Plugins vs. Hardware: Have plugins caught up?

Bob Katz Leave a Comment

Dear Bob,

Hope you’re doing well. I always appreciate the time you take to answer my novice inquiries. If I may trouble you with another.  I know you’re more in the field of mastering, but with your knowledge of signal and sound, I figure you may be able to help me with this concern. 

Allow me to explain:  I’ve been traveling quite a bit lately and have not been in my studio. In the past, I would just use my laptop as a scratchpad for ideas, and then implement them in my studio once I got home. This was very inefficient for me as my ADC at the time was poor to mediocre while on the road. Well, I finally upgraded my ADC device to something that can be used without fear; I just purchased an RME Babyface and can’t say enough good things about it. The sound is, well -immaculate for lack of a better way of putting it.

So, I got a good clean, high quality signal going into my computer–that takes care of that. But you still need a good preamp and what not, whether it be for vocals, guitar or whatever. Obviously, I can’t carry my amps, preamps, etc. from one hop to the next, so the studio hardware is missing from my setup when I’m forced to work from a hotel room.

Alas, my question -thanks for your patience!!!!

With all the vast improvements in the digital realm where plugins are becoming more and more the norm, being able to “emulate” all the hardware with their software counterparts is becoming prevalent; even with room emulation with emulated mic placement, etc. To the “average” human ear, has the “plugin” caught up?



Dear Adrian,

In some cases, yes. It’s still on an individual basis.

If a manufacture, for instance, has a hardware preamp, and a software version of the same exact preamp, boasting that they’re “both identical in ‘sound'”, would your average listener, listening to the radio or a cd even, be able to hear the difference between the two hardware and software preamps? Could you -obviously the not-so-average  listener be fooled?

The “average” listener will be fooled even if the sound sucks. I only can speak of the discriminating listener with a discriminating monitor system. In that case, with what’s out there, there are some excellent plugins, maybe 10% of the field now when it was 0% 5 years ago.

Hope this helps,


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