We’ve become obsessed with our ‘sound-alike’ plug-ins, be that an Abbey Road desk, a Fender combo, a 1960s 1176 compressor, a Neve console, a Jupiter 8, in fact the list is endless.
I know companies like Waves, UA and Softube work hard to create as near as perfect emulations of consoles, right down to tape hiss and scratchy pots. They take the stuff apart to component level and measure everything to within one inch of its life.
I’ve been one of the lucky people who has seen, touched and heard drums and bass tracked through the Abbey Road REDD desk. Then again I’ve never sat in front of a 1955 Fender Champ and played my Telecaster through one. Truth is most of us will never get the chance to see the Abbey Road REDD console, a 1960s Vox AC30 or a vintage pre-amp, let alone use them - most of us have more chance of touching a Playboy model than a piece of modelled vintage studio gear. The only people who are really ever going to be able to do A/B blind tests on the original gear versus the plug-ins are the people who make the plug-ins, those that own them or the lucky few who get to use them.
So the reality is we have to take the quality of the modelling at face value; even if we could get hold of a vintage Neve channel, it’s highly unlikely we are going to have enough for one on every channel of the desk, so reality is already being suspended when we use plug-ins in ways we never could have before.
Do your plug-ins sound like the real thing? Probably, but if you like the sound of them and they give you the results you need, then who cares?