Plugin Compressors vs Hardware

Anything about hardware musical instruments.
valvecomposer
KVRer
6 posts since 17 May, 2018

Post Sun Apr 05, 2020 12:37 am

The plugin compressors I've used have been pretty good. Expert readers: is it still worth buying posh external hardware compressors to feed signals through? :phones:

lacandon
KVRian
603 posts since 31 Aug, 2012

Re: Plugin Compressors vs Hardware

Post Sun Apr 05, 2020 12:56 pm

Yes and no the routing make no sense why using compression?Nowadays there is very clever envelope plugins..Compression suck the life

JCJR
KVRAF
2948 posts since 17 Apr, 2005 from S.E. TN

Re: Plugin Compressors vs Hardware

Post Sun Apr 05, 2020 6:32 pm

Agreed it depends what you need it for.

IMO Compressor/Limiter/Dynamics control processes are in a class that can POTENTIALLY be outperformed by software (or in some cases some modern hardware compressors are at least partially software running in a dedicated hardware box).

Of course Sturgeons Law, "90 percent of everything is crap" so just because digital has a natural POTENTIAL advantage in dynamics quality and controllability, probably most software compressors suck to one extent or the other. Don't ask me which soft compressors are the good ones. I don't keep up with it and write my own. It isn't a "snob" thang, just I was interested in hacking compressors since the 1970's and know what I want. It is easier to get exactly what I want than test a bunch of commercial plugins trying to find the good ones, even though maybe the good ones are lots better than the ones I write for my own use.

On the other hand in my ignorant opinion if you want the exact behavior of some old classic hardware compressor, then you will get exactly what you want if you buy that exact old classic hardware model. Maybe somebody's DSP Plugin copy of that onld analog compressor is 100 percent or maybe not, but if I wanted LA2A or 1170 behavior I would look for a good hardware version, rather than buying a dsp plugin clone and wondering exactly how close (or far away) it might be from the original sound.

In that case the task would not be writing a compressor better than you could ever build in analog. It would be the harder task of making a perfaect clone of a FUBAR imperfect old quirky analog design, which is much more difficult than making a better compressor than they ever knew how to make in analog.

And of course Sturgeon's law also applies to analog compressors-- Most of them were crap. :)

If you need to squash audio before it gets to your computer and you don't want to use a digital mixer with lots of built-in dynamics plugins you can instantiate, then you pretty much have to use a hardware compressor, though as I said, some of the newer hardware compressors are at least partially software.

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foosnark
KVRAF
5204 posts since 9 Jan, 2003 from Saint Louis MO

Re: Plugin Compressors vs Hardware

Post Mon Apr 06, 2020 6:32 am

Compressors can be highly personal and have their particular character and so on.

I figure you don't fall in love with a particular hardware compressor then software is probably 100% fine and has all manner of advantages. But if the glow of the tubes warms your heart or some such, it's unlikely that software will ever bring the same satisfaction.

I was lucky enough to fall in love with the DDMF MagicDeathEye plugin instead. Sometimes I wonder how the actual hardware compares to it, but I figure ignorance is bliss. Not sure it would be worth getting on the waiting list and spending... however much those are, for a possible 15% increase in how happy I am with the compressor and 0.5% increase in the quality of my releases. And even if I did, I'd still probably need other compressors for utility, and Supercharger GT for when I want to really overcook something.

Passing Bye
KVRAF
1521 posts since 5 Nov, 2014

Re: Plugin Compressors vs Hardware

Post Mon Apr 06, 2020 7:03 am

JCJR wrote:
Sun Apr 05, 2020 6:32 pm
but if I wanted LA2A or 1170 behavior I would look for a good hardware version, rather than buying a dsp plugin clone and wondering exactly how close (or far away) it might be from the original sound.
What's an obsession with having exact replica of something, good enough approximation can get you close enough behavior (but not all exact nuances, even two units sometimes don't sound all alike) that some couldn't even spot in blind test, in mix even less, if you knew what you want, you wouldn't wonder how close it is, you would know, so it's rather non issue, because you don't even have preference for original unit and point is getting good results and you will get great results with either.

JCJR
KVRAF
2948 posts since 17 Apr, 2005 from S.E. TN

Re: Plugin Compressors vs Hardware

Post Mon Apr 06, 2020 8:25 am

Passing Bye wrote:
Mon Apr 06, 2020 7:03 am
JCJR wrote:
Sun Apr 05, 2020 6:32 pm
but if I wanted LA2A or 1170 behavior I would look for a good hardware version, rather than buying a dsp plugin clone and wondering exactly how close (or far away) it might be from the original sound.
What's an obsession with having exact replica of something, good enough approximation can get you close enough behavior (but not all exact nuances, even two units sometimes don't sound all alike) that some couldn't even spot in blind test, in mix even less, if you knew what you want, you wouldn't wonder how close it is, you would know, so it's rather non issue, because you don't even have preference for original unit and point is getting good results and you will get great results with either.
Yeah those are valid points. Personally I rarely would want to use compression as a "quirky special fx device". I usually want compression that is clean as possible and does its job without "sounding compressed" which properly written DSP compressors IMO can do better than analog.

So I didn't really dig on LA2A or 1170 or DBX back in the "good old days" and wouldn't want any of them nowadays either. However if wanting the "quirky special FX device" then the real thing is probably gonna be more real. By analogy I will use real tube amps, speakers and mics for guitar or bass. There are many heroic DSP amp emulations, but the real thing is more complex.

Just a theoretical/religious belief somewhat. There are no ideal electronic components. They are all messed up to some extent. In order to make analog work at all with such flawed components, most analog audio uses lots of feedback.

On the other hand DSP operations are near-perfect. A simple multiply operation is a near perfect linear noiseless amplifier, something that doesn't exist in analog. Which makes it pretty easy to make real clean precise DSP processors with more parts than you could ever stuff into an analog box.

HOWEVER, feedback is VERY EXPENSIVE in DSP code. Therefore feedback is rarely used in DSP code, or at least the kind of feedback that is the flesh and bones of analog circuitry. Also though it is dirt cheap to have a perfect amplifier stage with a simple multiply operation and a perfect mix stage with a simple add operation, it is VERY EXPENSIVE in cpu cycles to model flawed nonlinear analog components.

So something quirky but folks tend to like it like some of the classic analog devices, full of nonlienar components and multiple feedback paths-- You can't realistically throw enough conventional DSP cpu cycles at an emulation to copy the quirky result by implementing all that feedback and nonlinearity. You could do it but the plugin count would be rather low. So the quirky result has to be emulated with different techniques than were used in the original analog device.

You could probably better-emulate the nonlinearities and multiple feedbacks with a programmable gate array approach I suppose but dunno enough about it to comment further.

Sure maybe a plugin "clone" is good enough. Maybe in practice people could decide the plugin clone sounds better than the original. After they get used to the clone, maybe the original wouldn't sound good to them anymore.

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Laguna Rising
KVRAF
6903 posts since 4 Apr, 2005 from here and there

Re: Plugin Compressors vs Hardware

Post Mon Apr 06, 2020 10:32 am

JCJR wrote:
Sun Apr 05, 2020 6:32 pm
If you need to squash audio before it gets to your computer and you don't want to use a digital mixer with lots of built-in dynamics plugins you can instantiate, then you pretty much have to use a hardware compressor, though as I said, some of the newer hardware compressors are at least partially software.
Exactly.
I don't need hardware compressors for mixing, not anymore. Software/plugins are ok for that.
I like to go through a good hardware unit before going into my soundcard, while recording.

SteveWZ
KVRian
1070 posts since 26 Feb, 2016

Re: Plugin Compressors vs Hardware

Post Mon Apr 06, 2020 4:11 pm

There are lots of Youtube videos doing comparisons.

The hardware generally sounds better but usually not enough to warrant the price different for a home studio.

If your working with a lot of clients it maybe another story.

lfm
KVRAF
5294 posts since 22 Jan, 2005 from Sweden

Re: Plugin Compressors vs Hardware

Post Mon Apr 06, 2020 8:40 pm

I had a Focusrite Twintrak Pro - a channelstrip - which had compressors to apply while recording. But did nothing good so just tried it and never used it. Just destroyed some of fair preamps did to sound.

There are bad and/or not to like in either camp, I think.

And since software plugins can run any number of instances - hardware really need to bring something extra to make up for that inconvenience.

lacandon
KVRian
603 posts since 31 Aug, 2012

Re: Plugin Compressors vs Hardware

Post Wed Apr 15, 2020 2:38 am

Try btw the new unisum comp it will sound very much like hw compressor to u

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Hermetech Mastering
KVRian
1249 posts since 30 May, 2003 from Milan, Italy

Re: Plugin Compressors vs Hardware

Post Thu Apr 16, 2020 10:38 am

I still haven't found any software compressor that sounds as good as my hardware for mastering, and I've been comparing all the usual suspects for over 12 years now. I'm always left feeling disappointed.

valvecomposer
KVRer
6 posts since 17 May, 2018

Re: Plugin Compressors vs Hardware

Post Sat Apr 18, 2020 9:44 am

Thank you guys for these tips which confirmed my faiths. In the end it's down to character, need and glow-type.

roman.i
KVRist
256 posts since 25 Aug, 2019

Re: Plugin Compressors vs Hardware

Post Sat Apr 18, 2020 12:03 pm

It depends on the job you're doing.
I don't think that for electronic music you need a hardware compressor at all. Except for the mastering stage.
For mixing music with recordings of real instruments and vocals, you may want to get the clones, they are cheap and sound much more realistic than any plugin today.

Ambiphile
KVRist
45 posts since 20 Feb, 2020

Re: Plugin Compressors vs Hardware

Post Sun Apr 19, 2020 12:58 pm

I don't have any experience with analog gear but have seen a lot of comparison videos on this topic. To me the general consensus seems to be: yes, hardware can sound a small bit better than the usual, high-quality plugins.

However, from time to time one should turn the focus back to what we are trying to achieve: a song that resonates with an average listener, who does not have any clue about anything we discuss here, nor the trained ears, nor the good monitoring. And i am absolutely sure: whether you used a hardware compressor, or a software emulation of the same compressor on same settings, will influence the listeners experience not even by 1%...They might not even notice a difference if you A/B it for them. After all, it's mainly the compostion that makes people connect with a song or not.

If you want to make the absolute best sound and have alot of money to spend, sure you can go for hardware. But nobody should ever feel discouraged by using "only" plugins. In fact, you could make great mixes even with the stock plugins in your DAW.
The most important "gear" of an audio engineer is good taste, trained ears and the ability to choose the right kind of tool with the right settings for a specific task. What exact tool you use then is really secondary.

To say it with another analogy: you can drink wine for 10$ or you can drink wine for 500$. Does the 500$ one taste better? Probably yes. Is there a healthy relation between the extra cost and the better taste? Absolutely not...
And some people might not even notice a difference ;)

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Hermetech Mastering
KVRian
1249 posts since 30 May, 2003 from Milan, Italy

Re: Plugin Compressors vs Hardware

Post Sun Apr 19, 2020 1:29 pm

Ambiphile wrote:
Sun Apr 19, 2020 12:58 pm
I don't have any experience with analog gear
So the rest of your points are actually pretty irrelevant to this thread.
valvecomposer wrote:
Sun Apr 05, 2020 12:37 am
Expert readers: is it still worth buying posh external hardware compressors to feed signals through? :phones:

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