Software Synths VS. Digital Hardware Synths.

Anything about hardware musical instruments.
seismicfm
KVRist
120 posts since 12 Jan, 2014

Post Sat Jan 15, 2022 6:35 am

I've been really trying to get back into hardware for the past few years, hoping to bring some mythical hardware 'magic' into the mix. But I just end up returning it after a week. First the Deepmind 12d, then Wavestate and now the Novation Peak. Don't get me wrong, these are great synths especially the Peak. But my soft synths (Repro, Pigments, Serum) sound as good or even better, and are just easier to work with for me.

I have to admit the Peak looked so damn cool on my desk, and it was fun to play with the knobs. But that fun factor died pretty quickly. It began to feel more like a hindrance, and gave me no inspiration like it does others. I guess going ITB for 20 years makes it difficult to try to even go hybrid. I have to give props to the hardware people who can get good use out of their synths.

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rod_zero
KVRAF
3324 posts since 28 Jan, 2011 from MEXICO

Post Sat Jan 15, 2022 11:40 am

seismicfm wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 6:35 am I've been really trying to get back into hardware for the past few years, hoping to bring some mythical hardware 'magic' into the mix. But I just end up returning it after a week. First the Deepmind 12d, then Wavestate and now the Novation Peak. Don't get me wrong, these are great synths especially the Peak. But my soft synths (Repro, Pigments, Serum) sound as good or even better, and are just easier to work with for me.

I have to admit the Peak looked so damn cool on my desk, and it was fun to play with the knobs. But that fun factor died pretty quickly. It began to feel more like a hindrance, and gave me no inspiration like it does others. I guess going ITB for 20 years makes it difficult to try to even go hybrid. I have to give props to the hardware people who can get good use out of their synths.
Totally Agree, at the end it is painful to automate, save and load projects, etc. For many of us who have worked mainly in a DAW hard can really feel slow and clunky.
dedication to flying

chaocrator
KVRist
59 posts since 8 Sep, 2015

Post Mon Jan 17, 2022 3:43 am

that's reasonable — producing in a DAW is more convenient with all-software approach.
howaever, i happily use DAW with external hardware during arrangement stage — like old school MIDI only sequencer, and i'm totally fine with that.
what drives me nuts is hybrid approach, i'm keeping away from that.

chk071
KVRAF
31666 posts since 11 Apr, 2010 from Germany

Post Mon Jan 17, 2022 3:51 am

rod_zero wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 11:40 am
seismicfm wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 6:35 am I've been really trying to get back into hardware for the past few years, hoping to bring some mythical hardware 'magic' into the mix. But I just end up returning it after a week. First the Deepmind 12d, then Wavestate and now the Novation Peak. Don't get me wrong, these are great synths especially the Peak. But my soft synths (Repro, Pigments, Serum) sound as good or even better, and are just easier to work with for me.

I have to admit the Peak looked so damn cool on my desk, and it was fun to play with the knobs. But that fun factor died pretty quickly. It began to feel more like a hindrance, and gave me no inspiration like it does others. I guess going ITB for 20 years makes it difficult to try to even go hybrid. I have to give props to the hardware people who can get good use out of their synths.
Totally Agree, at the end it is painful to automate, save and load projects, etc. For many of us who have worked mainly in a DAW hard can really feel slow and clunky.
That's how it felt when I had my Blofeld for a week or two...

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pdxindy
KVRAF
21266 posts since 3 Feb, 2005 from in the wilds

Post Mon Jan 17, 2022 7:05 am

rod_zero wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 11:40 am
Totally Agree, at the end it is painful to automate, save and load projects, etc. For many of us who have worked mainly in a DAW hard can really feel slow and clunky.
For people used to recording acoustic instruments and vocals, hardware synths are fast by comparison.

jdoo
KVRian
614 posts since 23 Dec, 2011

Post Mon Jan 17, 2022 7:16 am

After several years of moving back OTB, and generally enjoying a renaissance of playing physical analog, digital, and crossover instruments I’ve recently (last year or two) leaned back into integrating soft synths / ITB. Started out when I began consolidating most all my OTB stuff to a new / better controller. After connecting up and configuring hardware synths/workstations I looked at bringing back in ITB (both OSX and iOS) sounds. Even soft synths that I had used (and given up on years ago) have recently really turned the corner sonically. Well that - along with far better software based effects, along with hardware effects I have. Just a fabulous mixture now. Add to that - a couple of hardware units I use (Roland JDXA and FA06) both have sketchy aftertouch. I use them, in this setup as sound modules - and drive aftertouch from a controller. Way better control and nuanced use. Basically though.. i have turned them and my other hardware gear into soft synths / sound modules. So.. for me.. hybrid ftw.

To the (now 2 year old op) - If you have a computer (who doesnt these days?) .. you cant beat the economy of ITB. If you have the means ($) - a workstation like Roland FA series is packed with goodness. Build from there..

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zerocrossing
KVRAF
11997 posts since 26 Jun, 2006 from San Francisco Bay Area

Post Mon Jan 17, 2022 7:46 am

seismicfm wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 6:35 am I've been really trying to get back into hardware for the past few years, hoping to bring some mythical hardware 'magic' into the mix. But I just end up returning it after a week. First the Deepmind 12d, then Wavestate and now the Novation Peak. Don't get me wrong, these are great synths especially the Peak. But my soft synths (Repro, Pigments, Serum) sound as good or even better, and are just easier to work with for me.

I have to admit the Peak looked so damn cool on my desk, and it was fun to play with the knobs. But that fun factor died pretty quickly. It began to feel more like a hindrance, and gave me no inspiration like it does others. I guess going ITB for 20 years makes it difficult to try to even go hybrid. I have to give props to the hardware people who can get good use out of their synths.
I won’t disagree with you that much, as I love software instruments as well, but the hardware synths that you did try are not really known for their “mojo.” The Wavestate sounds just like any number of good plugins, the Deepmind is pretty much a C+ sounding synth with a decent effect processor and the Peak is pretty digital sounding unless you start leaning into its various features that impart drive/distortion, and even then it’s fairly clinical sounding.

I do think their are quite a few hardware synths that are worth owning that make the inconvenience (more on that later) of using hardware worth while. Not only for their sound, but also for their features. Say what you will about RePro and a Prophet 6, but the high pass filter and analog distortion on the hardware synth take it to some beautiful places that the software can’t go. There aren’t really any analog modeling plugins that even offer 3 envelopes, unless you start using a modular plugin like Softube Modular, and even then it sort of lacks the raw wildness of my Dominion 1.

As for convenience, I just think of hardware synths in the same way that I think of my guitars. Mostly I never even record them as MIDI to be edited and automated later. If I don’t capture the performance that I want to hear, I just record it again. If you’re a click-to-add-notes-to-a-piano-roll person, you won’t appreciate that type of thing, but I really enjoy it.

So, if you want a raw and more wild vibe and enjoy the type of performance that hardware synths are best at, you should try again. Maybe a Behringer Model D or 2600. Recordings of both sound very good to me. If you have cash to burn, definitely look into something from Sequential or Moog. If you don’t care about such things, move on. There’s a world of great sounding software out there that could take lifetimes to explore and offer a flexibility that is unparalleled in the world of hardware.
Zerocrossing Media

4th Law of Robotics: When turning evil, display a red indicator light. ~[ ●_● ]~

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zerocrossing
KVRAF
11997 posts since 26 Jun, 2006 from San Francisco Bay Area

Post Mon Jan 17, 2022 8:01 am

chaocrator wrote: Mon Jan 17, 2022 3:43 am that's reasonable — producing in a DAW is more convenient with all-software approach.
howaever, i happily use DAW with external hardware during arrangement stage — like old school MIDI only sequencer, and i'm totally fine with that.
what drives me nuts is hybrid approach, i'm keeping away from that.
It’s not really bad when you learn what it can do or not do well and lean on it for what’s great about it. I think coming from that world, when there was no other choice, made for a built in appreciation for me, though over time I embraced the ITB world when DAWs started becoming really good in the mid 90s. The question is, did you find a hardware instrument that inspires you in a way that software does not? If not, you can still do the kind of record-the-performance style production that hardware makes so easy, but also have other techniques.

I always like to revisit the coffee analogy. My parents drink coffee every day. Instant coffee from a plastic jar. It is way more convenient and they enjoy the taste. When I visit, I can even appreciate the kind of flavor of it, especially the way they drink it with lots of cream and sugar, but if you told me that I’d have to give up my espresso machine and drink only instant coffee, I’d be really angry. The pain in the butt of making it actually becomes part of a fun ritual/process that I enjoy. Maybe some Nesspresso matching would be as good, but I’m content doing it ol’ school.
Zerocrossing Media

4th Law of Robotics: When turning evil, display a red indicator light. ~[ ●_● ]~

seismicfm
KVRist
120 posts since 12 Jan, 2014

Post Mon Jan 17, 2022 8:43 am

zerocrossing wrote: Mon Jan 17, 2022 7:46 am
seismicfm wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 6:35 am I've been really trying to get back into hardware for the past few years, hoping to bring some mythical hardware 'magic' into the mix. But I just end up returning it after a week. First the Deepmind 12d, then Wavestate and now the Novation Peak. Don't get me wrong, these are great synths especially the Peak. But my soft synths (Repro, Pigments, Serum) sound as good or even better, and are just easier to work with for me.

I have to admit the Peak looked so damn cool on my desk, and it was fun to play with the knobs. But that fun factor died pretty quickly. It began to feel more like a hindrance, and gave me no inspiration like it does others. I guess going ITB for 20 years makes it difficult to try to even go hybrid. I have to give props to the hardware people who can get good use out of their synths.
I won’t disagree with you that much, as I love software instruments as well, but the hardware synths that you did try are not really known for their “mojo.” The Wavestate sounds just like any number of good plugins, the Deepmind is pretty much a C+ sounding synth with a decent effect processor and the Peak is pretty digital sounding unless you start leaning into its various features that impart drive/distortion, and even then it’s fairly clinical sounding.

I do think their are quite a few hardware synths that are worth owning that make the inconvenience (more on that later) of using hardware worth while. Not only for their sound, but also for their features. Say what you will about RePro and a Prophet 6, but the high pass filter and analog distortion on the hardware synth take it to some beautiful places that the software can’t go. There aren’t really any analog modeling plugins that even offer 3 envelopes, unless you start using a modular plugin like Softube Modular, and even then it sort of lacks the raw wildness of my Dominion 1.

As for convenience, I just think of hardware synths in the same way that I think of my guitars. Mostly I never even record them as MIDI to be edited and automated later. If I don’t capture the performance that I want to hear, I just record it again. If you’re a click-to-add-notes-to-a-piano-roll person, you won’t appreciate that type of thing, but I really enjoy it.

So, if you want a raw and more wild vibe and enjoy the type of performance that hardware synths are best at, you should try again. Maybe a Behringer Model D or 2600. Recordings of both sound very good to me. If you have cash to burn, definitely look into something from Sequential or Moog. If you don’t care about such things, move on. There’s a world of great sounding software out there that could take lifetimes to explore and offer a flexibility that is unparalleled in the world of hardware.
Good write up.

I actually just found the solution to the inconvenience part with the Peak (I still have not sent it back). There is a great Max4live device that pretty much controls most of its parameters within Ableton. So I can now control it without having to reach for the knobs. I can now treat it like a soft synth, which still leaves the problem that it sounds like other soft synths. Which is not a bad thing, but it just feels redundant. Reviews kept mentioning that it has its own 'Character', but I don't hear it.

I have been eyeing the ob-6 or prophet-6, so I may just trade it in for one of those. But you're right about the play and record, I should really treat these for what they are, physical instruments.

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cryophonik
KVRAF
8033 posts since 7 Sep, 2006 from Roseville, CA

Post Mon Jan 17, 2022 9:04 am

Interesting to hear the various thoughts re: Novation Peak. I didn’t pay much attention to it until a few months ago and started loving the demos I was seeing/hearing. It was funny because the reviews I was seeing kept saying that it sounds vanilla/ like a soft synth, which was sorta understandable, but I really liked the warm supersaws and plucks I was hearing. I’ve had mine for a little over a month now and really love it! The biggest appeal to me was the interface, but now that I have it, I really love the combination of digital oscillators and analog filters, something I always wished my old Supernovas, Viruses, and Nord Leads had. It’s a very versatile and fun synth and fills a nice space between my Moogs and Prophet Rev2.

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pdxindy
KVRAF
21266 posts since 3 Feb, 2005 from in the wilds

Post Mon Jan 17, 2022 10:12 am

I have the Peak, but I find it uninteresting sonically and the UI is not my favorite. I would rather use software.

On the other hand, the Waldorf M has this gorgeous character and presence I don't get from software and I like the hands on UI much better than the Peak (which I plan to sell but have been lazy about). The M, the Analog Rytm, the Matriarch and PolyBrute, these are the hardware synths I would never give up.

As far as the idea of hardware being hard to work with, I suppose it depends on what one does. I mostly play synths in realtime and the hands on interface of hardware is easier than software. I have yet to use any midi controller that lets me edit/tweak on the fly in the same way as a good hardware interface.

chaocrator
KVRist
59 posts since 8 Sep, 2015

Post Mon Jan 17, 2022 10:29 am

zerocrossing wrote: Mon Jan 17, 2022 8:01 am The question is, did you find a hardware instrument that inspires you in a way that software does not?
all of them 8)
i started my musicianship in a basement punk band, and the heart of it all for me is still the same — performing my music live. and performing from laptop is no fun, or at least not enough fun.

however, when it comes to arrangement, DAWs are convenient. also, when i'm away from my gear, i usually have a laptop with me, so why not come up with some music ideas using software?
zerocrossing wrote: Mon Jan 17, 2022 8:01 am If not, you can still do the kind of record-the-performance style production that hardware makes so easy, but also have other techniques.
that's how i record — OTB, using Zoom LiveTrak mixers/recorders. then i import multitrack sessions to another DAW for mixing/mastering jobs. (i prefer Bitwig for working on arrangements, and Harrison Mixbus for mixing/mastering.)

so, DAWs are cool for certain jobs, and have their place. but for other use cases hardware rocks.

Bulbizarre
KVRist
236 posts since 31 Aug, 2020

Post Mon Jan 17, 2022 10:52 am

seismicfm wrote: Sat Jan 15, 2022 6:35 am I've been really trying to get back into hardware for the past few years, hoping to bring some mythical hardware 'magic' into the mix. But I just end up returning it after a week. First the Deepmind 12d, then Wavestate and now the Novation Peak. Don't get me wrong, these are great synths especially the Peak. But my soft synths (Repro, Pigments, Serum) sound as good or even better, and are just easier to work with for me.

I have to admit the Peak looked so damn cool on my desk, and it was fun to play with the knobs. But that fun factor died pretty quickly. It began to feel more like a hindrance, and gave me no inspiration like it does others. I guess going ITB for 20 years makes it difficult to try to even go hybrid. I have to give props to the hardware people who can get good use out of their synths.
I have a similar experience, though I kept my Peak as it still sounds different from the softs in some cases like extreme FM, filter resonance scream, overdrive. I also love the hw experience, and with the Sigabort editor you can switch projects and still keep the patches recall inside each session, that's a major hassle cleared up. I don't use the Peak that much in actual music though, but I get unique stuff out of it. Playing around with the knobs is like another way of making music, it's so easy to get carried away with the sounds and have a good time. To me this synth is more something to chill around than a production station. Still using 99% software while the Peak is watching :D

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cryophonik
KVRAF
8033 posts since 7 Sep, 2006 from Roseville, CA

Post Mon Jan 17, 2022 11:06 am

pdxindy wrote: Mon Jan 17, 2022 10:12 am As far as the idea of hardware being hard to work with, I suppose it depends on what one does. I mostly play synths in realtime and the hands on interface of hardware is easier than software. I have yet to use any midi controller that lets me edit/tweak on the fly in the same way as a good hardware interface.
Yup, same! I read a comment recently about hardware being difficult for automation, compared to software, and I thought that seems totally backward to me. I love the fact that I can just activate automation and start fiddling away on my synth while playing without having to assign CC's and stare at the computer.

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vurt
addled muppet weed
93685 posts since 26 Jan, 2003 from through the looking glass

Post Mon Jan 17, 2022 11:11 am

yeah, if you're only going to program in s piano roll, very little point.
some people enjoy the experience of playing though, so there, makes sense.

there are few machines, where the sound alone would be worth the extra cost of hardware (talking digital here remember, analog, different conversation) unless you really want the instantaneous hands on control, be that of the knobs or the keys!!
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