Hardware Synthesizers vs Software Synthesizers
Old 5th July 2007
  #1
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Hardware Synthesizers vs Software Synthesizers

Hardware Synthesizers vs Software Synthesizers

Around fifteen years ago or so I recall reading an article in KEYBOARD magazine about how our favorite synthesizers will be recreated as software in our computers. I thought, “Wow that would be so cool on my Mac IIci.”

How times have changed. These days I have heard entire albums being produced using software synthesizers alone. Some of these groups include Eiffel 65, Depeche Mode, The Echoing Green, VNV Nation, Iris and a few others.

I use Propellerheads Reason, the Arturia Minimoog V, Arturia Arp 2600 in a Protools environment and thoroughly enjoy the sound. I have found Reason’s “all in one” working environment convenient to use when formulating ideas, especially when I don’t have time to power up my entire setup. One of my of my latest songs is actually done entirely in Reason. But I have always enjoyed using my hardware synthesizers more, so much that I have recently added a Virus TI and Moog Voyager RME to my setup.

In terms of sound, have there been any virtual synthesizers that have enough creative appeal in them to actually become a true classic “must have” like a vintage synthesizer? I understand ReBirth is somewhat having this appeal as it is no longer made for newer operating systems.

I love auditioning different class a pre’s and converters on my synths when tracking, but this process is usually very time consuming and can be very expensive (if you don't have friends to lend you stuff). Has using virtual synthesizers in your set up eliminated need to worry about converters or pre-amps?

Leaving out space and cost considerations, (which we all know as obvious) I am interested in knowing if anyone is willing to share some of the advantages or disadvantages in using either format in their creative environment.
Old 5th July 2007
  #2
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alfonso's Avatar
 

I use dsp synths....they are somehowhardware and software at the same time, they run on dedicated dsp chips but inside the box. They often provide a much better sound than any cpu softsynth, much much better.
Old 5th July 2007
  #3
Gear interested
 

I have converted to all softsynths, and the thing that did it for me was when I got the additional IO I needed to take the sound of the VSTI out of the box.

Once I had the ablity to go out of the box, throught a highend pre and back in through some good converters, the sound became less harsh, and easier to mix.

Prior to doing this, all soft synths sounded "brittle" to me. Even Reason Rewired, sent out of the box and back in to a host as audio tracks does wonders for the sound.

I do keep a JV-1080, for the occasional pad, but now that I have Atmosphere, I think it's days may be numbered.

I can see Atmosphere and Stylus being Classics down the road. Also Reason is destined to be a classic in my opinion.

Truth be told, It can sound good and it can sound horrible, but there are things that I can do in Reason that I can't do in any other software. The routing that I can dream up in that software scares me sometimes.

A quick story:

Last month I was visiting a studio that I am going to use to record vocals. The guy who runs it is a true lover of good sound. His mike collection is wonderful, and he largely does all-acoustic work.

I played a dance song for him that was entirely reason, rendered out to 16 bit files track-by-track, mixed in PARIS.

His first comment was "Man that's full sounding" followed by "I have to get into these softsynths"...

jfair
Old 5th July 2007
  #4
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Im in the same boat....I entered to music making 100% on the computer...This way I learned a lot about Midi and basic programing of synths.
After spending years of learning logic and geting bored of computer programing I got a Yamaha RS-7000...oh boy...its so much fun sequencing with it.
I also have an access Virus Ti which Im learnign to program with the RS7K sequencers and Love it.
in terms of synths becoming "classics". thats so hard to predict...since lots of softwares get upgrades to different versions or get disscontinued.
One of the most used and versatiles is Reaktor, which is an open environment and you can keep lots of synth that had been created .
ps: next on my list is a Moog Voyager and a Jomox 09.MMMMMMMMM
Old 5th July 2007
  #5
Gear Head
 

after having been a software only user for nearly 5 years, i decided to give it a try. i was always intrigued--but didn't have the $$$ (GOOD hardware synths are usually not cheap--unless its an older rack mount or something) and also didn't really believe the hype.

got a real job and picked up a few pieces of kit. my basic impression after a few months is that:

1)the sound quality is without a doubt, noticeably better. one thing that is most apparent compared to alot of soft synths is the smoothness of the top end in hard ware synths. sure, they'll still scream but i find there can be a sort of grating, fatiguing quality to softsynths when you get into the higher octaves. the sound is just bigger in general...and i've actually had some problems trying to mix VST's next to my Nord Lead 2x for instance...the softsynth always seems to sound a bit out of place next to 4 tracks running from the nord.

2) it definitely doesn't help in the work flow department. between midi timing issues/latency, etc it can be a real hassle to lay down synth parts. actually working with a real interface can be inspiring, but i still find myself losing some momentum getting everything set up.

all that said, i think it is entirely worth it. i've got two synths now and a hardware fx rack. really feel that delineating the sound in any way adds some depth that you just can't really get working entirely in the box.

it's all a matter of time though. as processing becomes cheaper and more advanced, i think dsp cards or something like it will be much more standard components in every pc. in addition, you have technologies like Vectorial Volterra Kerneling Technology (VVKT) (Acusticaudio) which are producing INCREDIBLY realistic emulations of hardware.
Old 5th July 2007
  #6
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I often mock up an arrangement with softsynths - just to get it done quickly- and then go about replacing the 'emulations' with the real hardware synthesiser.

Sometimes I just leave the soft synths as they are.

Sometimes I'll work only with hardware synths.

The beauty of everyone going softsynthy is hardware synths are dirt cheap these days.
I'm constantly buying them.
Old 5th July 2007
  #7
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Workflow vs sound

Software wins on:

Speed (no need to wire cabling, repatch things, tune the synth, etc)
Portability (You aren't taking a CS-80 on a plane with you)

Hardware wins on:

Sound quality
and many win on tactileness. Yes, I could have a control surface to control a Moog synth, but the knobs and switches on my moog are pretty damn good!


If you have the space, money, time and maintence... the hardware ones win out. If you're on the road, or need to do a lot of stuff quickly from yoru Macbook Pro... then softsynths clearly win.

The consumer does not notice the difference as much as you notice the difference in your workflow.
Old 5th July 2007
  #8
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I have to agree with the rest here, regarding hardware sound being better over the software.

I do enjoy using some of my softsynths such as Atmosphere, but on limited use only. I can grow tired of the sound after a while, it's a little thin and bland at the same time. IMO alot of the softsynths lack the essential dynamics that fill a track with that special bite that analog hardware has to offer. Even rom based hardware synths are nicer to use most of the time. They are less fussy on the cpu and just get on with it.

A few months back i was thinking differently, until i started to collect more hardware synths this year including some analogs and some VA's. I think hardware offers a solid approach to sound design, and yes it takes more time to record audio parts, etc. But i find that i always end up with a solid sound that i know is going to work without a second thought. I cannot say the same for software.

IMHO you need a bit of both.
Old 5th July 2007
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kingofswing View Post
I have to agree with the rest here, regarding hardware sound being better over the software.

I do enjoy using some of my softsynths such as Atmosphere, but on limited use only. I can grow tired of the sound after a while, it's a little thin and bland at the same time. IMO alot of the softsynths lack the essential dynamics that fill a track with that special bite that analog hardware has to offer. Even rom based hardware synths are nicer to use most of the time. They are less fussy on the cpu and just get on with it.

A few months back i was thinking differently, until i started to collect more hardware synths this year including some analogs and some VA's. I think hardware offers a solid approach to sound design, and yes it takes more time to record audio parts, etc. But i find that i always end up with a solid sound that i know is going to work without a second thought. I cannot say the same for software.

IMHO you need a bit of both.

yes....using both is great....depends of your needs. I also learned after spending lot of money and time, that its great to have a few HW synths that you can lear to use from the inside out...unlike soft synths that usually get updated to new versions , besides because of softwares you can pick up amazing hardware synths for almost the price of a software.....In the begginig its sooo easy to become a soft synth slut.
Now I want to lear to use the real thing at my studio, and have no problem with using soft synth when travelling.
thats the beauty.....you can use them both, depends of what you need and when you need it.
Old 5th July 2007
  #10
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wierd some mentioned the virus TI and didnt say thats its intergration IS SOFTWARE AND a HARDWARE SYNTH!!!!
and of course the dedicated DSP cards.

after enyoing the TI for awhile i said hmm, maybe another external synth would be cool,, better sound, its hardware etc. i got the novatoin Xstaion and it sucked really bad.
sold it the next day.

the TI is the best thing ever on synthesizers. because the arguement of softsynths is convinience but lack in sound quality. then why not have them both... by buying the hardware synth which u conect via USB and appears as plugin.
the virus did have problem sin the 1st OS's but now its great. instantanous patch recall, patch mangement.
i used to have the virus C, fantom, korg ms2000, motif rack , roland sh32 and it was just a pain in the ass doing and recalling patches, setting up/hooking up everything and making sure everyhting MIDI worked as it should. which of course didnt!.

so the TI i think is the future..(of MIDI? even though its midi) of hardware synth.
the nord modular you can edit the patches but in 3rd party software not plugin, but if clavia sold a nord TI id buy it in seconds.

so i think the hardware vs software arguement goes away with a hardware synth that its controlled via a plugin .. like the TI.


with that said. there is a list of artist in logicprohelp.com that mentions albums who only used logic on-board-synths and fx and its really impressive i have to say... blowing off the hardware totally.
Old 5th July 2007
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by octatonic View Post
I often mock up an arrangement with
The beauty of everyone going softsynthy is hardware synths are dirt cheap these days.
I'm constantly buying them.
Not. Where'd you come up with that?
Old 5th July 2007
  #12
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So this is basically the first generation of users that have been all-soft synths, with no experience with the originals. Some now going to hardware, later.

I wouldn't worry about future software compatibility; either new revisions will come out or other versions will be made by someone else or you'll have more of the rack soft synths like Creamware's, that run independantly.

Workflow there doesn't have to be any difference between them once properly set up and ready to go.
Old 6th July 2007
  #13
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I still think HW is better sounding. I have a bunch of software synths, but once I got the Virus Ti, well... I rarely think of using my other software synths. The Virus Ti does it all for me, and I love having all the knobs, and great controller action, integration (AU) with Logic Pro 7, automation, ...etc.

Software still sounds harsh, and a bit platic to me, going out of the box, and back through converters might be one solution, but I have not tried it, and think it defies working inside the box (Software should sound good without the additional hastles). add your favorite effects plug-ins, and record, but I find HW still rules as far as sound quality is concerned.
Old 6th July 2007
  #14
Gear nut
 

Until a few months ago I was exclusively using soft synths... then I just 'wandered' into a music shop and starting fiddling with Juno-G they had on display.... within 20 minutes I'd bought it, and generally there is a really hard to define 'size' in my recent recordings where I've used the Juno predominantly.

Still use some soft synths from time to time, like Rob Papen's excellent Predator, but the comparative hassle of using a hardware synth is definitely worth it... for me at least.

Problem is that for live playing taking an Oxygen 8 and softsynths is so much easier than carrying a Juno with you... but I am now totally dissatisfied with this! A Juno-G cut in half would be perfect.....
Old 6th July 2007
  #15
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well, as an owner of a decent bit of hardware kit, i'd have to say that softsynths are really not that bad; but alot of it depends on how you have your computer set up via d/a...

if you have a junky audio card, obviously a quality bit of hardware like a virus is going to kill what you are getting from the softsynths.

but, if you have great converters and run your softsynths out through your console, they can sound fantastic.... ESPECIALLY if you run them at 96k;
Old 6th July 2007
  #16
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Yeah, quality D/A is important when judging softsynths or comparing them to hardware. This is the first thing I think of when someone says they don't like the sound of a particular softsynth. The 'sound' comes from the DSP code as well as D/A and analog stages.
Old 6th July 2007
  #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cebec View Post
Yeah, quality D/A is important when judging softsynths or comparing them to hardware. This is the first thing I think of when someone says they don't like the sound of a particular softsynth. The 'sound' comes from the DSP code as well as D/A and analog stages.
I mean, Yes and no, at the same time. Quality D/A never hurts, but keep in mind that most VA synths have pretty crap D/A, but yet sound pretty good. Hell, people pay good money for an MPC60 or S900. VA's like the Nord Lead or JP8000 don't have anything special happening for the D/A.
Old 6th July 2007
  #18
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dlmorley's Avatar
Softsynths are getting better...
but still...
Hardware is good for you

Old 6th July 2007
  #19
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joshelevator's Avatar
 

analog is more fun
Old 7th July 2007
  #20
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A mixture of hardware synths and software synths is what IMO, makes a well equipped studio.
Old 7th July 2007
  #21
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I currently prefer hardware to software. Sometimes I go back to stuff I worked on several years ago and do some serious changes. Not a problem with hardware. Can you do that with a soft synth? Maybe. Maybe the softsynth isn't supported by the current iteration of the DAW. Maybe the softsynth didn't port to the latest OS.

Sometimes I use Softstuff, but I do so realizing that I'd better lay down some audio tracks for future use if the softsynth is a no-go in a few yrs.

Plus, and this is really the most important point, hardware will always be better because of the blinking lights!

-Tom
Old 7th July 2007
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tommy-boy View Post
Plus, and this is really the most important point, hardware will always be better because of the blinking lights!
amen.

In all seriousness, I find hardware inputs easier to deal with then software.
Old 7th July 2007
  #23
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I've recently brought a hardware sequencer(asq10) and it has really opened up the world of hardware synths for me(and samplers). The sequencer has four midi outputs. Now I play all my parts in and no longer click on squares to make music. Latency is a thing of the past and the whole process is just much more fun than composing using a computer.
I just brought a TX7 (rack dx7). It's so much fun to write music with and it only cost $35.00. Cheaper than software!

These days I'm still scouring my countries version of ebay(Trademe) looking for old school analog synths.

I say Software synths may well be "quicker" but if you want to stop and smell the roses, hardware synths with hartdware sequencers are the most rewarding. They end result will also sound better. I kinda see it lie comparing photoshop/freehand to oil painting. One is quick and relatively easywhile the The other is more fun and richer to look at...
Old 7th July 2007
  #24
Quote:
Originally Posted by Popbott View Post
In terms of sound, have there been any virtual synthesizers that have enough creative appeal in them to actually become a true classic “must have” like a vintage synthesizer?
In my opinion, no.

I own a bunch of softsynths and rarely use them. Maybe someday when I have multiple 30" monitors and space for several MIDI controllers (dedicated to specific softsynths) things will change. But in the meantime, toggling between synths/windows, all that mouse-clicking, trying to remember which controller knobs I've programmed to control which parameter, not to mention all of the CPU overhead... well, why bother. I've got a wonderful set of hardware synths that I just love to play. They're easy to use and just sound better.
Old 8th July 2007
  #25
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Greg_KPX's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by gio.vanni View Post
A mixture of hardware synths and software synths is what IMO, makes a well equipped studio.
YES. thats all there is to it.

its not like you have to choose between one or the other and forever live with that choice, you can combine and thats when the magic happens.
Old 8th July 2007
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg_KPX View Post
YES. thats all there is to it.

its not like you have to choose between one or the other and forever live with that choice, you can combine and thats when the magic happens.
This is the politically correct and practical answer, but it's still interesting to compare the two and the reasons for using one or the other.
Old 8th July 2007
  #27
Personally, I always try and combine hardware and software.

Nordlead 2, Yamaha SY99, Yamaha A5000 with Reason, Oddity, ImpOscar, Morphology, Vapour, etc.

I think hardware is still really important for the physicality of it, it causes you to use your body in making music in a way which software doesn't and the results are definitely different.

Think "both/and" rather than "either/or".

Old 8th July 2007
  #28
Gear Head
 

I got into using synths because of Reason 2 and Logic Pro 7... I love making things in reason because the workflow is amazing and logical and really opens up to experimentation. Not being a "synth expert", I just flip the reason rack and start plugging cables into places where they fit. I am learning about CV and gates etc this way.

But my keystation and oxygen8 are fun when plugged in, but it's not an "instrument" to me. It's something to compose something by bits and bytes. I was getting "sounds" and "soundscapes" and "songs" but it wasn't putting me in the right place creatively.

So I bought a DSI Polyevolver! OH SO MUCH FUN TO PLAY. I just screw with it all day long and make noise and melody. BUT it's been hard to incorporate back into my recording workflow. And I really miss the ability to create random music like i can in Reason using the Matrix sequencer.

I guess what I really want is everything in Reason in real life I need to spend more time working with the polyevolver to get it playing nice with my recording setup.
Old 8th July 2007
  #29
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cosmos's Avatar
 

ill join in ... I started composing on soft synth's and i worked like that for 2 years... after hearing real analog and working on hardware synths at a freind studio ive spent 3 years of my life working to get all the hardware synths i needed.

soft synths are nice, they do get better and they do sound good, but can you feel the music playing on soft synths ???

NO.

write a nice lead pattern and run it on softsynth, now take the same pattern and run it on prophet 5. what do you get ???










ok. hardware it is
Old 9th July 2007
  #30
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Both needed? Don't think so

A lot of you are saying that a studio needs to have hardware AND software synths. I disagree. A studio with hardware only synths would be fine. Ignoring hybrid synths like the Virus and Oasys, if you had just stuff like:

Prophet 5
Minimoog
Moog Modular
Memorymoog
Arp 2500/2600
TR-909, TR-808, TB-303
CS-80
Machinedrum
a few CV sequencers
DX-7
Triton/Kurzweil K2600
etc...

Would it feel 'lacking'? No. I don't think so. Software only might feel lacking, but hardware only... you'd feel just fine!

A guess it's more than a combination is economical, both cost and sizewise, but I don't think that anyone ever went wrong sonically from having a good number of analogue and hardware based synths as opposed to having just a ton of VSTi's.
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