Random Thoughts on Software vs. Hardware

Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by LSchefman, Jul 13, 2006.

  1. LSchefman

    LSchefman Member

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    It is true that hardware has its own personality, and can sound better than software, especially a good analog synth, etc. BUT-

    There were many, many times that I had a client in the morning on one scoring project, and another in the afternoon, and resetting/reloading all my synths, samplers (I used to run 8 synths, and for samplers, 3 Rolands and two K2500s) was a one hour chore all by itself between sessions. Resetting my console was another time consuming task. Then there were resets on all my processors and outboard gear.

    Simply going back and forth between projects was a daunting task!

    Now I use software for most of what I do (I still use an analog console as a big mix buss and router, and I have a few choice pieces of analog gear), and I have to say, I'm really happier.

    I boot DP, and every single setting on every soft synth, sampler, plug-in, and fader is automatically recalled, boom, zoom, done!

    I can spend more time actually scoring the project, and less time screwing around with knobs and buttons.

    All of my video comes to me on Quicktime movies, that I load into DP. No more messing with a 3/4 inch U-Matic and slaving several machines to a timecode synchronizer (I still have my U-Matic, which is in perfect condition and of course worth zero on the market, so if you know anyone crazy enough to want one, pass my name along).

    I work so much faster and more efficiently now that it's scary. I can literally do three client demos in the time it once took me to do one. In fact, I did just that the other day.

    On the same day I can create a soundtrack for a scoring client, and later that very day I can mix a record for a band, no downtime at all.

    Is there a price to pay for all this speed and convenience? Yes, I think there is, sonically. It's hard to hear the differences between my software and hardware productions, but it's there. I can tell you what it is: Back in the day of working with hardware synths, samplers, and effects, I could mix in real instruments like guitar/bass/drums, and it sounded "right" when I mixed.

    In these days of software, something happens that I can't describe in words, but it's harder to have the real instruments sound "right" in the mix along with the software ones.

    I can do it, and I have some tricks to make it happen that I've learned, but it IS something that has to be addressed. And it's something that convinces me that while progress has been made on the software front, there's still some work that needs to be done.

    Still, I'm not going back. There are a few hardware pieces I still want, but they are few and far between, given my needs in the studio to be able to go quickly from project to project.

    I'm sure you guys have experienced the same thing. What do you think?
     
  2. elambo

    elambo Member

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    I think your own signature answers your question. There is a 10-20% improvement (approx. and even rhetorical) possible with "the real thing" instead of software emulations of the real thing, but being able to do a full system recall in a moment's notice when changes are called for (and they will be called for) or shift gears to another type of project altogether is MORE important sometimes than getting that extra 10-20% of sonic legitimacy. I opt for the digital counterpart very often, for the same reasons you've mentioned, even though the real thing sits 5 feet away because in some cases it's crucial to be quick and meet a deadline. Or, again, as your signature suggests, it's best sometimes to keep creativity upfront and tone a close 2nd when ideas are flowing. Analog gear can take time away from creating. Sometimes anyway.

    That's why I'm so excited about the major advancements that programs like BFD, Ivory, URS, and others have brought to the table. Not only is it possible to create a drum track with BFD that's sonically the same as a real kit, it's often better. Steve Albini's Deluxe expansion is one of the best sounding instruments I've ever heard, when mixed decently, and I'd never be able to get those tones in my studio. Certainly NEVER in 5 minutes. Ivory... Same thing. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pianos, miked well, at your fingertips. If, in the middle of a session, you decide to switch from a Bosendorfer to a Steinway it could take hours. With Ivory, it's a few seconds, and the sound is nearly all there. If it's not available immediately in the preset the software most likely has the options to get you very close. Need dualing pianos - Bosie and a Yamaha maybe? Easy. And if BFD or Ivory needs a little sonic sculpting, URS has plugins that are nearly as good as the best eqs available, and they can be thrown on 100 tracks if you have the processing to accomodate them.

    So in the matter of a few minutes you've assembled a session that would have taken an entire day or more to wrangle up in the real world, and best of all, if your client wants something revised a bit (and they will) you can get right back to the original setup in seconds. In terms of money, your plugins could very well be emulating gear that would have cost over $1M dollars to assemble in the real world, but you've done so with around $1k. Even at a sonic discount of 10-20%, you've still saved $799,000.

    Yes, it doesn't sound quite as good, but I'm quite willing to sacrifice the 10-20% to gain the flexibility of what's been mentioned in both posts so far. The three plugins I've mentioned are all relatively new. What will we have available to us in the next 5 years??? The SSL Duende is my next purchase and I expect it to be even better than URS. Yet another reason to stay digital.
     
  3. elambo

    elambo Member

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    I guess I didn't address your issue of the "sound" of software vs. hardware. Yes, it's hard to describe, but I think it's a simple matter of imperfection. Hardware generates small amounts of noise, and buzzing, and "imperfections," that aren't much by themselves, but when you add them all together there's a footprint that's present and our ears are historically used to hearing it. The digital counterparts tend to be almost too perfect for their own good. And usually close miked, or in the case of things like eqs and compressor just too clean.

    I've found that with the right use of "real-world" performances (not quantized to 100% every time), reverb, eq and other effecty stuff it's possible to take those instruments even further towards sounding like someone actually stood in my studio and played them, rather than a computer, quantized, triggered a sample of something. It's not ALL in the mix, but also the playing.
     
  4. melondaoust

    melondaoust Member

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    I wrote a paper on this very subject in university...

    Something that got me thinking however is the talk of 10%-20% quality loss in the software. Bruce A. Miller makes the argument on his site that the industry and consumer are willing to make sacrifices on quality for convenience (ie. putting out/buying records on 128 kbs downloadable MP3, rather than 16-bit 44,100 audio quality on CD). The new "industry standard" is of a lower sonic quality than what it was before.

    Can see his point, but also understand the arguments for digital.

    Not starting a debate here, just some extra food for thought.
     
  5. Matt Gordon

    Matt Gordon Senior Member

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    I definitely agree with you dudes here, especially about mixing live instruments. There is something that is completely different, not so organic overall. I've not heard anyone discuss this before. To fit, the live instruments almost need to be ran through a Hi-Fi processor or something before mixing. I don't know, but they'll say "its all in the hands!
     
  6. enharmonic

    enharmonic Old Growth Gold Supporting Member

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    I love the sound of analog, but I don't miss calibrating machines, and the extra setup time for tape. I also find that it's easier to capture ideas when they're fresh if all I have to do is fire up the computer and arm tracks :)

    Before too long, we're going to have a generation of people who have never worked with tape. I don't think that it will make for better or worse music...just technology moving artforms right along :)
     
  7. drfrankencopter

    drfrankencopter Member

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    Sound differences aside...

    The recall convenience of software is awesome...blows hardware away (even hardware that has presets). I love being able to fully recall a project. I still use outboard gear in many projects though, and grumble every time I need to write down the settings for re-call purposes.

    Software also gives us unlimited track potential, and the ability to undo almost anything...this seems great, and at times can be. But, it's a double edged sword because it also can lead to lack of direction because all the decisions get put off until it's time to mix. My own approach is to commit early...if it sounds good wet with FX and compressed to sh!t then track it that way.

    The interface on hardware is far superior than software...there's something about having dedicated knobs and meters that makes recording a visceral process. With software, there's more thought required...the interface (even if you have a control surface) gets in the way of the art of making music. Software forces us to use our eyes too much, where we really should be using our ears.

    My thoughts...

    Cheers,

    Kris
     
  8. Unburst

    Unburst Member

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    It's not a debate for me, I've worked with both analog and digital setups, both have their pros and cons, but the flexibility and convenience of digital far outweighs the sonic downside.
     
  9. µ¿ z3®ø™

    µ¿ z3®ø™ Member

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    while it is possible to get some extremely realistic sounds using BFD, ivory, EWQLSO, stormdrum, ra, EWQLSC, maybe even trilogy and a few others, i hear the lament about software and 'real' tracks all to often. with some types of music the contrast provides an interesting aural landscape.
    when U don't want that 'interesting aural landscape' effect, but a more organic melding of chaos, try these things i've picked up over the years.
    this seems to work particularly good if U have a very good hi-fi or accurate monitoring (sorry, don't mean to offend anyone. but very many 'monitors' are not very accurate and neutral. they are 'hyped' sounding, supposedly to help the engineer or recordist hear the recording. think NS10, earlier genelecs, earinger, in fact many popular prosumer monitors. this probably WON'T work with monitors like these) and have them set up in a fairly nice sounding room and optimised for accurate reproduction of the stereo soundfield. just go ahead and record Ur softsynth or whatever (many are stereo these days) to a track in Ur DAW. now the fun starts. play back the track thru Ur hi-fi or monitors and set up a blumlein or ORTF array in front of the speakers and record that track. U may wanna move the mikes around to get the 'instrument' where U want it in the stereo soundfield that U are creating. U may also want to layer the two tracks together. but if U do, to avoid weird phasey sound make sure U offset the 'analog' track so it lines up w/ the 'digital' track. this works really well for analog modeling softsynths, some digital type ones like absynth and cameleon and sometimes (and i say sometimes) for stuff like B3 and electric piano modelers. mess around with it. Ur initial results may be somewhat lacking (depending on Ur familiarity of the micing techniques involved) until U begin to intuitively 'hear' where to put the mic array, but it can really add a nice space and a more chaotic imperfection to the track that could just be the thing that is needed.
    the other thing i have found that often works is to record the softsynth track in the DAW and then play that track thru a guitar amp and mic the amp. use all Of Ur chops in micing the amp, same as U normally would. this can work spectacularly well w/ analog modeling softsynths and quite often w/ B3 and electric piano modellers and bass plugs like trilogy and majestic. play w/ layering the DAW track and recorded track to taste, if needed.
    another trick is to take the track out of the DAW and run it thru guitar pedals or something like the culture vulture. stereo tracks can be routed thru two different effects chains to add a neat space. go easy on the distortion and layer w/ the DAW track to suit taste.
    i have a few others, but if i told U, i would then have to have audio engineer ninjas come to Ur house and pour molten lead into Ur ears.
     
  10. LSchefman

    LSchefman Member

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    >>now the fun starts. play back the track thru Ur hi-fi or monitors and set up a blumlein or ORTF array in front of the speakers and record that track<<

    Oddly enough, I've been doing that with programmed drums for years, to get that "room" feel. I thought I was the only one to know that trick!

    Also, when I have time, I find that running synths into a bass amp or guitar amp, and miking the cab, does indeed add to the vibe.

    Still, I've yet to hear a soft synth that cuts like a Waldorf with analog filters, or a Moog, even when they're run direct into the console. There's just a presence and transient response with the real thing that is missing on the soft synths (but to be fair, also missing on many digital synths that aren't virtual).

    Last year I posted some stuff about wanting to move to one of the summing busses that were just coming out; now Neve and others known for their consoles have them, and happily, they're not expensive.

    Gee, I'll only have to take a five figure hit on my console if I sell it...
     
  11. µ¿ z3®ø™

    µ¿ z3®ø™ Member

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    well, yes.
     
  12. TAVD

    TAVD Guitar Player Gold Supporting Member

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    The only hardware you should keep around is the stuff that sounds strange and cool when you turn the knobs. And one or two money compressors. Oh, I also have to draw the line at software guitars and amps.
     
  13. µ¿ z3®ø™

    µ¿ z3®ø™ Member

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    oddly enough, of all the hardware synths that i sold, i don't miss any of them other than the roland system 100 modules that i once had. mind U, apart from that i only had the standard fare ensoniq, kurzweil, roland, yamaha, sequential, stuff.
    i absolutely lust after some of the cool modular stuff available now. i don't think i'm gonna go there. lots of $$$ for it and i already feel i'm spreading myself thin between playing guitar, recording, running a small label, doing glitchy break core on the laptop and now learning the mandolin as well.
     
  14. LSchefman

    LSchefman Member

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    >>i'm spreading myself thin between playing guitar, recording, running a small label, doing glitchy break core on the laptop and now learning the mandolin as well.<<

    You can never be too rich or too thin. ;)
     
  15. µ¿ z3®ø™

    µ¿ z3®ø™ Member

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    i though that credo only applied to supermodels.
    oddly enough i was thin as a rail for my whole life until a few years ago. co-incided w/ me stopping touring several times a year.
     
  16. GerryJ

    GerryJ Member

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    I've played guitar thru tube amps for 35 yrs.....and will continue, since they're bought and paid for. Been DAW for a little over a year. Downloaded and using softsynths for background (so far just the freebies, some amazing ones like http://www.kvraudio.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=142142 http://www.kvraudio.com/get/219.html http://www.home.no/gunnare/index.htm

    http://www.home.no/gunnare/links.htm

    As you said, not much difference between a performing digital synth and a PC softsynth....no way am I good enough to play keyboards in public anyway....so buying an analog synth would be like buying a vintage L5 to play Jimmy Crack Corn.
     

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