staff

    Mar 20, 2000
    BC, Canada
    Home Page:

    nice tool! 4500.00

    You are doing what I'm very interested in doing.
    In another thread: {old-link-removed}

    which I'm trying to get a handle on how I can avoid plugins as much as possible, use my nice hardware...
    I'm trying to get my head around this all. Would you use the DBMax with a summing box?

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