Knowledge Bank

news category created 15 June 2014 written by Dan Cox

Has Analogue had it’s day?

I would be interested to know what members here think about the future of analogue equipment.

If we can disregard vintage equipment, guitar effects pedals and other gadgetery and focus more on outboard gear I would like to hear what people think on the subject of the functionality and worth of analogue outboard in the future of studio and home engineering.

With the quality of digital prosessing technology getting ever closer to the standards of analogue, will analogue outboard only be reserved for the wealthy and nostalgic?

Or looking at it from a different angle, is the combination of both technologies more important for the modern engineer?

The combination of both analogue and digital is the most important route for me.

Digital emulations, although some are very good, are rarely an acceptable substitute for the analogue originals. Having said that, the question to be asked about emulations is not “Are they as good as the analogue originals?” but rather “Are they any good at all?” – and many are much better than just “good”. They’re just a bit different from the originals.

There are also many digital processors available now which are performing functions which were never possible, and never will be, in the analogue world.

I want the best of both worlds!

As I think John Watkinson said, most audio must first be picked up mechanically somehow (microphone, pickup etc.) and eventually will need to be played back via analogue and mechanical means (speakers, headphones), so there will always be a need for analogue microphones, preamps, monitor controllers and speakers of some kind.
Personally I also like to capture the source as close as I want it to sound on the final record, so I will compress and EQ “to tape” in most cases, so will also need outboard for that. I mix completely in the box though, and find that sounds as least as good as an analogue mix, if done right, the only thing I miss is the fun of tactile feedback and having one knob/one function, but that is personal taste, as much as anything. So similar to Mick, it is all about best of both worlds.

It’s the same for me. I mix both in and out of the box, depending on the project but need analogue (particularly pre’s) to capture the sound I want from source. All my pre’s do different jobs and give me different colours.

I do wonder though, with the quality and progression of manufacturers such as Universal Audio, who are now doing pre amp emulations to be used at source (I’ve not tried them) how long it will be until I’m able to get what I need in a completely digital way.

Quite a hard subject to talk about in some cases but I want to push a little further as it interests me a lot.

I think the responses of ‘Best of both worlds’ however sensible and realistic are too obvious. I am actually more interested in the angle Andrew has taken here – How long will it be before the analogue substance in the recording chain is just a transducer at either end?

The Softtube Console 1 is a pretty good indication to me where products are going – physical knobs and switches to still have a hands on approach, controlling DSP.

I would be very interested in doing some listening tests with mic pre emulators…

I think for us analogue designers we still have some time before we are hung out to dry, which for me actually makes this period in technology much more interesting as I think there is still a lot of work to do with digital integration into the analogue domain and vice versa.

So to keep this going a little further;

How important is analogue equipment to you? If you were told tomorrow you could have the same quality in plugins that you can with your favourite outboard (without the servicing!) Would you slowly sell off your studio down to a computer with a controller?

Having analogue equipment is nice, I’m starting to find. You’re not restricted by computer processing power (or the lack of), although it’s certainly more convenient in the digital domain, as you can have however many instances of a replicated analogue piece of equipment as your computer will allow. However, some pieces of analogue equipment haven’t been emulated yet, so it would make sense to have its hardware counterpart in this instance. With many software companies emulating various hardware processors, it begs the question to just how accurate these are. I have UAD’s version of the LA-2A and 1176, and I also have IK Multimedia’s version of these plugins, and they are vastly different.

When I was at uni, for the short time that I got my hands on a hardware 1176 and LA-2A, I got a rough idea of what the sounded like. To my ears, the IK Multimedia version of these two hardware units was actually more accurate than UAD’s! Although, age of the unit also plays a part in how a unit sounds, with plugin manufacturers most likely only emulating the one unit they’ve got their hands on, rather than gaining consistency over several units, this will most likely create consistency issues.

In terms of having a control surface that controls parameters in software, I’m sure that this will catch on, although for me it just doesn’t feel right. I used to have a Focusrite Liquid Mix, and it felt weird controlling the parameters in software via this piece of equipment, I would often forget which was the attack knob or which knob controlled the “Q” of the EQ band. With a hardware unit, it just seems more intuitive. With the 1176 for example, people generally know that the left big knob is the input which controls how much signal goes into the fixed threshold, and the big right knob is the make-up gain, the two smaller knobs are the attack and release, and the clunky switches control the ratio. Each hardware piece is laid out differently, so I think what I’m trying to say is that having a software version of an 1176, and all the parameters being controlled by knobs on a control surface, the ratio would in turn not “feel right”, because it’s being controlled by a knob rather than a switch.

I could argue this in a number of ways, from the practicalities, to the psychologies, the aesthetics to the economics. But I think it’s actually simpler than all of that.

Hardware places restrictions, and restrictions are good for art. Thus, hardware will always have a place.

If you told me tomorrow I could have all the same quality plug-ins as I have hardware, I wouldn’t sell a thing.

For me, with software, you have to look and listen. Hardware just listen!

On another point, it doesn’t really matter to me if an emulation is ‘accurate’, more does it sound good and can I get something good from it.

As mentioned in this thread before though, although each emulation sounds different each individual emulation is ‘constant’. This removes all the beautiful idiosyncrasies of hardware. A piece of hardware, like an old car can also easily be worked on, modified, bastardised etc etc and doesn’t become redundant should you change/update your OS of DAW.

I started off on pc and had some great little go to plug ins. When I moved to mac many of these didn’t exist in that format – I could bang on but you get my train of thought.

“How long will it be before the analogue substance in the recording chain is just a transducer at either end?”

Why are we assuming that analogue gear will eventually disappear? There’s no reason why this should happen. I do a lot of analogue processing, whilst recording, before the signal hits the AD converter. I’m not about to consider recording directly into a transducer and doing all my processing with plugins.

“How important is analogue equipment to you?”

Very important

“If you were told tomorrow you could have the same quality in plugins that you can with your favourite outboard (without the servicing!) Would you slowly sell off your studio down to a computer with a controller?”

No – and you’re describing a w holly hypothetical situation. It will never happen IMHO.

How important is analogue equipment to you?

Very. I love the vibe of it and you have to commit and make decisions.

If you were told tomorrow you could have the same quality in plugins that you can with your favourite outboard (without the servicing!) Would you slowly sell off your studio down to a computer with a controller?

No they’re more fun.

It’s kind of like putting on a record I get excited (oh er missus) plugging in or in my case hardware inserting my OB.

I’ve recently been mixing a pop LP in the hybrid style. The recordings weren’t terribly good to be honest and I find analogue gear adds harmonics in a way even the best plug ins like UADs new 1073 don’t and that really came in handy. I’m not sure they’ll ever quite nail that TBH. Anything that was super important or super bad sounding went OB usually between 30-50 tracks out of 130 track monsters the rest I used UAD emus or Softube and they are really good. Usually the better recorded with the vibiest gear can work really well with plug ins as its already been captured with all the analogue flavour you want.

For the final mix I said to my assistant Axel Lang for “fun” lets print a few more tracks through my OB than on the other 11 songs ……

We were having so much fun I pretty much printed all 90 odd tracks on that one via either an SSL E channel, a pair of Millenias STT1s and Avalon 737sp or stereo mastering chain of GML 8200 Manley MP, Phoenix Mastering and Smart C2. I basically mixed it 6 tracks at a time printed, then the next six tracks and I had more fun than the previous 11 songs!!!

I had to get out of my chair. crawl around on the floor, crane my neck at funny angles to get to the gear, it felt GREAT.

So this was a bit unusual as if it wasn’t the end of the project I would have stuck to my usual mantra, but it makes my point that a Slate MTi or Softube or Artist series whilst getting better from a tactile fun point of view just isn’t as cool as tweaking an SSL E Channel, then a Manley then something else.

I think people like it and I think clients like it too it makes people happy and that’s something a typical plug in doesn’t. I don’t spring a Softube Trident A range (one of the best IMHO) plug in and get a big grin. When I boost the fundamental on kick that was weak with the E channel and suddenly its pumping air. Now THAT makes me grin.

Ironically the trident plug in makes me want to buy a pair of racked TSM channels from Funky J really badly.

One final thing. If 6 tracks at a time sounds slow you would be surprised how quickly things come together with real OB and how fast you can eq compress and print. It was quicker than maybe people realise. If I had 6 more channels it would ahve been arguably almost as quick as plug ins.

Of course recall is a bitch thats why I print it

I can always use a sonnox to cut or boost eq later if its not quite right.

Very interestingly since I last posted UAD release the Thermionic Culutre (my old stomping ground) Vulture as a plugin , something that we were told would not happen as it was too complex and would take up too much processing power and cost too much to develope. So I don’t think my questions are completely hypothetical as technology changes very quickly and it is not too far fetched to suggest that DSP will match analogue processing in quality in the not too distant future.

For myself, knowing that all parts of an analogue processor affect each other, the sound quality and the performance it is and always will be more interesting to make analogue gear.

The most interesting thing for me is the integration of both worlds. I do not mean using plug ins and outboard, but sofisticated digitally controlled analogue systems, wireless mixing, offline analogue mixing… etc etc If analogue has a perminent future in the studio I belive a lot of it will be here.

All good fun!

Hi Charlie

This is a digitally controlled via a plug in in pro tools as far as I can tell SSL style analogue compressor that will recall with your mix.

The SSL new summingbox/mixer thingymajig with AFADA is kind of there already too. This

Hybrid consoles like Duality and Genysis are moving that way too.

Interesting for sure.

I think Mick makes a great point though “Why are we assuming that analogue gear will eventually disappear? There’s no reason why this should happen. I do a lot of analogue processing, whilst recording, before the signal hits the AD converter. I’m not about to consider recording directly into a transducer and doing all my processing with plugins.”

I am of the school of if I have a good eq and comp in the chain I just commit and record it with it. Its actually more hassle to do it later with plug ins and I would argue printing it there and then with plug ins like with UAD and HDX bussed to a record track is actually more hassle than just using a channel strip (analogue) in the first place or even controlling that box via a plug in. It’s just a bit less immediate and visceral.

Here’s the other thing the real controls are tactile and immediate.

I like the idea of DCA with full recall but will I be keen to buy a product with no manual Knobs ?

The possibilities with digital audio seem almost endless. For me that does not work and distracts me of the music. I try to work with a limited number of equipment, whether it is digital or analog. Though it sounds perhaps contradictory, I record with quite some (different) analog equipment and try different microphones committing to a certain sound. This makes mixing in-the-box or hybrid mixing much faster and intuitive. I don’t have to invent a sound when the band and/or producer is not around.

Analog equipment has a attractive quality in workflow, not only in sound. For me it is easier and more pleasant to choose between two 1176’s than to pick twice the same plugin and make a difference in sound. Could have something to do with the device in itself or perhaps because looking at a screen distracts me from listening. Aain, analog equipment saves me time and working the left part of the brain too much.

One of the biggest attractions for me in using analogue gear is not the sound, but the physical interaction/ergonomics.

There are always limitations with the assignability problems of control surfaces for plug-in control. It’s never the same as turning a dedicated knob or a dedicated switch, which are much more accessible, and don’t obstruct the brain/creativity/decision process.

I’m interested in Charlie’s ideas for digital control of analogue parameters. One the great things about plugins is being able to automate the parameters.

Mick, I very much agree with you regarding the physical interaction/ergonomics. As Neil wrote: “I had to get out of my chair. crawl around on the floor, crane my neck at funny angles to get to the gear, it felt GREAT”. (ok, you don’t want to do that all the time but Neil made a good point)

The biggest advantage of working in-the-box is recall speed. You can easily fit in a listening session of a whole album in a day without the band or producer or record company guy waiting for hours and hours. For that reason I am a big fan of hybrid mixing: almost as fast as itb and with all the advantages of analog equipment.

I think I would be weary of a a fully plug in controlled analogue piece as a manufacturer, it could be self defeating taking away from that visceral feel.

A lot of OB is purchased by essentially hobbyists buying into that as an example. You just need to read gearslutz posts to see that in action.

The question itself is suggestive to the answer you want to get.


I cannot think of a way to do my stuff without analogue, as it offers me way more flexibility and sonic differentiality.
The mere thought of doing all with plugins freaks me out.
For example, i’m finding myself skipping the use of WAVES plugins more and more, which i thought were great quality at first.

Going in and out of the workstation to hardware filters and compressors gives me a -way more solid- feel of the goal i set.

Utilizing the sonics and “non linear” audiopath of my analog gear and desk has proven to give me much more “professional” results than just my workstation alone. Especially when you want a good sound FAST, the workstation way is not always the fastest tool.

See it as means of transport. Trains don’t rule out cars and planes don’t rule out boats. It’s the TRIP that matters, and some trips are just more fun and joyfull.. And therefore the endresult is a better experience.

Run a good desk, IZ converters or RADAR and proper outboard and you’ll know what i mean.

Karel Post