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So, WHY aren't plugins as good as hardware? Effects Pedals, Units & Accessories
Old 8th August 2008
  #1
So, WHY aren't plugins as good as hardware?

The usual rhetoric and pissing matches can be found in this thread:

Will plugins EVER reach the quality of hardware?

It got me thinking: for those who believe even the best plugins are far inferior to hardware, let's talk about the whys – why aren't plugs as good (specifically eq, compression, and verb)?

I think most people are ok with the fact that plugs and hardware work differently. I also think most people are over "clones." If a killer sounding plug comes along, it doesn't matter so much that it can mimic a hardware piece so much as it's actually a useful, musical tool (if you need a certain effect, you're always better to get the real thing anyway). So what we want are tools that enhance (or at least do not inhibit) musical vision. If they sound good, they are good.

So, it seems at the end of the day, complaints about plugs revolve around size and depth – plugs (some feel) make things sound small and less 3D. Plugs shrink and flatten.

Well, why? What do transformers and caps and transistors do to current that algorithms can't do to data?
Old 8th August 2008
  #2
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Quote:
Well, why? What do transformers and caps and transistors do to current that algorithms can't do to data?
Because, they are nothing alike.
'
Old 8th August 2008
  #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ben_allison View Post
Well, why? What do transformers and caps and transistors do to current that algorithms can't do to data?
Because they can produce UNCALCUABLE "mistakes"? - what a program will never be able to do? Of course theres the possibility of a random generator but its still not completely random?
Thats the only thing I can think of. The often described "voodoo" of old gear is very often related to nice "voodoo" mistakes. I still think a great lot of that CAN be emulated but its maybe quite hard to measure the real behavior of every single part of a piece of equipment according to transients and phase issues and so on.


Andi
Old 8th August 2008
  #4
Quote:
Originally Posted by vernier View Post
Because, they are nothing alike.
But that's faulty reasoning.

Celluloid film and CMOS sensors aren't even close to being the same but I'd defy anyone to pick out a 35mm pic VS one shot with even the lowend canon SLR's, and I think most people's visual acuity is stronger than their auditory acuity...

Just because the mechanism is different, that doesn't mean the end result needs to be. That's not an answer to the question.
Old 8th August 2008
  #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ben_allison View Post
But that's faulty reasoning.

Celluloid film and CMOS sensors aren't even close to being the same but I'd defy anyone to pick out a 35mm pic VS one shot with even the lowend canon SLR's, and I think most people's visual acuity is stronger than their auditory acuity...

Just because the mechanism is different, that doesn't mean the end result needs to be. That's not an answer to the question.
WRONG!

That's very easy for me. I've taken thousands of photos with both film and professional digital cameras and trust me when I tell you that I can see the difference. Film captures color and dynamic range much different and better than a CMOS sensor.
Old 8th August 2008
  #6
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Yes your question is slight different "WHY".

But outside there are code which is near on the thing.
TC CL 1 B Plug In sounds terrific near to the real deal very difficult to separate.
The new Brilliance bei EMI is terrific as well WOW nice saturation.

We know that it can be done in code the Weiss compressor sounds not digital but is done in code..... the more the costs of DSP will get down and the more clever programming will happen the more less plug ins will sound digital.

By the way the question itself is contra productive.
If you ask a question then you should ask this:
Can we do professional mixes with Plug Ins.....

YES WE CAN!!!!!
Old 8th August 2008
  #7
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I'm not so sure "randomness" really exists either... But that's an entirely different philosophical/statistical discussion.

Here is how I see it:
A) The physical world is a continuum. There are no "points" everything is infinite. In the digital world, we have to create points and break up that continuum into small coordinates and bridges, 1's and 0's. Because of that alone, digital is at a disadvantage, for now. The further technology progresses, the more space and computational power our computers will posess, and then we will be able to render nearly indifferent versions of reality (once we surpass the human brain's ability to notice, we don't have go to any further, and that won't be difficult.)

You could think of it like FPS (frames per second/framerate) at an FPS of 10, you can most definitely tell that something is amiss.. the intervals are not perceived as a continuum, and thus we know its not real, it might work, but its not convincing. bump it up to 60FPS, and you perceive fluid motion of the frames (even though only 60 are flashing at you per second) Go to 3000 FPS and you wont be able to notice a difference between 3000 and 60 because you've reached beyond the eye/brains ability. Of course- your eyes do not have any built in FPS, it sees/perceives in a continuous fashion. We haven't reached this point yet with audio calculations.

B) We simply don't have the best algorithmic models to calculate the spaces and instruments we wish to create. But, As I mentioned, the more storage we have for data (longer strands of 0's and 1's to represent a given attribute of an instrument/reverb/whatever) the more realistic we can make it because we can include more detail.

Also, we don't have to infuse true randomness into anything.. Given the computational power, you'd be able to include a small equation to vary some of the attributes of, say, a synthesized guitar, so that each pick sound is slightly varied, and maybe it changes the pick sound to one of 30 different variations before repeating. The human brain will never pick up on the fact that the pick sound is alternating through 30 preset and completely nonrandom pick variations, and it will sound convincingly human and erroneous.

In a nutshell, we simply havent acheived of detail/accuracy in our equations/algorithms, or the processing power to fool ourselves 100%.
Old 8th August 2008
  #8
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The Reverb part I completely agree with.... chanel eq and compressors are where plugs are excelling...the only thing I think that would be hard to catch up to is the sound of analog summing,,,,why? because it's virtually impossible to simulate the character of a piece of gear that doesn't have any parameters(like threshold, ratio, q etc.) except frequency response
Old 8th August 2008
  #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ben_allison View Post
But that's faulty reasoning.

Celluloid film and CMOS sensors aren't even close to being the same but I'd defy anyone to pick out a 35mm pic VS one shot with even the lowend canon SLR's, and I think most people's visual acuity is stronger than their auditory acuity...

Just because the mechanism is different, that doesn't mean the end result needs to be. That's not an answer to the question.
holy crap your so wrong!

the difference between those two is huge. I shoot with the canon 5D ( a very good camera) and I cry whenever I see film shots. they are just so much better. contrast is gorgeous and the colour is breathtaking. they have a quality that digital can only come close to achieving through HDR photography (merging of different exposures)

EDIT:
It doesnt mean I dont love my 5D and cant do GREAT professional work with it though.... to me thats exactly what plugins are. maybe a bit of a compromise at times but the pluses are huge. with the digital I dont have to get them developed. editing is faster, etc.
Old 8th August 2008
  #10
Quote:
Originally Posted by bcgood View Post
That's very easy for me. I've taken thousands of photos with both film and professional digital cameras and trust me when I tell you that I can see the difference. Film captures color and dynamic range much different and better than a CMOS sensor.
If I took the same shot with two cameras and made prints for your to judge, there's no way you'd be able to tell the difference (I'm factoring certain processing into this scheme, which is only fair, considering this discussion revolves around processing).


Quote:
Originally Posted by DarkEcho
In a nutshell, we simply haven't achieved of detail/accuracy in our equations/algorithms, or the processing power to fool ourselves 100%.
44.1khz isn't enough resolution? 88khz? 192khz, not enough?! I mean, sound coming out of paper or plastic cones is already a huge compromise... isn't it? All sound recording is going to be unrealistic simply by virtue of the fact that every playback system in the world is not "the real thing." And analogue has certain resolution to it as well; I'm not asking about mimicing reality per se, just trying to figure out why eq's and comps that don't flatten out and shrink audio seems to be an impossibility as far as some people are concerned...

All of what you're saying totally makes sense when it comes to synthesizing a space or an instrument... but I'm not sure it's quite the same issue as being able to boost 12db @ 8khz with a plug eq and not have it sound like balls. It seems like a slightly different issue, no?
Old 8th August 2008
  #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mr.HOLMES View Post
Yes your question is slight different "WHY".

But outside there are code which is near on the thing.
TC CL 1 B Plug In sounds terrific near to the real deal very difficult to separate.
The new Brilliance bei EMI is terrific as well WOW nice saturation.


I agree, The CL1B Sound so close to hardware I cant believe it. Now its just getting DSP faster and faster with more memory. Then, I believe you can make software equal hardware.
Old 8th August 2008
  #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ben_allison View Post
why aren't plugs as good (specifically eq, compression, and verb)?
I'd like to offer slightly different perspective.

Lets assume that one day plugins will reach the sonic "equivalent" to hardware devices. In some ways some have, in many ways, there are still calculable differences. All of these differences and similarities have been mentioned, argued, and ultiamtely disagreed on in this forum and around dinner tables countless times. But for the sake of argument, lets say tomorrow you could have ANY hardware processor in a plugin format, and the sound be exactly the same.

There will always be software guys and hardware guys, and guys who split the line. I appreciate plugins for their recallability when I need it, I love being able to automate certain plugins in certain instances. I also loathe software when I have a client call me 5 months after a project has left my hands and ask to recall the session for a minor tweak, that no one other than them or me will ever notice.

I love the simple process of grabbing a patch cable, walking to the patchbay, and then turning the knobs on the physical hardware. It goes beyond the feeling that a control surface gives you, its a way of working that I can only liken to a cabinet maker profiling a beautiful piece of wood into furniture. Its a process, and I like that process.

Bsically, what I'm getting at, is in the end it doesn't matter. The hardware guys wont care if the software sounds exactly the same, becuase the software isn't the way they like to work. I have plugins, and I treat them just like a piece of gear, they fill in the gaps in my rack. But I wont be selling hardware for plugin equivalents, becuase I like turning the knobs too much. What is important is to find a workflow that you enjoy, that provides the results you desire, and be happy.
Old 8th August 2008
  #13
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`Popcorn´
Old 8th August 2008
  #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nickynicknick View Post
because it's virtually impossible to simulate the character of a piece of gear that doesn't have any parameters(like threshold, ratio, q etc.) except frequency response
But this is very common using folding in the frequency domain. It's not only useful for reverb, you can use it for anything, also for simulating a channel strip, summing aparatus or whatever.
Old 8th August 2008
  #15
Quote:
Originally Posted by ben_allison View Post
So, it seems at the end of the day, complaints about plugs revolve around size and depth – plugs (some feel) make things sound small and less 3D. Plugs shrink and flatten.

Well, why? What do transformers and caps and transistors do to current that algorithms can't do to data?
Is the problem of this debate the fact that we are not looking at "the whole ball of wax"? whole ball of wax - Idioms - by the Free Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia.

Analog outboard
Analog tape
Analog console

DAW
Digital A/D & D/A converters
Digital Plug ins

You could probably put any individual component listed above against a wall and shoot it for some crime to audio if you really wanted to.

Step back a little and perhaps have an overview that analog technology was (still is? 1 inch 2track recorder anyone?) progressing and that digital technology will be trying to progress too?

Recording engineers have a long history of evolving tools. Of course the argument against that is that somewhere in the early 1960's recording equipment technology reached a zenith of euphonic sound, never to be surpassed.

Fun debate.. thumbsup
Old 8th August 2008
  #16
Quote:
Originally Posted by thedommer View Post
holy crap your so wrong...contrast is gorgeous and the colour is breathtaking.
No way man. A print can only be as dynamic as the darkest ink you use, and the brightest paper you use – that's your dynamic range. If you light for digital, you can avoid clipping and maximize this range.

You can't just open the shutter and hope to nail it, I'm just saying, with the know how, one can be made to look like the other... I've seen it and done it!
Old 8th August 2008
  #17
CDS
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Think of it like this:

Judge the taste of Cocoa Cola, Chicken McNuggets, McD Fries and KFC from 20 years ago with those of today..

I am sure many can remember when each tasted "better" as now each are prepared with different methods than those from 20 years ago.

All 4 items are still as popular today.

Switch the reference above with Gear from 20 years ago with plug-ins today.

I hope this made sense.
Old 8th August 2008
  #18
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jules View Post
Recording engineers have a long history of evolving tools. Of course the argument against that is that somewhere in the early 1960's recording equipment technology reached a zenith of euphonic sound, never to be surpassed
That's what gets me... are we just screwed? Music HAPPENED then, and ever since, forget about it?

Like, 50 years into music recording, we perfected it, and 50 years on, it's all been a waste of time?

What technology is perfect 50 years into it's inception? The printing press, airplanes, cars, sewing machines, computers, cameras... pick any invention or technological field and the general consensus is that it's been a constant stream of improvements... heck, even pick economics, psychology, mathematics... same thing.

Sound production is the one field that apparently bucks this trend?
Old 8th August 2008
  #19
Quote:
Originally Posted by CDS View Post
Judge the taste of Cocoa Cola, Chicken McNuggets, McD Fries and KFC from 20 years ago with those of today.
Oh I totally get that! Quantity over quality.

But I'm sure there are some musician coders that care about quality?
Old 8th August 2008
  #20
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Seems to me you'd first have to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that plugins and software sound worse, and I don't know how you can really do that.

One question that's puzzling though...are plugins really all that much different from each other (much like DAWs are really no different). If you recorded a song using nothing but Waves SSL plugs verses the API plugs verses UAD Neve or whatever (set the same), would there be any discernible difference? Because I think if you used the hardware, there would be a noticeable difference, would there not?
Old 8th August 2008
  #21
It depends. If you are going for a particular sound, you'll use whatever hardware/plugs you have to try to get to that sound, and it'll probably sound more similar. If you are wanting to make maximum use of the particular sound of a piece of hardware or plugin, you'll do what's necessary to showcase those product specific characteristics. Certainly the Waves SSL stuff sounds considerably different from the Waves API stuff. But that doesn't mean that, if you wanted to, you couldn't attempt to use one to get a sound more like the other, and I'm sure the same things apply in the hardware world. Though I guess the more idiosyncratic that a given plug or piece of hardware is, the harder it is to avoid having that sound.
Old 8th August 2008
  #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Skip Burrows View Post
I agree, The CL1B Sound so close to hardware I cant believe it. Now its just getting DSP faster and faster with more memory. Then, I believe you can make software equal hardware.
Yes and even with not that high end plugs we have nice plugs which you can get there where you want them with clever combination of other plugs.

If someone tells me we can not do great sound ITB .....yes maybe he can not do it. In another 5 years we are there the difference will be very very small.
Old 8th August 2008
  #23
Quote:
Originally Posted by CDS View Post
Think of it like this:

Judge the taste of Cocoa Cola, Chicken McNuggets, McD Fries and KFC from 20 years ago with those of today..

I am sure many can remember when each tasted "better" as now each are prepared with different methods than those from 20 years ago.

All 4 items are still as popular today.

Switch the reference above with Gear from 20 years ago with plug-ins today.

I hope this made sense.
Perfectly! I am up for closing this thread after that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ben_allison View Post
... are we just screwed?
Yes.
Old 8th August 2008
  #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ben_allison View Post
If I took the same shot with two cameras and made prints for your to judge, there's no way you'd be able to tell the difference (I'm factoring certain processing into this scheme, which is only fair, considering this discussion revolves around processing).
Sorry, WRONG AGAIN!!!

I can tell with both print and on screen. You have to understand though that I've been studying and doing this for a long time so I can understand if you can't tell the difference. I can make digital images look very good and in certain situations such as indoor flash photography it can look very good. But for the ultimate though drum scanned film still looks the best; especially for outdoor landscape photography which is very demanding because of the high dynamic range and color required to successfully capture many scenes. I could go into many details that you probably wouldn't understand but I'll stop there. I'm not trying to be condescending but your making some pretty asinine claims.

The fact that you are wrong about this analogy just highlights your lack of knowledge and undermines your argument concerning your ideas about digital plugs verse the real thing. Just listen to Steely Dan - Aja for example and realize that it wouldn't sound the way it does if it was recorded in Pro Tools with plug ins...
Old 8th August 2008
  #25
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Please close it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Old 8th August 2008
  #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ben_allison View Post
Well, why? What do transformers and caps and transistors do to current that algorithms can't do to data?
Hm, I bet I can speculate just as well as anyone else on this thread...

I think that the randomness has little to do with it. If you were to quantify the amount of variance that an effect has on something, the amount in a piece of well designed and executed gear is probably fairly small. This can be replicated in software if you know what you're doing.

I think that "it's just different" is not adequate, but it's on the right track.

There are two things to consider: The first is whether the people writing plugins have a sufficient amount of data to do it in the first place. Things like the way sound reacts to nickel vs steel, the way that harmonics above 20kHz are happening, things like that. The math involved is a solved problem at this point, as is the randomness. The average software developer's understanding of acoustics, physics, and electronics? Not so much, I imagine.

The second is whether DAW environments are even suited for the sort of processing they're being asked to do. Is the A/D involved even recording frequencies beyond the range of human hearing? On a 48kHz A/D, not by much. Is there a mathematical problem with re-inserting the mixed sound back into the audio stream which causes sound degradation that is inconsistent with pure analog environments? Do most D/A converters reproduce frequencies higher than 20kHz? Is the DAW software stripping out data which it might consider to be spurious to the application (but isn't)? These are all things that I think most of us assume a benign answer to but in fact would have a noteworthy effect on things if our assumptions were off base.

While we're at it, insert the standard rant about **** being mixed and mastered to "cd quality".
Old 8th August 2008
  #27
But how much super-audible stuff ever gets to the hardware compressor or EQ? How many commonly used mics have meaningful responses way up beyond the human range? And, if you think that's true, you can use 96K sampling rate and get twice the human range.
Old 8th August 2008
  #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ben_allison View Post
44.1khz isn't enough resolution? 88khz? 192khz, not enough?!
Sample rate is one thing, by going up to 192khz you ARE surpassing the human ears ability to hear. We can hear roughly 20hz-20khz. if you halve the sampling rate, you get the highest reproduceable frequency, so if you halve 192, you get 96, which halved is 48, which halved is 24, which is about the limits of human hearing- these super high sampling rates are already FAR beyond our ability to detect (whether or not supersonic and subsonic frequencies are affecting us, which is debateable).

I am not talking about sampling rates however, I am talking about bit depth and processing power.

If you have an 8 bit sound, you are very limited in how many digital 1/0 you have to make up that sound. the more bits you give yourself, the more detail you can include in the sound. That's why bit depth and all this floating point mumbo jumbo is so important. most DAWs are running at 24bit, but even CDs are still 16 bit, thats NOT very much room for detail compared to the continuum that is the natural, physical world.

Just like sampling rate and frame rate, we will come to a point where we have enough bit depth to represent a sound that we will not notice a difference beyond it..

Think "Law of Diminishing Returns"..

But we haven't reached the "sweet-spot" yet.
Old 8th August 2008
  #29
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Been reading, and I'm a little surprised that the idea of why analog gear is better seems to be basically because of resolution deprecation in computers. Isn't this basically saying that platforms such as protools is secondary to analog consoles, taperecorders and analog outboards? It's basically a digital emulation of lower quality. That seems like a very controversial thing to insinuate ...
Old 8th August 2008
  #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ben_allison View Post
That's what gets me... are we just screwed? Music HAPPENED then, and ever since, forget about it?

Like, 50 years into music recording, we perfected it, and 50 years on, it's all been a waste of time?

What technology is perfect 50 years into it's inception? The printing press, airplanes, cars, sewing machines, computers, cameras... pick any invention or technological field and the general consensus is that it's been a constant stream of improvements... heck, even pick economics, psychology, mathematics... same thing.

Sound production is the one field that apparently bucks this trend?
What constant stream of improvements has the cello had the latest 300 years?

Stradivarius. Selmer. Steinway. Boesendorfer. Old K-Zildjans. Gretch. Ludwig. Fender. Neumann. Telefunken. Urei. Teletronix. I could go on...
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