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Hardware V Software Synths

Posts 1 - 25 of 33
  1. 111346
    Planetjazzbass : Wed 19th Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    I thought I'd start a new thread as a few discussions of late have raised this question and I'm sure there are plenty of views on the subject. I like many have found the plethora of Vsti's that have emerged since digital music began quite amazing, however the more I hear and play (some not all) virtual instruments the less I like them, I find more often than not a thin veneer of seemingly muted air covering every note of lets say Alicia Keys for example, having tried it out recently on a friend's rig, I find using two Korg synths Triton/M1 gives me any sound I could possibly ever need and they sound sharp articulated and 'there'. the only software vsti's I use now are drum and some ethnic instruments occassionally....which side of the fence does your bias reside and what are your go to sounds?

  2. 828980
    phatkatz4 : Wed 19th Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    Vsts really are amazing and I use plenty, mainly drums, but from my perspective they simply can't match the emotion and little nuances possible by a live played instrument. I find the snare hit for one always sounds exactly the same regardless of velocity adjustments, where a live player there'd be slight differences in each strike. Same with the piano vsts. Guitar/bass vsts, forget it hahahaha I'll play my own thank you ;) I did use a bass vst on Deciever with Midisparks because I wanted that synth computer sound.

  3. 1414881
    BradoSanz : Wed 19th Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    @phatkatz I'd beg to differ, particularly with drums. While most VSTs are terrible at emulating real players, my experience with Superior is just that - superior :) The level of detail with that plugin is insane. A professional drummer friend of mine was having a very hard time deciding if it was a real drummer or not in the song.


  4. 630386
    JosephFunk : Wed 19th Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    @PJB, well good thread. So here is what I see, software based synths have brought synthesizers to the hands of so many to whom otherwise could of never afforded the hardware versions. So making an informed comparison here might be impossible for some here. Now I am not saying that this is a good thing or a bad thing to have just one type of synth such as the cheaper in price software based ones. But it is responsible in part for the electronic music expansion in today's music. Funny you mentioned Alicia Keys, she was an artist that burst on the scene playing her piano and singing. Now most of what she does has more synths in it.

    @Brado, although Superior Drums have true sounding drums, I agree with @phatkatz that the Drum nuances you find with let's say with human Blues drummers are very hard to program and articulate with a VSTi due to the intended human imperfection articulations that the drummer may feed off from let's say the saxophone player. The drummer might also change up from the current 12/8 pattern in the song to a 4/4 break while slowing down the bmps in the 4/4 break and express emotion and intensity while also performing drum triplet fills and then back to a soft 12/8 at some point that dips on alternating bars and then also has different velocities while doing a rim click or cross-stick variations and snare variations on the other alternating bars. Even if you did program that it would still sound like programmed Blues drums and not naturally played. Because at some point you might just cut and paste drum sections and it would sound exactly and identical to the earlier parts of the arrangement and without human element of the change up.

  5. 111346
    Planetjazzbass : Wed 19th Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    Joe I totally agree with what you say, obviously if a good player is using a software synth it will sound great and in many cases probably indistinguishable from the real deal within a mix, I still find when you strike a note on a good hardware synth it has far superior timbre and if one looks around in the second hand market they can be bought relatively cheaply in the $300 to $500 dollar range.....though I must admit I do pine for a Korg Oasys, just too damn expensive!

  6. 186161
    Spivkurl : Wed 19th Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    This is a pretty complicated issue for sure. I say that because “virtual” has so many different meanings, as does “hardware.”

    A virtual instrument could be anything from a simple sampler, an actual synthesizer which uses software instead of circuitry, to an instrument based on a preset multisample of a real instrument.

    In all honesty, a sampler is a sampler, whether it is hardware or software. Software samplers give simplicity of experimentation, and ease of automation, when compared with most hardware based samplers. Those with a huge library of samples on their hard drive, and a knowledge of how to use samples, will have an almost endless supply of experimental sounds at their fingertips. Hardware samplers often have some drawbacks, such as being forced to use third party software to load the samples, sometimes low bit depth or sample rate, using outdated media for storage, or simply a limit to storage space... probably others that I am not thinking of. I do use some hardware sampling facilities, but they are limited to circuit bending targets for the most part. A sampler is one thing which I would generally agree that the hardware cost of a quality sampler will often outweigh the practicality, especially considering that most DAWs have software sampling capabilities. One exception would be if the artists wishes are to do live work, completely without the presence of computers.

  7. 186161
    Spivkurl : Wed 19th Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    In the case of a true synthesizer, it gets a bit more complex. In some cases, modern virtual synthesizers have options which are not available on most hardware synthesizers. Some have nearly unlimited modulation routing options. Some have abilities which are beyond the scope of most hardware, such as huge lists of oscillator waveforms or filter types. Some of them are simply emulations of hardware synths, even to the point of being based on sample sets of the original synth. I would pretty much never use a virtual emulation over a hardware synth, even if I had to make do with a different synthesizer. If a virtual synth can do things which none of my hardware can do, then I may use it. Then there is the issue that some modern hardware synthesizers are simply encased virtual synthesizers (ie a midi controller with a software synth inside it)... this seems like a waste of money to me. However, as far as many hardware synths go, the issue of cost is not a reliable factor. Many virtual synths cost as much or more than a very capable hardware synth, one which will give you a lifetime of enjoyment and will not go out of date with a change of OS version or a massive shift in computer technology (of which I've witnessed several). I have never paid for a virtual synthesizer, and I will always put my money on something which is hands on and theoretically permanent.

    Now on to sample based virtual instruments (romplers). I pretty much detest these. I used them early on, most especially when my studio was very minimal. In general, they are based on multisamples of real instruments, both synthetic or acoustic. Considering that, any performance done with them is completely based on a single performance which spawned the sample set, and is permanently limited by this. I would never choose a rompler over a real instrument, most especially an acoustic one, even if I needed to use a slightly different type of instrument. Using a rompler simply because it is recorded with a certain brand of instrument, or by a famous person, will not mean that you are this person or that you are using that brand of instrument. I would rather play a guitar riff on a “First Act” guitar than play a guitar riff on a MIDI keyboard with a rompler as the sound source. I would rather play a poor quality Casio PCM piano patch than a rompler based on a steinway grand. Cost is a poor excuse here, as second hand instruments of all kinds can be had at minimal cost... keyboards, synths, pianos, guitars, basses, brass, organs, drums, whatever. Just look for them, and tell yourself that you are a musician... then play the instrument. Many of these instruments were not meant to be played with a keyboard, and are better played how they are intended. After that, once you have them, you can sample the hell out of them if you choose!

    In the end, I would rather save up for a real instrument than to ever pay for a virtual one.

  8. 111346
    Planetjazzbass : Thu 20th Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    Hey Spiv, I was hoping you'd chime in and give us your thoughts on the matter, while I have a reasonable grasp of basic electronics there's no way I'd ever consider doing circuit bent stuff like you can....I just thought of a great Bob Marley cover to do in your honour 'Circuit Bent Solderer' ;)

  9. 588276
    StaticNomad : Fri 21st Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    I'm not sure I agree with the criticism here of drum software.

    Don't forget that you can play this drum software via a MIDI drum set. So, you can add all those little nuances and velocity changes and micro variations in groove that way. I agree that it would be seriously hard to program all that from scratch.

    However, I have thousands of MIDI files that are included with my drum VST software (Superior) that are real performances by real drummers (playing either a MIDI kit or via drum triggers on an acoustic kit). So, I have access to loads of these little nuances and then it's down to how skilfully I edit them and apply them to whichever piece of music I'm working on.

    However, the discussion is supposed to be about hardware vs software synths. What I'm talking about here is actual, real drums recorded in great studios on great gear. With the software that you buy, you're just choosing how those quality drum sounds play back. To get an equivalent or better sound, I think you'd have to have:

    multiple good drum kits
    good mics
    a good room/studio
    good recording and processing gear
    a good drummer

    That's a lot of stuff!

  10. 186161
    Spivkurl : Fri 21st Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    StaticNomad makes good points about drum software. There is a reason I did not bring up drum software specifically... someone who wants a variety of samples recorded from real drum sets which are already set up to play via midi may benefit from this sort of thing. More so if they are not themselves a drummer. Synthetic drum sounds are often a very different matter, since they can be created or used in any way... only limited by imagination, plus they do not require all of the things which StaticNomad mentioned. That is not to say that those things would still not be useful in creating more "electronic" drum sounds.

    The only thing I would raise issue with is the use of "good" throughout the list of requirements. Since it is a completely subjective idea, then the "good/bad" idea could apply equally to the samples which these drum programs are based... and even how they are used,,, just as they could be with electronic/synthetic drum sounds or instruments.

  11. 631823
    Mahloo13 : Fri 21st Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    Instrument vsti's like bass, guitar I personally don't like at all. They sound fake to me and lack the nuances that a real player could add, for example playing a bass guitar with the edge of the pick in the chorus to sound more agresive, not to mention resonance and all that especially on faster paced stuff. It's really inposible to recreate with software the full sonic pleasure a real guitar generates coupled woth a great player.

    You can get away with strings and orchestral stuff as there are a lot of great libraries and once you learn how to use them they are quite amazing to be honest. You do however need to program the hell out of them and use multiple keyswitches and layering to get them to sound amazing.

    Drums...I totally hate supperior drummer but then there are great ones out there that I like BFD, slate drums. Once again you need to program the sh!t out of them to make them sound good. I also use Slate Drums to trigger my own drum samples which I've collected over the years. I might layer several drum sounds to get the tone I'm after.

    Synths...some are great and unless you have good converters to record that audio I wouldn't really go the hardware route. They are honestly the easiest to recreate in software form and in software atleast they don't go out of tune in time (moog anyone? :)))

    As with every instrument...once you go hardware you do need to take into account your recording signal path and how that signal path affects your sound. You can't hear a midrangey sounding preamp on one take but layer multiple takes and the crap builds up.

    Just my 2 cents.

  12. 186161
    Spivkurl : Fri 21st Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    The "time" factor which Mahloo brought up is, I feel, one of the most important factors which set hardware of almost any kind above software. Almost every piece of hardware, aside from that which is completely digital or software based, will be dependent on changing factors such as time, temperature, humidity, etc. This gives a presence of reality to any recording, and even if performed identically, it will be different each time.

    Even the most expensive amplifier, preamp, analog synth or whatever will react to these things. Some studios go so far as to leave any analog systems powered on at all times to diminish this effect. That is simply a waste of power!

    Just as a good guitarist will tune their instrument before a take, or a pianist will tune their piano regularly, I will tune my oscillators before recording a part. Drift in oscillators is really no different from a guitar which relaxes it's tuning from the playing during a take.

  13. 631823
    Mahloo13 : Fri 21st Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    Studios leave power on to avoid power surges when powering on and off the gear. That just helps protect the gear. Imagine turning on and off on a daily basis a piece of gear that costs 85000$. You'd die of a heart attack after 2 weeks :)))

    And I do agree with spiv that any analog gears properties change over time, transformers wear out, caps leak and loose properties so basically sound changes and that sometimes creates unique sounds.

    For me at least in terms of synths...I wouldn't spend money on real analog synths as they don't fit my workflow, and I honeslty can achieve the sounds I want in software. That might not be the case for someone doing a lot of electronica stuff so it eventually comes down to the individual and their specific needs.

  14. 186161
    Spivkurl : Fri 21st Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    The power surge issue may well be a consideration. Most of the things I've read suggest that a primary reason for leaving gear on is to avoid the "warm up" time for solid state and tube gear, which is sometimes a good while. Aside from my monitor amp, I like the warm up time to show up every now and then, ha ha,

  15. 631823
    Mahloo13 : Fri 21st Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    I don't the studio we kinda let tube gear 20-30 minutes to warm up if we have some piece brought from somewhere. We usually leave everything on but then again there are many sessions going on and it would be a pain to start everything up everytime. Turn of phantom power if you've got any condenser mics always hooked up as the polarisation atracts dust quite agresively. Some of the gear has been going for over 15 years 24/7 and it still works great :))

  16. 631823
    Mahloo13 : Fri 21st Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    So my point would depends on the frequency you use that piece of gear :)

  17. 186161
    Spivkurl : Fri 21st Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    Another factor is the quality of the power switches! If gear is made with crap switches, then eventually all of the switching will lead to failure. It's annoying to be forced to open gear up for such a simple repair. Using switches on power conditioners and surge protectors, while leaving the rest in the "on" positions is something which helps me in this regard.

  18. 186161
    Spivkurl : Fri 21st Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    It is also a reason that I dig passive equipment... no power influence at all. My passive DI's are one of the best investments I've made.

  19. 631823
    Mahloo13 : Fri 21st Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    unfortunately judging by the way things are evolving, analog gear will just lack any justification in the future looking from an economic point of view. Less and less artists are coming into studios as they all record mostly at home. Very rarely we get a full band in the studio. Sad but true. Gear just turns into a not so cost effective option if you are doing it as a job. Sadly that's the way things are going in the industry at least.

    Anyways I don't think half of our discussion would apply to the generic bedroom producer :))))

  20. 186161
    Spivkurl : Fri 21st Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    Job? What is that?

  21. 111346
    Planetjazzbass : Fri 21st Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    Couldn't agree more about the guitars! haha...also the thing I've found with analog gear and electronics is you have to be prepared to go under the hood and do a lot of maintenance troubleshooting from time to time, dirty pots and switches as mentioned being prime offenders. I've always been on a quest for good bass guitar tone and this always comes down to preamps in the end. I bought a Demeter tube bass preamp and initially wasn't overjoyed with it's performance but I knew that these things came stock standard with Russian Sovtek valves which are total crap, I also had in my possession two old 60's model Tandberg reel to reel tape recorders which have tube amplifiers with Telefunken ECC82s preamp tubes, and these things have an almost grail like reputation in some audiophile circles, after switching to the German tubes my bass tone improved to a point that is very satisfying, I might also state here that this only applies when the basses are using magnetic pickups, when I'm running piezo pickups I use a DTar Equinox solid state preamplifier which is much better suited to acoustic tone, this is so typical of any analog gear you have to treat it like an old car, plenty of TLC and would drive many people crazy. I'm also thinking of getting a Universal Audio Solo 610 preamp so I can take good tone with me wherever I go...bloody tone quest! lol

  22. 631823
    Mahloo13 : Sat 22nd Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    @Planetjazzbass - you might actually like the results more by adding some transformer action to that recording chain to smooth of all the tube action :)

    For the price of the UA610 you could get something like the GoldenAgeProject 73 and the GoldenAgeProject Comp3A. Don't be put of by the price...they actually sound great :)

  23. 1936235
    Unknown User : Sat 22nd Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    Hardware Vs Software is an endless discussion I think...

    Pros: Loads of free software. I haven't paid a dime for my music hobby in the last years.. :-)

    Cons: I'm also addicted to keys and knobs... And I must care not getting a mouse arm!

    Sound?: Most people listen mp3. You don't hear any difference then. I'll buy better gear when I'm famous.. :-D

  24. 631823
    Mahloo13 : Sat 22nd Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    @bohemen - You do hear a difference in mp3. A fake guitar will sound fake in 24 bits or 8 bits, mp3, wav or raw it will still be the same fake guitar.

    From a mixing point of view there shouldn't be a hardware vs software since you are mixing the thing so basically you make it sound as you wish.

    It's a matter of workflow and personal preference. Keep the correct level going to your converters and you pretty much can achieve anything mix wise in the box with software.

    For anybody going out of the box you need to take into account many things like delay compensation on both hardware and software, calibration, converters, cables, gear maintanence, session recalls etc.

  25. 186161
    Spivkurl : Sat 22nd Oct 2016 : 2 years ago

    PJB is very correct about the maintenance issue. It's something which I've been working on enhancing my skills for. Some items are built with cheap parts, and tend to fail much quicker. Somethings are inherently faulty, and will be worked on regardless to keep something going... for example, the Casio CZ-101 has a well known defect in it's power jack... Even the stock adapter plug tends to loose connection. It's a well documented procedure to replace it, luckily. Changing the coin battery on vintage synths is common as well, since it keeps the storage intact. Using the right battery, it will often keep going for around a decade though.

    I've learned how to tune my piano, so that I don't need to pay someone to do it. It's a good feeling to learn things like this. Guitars and basses will often need replacements or cleaning of parts.

    Around here, we don't have many serious instrument repair places, so it is pretty much necessary to DIY. Learning is never a bad thing though.

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