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I did a lot of project work about 15 years ago. Due to a limited budget, I arranged most of the drums, bass and keyboard tracks on a MIDI rack synth. I became increasingly annoyed with the process overhead--arrange in MIDI, then record each individual instrument, and, for the drums, each individual drum, then mix, to the point where I really felt it was a negative force in the creative process.

Back then soft synthesizers were of limited use to me because high latencies made it difficult to jam to and record MIDI tracks along with audio. They also took up too much processing power.

On to the question. My current synthesizer is as generic as they come, so I'm not married to its sounds. Are soft synths feasible today? Are they practical substitutes on a decent Mac/PC or would you still need to blow the bank on a maxed out Mac Pro/PC?

If I had a real hammond organ or a real electric piano I would definitely still use the real thing. But for all the other stuff, it would be nice to replace the hardware synth with some decent soft synths.

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The short answer: yes.

Softsynths, general CPU power and D/A hardware has come a long way in 15 years. It is completely possible to run a softsynth setup in a live performance situation. The latency issues are all but gone when using modern hardware. You don't need to blow the bank on a computer but something modern running a stable OS is required if you want to work live with the setup. A 2-3 year old MacBook with a good amount of RAM would suffice. You see a lot of MacBook Pros on stages these days -- I've followed the Chemical Brothers for longer than I care to admit now and I've seen them go from racks of analog gear on stage to standing behind MBPros with some controllers. Startling shift really.

For an example of how good modern softsynth technology is check out Jordan Rudess' Omnisphere demo from Winter NAMM '09: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zF8SYLjl07g

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I'd say yes too, with a modern system. RAM and processing power are especially important. To add to the answer of @Ian C., software synthesizers often allow you to compromise on quality a bit during arranging. You can use full-blown quality then for the mixdown. Solid State Drives becoming cheaper and cheaper might help a lot too.

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If you want to add to answer put a comment below it (like this) rather than submit a new answer. –  Ian C. Dec 7 '10 at 22:14
    
@Ian C., I know, but I was thinking my answer can bring in some new aspects too. –  herzmeister der welten Dec 7 '10 at 22:19

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