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February 4, 2017 editorial: comments

 
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Mike Levine

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Mike Levine
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1 Posted on 02/04/2017 at 10:00:03

The Irony of Modeled Plug-Ins

One of the questions I like to ask producers and engineers during interviews is if they think plug-in emulations of vintage hardware processors sound like the original units. I posed that question to producer/engineer Ed Cherney in the interview with him published this week.

As he was answering me (by the way, he said he thinks they do a great job) I had a small flash of insight. It occurred to me that most home-recording musicians nowadays, myself included, have had little or no experience with the original units. Thus, we have no real bassline (in the comparative sense, not the Fender sense) to judge how accurate the modeled versions actually are.

I mentioned that to Cherney and he his response was, “I'm wondering for a generation of people, does it even matter?”

And that, is the crux of it. For someone like Cherney, who’s spent years using hardware 1176s and LA-2As and Fairchilds—and still does—it clearly does matter. He can listen to the modeled plug-ins and mentally compare them to the real units.

For me, and I suspect for a lot of you, it’s a different story. Although I’ve been in sessions where vintage hardware processors were in use, my only significant, hands-on experience with them—where I could really hear what they do, and learn what they’re capable of—has been when using plug-in simulations. Talk about the tail wagging the dog.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing against emulative plug-ins, after all, they simulate units that became iconic for good reasons. Even if you’re not familiar with the original, there is definitely appeal to the idea of using a processor that sounds just like one that’s been on countless famous recordings, and that so many engineers, producers and musicians love.

But it is ironic that software developers work hard to emulate gear that the great majority of their customers have never used. It’s not a knock on anyone, just an observation.

Personally, I really like plug-ins that take a hybrid approach, starting with a basic emulation of hardware and then adding features that would have been impossible to achieve in the original analog unit.

Your thoughts?

carlosmusic

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2 Posted on 02/04/2017 at 11:10:16
Excellent thought article! Thank you. I think that if only those who have personally experienced the actual real device, acquired a pluggin, buyers would be a minimum percentage and developers of emulation technology would be troubled by doubts. :oops:

[ Post last edited on 02/04/2017 at 11:10:45 ]

Jimham70

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3 Posted on 02/04/2017 at 11:23:58
Another factor when dealing with emulations is ... analog hardware varies a great deal from unit to unit ... even of the exact same models, they become worn, old & out of spec. Tubes, capacitors & transformers regularly need to be replaced so every piece of equipment is different. There is no standard.
I also love hybrid emulations of classic sounding plugins. Adding things like look ahead compression, M/S equalization & multi-band functionality can enhance an already great sounding virtual processor and make it a one of a kind. Many of these emulations also offer the option of adding or omitting the noise and harmonic distortion to taste. The bottom line is ... does it sound good? Does it work good? Use it.

Kevin Macshane

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4 Posted on 02/04/2017 at 11:24:27
There is a reason developers have chosen these iconic pieces to emulate. Also when the time comes in ones musical journey to be able to use this real stuff in recording or mixing, they will have some idea of how it operates. I have never used a real fairchild 660 but thanks to plug in developers I do have an idea of it's capabilities.

Terry Cano

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5 Posted on 02/04/2017 at 13:17:29
Excellent article and excellent post to the Editorial comments.

Musically,

Terry

Bruce Teague

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6 Posted on 02/04/2017 at 13:17:52
I think it doesn't matter because it's about getting there with a good sound, not about how you get there. Even the old school purist are starting to acknowledge the reality of the cost, space, convenience factor of software. I've done both but the hardware wasn't mine. Make no mistake if I had the money, and the space, and the security, I would have the hardware. But the way it is now is pretty good.

Mike Hirsh

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7 Posted on 02/04/2017 at 14:39:05
Hi ...I work in a small recording studio, where we do have hardware and plugins. To tell you the truth, I like both. Yes, it is true if one doesn't have the space or the money, plugins are great and if the end result is getting you there then that's fab. As for the the hardware, it doesn't suffer from latency, and they are true to their designs and the maintenance valves ect is not that much :)

[ Post last edited on 02/04/2017 at 14:42:25 ]

RobLewis

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8 Posted on 02/04/2017 at 18:21:03
I have to wonder whether a great deal of the worship we give to old analog "classics" is simply because that's what we're used to hearing. Doesn't it seem unlikely that there was a small cadre of engineering wizards who, in the space of a couple of decades, came up with the absolute "best" designs that would ever exist? That massive advances in technology could only ever result in worse-sounding units? It doesn't make sense to me. I suspect another factor at work is "bragging rights" for the small group of folks who are fortunate to own these icons.

Doug McKendrick

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9 Posted on 02/05/2017 at 00:31:49
Look, anyone can use all the plug-ins/digital keyboards in the world; just try the real things....1) record any Wurlitzer electronic piano (say, EP200)....it will jump out at you in the mix - and then some! and/or 2) dim the lights, have a whisky to hand, and sit and just play a Rhodes (with a bit of ice, chorus & reverb) - you will leave the planet. All I am saying is that NOTHING will EVER replace the original, genuine thing. I actually played my first Hammond C3 (prior to shipping to Austria); hooked up to a Leslie 122 - WHAT A SOUND...and Hohner Clavinets (the easiest sound to sample) perform like that as well. Hey, if all these second-hand-sampled-boxes are THAT good, how come every decent recording studio has all this old vintage kit for musicians to use, pops, crackles, hum et al? I rest my case. Time for another whisky; Glenlivet is the best IMHO (I am a genuine Scot, yah mcboo). Doug McKendrick CEO Klassic Keys GB.

reekster

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10 Posted on 02/05/2017 at 10:20:50
Interesting thought. I've frequently wondered how many of these compare.

I have a majority of the Univeral Audio UAD plug ins which I feel are some of the best out there. When testing out the Studor A800 plug in, I immediately put it in all the tracks I was working on and on default settings, I was instantly brought back to using 24 track tape. The soft compression, rounded tones and fullness of the sound. It really was an amazing transformation. A few minutes later when I was paused, I was realizing noise from somewhere. To my disappointment, they had also modeled in the tape hiss and noise from the Studor A800 and the accumulative effect from all the instances again brought me back to why I DIDN'T like tape. The Clever folks at Universal audio though (I found later) had added the option for turning the tape his and wow and flutter off. Brilliant.
Similar approaches on some of the other plug ins such as the Lexicon 224 also has a button to disable the system noise or engage it fro true authenticity. So to that end, are some of these emulations actually BETTER than the originals?
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