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Plugin compressors sound hazy compared to hardware
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The dman
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23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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Plugin compressors sound hazy compared to hardware

I'm not trying to start a digital vs analog debate here (I know good luck with that lol) I've been recording over 30 years and I now use digital more than analog but has anyone else noticed that plugin compressors sound hazy and smaller compared to decent hardware?

I have some good software compressors including UAD2 and some decent but not outrageously expensive hardware compressors including a Distressor, ADl 1000's, DBX 160x's, FMR pbc 6A all of which have been mostly siting dormant for the last few months because of convenience but on a whim I was experimenting yesterday with swapping out different hardware comps with different plugins on various tracks and there's no doubt in my mind hardware has the edge and the plugin compressors have a smaller and hazier sound.

Why am I posting this? Because I think some newbs get swept up in the marketing and convenience of the recall of software so much that they rationalize that it's just as good, that's not to say that the software isn't good and usable but the difference to me is painfully obvious especially the more GR you apply.

I would encourage newbs to ignore the usual GS chatter that's sure to follow and get your hands on some decent hardware compressors, even modestly priced and make up your own mind.

You don't have a rack of high end compressors? so what? even a couple of decent compressors used on your money tracks will make a difference if you have the ears to hear it


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#2
23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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Perhaps you could be a little more specific when it comes to what "hazy" means? Just curious.

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23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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In general hardware has more distortion then software. Speaking in general terms of high quality hardware this distortion is what we find pleasing. In my world it is generally hardware that sounds a little hazey or smeared but in a good way. It is the lack of haze or smear that makes software less muscular sounding.
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23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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aybe instead of hazy I should have said smaller sounding with less muscle
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23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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maybe post some A/B examples and see how easy it is for folks to pick out the 'haziness'?
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23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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Re: Hazy

Maybe you're not dialing them in right.

I've never had that problem, or the one of "thinness". But I've definitely had the problem of hearing the same recycled assertions about "plug-ins", as if it's possible for any person's individual experience with a plug-in, or set of plug-ins, to define the tools absolutely, usually saying things like 'Plug-in compressors sound "x" compared to hardware'.

Since my experience as a professional hasn't been that of disappointment with Universal Audio's plug-ins, I think it's probably fair to UA, and other software dev teams, to let folks decide for themselves if they like the tools. Plenty of well known professionals use plug-ins, frequently. Their track record doesn't seem to be lacking.

Whether you do or don't like using plug-ins is irrelevant to anyone but you. And if you're not interested in starting that debate, then don't post arguments about it.
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#7
23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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Um

Someone expresses a preference honestly from real world experience and the response from the plug in advocates is to call it starting an argument. Bizarre.
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23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roman View Post
Someone expresses a preference honestly from real world experience and the response from the plug in advocates is to call it starting an argument. Bizarre.
Hate to say this, but you really do need to improve your reading comprehension skills....

Apart from that, wouldn't this have been a great opportunity for the TO (time permitting) to provide some actual audio samples? But then, maybe that kind of shootout has been done before.
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23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roman View Post
Someone expresses a preference honestly from real world experience and the response from the plug in advocates is to call it starting an argument. Bizarre.
You might try learning what the word "argument" means. It's more than the narrow connotation you're offering.
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23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The dman View Post
I would encourage newbs to ignore the usual GS chatter that's sure to follow and get your hands on some decent hardware compressors, even modestly priced and make up your own mind.
They can't; they've spent all their money on preamps.
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23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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I test my Buzz Soc 1.1 over all my plugins: Waves 1176, La2a and La3, Majortoom, Ssl and others.... Always the Soc wins: 3d, firm and fat. I use the Buzz for the most important thinks...and the plugins for the rest.
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23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The dman View Post
aybe instead of hazy I should have said smaller sounding with less muscle
I would agree with that. Software sounds great but when you compare it to good hardware comps....you can hear the difference. I wish it wasn't so. It'd be much easier.


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23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jimbo View Post
They can't; they've spent all their money on preamps.
and converters…
A.
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#14
23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Andy_bt View Post
and converters…
A.
Haha, there definitely is truth in this!
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23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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Some software plugs like l1 actually sound thick. I do agree that most are pretty anemic in that they dont add anything to the sound just passing through it... if they do it still doesnt sound like real coloration from a hardware unit, flatter.

I agree that software comps can sound "hazy" under gr... i think its because most hardware comps (especially fets and diode units) increase in harmonics/distortion as gr increases, so that on hardware the darkening effect compression can have is partly counteracted by this increase in distortion. Most software comps dont model this at all.
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23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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I disagree that someone relatively new to audio should go out and get hardware compressors. It is a significant investment to integrate hardware units... you need cables, patchbay, gear rack, good converters (compressing a drum sub with poor converters can do horrific things to your cymbals) and occasionally servicing. You lose the ability of easy recall. I say wait till youve passed the begginer stage and then make that step up.
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23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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Listen to the last two Black Keys and brand new Artic Monkeys records.
Tchad Blake mixed all inside the computer.
All plug in compression and lots of it.
Sounds pretty darn great.
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#19
23rd November 2013
Old 23rd November 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RoundBadge View Post
Listen to the last two Black Keys and brand new Artic Monkeys records.
Tchad Blake mixed all inside the computer.
All plug in compression and lots of it.
Sounds pretty darn great.
No shit? That's pretty awesome.

Here's my take for what it is worth....I was watching the new uad vid for the Fairchild, and I started thinking.....if it sounded just like the real thing, wouldn't all these guys talking about it be jumping up and down and flipping out. I mean I'm sure it gets the essence of the real thing, and sounds pretty darn real, but if it was spot on....I think the seas would start parting. Just my two cents. I like my plugins. Not trying to start stuff. Just my observation.
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The dman
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24th November 2013
Old 24th November 2013
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Guys I wasn't trying to be confrontational so there's no reason to get defensive <DELETED BY MODERATOR> I was just posting my thoughts from the other day. This is from a guy that has outboard and a console and still chooses to work Itb most of the time so I'm not making any blanket claims other than the fact that I'm going back to a hybrid workflow. I was curious what others using hardware thought.

RoundBadge thanks for that info Tchad Blake is one of my favorites and I'll check that out.

For those of you that posted with thoughtful responses thank you
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24th November 2013
Old 24th November 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RoundBadge View Post
Listen to the last two Black Keys and brand new Artic Monkeys records.
Tchad Blake mixed all inside the computer.
All plug in compression and lots of it.
Sounds pretty darn great.
Does all that plugin compression make them sound hazy?...

#22
24th November 2013
Old 24th November 2013
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I listen to Tchad itb stuff and say to myself: no more excuses! Lol
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24th November 2013
Old 24th November 2013
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I wonder how much hardware compression was used during tracking the Black Keys stuff. I've just gotten in to them, late to the party. I started listening because of all the ITB love they get here. The albums sound good, but pretty lo-fi. It's part of their sound. In that context the ITB process works. Compared with production like what say Radiohead does, it doesn't sound that great - but again it works in that context and the music is good (best way to fix a bad mix).

In the compression department plug-ins are weak compared with hardware (EQ second). But not unusable, especially if you don't want much color. My Dramer DL 241 is fine for tracking, but I rarely patch it in for mixing because it doesn't add any color.
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24th November 2013
Old 24th November 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Robby in WA View Post
I wonder how much hardware compression was used during tracking the Black Keys stuff. I've just gotten in to them, late to the party. I started listening because of all the ITB love they get here. The albums sound good, but pretty lo-fi. It's part of their sound. In that context the ITB process works. Compared with production like what say Radiohead does, it doesn't sound that great - but again it works in that context and the music is good (best way to fix a bad mix).

In the compression department plug-ins are weak compared with hardware (EQ second). But not unusable, especially if you don't want much color. My Dramer DL 241 is fine for tracking, but I rarely patch it in for mixing because it doesn't add any color.
Try the new Arctic Monkeys.way less lo fi.
pretty big and spacious sounding imo.
yeah as always good tracking with great hardware[comps etc] is a big help.
point is the guy is doing the great mixes in the box and its working..people like it.
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24th November 2013
Old 24th November 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Robby in WA View Post
I wonder how much hardware compression was used during tracking the Black Keys stuff. I've just gotten in to them, late to the party. I started listening because of all the ITB love they get here. The albums sound good, but pretty lo-fi. It's part of their sound. In that context the ITB process works. Compared with production like what say Radiohead does, it doesn't sound that great - but again it works in that context and the music is good (best way to fix a bad mix).

In the compression department plug-ins are weak compared with hardware (EQ second). But not unusable, especially if you don't want much color. My Dramer DL 241 is fine for tracking, but I rarely patch it in for mixing because it doesn't add any color.
I think a lot of these big albums are tracked with hardware compressors and EQ. Sure everything can be mixed ITB but if everything is tracked with hardware that's still huge. I want to hear a big album that has been ITB all the way just using microphone and pre amp.
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#26
24th November 2013
Old 24th November 2013
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I think a lot of these big albums are tracked with hardware compressors and EQ. Sure everything can be mixed ITB but if everything is tracked with hardware that's still huge. I want to hear a big album that has been ITB all the way just using microphone and pre amp.
ha good luck.you think rock guys track that way?.just mic into preamp to daw or tape and finish everything in the mix?
maybe an R&B hip hop guy?
dunno..most guys i respect[rock n roll] do it with everything they can up front and make it sound great from the get go...commit.
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#27
24th November 2013
Old 24th November 2013
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no, I didnt and dont realize that.

maybe its because hardware compressors add artefacts, as distortion, harmonics, change frequency response curves and so on?

what is exactly the reason I do not like hardware (sounding) processors.

... and here we go again ... what do you expect by asking such a question? you accuse digital anything of doing something not the way you are used to and oversee the point: its a problem of what you are used to, if it is a problem as all. for me its a made up pseudo-problem, made up by someone who wants again rant against digital.

so its not a problem of plugins sounding hazy but of what you are used to. you are used to hardware, stick with it and leave the things you cant manage to the ones who can.

life could be so simple ...
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#28
24th November 2013
Old 24th November 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RoundBadge View Post
ha good luck.you think rock guys track that way?.just mic into preamp to daw or tape and finish everything in the mix?
maybe an R&B hip hop guy?
dunno..most guys i respect[rock n roll] do it with everything they can up front and make it sound great from the get go...commit.
That's what i'm saying... I doubt many top albums are fully ITB..
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#29
24th November 2013
Old 24th November 2013
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Quote:
Originally Posted by paul999 View Post
In general hardware has more distortion then software. Speaking in general terms of high quality hardware this distortion is what we find pleasing. In my world it is generally hardware that sounds a little hazey or smeared but in a good way. It is the lack of haze or smear that makes software less muscular sounding.
This is at least a common idea floating around in the engineering communities, but in my world this argument doesn't make any sense, to me it makes more sense to just call it "desired color at a desired strength".

Quote:
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aybe instead of hazy I should have said smaller sounding with less muscle
The aspect of "relatively small" is a result of the combination of two things:

A) Negative changes to the frequency of the signal so that it ends up farther away from its signature frequency

B) Desired color at a desired strength is missing relatively speaking (software vs. hardware)

One of the reasons I think many find it difficult to understand why software is "behind" in some sense is because we compare impact of software vs impact of hardware as 1:1 - in a sense our definitions of what the units are and the impact the units have, are having a limiting effect on our understanding of their true impact. In my understanding, the impact scope of a hardware compressor is much bigger than the impact scope of a software compressor because the software compressor does the task in much higher degree of isolation - it does the task and nothing else, it can just take the signal and precisely apply the compression algorithm. But with hardware the same process is impacted at a lot of "stages", hence the impact scope of running the signal through a hardware compressor as oppose to a software compressor is much bigger. One way of describing this in very lose terms is that you get more (desired) sound per hardware compressor compared to the software counterpart.

One can then argue that software does the job more cleanly, hence for a clear sounding mix there should not be any reasons why you couldn't build a production concept entirely based on software compression. This in itself is kind of true - in the scope of software, but as soon as you enlarge the scope and include hardware as an option, it really becomes a matter of comparing the total impact between the two, at first in general terms, then also in more specific terms - hardware unit vs software unit. At that point most engineers realise that you get a lot of sound in hardware in general and when you pick the hardware compressor with the most desired color@strength vs the software compressor with the most desired color@strength, you kind of end up concluding hardware is the winner, especially for broad application. Then of course you can bring in software in certain kinds of situations, maybe scoping the impact carefully (high isolation). I would say that is the reason why OP created this thread, he realised this fact and wanted to help others getting the same understanding, which I find helpful by OP.

Here is a production idea - and I find more and more productions start taking advantage of this idea. Use hardware in choruses and software in non-choruses. It is a simple technique, but it is kind of powerful. The underlying reasoning here is that we can use polarity shifts to our advantage and concentrate the emotion to specific parts of a song. The emotion comes from the harmony created when multiple sound sources are vibrating close to their signature frequencies at the same time - the so called "vibe". When we drop the overall mix polarity it has a cost on the mix as a whole, but when it is done to strengthen the perception of the polarity of certain critical parts of a song through the polarity contrast that is added, the production can gain from it. A way of scaling out this is by using hardware in the intro, software in the first verse, hardware in the first chorus, hardware and software in the second verse... In other words, the listener is invited to high positive polarity at first, then positive polarity buildup. So the "smallness of software compressors" can be used to create tension, while the hardware compressors can be used to create release.
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#30
24th November 2013
Old 24th November 2013
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Originally Posted by RickGobe View Post
That's what i'm saying... I doubt many top albums are fully ITB..
well my version differs from yours I guess.
"itb" to me is "mixing completely in the box".
"hybrid" is a combination of SW and HW..

tracking is another story.
don't know anyone who tracks [print] through plug ins.I don't know anyone who tracks drums ,vocals etc without some sort of hardware comp going in.
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