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Plugs vs. Hardware (GAP Comp-3a, Wes Beta76, Warm WA-76) Dynamics Plugins
Old 22nd January 2017
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Plugs vs. Hardware (GAP Comp-3a, Wes Beta76, Warm WA-76)

Hey guys,

this is not a blind shootout but something that should be of help mostly for people who think about getting their first hardware piece and wondering if the money is well spent.

A friend of mine has a growing project studio and ordered a Golden Age Comp-3a, a Warm WA-76 and a WesAudio Beta76 to evaluate what hardware he can afford will bring to the table. I figured I should take the opportunity while he was testing these pieces and manage a shootout to help others in the same situation make their decision. And for the Beta76 and the Comp-3a there is not that much to find.

We took a 1 minute excerpt from a well recorded track (neither his nor mine, he got it from a mixing site) and selected drums (mono), bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, piano, male and female vocals as contenders to run through both hard- and software.
Software equivalents were Softube's FET for the 1176s (we shot it out against Slate FG-116 and Waves CLA-76 and found the FET to be the closest to the hardware units in question in terms of tonality and response) and Waves' CLA-3a for the Comp-3a. We had no UAD available, if someone wonders. All conversion was done by a RME Fireface 802.

Basically we ran these steps:
-Every track through all three hardware units, one at a time
-Every track through all three plugin equivalents, one at a time
-Every track through the Comp-3a and the Beta76 in series
-Every track through the Comp-3a and the WA-76 in series
-Every track through the CLA-3a and the FET in series
-Further test runs (ALL Buttons 1176s and reverse order of the units on drums...)

I will offer the files as a zip-archive as it contains no less than 86 level-matched Wav-files. A detailed explanation of how the test was set up is included in the archive. This took us almost a whole day and I took great care in ensuring the files are well matched.

The idea is that - based on what you want to compare - you can load the tracks in your DAW and route them to solo-safe auxes.

For example, if you want to compare the Beta76 and the Warm, load all the Beta76 instrument tracks you want to compare, level and pan them the way you want and route them to an aux called Beta76.
Then load all the corresponding Warm instrument tracks, level and pan them exactly the same and route them to an aux called WA-76. Run the song and switch between the two auxes. So you can easily compare hardware to software, hardware to hardware, or hard- and software to the raw tracks. In real time...


Here's the link to the zip, please do not share these files somewhere else:
Old 22nd January 2017
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Wow, great job, thank you!!
Old 24th January 2017
Gear Head

Old 25th January 2017
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monkeyxx's Avatar
Old 25th January 2017
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Enjoy! And of course I'm interested in your thoughts.
Old 25th January 2017
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monkeyxx's Avatar
Originally Posted by JSchlomo View Post
Enjoy! And of course I'm interested in your thoughts.
Personally, I was mostly interested in comparing the software to the hardware options, not so much the hardware vs. other hardware.

Because of CPU limitations, a lot of software emulations seem to remove parts of the code that you supposedly "can not hear" in a blind test. To preserve CPU cycles.

But what's interesting to me is that, often times, the hardware audio does seem to have some extra stuff to it. Someone recently described it as real life video vs. computer animation. I think that's a good analogy.

It's very subtle, and I understand that this is not a blind listening test. But I was very interested to see what "extra" stuff was going on with the hardware. Even though the software sounded well enough.

I think that the hardware vs. software debate is one of my favorites on the forums, along with the digital conversion conversations.

I cannot pick a side so to speak. Also one of my favorite albums of all time was made on a mid-90's computer. I am just really interested in these subtlest of differences.
Old 25th January 2017
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Thread Starter
That's more or less exactly what this was about:
To see what affordable hardware these days can offer and plugins still can not.
And especially for those starting out and being on a budget, to have a real-life listening example to consider if the difference they hear (IF they hear one) is worth the cash to them.

I still have to say, I'm quite torn. I definitely do hear something in the hardware that's more pleasing and "real" sounding. And fiddling with knobs gives you a sort of confidence in your decision that mouseclicking on a screen still can't.

Is this worth 1000 Euros/dollars (in case of the Wes vs. the Softube) for a newbie? I can't tell if better conversion or better sound treatment wouldn't make more of a difference for the money...
Old 25th January 2017
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monkeyxx's Avatar
That's the part that always trips me up. You're talking maybe a 1000% price increase in some cases for what, a 10% audible difference for one channel.

Hopefully a lot of this newer more affordable hardware will ease some of that pain.
Old 25th January 2017
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Absolutely. But then - what exactly is affordable? For some the Beta76 - a really good sounding 1176 compressor with useful extra features (3 sidechain filters, switchable input transformer) built like a tank - for 1100 Euros is quite a bargain for that extra 10%, for others it's a lot of money for maybe too less of a difference.
Old 26th April 2017
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Just wanted to chime in and say thanks for this — this is easily one of the most thorough, well-thought-out, and best-sounding shootouts I've heard in a while. This has actually convinced me to pick up a WA76.
Old 27th April 2017
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Cool - my pleasure!
Old 10th October 2017
Here for the gear

Thanks for taking the time to do this! As far as the hardware units, the Wes Audio sounded the best to me ... I'd probably choose it for tracking. For mixing, I think any of them (hardware or software) could get you there. I was surprised at how much I liked the CLA3a + Beta76 combinations on the vocal tracks. Thanks again!!!
Old 11th October 2017
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Thread Starter
Thanx, dude, glad you found it useful. The Beta76 is a great compressor for sure and on par with every other more expensive 1176 out there. The sidechain filter makes it really flexible. Interesting you especially liked the CLA and Beta combo.
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