Institute of Art Design + Technology
Dún Laoghaire

Mo Sung Du 

BA [Hons] Creative Music Production

Hi, my name is actually Song, despite what my birth cert says. I release electronic music under the alias Lushed, but I also have a strong passion for live music, studio engineering and all things music.

Analog Hardware Processors vs Software Digital Plug-ins.

This project investigated whether software plug-ins are produced to a high enough standard that negates the need for analog hardware. Research was carried out under three main themes: technical, commercial and creative. Sine Analysis was carried out on the signal processors using a black-box method approach. This was accompanied by a qualitative interview carried out on mix engineers exploring how the commercial and creative qualities of these hardware and software processors affected their mixing styles.

Project Objectives

- Are plug-ins produced to a high enough standard that the sonic differences are inaudible?

- Do hardware processors hold any creative advantages over software?

- Does software practicality and affordability out-weigh these advantages?

Project Outcomes

It was deemed that participants couldn't hear the differences between the hardware and software mixes despite more total harmonic distortion being present in hardware signals during Sine Analysis.

In addition to this, hardware held more creative advantages, with 100% of participants stating they would use only hardware if affordability wasn't a factor. As a result, it was concluded that plug-in practicality and affordability outweighed the creative advantages to hardware.

What place do Analog Hardware EQs and Compressors Have In Modern Studio Environment's?

Over the past few decades, audio has been rapidly transferring from the analog domain to digital. The digital domain brings with it new technologies and workflows that vastly expand mix engineers' possibilities. Despite this, some engineers still insist on holding onto analog tools for their desired sonic capabilities and creative advantages. With the advancement of software technology, the question remains whether plug-in emulations are at a standard that the trained ear can hear the difference. If not, is there still a need for hardware processors used in modern studios as they downsize, with artists and engineers deciding to mix in reduced studio home setups?
This study aims to investigate these questions through three main subcategories: Technical, Commercial and Creative analysis. The chosen equipment will be put through a series of tests measuring multiple parameters. These results will coincide with results gathered from a blended quantitative and qualitative questionnaire, providing clarity on the subject. Research questions from this questionnaire include: can engineers hear the sonic differences between hardware and software, does affordability factor into engineers' preferred mix method, and are there any creative arguments that can made for mixing in analog?
The conclusion drawn from this study is that the mix of engineers interviewed could not hear the sonic differences between the hardware and software processing units. Valid arguments were made in relation to the creative advantages. However, the affordability of plug-ins outweighed the hardware’s creative advantages, with 100% of participants stating they mainly used plug-ins for mixing. In addition to this, the majority of participants agreed that plug-in workflow is much more efficient. The results concluded that plug-in emulations are at a high enough standard to replace their hardware counterparts sonically, especially in conjunction with their financial advantages.