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Old 28th April 2011
Lives for gear
ionian's Avatar
In my opinion, hardware overall sounds better then plugs, but if you're smart you'll be able to find a few choice pieces of hardware and maximize how you use them.

For example, I own an Obisidian and a Xpressor. The Xpressor's clean and tweaky, the Obsidian has a sheen and some weight from the Jensen transformers and isn't as tweaky. They compliment each other well. If I want to add a little "oomph" to the Xpressor on something, I run the output of the Xpressor through the Obsidian. I'm also demoing the Vandergraph at the moment - same thing. It has iron transformers which are different then the ones in the Obsidian so I've been playing around with running the Xpressor through the Vander as well to get the iron sound from it.

The Vander has more of a bassy thump to the bottom, but my Obsidian has more of a 3-D image that I really like, but it's not as bassy so I've been playing around with running the Vander into the Obsidian and fooling with settings and vice-versa, running the Obsidian into the Vander. You'll find plenty of sounds and effects like that.

You can use plugs on a lot of stuff but if you use some hardware in the right spots, the hardware will carry the plugs. I tend to use software EQs since I most likely will change the EQ later since I screw that up the most, so I hardware compress my tracks but plug-in EQ them (I EQ after compression so it's not an issue to do this).

Or use plugs on most of your tracks but use hardware on the master bus to add some pizazz to the whole song.

Also - good hardware doesn't have to be mind-bogglingly expensive.

Something simple like the Phonenix Audio Nice Di, which has some colored transformers can be used in the path of a lot of stuff - from your synths being input into the track, between the converter and your hardware or on your final mix that you can add some transformer weight in plenty of places for 6 or 7 hundred dollars, max. I mean, record all your tracks using the Nice Di but use plugs for compression and EQ. You'll still have that transformer weight on the tracks.

Also, in the realm of cheaper, but good hardware - a lot of the newer offerings from Radial look like they're really gonna be awesome. I mean, Radial has the Komit Comp coming out which is a (slight) re-design of a well-liked comp for $400 each. And they're linkable! So for $800 you can get a stereo pair that have some transformers (hammond ones) AND a limiter that you can clip and overdrive. You should be able to get some great sounding mileage from those. Radial supposedly has some interesting looking EQ coming out as well soon so I'd look at that also.

The ART Pro VLA (I or II) are somewhat legends in their own time for great sound for under $300 in a hardware compressor.

Get creative - who cares? Just keep your eyes, ears and options open! Good sound doesn't have to cost more then one or two plugs!