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  • Plug-Ins Are Overrated, Too

    I guess this is the companion thread to the "magic take" thing being overrated.

    I see people obsess on forums (generally not this one, though) about something like the wonders of a particular EQ plug-in. But really, even though different EQs often model different analog EQs accurately enough to reproduce the "character" caused by phase shifts and such, +3 dB with a wide Q at 3.5 kHz is going to have the same overall effect on a guitar part whether the EQ is from company A, B, or C.

    SONAR has an EQ called the "QuadCurve" because it models four different EQ types from various consoles. I'd bet that in 80% of the applications people use, they couldn't tell the difference one EQ has compared to another. In the other 20%, there can be a legitimate reason for choosing one over the other - for example, if you need to notch a resonant drum sound while adding a gentle high-frequency boost, whether or not to use a constant-Q EQ does make a difference...but this is the exception rather than the rule.

    Reverb? It's usually mixed down far enough that it really doesn't matter too much. Sure, reverbs do have different characters, and I'm glad I can choose between a more "syrupy, thick" or "transparent, airy" sound. It does make a sonic difference, but does it make a difference in the overall emotional impact of the song? Probably not.

    However, now I'm going to destroy my own argument. Although using a particular reverb might not make any difference whatsoever to the listener, it can make a difference to the person making the music. When you have the power to choose a specific reverb, and feel good about what you're doing, I think that could easily translate into a better mix...just like having a DAW with more visual appeal but put you in a frame of mind that inspires you.

    So while I do think plug-ins are overrated, I do recognize that their differences may be important indeed...but maybe not for the reasons people might think.



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  • #2
    Many times one plugin can enhance a groove better then another. I'll agree it may simply be a pseudo effect. I different tool may break the boredom and lead you to a different conclusion. So much of mixing is a matter of using the tools artistically, especially when you're being driven to create something truly great.

    I usually start off choosing the tools based on what's needed for an individual track. I can for example hear a drum track and know what kind of groove or presence I want those drums to have in the context of enhancing the mix so I may try one compressor that's had good results getting me there.

    Later when I'm refining a mix If those drums simply aren't pumping the way I had envisioned, I may dump that comp and try another. Sometimes it simply a comp I don't use allot and have to tweak it from one extreme to another to find the right setting based on what I hear vs what is reliably successful. Sometimes it works sometimes its a train wreak and I go back to the old stand by. I'll then bring the other instruments down instead of trying to bring the drums up.

    There is something that happens however, usually when I'm fully immersed in a mix nearing completion. I switch from hearing the music to feeling its groove and its more a matter of feel then what you hear. I know when I find the right pocket for the mix but because there are many things combining to obtain that pocket its hard to know what can be improved and what's better left along. I know well enough when I hit it Mixing is over. Those final tweaks can be a matter of switching tools however. There may be something about a part that's too harsh or too tame and the tools simply doesn't have what you need. So your save the project as is then try a few different tools to see if they will save the day. Sometimes they do, some times they don't.

    You may be right about some tools being able to do the same job. Many are identical and simply have different GUI's. Others are truly different. I don't think there's much argument that different comps can produce different colorations. Reverbs echoes, chorus can have different tapers and mixes between the settings too. Convolution reverb impulses are definitely different and its obvious they can produce different resonances.

    Overall, I spend more time these days trying to get the tones I need when tracking and use more hardware to achieve good tones vs trying to doctor things when mixing. I don't mind a little tweaking to have a part sound good but too much sucks the life out of the tracks and makes it sound two dimensional to me. It often doesn't show up until a songs mastered but the less EQ and major tweaks I can get away with mixing the better the final recording sounds.

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    • #3
      The overrating I think can be traced to the advertising - especially the little blurbs the companies secure from name-brand mixers and producers about how fantastic, can't-do-without, it's my go-to, incredible, etc etc the various plugins are.

      My notion is that it's a rough versus fine carpentry sort of thing. When it comes to the roughout stage, where you're working with overall track balancing, using shelving EQ, a bit of compression over a track or bus, a bit of 'verb on a bus, etc., most any decent plugin will do the job.

      It's when you are doing the fine-tuning, the specific "enhancement" thing - going for the change in sonic qualities that different plugins (and the original gear they emulate) can bring - which is really a by-product of the gear, not it's primary function - this is where the unique qualities of plugins and gear are exploited. For example, all compressors compress dynamic range - so if that's all you're after during a particular stage of the mixing processor - just pick the one you are familiar with and can tweak quickly and knowledgeably. On the other hand, if you want those Ringo cymbal swells like on A Day in the Life, or that squashed piano like on Lady Madonna, reach for the Fairchild plugin and crank it heavily.

      Basic mixing versus sound design I suppose is one way to say it.

      nat whilk ii


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      • #4
        I agree that plug-ins are overrated. How many great sounding records were mixed with just the EQ on the console? Or with a couple of Langevins or Pultecs? Of course back in the 70s-80s, you chose your console largely based on what flavor of EQ (and/or mic preamp) that you liked. And there weren't so many records being made, so there was no compulsion to make your cymbals sound like Ringo's.

        Today there are dozens of "76" compressor plug-ins, and I suppose everybody feels like he has to have one. But if you have four, how do you choose which one of those "76" plug-ins to use? Are you sure a dbx wouldn't work just as well? Today's buyers tend to be brand-conscious, even when the brand is a plug-in brand. It's something to talk about on forums when you don't have enough work to do.

        It's true that some plug-in signal processors are unique, but how often do you need or want something that's unique? Unless you're the famous engineer in the ad that says "since I got the Helium Plutonic, I use it on every vocal track."
        --
        "Today's production equipment is IT-based and cannot be operated without a passing knowledge of computing, although it seems that it can be operated without a passing knowledge of audio." - John Watkinson, Resolution Magazine, October 2006
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        • #5
          A reversal might be, how many bad plugins have you actually come across that cant do the job?

          I've come across a couple that simply weren't written well but not many. We always have to keep in mind we're dealing with code and algorithms performing mathematical recalculations too. There are no waved, just ones and zeroes. All the sound comes from the interface converters.

          I have plugins I still use that date back to my Cakewalk 7 days. Do I still use them because I'm simply familiar with them or is it because they simply do a good job? Its not like I don't have higher end plugins either. Some of my favorites are free plugs too. Granted they may not have a ton of bells and whistles but that's exactly why I often use them.

          Simple tool, few adjustments, primitive GUI, low overhead. It may only do one job really well but I know it well and can have it doing that job and getting results quickly and not second guess it.

          Some of the fancier plugs have a gazillion tweaks and unless you have a couple of hours to diddle around with them to where you're highly efficient zeroing in on what you need, there's simply no need to pull out an elephant gun to kill a fly when you can simply grab a rolled up newspaper and whack it.

          Last edited by WRGKMC; 12-30-2016, 05:52 AM.

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          • #6
            I think one of the problems with plug-ins is that they gave us an excuse to try and short-cut the process. I have heard too many folks say "Don't worry, I'll fix it in the mix." I think it is one of the things that has caused the greatest harm in the recoding process. Advertisements for plug-ins talk about how you can 'fix' this or ' solve' this type of problem. In fact, if we had taken the time to record the the sound correctly to begin with, we wouldn't need a plug-in to fix anything. Perhaps AutoTune was the worst offender. It lead to the thinking that through the DAW anything can be fixed. But reality is the more we try to 'fix' something the worse it sounds. New paint over a dented fender is still a dented fender.

            I have learned that the key is to start with a good recording. Get good sound into the computer before the first plug-in is even dropped into place. A little work up front will not only sound better, but will result in less work later on as you no longer need to fix it in the mix.

            Obligatory Videos Inserted Here

            Fix it in the Mix



            Getting a Good Recording the First Time

            The Mandolin Picker

            "Bless your hearts... and all your vital organs" - John Duffy

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            • Phil O'Keefe
              Phil O'Keefe commented
              Editing a comment
              Those videos never get old...

          • #7
            Overrated is overrated. Got it.
            Originally posted by Unconfigured Static HTML Widget...







            Write Something, or Drag and Drop Images Here...

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            • #8
              Originally posted by MikeRivers View Post
              Today there are dozens of "76" compressor plug-ins, and I suppose everybody feels like he has to have one. But if you have four, how do you choose which one of those "76" plug-ins to use?
              That's easy - whichever one sounds and reacts the most like a real hardware 1176. Just because a compressor plugin looks the part doesn't automatically mean it's going to sound right.

              Are you sure a dbx wouldn't work just as well?
              While both are cool compressors, as I'm sure you know, a hardware 1176 and hardware dbx 160 sound different. If there's any question as to which one would sound better on a given track, I'll try both... but generally I know which sound I'm looking for and will choose accordingly.



              **********

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              • #9
                Originally posted by Phil O'Keefe View Post
                whichever one sounds and reacts the most like a real hardware 1176. Just because a compressor plugin looks the part doesn't automatically mean it's going to sound right.
                Who's to judge, and which 1176? Some people who use plug-ins have experience with the real hardware that they emulate. A vast majority, I'm quite sure, have never use anything but a plug-in. So the only way for those users to know which one sounds most like a real hardware 1176 is to ask an expert or read a review. And whenever a new one comes out, someone will say it sounds exactly like an 1176.

                I have never chosen a compressor for its sound, I use whatever compressor I have available and hope it doesn't damage the sound enough to bother me while doing what I really want it to do which is reduce dynamic range so I can balance levels in a mix better. I don't record drums, much less squash them or their room mics. If I was looking for "the 1176 sound," whatever that means, and if I didn't get it with one 1176 plug-in, I probalby couldn't get it with a different one, or with the real hardware. And if there was one that really nailed it, why would anyone buy anything else?

                It might be better if plug-ins were sold with names like The Sooper Dooper Roomer Miker Squasher and or the Breathalizer (for bringing out those subtle breath noises in a vocal track). The Distressor is aptly named, I think.


                --
                "Today's production equipment is IT-based and cannot be operated without a passing knowledge of computing, although it seems that it can be operated without a passing knowledge of audio." - John Watkinson, Resolution Magazine, October 2006
                Drop by http://mikeriversaudio.wordpress.com now and then

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                • #10
                  Originally posted by MikeRivers View Post

                  Who's to judge, and which 1176?
                  Indeed. There were multiple production runs, and with analog gear, anything's possible. When modeling amps, Line 6 would go through several of the (theoretically) exact same kind to find one they thought was truly representative...in their opinion, of course.

                  Some people who use plug-ins have experience with the real hardware that they emulate. A vast majority, I'm quite sure, have never use anything but a plug-in. So the only way for those users to know which one sounds most like a real hardware 1176 is to ask an expert or read a review.
                  I actually had a rare opportunity. I really like the Cakewalk emulation of the LA-2A because it makes my vocals sound good. However I couldn't help but notice it didn't sound the same as other LA-2A emulations on my hard drive.

                  Last time I was in Boston, I was able to audition the actual piece of hardware they used for modeling. I have to say they nailed it, but they nailed only that particular unit, which they thought was a particularly "good" one.

                  I thought IK Multimedia did something absolutely brilliant with their Mellotron plug-in. There was a knob where you could go from pristine condition to as messed up as most actually are
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                  • #11
                    I think there is a line that shouldn't be crossed, at the expense of wasting a lot of money and time.

                    Bundled plug-ins have come a long way in terms of quality and quantity since I first started (my first DAW was Cubase VST 3.7 in ~2000). And I agree that if a song falls short, all of the processing in the world won't save it. But there are some third party plug-ins that I consider a must-have for ideal working conditions.

                    I need a good 1176-style compressor (both Waves and UAD work), I need an SSL-style bus compressor (UAD), I want my trusty Fabfilter Pro Q2 EQ, and I want a couple of great reverbs (the UAD Lexicon 224 and the EMT-140 fit the bill). Finally, I need a great limiter for mastering (again, UAD to the rescue). I have (and use) other plug-ins, but these are my essentials that I don't think bundled plug-ins could fulfill. I'll almost never use factory EQ or reverb, and most of the factory plugs I do use are delay lines or lo-fi effects (distortion, bit crushing, gates, etc).

                    I hear you Craig on reverb (I don't use long tails either), but the quality of the early reflections makes a big difference. I just finished a track that used a very old snare sample, and that Lexicon 224 plug-in with a short decay was like butter... It just did something that my other gear couldn't do.

                    The line gets crossed when you buy into the idea that your 1176 plug-in isn't as good as the newer "enhanced" 1176, or that a vintage modeled EQ is going to make your mix sound good, when you're working in a room without proper acoustic treatment. I've watched many videos on mastering, and in one, the guy added a 0.5 dB bump at 27K for transparency and air. I'm sorry, in my treated room, that detail is going to get lost... A home studio is only so good, even with plenty of treatment.

                    The danger with so many plug-ins, is the temptation to use them when you don't need to, creating a whole host of other problems. A little bit goes a long way.
                    144 dB
                    Just Finished: Two Button Press
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                    • #12
                      Originally posted by 144dB View Post
                      I've watched many videos on mastering, and in one, the guy added a 0.5 dB bump at 27K for transparency and air.
                      Is this the same guy who made new clothes for the emperor?

                      I've looked at a lot of response graphs for speakers over the years. Very few can reproduce a signal at 27 kHz, let alone do so accurately. If it's making an audible change, then I believe it would be because the filter's "skirt" is gentle enough that it dips down into the audible range.

                      Then again, I've met some mastering engineers who are just oh so precious..."I can hear special things...oh you poor thing, you can't? Oh well, some of us are just better, I guess." I'm a fan of mastering engineers whose sole goal is to have a really happy client.
                      Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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                      • #13
                        Originally posted by 144dB View Post
                        But there are some third party plug-ins that I consider a must-have for ideal working conditions.

                        I need a good 1176-style compressor (both Waves and UAD work), I need an SSL-style bus compressor (UAD), I want my trusty Fabfilter Pro Q2 EQ, and I want a couple of great reverbs (the UAD Lexicon 224 and the EMT-140 fit the bill). Finally, I need a great limiter for mastering (again, UAD to the rescue). I have (and use) other plug-ins, but these are my essentials that I don't think bundled plug-ins could fulfill. I'll almost never use factory EQ or reverb, and most of the factory plugs I do use are delay lines or lo-fi effects (distortion, bit crushing, gates, etc).
                        I think UA is kind of a special case, they really have the analog vibe nailed because they back it up with the necessary hardware DSP. They do great work.

                        I hear you Craig on reverb (I don't use long tails either), but the quality of the early reflections makes a big difference.
                        I agree that early reflections are underrated I often synthesize my own with short delays set to prime numbers that then feed the reverb. That can make a major difference, even with reverbs that have good early reflections.
                        Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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                        • #14
                          When it comes to effects plugins, I agree with the gist of the comments in this thread. That said, there are effects plugins that are breaking new sonic ground using artificial intelligence and pitch tracking to dynamically interact with melodic and harmonic changes in the audio. These effects won't be as noticeable as Auto Tune and the like, but I think the difference they make will be more audible to the untrained ear than most reverb and EQ. For example:





                          Virtual instrument plugins, on the other hand in my opinion, really are amazing—some creating never heard before sounds and others coming breathtakingly close to recreating the instruments they sample or model. It's an exciting time to be a composer in terms of the timbres available. For example:




                          Best,

                          Geoff
                          Last edited by Geoff Grace; 12-31-2016, 04:19 PM.
                          Enthusiasm powers the world.

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                          • #15
                            Yes, I should have restricted my comments to effects plug-ins...however, play with a Moog Voyager, and the raison d'etre for analog becomes apparent.

                            As to Zynaptiq, though, that's not really a fair comparison. They are extraterrestrials, and have access to technology that us terrans won't have for another century or two.
                            Simplicity, my new album project, is now streamable from my YouTube channel.

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