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Monday, 2 May 2016

The Benefits of Using Hardware

So a lot of people like to carry on about the sound of analogue gear and how mixing out of the box gives music a certain sound that is more pleasing. This is not going to be a post on  that aspect of using hardware, as that's a largely pointless debate and I've already talked about the importance of tone in another post. Rather I want to look at the benefits of using hardware from another point of view: hardware as an enhancement to the creative process. Hardware is by no means essential to the production process, but if you are stuck creatively it may be an idea to think about investing in it. There are many cheap options on the market both new and secondhand, so you don't need to be a millionaire to invest in some basic hardware to complement you're DAW and plugins. For example, I picked up a combination of an AKAI sampler and an EMU Ultra series sampler for around $500.00 give or take. Working with these machines is the inspiration for this post, and even a cheaper piece of hardware can allow you to explore the following.

1. The limitations of the gear force you to act creatively...

So nowadays we all have a million plugins at our disposal and we can do pretty much anything we like. Need to bandpass an element? no problem, just drop an EQ plugin on it. Want to add distortion? A plugin like Trash 2 by Izotope gives you a million different options in emulating different types of distortion. However working outside of the box you may not have all of these options available to you. If you are working within a synthesiser or sampler you are forced to work with the limited types of EQ or distortion that were built into that module. For example in the EMU Ultra series sampler, there are only a couple of types of distortion. If you want to modulate a notch filter running up and down a sound before it goes into distortion (for example) then you might find that you need to accentuate or attenuate certain groups of frequencies first to make the distortion work with your specific sound, rather than just reaching for another type of distortion. The end results being that you end up with a more unique tone and one that you wouldn't have arrived at if you had been working in the box.

2. You'll work with your ears rather than working visually...

It's a common critique of our DAW based setups these days, that we work through painting a visual picture based on the visual feedback we are receiving from things like spectrum analysers and the like. Basically, people are too focused on what the spectrum readout is showing, or what the level readout on the channel's meter is showing, and so on. By all means, it's useful to check these and use other such tools, for example using a goniometer to check your stereo width and the phase relationship between certain elements. However, this is a clinical process by definition that requires you to check something and make small iterations until you are getting the result you want. This is not a creative process and as such should be avoided in the creative stages. Using a piece of old hardware can be seriously beneficial here as you are likely not to have access to these tools, therefore you are forced to rely on your ears whilst making adjustments. This is much more intuitive creatively, because well if it sounds good then it sounds good. Second guessing yourself because you have the option to check your sounds' visual readout is an interruption you don't need.

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