Okay, so “everyone” says that hardware is redundant – plug-ins are the way to go, hardware is just extra money for stuff that looks nice, but you could emulate just as well with a computer, right? Wrong. Well, sort of.
You see, hardware often has side-effects. A little bit of extra warmth, excitation or (the word to use where you can’t quite tell what it’s done, but it sounds better) character. Digital plug-ins don’t generally have the same happy accidents when recording with them.
So, without further ado, I present the top 5 pieces of hardware to add that all important character to your sounds…
5. Hardware EQ
Extremely expensive example: Sontec 432
There are two types of EQ (in the comparison I am about to make) – Ones that are clean, clinical and no-nonsense, and ones that ladle character onto a sound like an over-enthusiastic chef.
These can be better at manipulating certain frequencies and worse at others, making them not so good for precision, but for adding harmonic content, they can be gold.
4. Hardware Compressor
Extremely expensive example: Daking FET III stereo compressor
Squashing peaks on hardware can often give unparalleled warmth to the sound that gear experts crave and even newbies can notice. A lot of professional Drum and Bass producers run their beats into outboard hardware gear to get what they define as “that” sound, for example.
3. Hardware Reverb
Extremely expensive example: Lexicon PCM96
Emulating reverb accurately on a computer can be a processor-intensive thing, so this is one of those hardware units that still have a common place in studios. If you really want to get those sound reflections sounding as smooth and realistic as possible, hardware might be the way to go for you!
Extremely expensive example: Neve 1081 Pre-amp
Pre-amps are those things that boost the gain of an input signal before it goes into the computer (assuming you are recording with a computer!) to “line level”; the conventional volume of an audio signal for 99% of recorded music.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that this is an arbitrary job that any old bit of kit can do, but some pre-amps use vacuum tubes as components which add warmth and a (to some) pleasant sounding distortion.
Extremely expensive example: Genelec 8040A Active Monitors
As any weathered mixing engineer will tell you, the most important part of your set up is your ears! If your set-up is feeding your ears the wrong information, you’ll make the wrong decisions for your mix.
Therefore, the most important thing is to be able to hear your mix with as flat a response as possible – Flat response speakers, shockingly enough, help to do this by reproducing each frequency evenly, without boosting or cutting any frequencies due to the build quality.