Our friends at The Audio Hunt posted this article recently written by Rob Braileanu. Rob shares his views about how plug-ins emulations generally compare to their hardware counterparts.
Plug-ins - Sky's The Limit?
Over the past 25 years, since the introduction of the Q10 EQ by Waves in 1992 plug-ins have developed in such a way that make it very easy for users to emulate what seems to be countless audio processes and sounds of old. Such as physical recording spaces, classic guitar amps/tones, characteristics of classic microphones such as a U67 and beyond. In short, the sky is pretty much the limit in terms of being able to achieve anything we want in digital audio.
Two Ways Of Creating A Plug-in Emulation
There are two main approaches to emulating analog gear. The first is to send a series of predetermined audio signals through the unit and record the output. By measuring the input-to-output characteristics at different, or more commonly, at every possible combination of settings on the front panel, an equation is derived and implemented into DSP code (Digital Signal Processing) which emulates the behaviour of the hardware. The second approach is to look at the circuit diagram and model the different components one step at a time to produce a transfer function or difference equation, which in turn can be used to generate the DSP code. A common technique is to combine these two methods to create a computationally efficient model which sonically emulates the original unit.
Ageing Hardware Characteristics Vs Plug-in Emulations
Herein lies an argument – an analog piece of audio hardware is made up of various components such as transistors, resistors and capacitors amongst many other things. These components, although designed to have a linear response, age over time and as such their response changes. Now imagine linking together a few hundreds of these parts then fast forward 30 years and you end up with a puzzle of minute changes in how these components interact with one another to produce the unit’s output. Chief Scientist at Universal Audio, Dave Berners mentions for Sound on Sound that:
"most classic equipment can be physically modelled in the digital world. Analog equipment that exhibits high‑bandwidth, non‑linear behaviour presents the biggest challenges in creating accurate models. But it's often the sound of these non‑linearities that makes the original analogue equipment so desired. Put simply, the more non‑linear the behaviour, the more complex the physical model that's required, and the more processing power needed."
Processing power has indeed increased exponentially and will continue to do so, making it easier and more accessible for plug-in developers to create cutting edge tools highly viewed by the industry and used by professionals worldwide. Despite coming a long way from the Q10 EQ to something like a tape emulation plugin, the plug-ins we can access today are opening new doors to the idea of processing sounds far beyond the scope of any analog unit. However, for those truly interested in the sound of analog hardware, one has to appreciate the unpredictable subtleties ageing components add to the sound in much the same way a wine connoisseur appreciates the years elapsed as flavours build inside the barrels.
The Real Feel Of Hardware
Plug-ins often miss the real feel of hardware. It's a feeling like you get when you push all buttons in on the UA 1176 or how the tape speed fluctuates ever so slightly that people have come to love and to appreciate. The unpredictable nature of the components adds magic to your tracks, magic which could probably be replicated with complex algorithms but for one reason or another it is a completely different experience: knobs vs mouse, VU meters vs LEDs and voltages vs strands of numbers.
Now I'm not even going to begin to say one is better than the other, both hardware and software have pros and cons. If you are after a portable solution or want to be able to use multiple instances of a particular unit then plug-in emulations are for you. But if you are someone that has a taste for analog warmth and depth with the mindset of staying true to the original sound of countless records then I would recommend hardware at any cost. Having said that, many hardware units are indeed very rare and can cost a fortune. The Audio Hunt aims to bridge the gap between the user requiring sought after hardware and the hardware experience. It's well worth checking out The Audio Hunt site as many of the hardware services are available from as little as $10.
Try The Audio Hunt For Free
To hear the difference that The Audio Hunt can make to your tracks then please sign up to take advantage of the free trial available for new members on selected gear. Available for a limited time only.
Pro Tools Expert community members exclusively receive additional bonus credits for free processing with this trial offer by following this link.