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Real time VST effects while recording?

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  • Real time VST effects while recording?

    Hello everyone!

    This is perhaps quite a newbie question, but it is causing me some confusion! I wish to record music at home using a MacBook Pro, Alessis iO2 external soundcard, and Audacity software. Typical songs would include electric guitars/bass with VST effects (Guitar Rig 5), MIDI operated software synths, vocals and acoustic guitar that I record with microphones, and drums that I would eventually add perhaps using one of the Native Instruments Drummer VSTs.

    Question 1: I cannot hear VST effects applied to guitar output in my headphone monitor when recording in Audacity. The only option is to apply effects after recording with basic clean tone. Is there a way around this??? I need to be able to hear the overdrive/delay/other effects AS I RECORD. Perhaps another recording software has this capacity? The only other software I have at present is Garageband, but I would be willing to pay a bit to have better, user-friendly recording software

    Question 2: I have never applied drums to my home recordings before, and it's a major limitation with my current setup. Does anyone have experience/recommendations for VST drum plugins? How are the Abbey Road Drummer VSTs from NI? Can one loop sections and add fills and record easily with these tools? Any and all advice much appreciated

    Looking forward to hearing from you.


  • #2
    You'll probably need a VST host to run the plugin with, and then route the audio from that to your DAW. Here's a link to a article & program (which I've never tried) that might be able to help you.

    I primarily use Universal Audio DSP-powered plugins and Pro Tools TDM plugins when I need to track "through" a plugin effect while recording, so I don't have the need to use VSTs when tracking, although I do occasionally use them when mixing.

    "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."
    - George Carlin

    "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."
    - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

    "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."
    - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter


    • #3
      Hi Phil,

      Thanks a lot for your response. I checked out the VST host that you mentioned - seems to be a Windows only software, unfortunately. I only have a Mac at present.

      But your suggestion led me to a list of other VST hosts:

      In case it's useful to others, some of these are free. I read tons of very positive reviews about MuLab asnd have just downloaded - will try it out tonight. It's a track-based recording software that supports all kinds of VSTs. If I've understood things right, the important difference between this and Audacity is the ability to use the 'Monitor' function whilst recording.. That should mean that effects from VST plugins can be heard whilst laying down the track rather than only being able to apply this after the fact..

      Will post again after some experimentation later on

      Any advice regarding rock-based drum loops still welcome



      • #4
        Being able to use plugins while tracking is usually a matter of setting up DAW settings. I'm not familiar with Audacity but I'd think it would have the same options as other programs. In Cubase (older version) for example, you hear the dry signal with the track volumes turned off and hear the wet signal as you turn the track volumes up. In sonar they use a button. If you select the button, your record signal is routed through the effects and is applied to the tracks. With it off the effects buss is bypasses.

        The virtual mixer in most DAW programs emulates an actual hardware mixer and its simply a matter of finding the right settings to route the effects through the effects buss just like it is on a real mixer.

        Some Interfaces also have settings that need to be set to turn off direct monitoring. Your smaller USB units often have a knob on the front that pans between the direct sound and the processed sound. Other interfaces like mine, this is done within the driver settings. I have a second virtual mixer which has level and routing settings that need to be set to hear the processed signal. You may need to use a combination of both DAW and hardware settings to hear the processed signal.

        The problem you may run into when trying to use plugins like you want is a matter of latency.
        DAW's can record the sound but it doesn't have to do so in real time. The signal coming from your interface can be delayed and put into temporary memory before its written to the drive.

        If you turn off the zero latency monitoring and reroute it through the computer, converting analog > digital, process it through a digital plugin, then convert it back from digital > analog That takes time. Even if the signal is dry you're dealing with the interface speed, Computer buss speed, and CPU processing speed.

        You will be hearing the signal delayed when you play the instrument. Just how much depends on how fast the interface and computer is.
        From most computers I've tested over the years 100~200ms delay is about as low as many can get without having the DAW program crash on you and that without plugins running. The plug ins themselves will also vary the throughput speed. If its a high consumption plugin the latency can go way up.

        When I used to run a single core processor I used to have to set the latency way up to about 2 seconds to avoid crashes. That was with using PCI cards too which are much faster then USB or Firewire. If you have say a Quad core and Thunderbolt interface you may be able to get the latency low enough where it isn't heard. I run a dual core now and with very simple plug ins I can blend in some effects and not have timing issues but I can hear it.

        This is the key item though. Anything you add when tracking cant be undone. You're stuck with the effect good of bad.
        I get around the latency issue by using hardware effects. I use just enough to make it comfortable playing then further enhance it mixing.
        I've been doing it a long time and have allot of experience dialing up what I want before I hit record. I've done thousands of recordings tracking with effects and know pretty much what I want when I'm tracking with it. I still try and use a minimal amount because I know I wont know exactly what's needed till I'm well into the mixing process.

        There's also a natural order to effects. If you plain of adding drive for example, you don't want to use any time based effects like reverb chorus or echo tracking. Adding drive to reverb can have nasty consequences. Using Compression or/and EQ tracking is OK if you plan to use drive mixing. You can also use time based effects, after those as well.

        You can EQ a track that has reverb too, but you will be EQing both the echo and the dry at the same time. That may of may not be a good thing depending on exactly what you used. If your recording is in the works of being tracked and you're not sure what you'll need till its closer to being done then the less of any effects tracking the better. In general,

        I try not to track with anything more then what I need to play well. I usually use. I do use hardware based instrument modeling quite a bit on guitar. I'll dial up the drive, cab type and a generally good EQ curve. Sometimes I'll add a little chorus to get some movement playing chords.
        Bass is normally 100% dry. The only thing I'll use is amp modeling that suits the music best.

        If the mix is near completion and all I need is say lead guitar then I can go ahead and use my normal lead effects. Its unlikely I'll need to change the drive or tone allot and I will likely be OK with what I track.

        Main thing too is some digital effects can sound allot like hardware based effects. Others can be very difficult to get realistic results.
        I'll take hardware based drive over digital any day of the week. Dialing up a good hardware drive to sound good is super simple and can take seconds. I've spent hours tweaking plugins in many cases to get just the right tones.

        If all you got is the software then you'll just have to see if the computer latency is low enough to be worthwhile. Reverbs and delays often have a pre delay dialed up so you may not notice them even if there is a delay. If your rig lets you pan between dry/direct and wet/processed that's even better,

        One other option often used for vocalists. If you need some reverb, you can use a stereo rack/reverb unit. Place it between the interface and monitors/headphone amp. You can then dial up reverb and not have it recorded. Then when you mix you can add what's needed surgically and undo it completely whenever you want. I have many old recordings I wish I hadn't added effects tracking. They may have sounded good when I recorded them but years later, my mixing skills have greatly improved. I cant fix many of the things I did wrong.

        If you have a choice, at least with dry tracks, you can undo every plugin and start completely over remixing. Otherwise you have to rerecord the whole thing and hope you play it as well as you did originally. (which is often unlikely because peoples playing skills change over time, and not always for the better.


        • #5
          What WRGKMC wrote is spot-on. Generally speaking, monitoring effects while tracking is, in your typical DAW, a simple matter of inserting the effect on a track, putting on your headphones, and clicking "record". If you're on a budget (or even if you aren't), I recommend using Reaper. It highly customizable to your workflow, and as powerful as any other DAW out there.


          • #6
            ^^^ I have reaper but I haven't used it. In fact I have a bunch of DAW programs but mainly use Sonar X1 Producer for audio and Cubase for Midi.

            Reaper is supposed to be really good on Resources and will run well on even low end computers. They did a comparison a couple of years ago on how many plugin instances you could run before the programs would crap out on all the major DAW programs. Reaper was one of if not the highest. Sonar was one of the lower ones.

            Whether you need to run that many plugins is the real question. I began recording back in the 60's so I have nearly the same experience using analog as I do digital now. The habits I learned recording analog are still part of my methodology recording digital.

            Things like recording a part from beginning to end without any musical errors was ultra important back in the day because editing consisted of either punching in, bouncing tracks or getting out a razor blade and cutting the tape. All were a pain in the butt because you had to stop, rewind tape, find just the right spot on that tape etc and that all took time and you'd loose your musical momentum.

            Also tracking with effects is a one shot deal. If you don't have a safety track recorded dry, you're screwed if you dial up the wrong amount of effect ts or have them tweaked wrong. Something like an echo delay fighting the musical tempo can ruin the track and once its recorded you're stuck with the thing.

            So my motto is, use the least amount you can get away with and still keep your musical groove. You can always add more mixing and all mixing is undoable.

            I do track with guitar effects most of the time. There are very few digital amp and drive emulators I like so I always try and get my drive before I track. I try to stay away form any time based effects like Chorus Echo and Reverb if possible because you cant add more gain over them mixing and have it sound realistic. watching out how much gain and compression are items too. I like my compression before drive and I'd rather not add it after if I don't need to.

            I always track bass flat and dry. I do use analog modeling however. I dial up some compression for string touch, and use head and cab modeling to get a realistic bass tone to match the kick. I used to use compression and EQ which worked but the cab modeling is just so much easier.

            I rarely if ever have to use any additional EQing on bass or on guitars for that matter.

            This is why I don't have a need for running a bunch of plugins mixing. I target the tones I want and need while tracking. Then all I need to do is put a little polish on the tracks to make them sparkle. I'm not attempting to do any major construction or reconstruction.

            I don't use Guitar modeling plugins for the main reason, they require way too much work to get a good usable tone from them. I'll only use them as a drop dead backup.

            One example, I recorded a local band awhile back. I wasn't thrilled with the guitarists amp tone. Everything he played was over the top saturated with 300hz cut. I miced his amp but I also plugged his guitar straight into a DI box and recorded it clean. It was a good thing too. During the one song his Line 6, 4X12 cab farted out during a solo break. Sounding like a friggin elephant breaking wind. I did have the clean guitar backup however so I didn't have to have him haul that amp back over and retrack just that one solo.

            It was by no means easy however. The track was very weak, like -25db. Not nearly strong enough to drive an amp emulator plugin.
            From what I can remember I Normalized the track up to around -10db. I ran a compressor, then an EQ, then Voxengo Boogex to get the dirt level, cab and mic emulations, After that I matched his chorus, echo, reverb and limited the whole thing.

            Each one of those effects took at least an hour or more to develop the right settings. The amp emulator took a couple of days to get right because I had to keep undoing it and going back to getting the right levels and compression right before the drive. All in all it took about a week before I had a seamless match where it matched the tones he was using during the rest of the song.

            I was forced to listen to that Black Crows tune at least 200 times or more. I cant stand to listen to it when I hear it now, I was so burnt out on hearing it. If it was one of my own songs the repetition wouldn't be so bad. I can stick it on a hard drive for a year and it will sound fresh to me when I revive it. That's the price you pay for engineering your own material. People wonder how I can learn material so quickly. Most of the stuff I don't even have to pick up a guitar to learn. I cant help from knowing it inside out after mixing it once.


            • #7
              Reaper is great. It's only $60 and you can download a fully functional 60 day demo version before you buy.

              "Isn't it a pity, isn't it a shame,
              how we break each other's hearts
              and cause each other pain"


              • #8
                Originally posted by onelife View Post
                Reaper is great. It's only $60 and you can download a fully functional 60 day demo version before you buy.

                Isn't the downloaded version in fact the full version, or did they change and create a separate demo version? I always thought it was the same program either way.


                "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."
                - George Carlin

                "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."
                - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

                "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."
                - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter


                • onelife
                  onelife commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Yes, it is the same full version with no disabled functions or timeout.

                  What I discovered about Reaper is that the programming is so good, once you try it you will want to give them the $60.