Something odd happened this week, as a by-product of a video I made showing off all the new features of Studio One 4.1, the latest free update to Studio One.
One of the new features is Pipeline XT, a simple and elegant solution for incorporating studio hardware into your DAW mixes. As an example, I used my dbx161 to demo the feature; it was a simple demo using a guitar loop.
Since then I've had a steady stream of messages from people saying how great the dbx161 sounds. They are right it does sound great, I already know that, and that's why I own it. For those that don't own a dbx161/160, there are software emulations of the unit, the difference between the 160 and 161 is that the 161 has RCA/phono inputs on it, not balanced connectors.
But what got me thinking is that I rarely, perhaps never get comments like this about a process I've used in a mix, particularly when that wasn't the point of the video in the first place. However, on this occasion, I've had a steady stream of people making unsolicited comments about how great the dbx unit sounds.
I don't care which version people use hardware or software, and I'm minded to think that whenever one is asked to choose which they prefer that in most cases confirmation bias plays a large part in the decision. In other words, you tend to prefer the one you've spent money on or have a vested interest in, that theory makes a lot of sense and can't be dismissed.
But perhaps because of confirmation bias, our desire not to offend others, or merely excellent marketing on the part of those making the emulations, we've allowed ourselves to dismiss the possibility that there is a difference between hardware and their software counterparts. If it's a bad model of a unit, then it's inevitable that the hardware will sound different or at least perform differently, but in many cases, emulations are so good once can't tell the difference. You can take our blind listening test here.
I don't give a rat's ass what people choose to use to record and mix with, as I said in my article last week, stuff today is so good that you could record on a laptop with free plug-ins and get a great sound.
So what's all this about then? It just got me thinking that how come the hardware unit got so many unsolicited comments from my friends, perhaps it's mere coincidence?
Perhaps it's a crisis of faith? I've spent several years suggesting that plug-ins sound just like their hardware counterparts and then this happens... maybe I was wrong?
Note I have not said one sounds better than the other, that's an opinion and a matter of taste and arguing about that is like a dog chasing its tail.
But perhaps hardware does sound different to software?