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Old 17th July 2019
Gear Head
Loafing So Adding My Opinion On This

If you record human beings playing in a physical space, hardware is a necessity. If you only mix, you still will need a well treated room, quality monitors and great converters, minimum. That said, particularly depending on your work and/or clients, the OP is correct that many plug-ins can be just as good for their hardware cousins. However, and I admit that I'm old school (started my recording experiences on a Tascam 38 8-track open reel deck) and saw the transitions from analog tape to digital tape to computer-based DAWs.

If I were starting out from scratch, I would put my money into high-end room treatments, monitors, converters, and mic pres. Many stock plugs included in most modern DAWS are fine to get the job done. I'd recommend; however, getting a summing mixer of at least 8-channels, though 16 (or more) is preferable.

I use mainly UAD plugs on the software end but we have a good amount of high-end hardware that definitely makes a difference. But unless the client has the budget to have me fully use our hardware, I'll use primarily use plug-ins, though I may throw a HW Distressor or SSL Compressor on the lead vocals and my Shadow Hills stereo compressor on the 2-bus.

Had an interesting "solved by hardware" moment on a hip-hop mix recently. The project consisted of the stereo "beat," and about 6 tracks of vocals. Plan was to simply throw the Shadow Hills on the stereo out and print the mix. For some reason, during a certain portion of the song, there was an undesirable "crunch" in the track. I thought that it was one of the vocal tracks and solo'ed each one to find the glitch. Nothing, all clean. Solo'ed the beat. Nope. But playing all of the track together, even turning off all the plugs, the crutch was still there. Once I stemmed out the tracks through the summing mixer -- the crunch glitch was gone, finished the mix, client was happy and on to the next project.

Moral of the story is that mixing in the box occasionally creates unpleasant artifacts whereas analog is more forgiving and in the case of a summing mixer, can enhance.

I should also note that not all plugs can perfectly mimic the hardware. For example, I have both the hardware Massive Passive and the UAD plug. The hardware is undeniably sweeter and realistic. Additionally, I usually have to boost/cut more dBs on the software than on the HW to get the sound I want.

That said, we're talking about tools to complete a job. Whatever works for the craftsman to get the job done, is the right tool.

Last edited by JHTorch; 17th July 2019 at 02:54 AM.. Reason: Corrections