Do people prefer using effects processing in a DAW, via Plug-Ins or outboard gear to have more hands on control for Post-Production?

I do everything in the box because I've barely started working and haven't had any money to put into any major gear.

5 Answers 5


For post-production, I'm not aware of any hardware device that can do what the software equivalent can't, with the exception of noise reduction hardware, such as CEDAR. That, and perhaps 5.1 processors, like the TCE Reverb 4000.

But after speaking with Doug Jackson a couple weeks ago about this, he showed that the TCE reverbs on the dub stages he works on are just for looks. Even those are in-the-box these days.

In all reality, the reason outboard gear is still used today in the digital age is because analog hardware provides a certain tone and nuance to the signal applied to it that software plugins can't accomplish. This is great in music, where you have one stimulus (sound) and you're likely to listen to it a lot of times (because it's relatively short). But in film, the nuance added by a compressor such as the Destressor is often lost in the mix, and so is not really beneficial.

But this is from my own experience in mixing for film. I'd love to hear if any post-production folks use external gear in their mixes.


Though I use mainly software plugins it's actually more because my mixes rarely has less than 400 tracks, and even trying to buy well over 400 compressors would seriously kill me. Or my wallet, whichever comes first. All convolution-reverbs are also software, as most I've used about 20 in the same reel (Some otherwise good Altiverb impulses have the annoying habit of not being true stereo, even less surround), a serious wallet-devastator had it been hardware.

If I find a nice hardware effect or processor I like, I use it. Not because I have to, but because I want to; as an art-form, much of a sound designer's personal sound is actually based in things like that. But there are things I simply can't find being good enough in software at all, like tube-coloration, amplifier effects, analogue reverbs and delays (have a few spring-reverbs and a disc-echo), bitcrushers, and many other things. I these cases I see no alternative as the software equivalents simply doesn't deliver.

Among the hardware I use regularly are my already mentioned spring reverbs and disc-echo (true grit. Love it.), my Boss SE-50 (adds a nice muddy texture suitable for lofi and thickening backgrounds), SSL-compressors (beats the living daylights out of practically every other compressor I've ever heard! Including the Manley!!), Behringer compressors (can make a very interesting pumping effect, and gives color), analogue synthesizers (the filters are absolutely orgastic), an Amiga 600 & two 500's (bitcrushing and sampling), a Commodore 64 breadbox model (kick-ass real-time programmable filters with bite!), several different guitar-amps, mostly solid state (I can't afford a purely tube-based amp right now), as well as a collection of tape-players, reel-to-reel, dictaphones, wax-players, VCR's and such. And a lot of smaller effects not really worth mentioning here right now as the list already got a little long :-)

It's also very easy in comparison to circuit-bend most hardware and machines, whereas a software plug can be virtually impossible to modify at all. Of course most of my hardware effects and processors is something that must be used very carefully, but after all it's in the small details the whole gets its shine :-)

There are no right or wrong here. You do what you consider best for the project and to reach your and the director's personal vision. For me, I work absolutely best with my fingers on sliders and controllers (almost said knobs, but for an Englishman that might come out wrong ;-)). Of course I do have controllers for Nuendo, but it's still not as intuitive as just reaching for the effect/processor of choice. Also, any kind of lag and stutter generally really frustrates me to no end. Not as big a problem today as it once was, but it's still there.


I mostly agree with Chris Bishop answer.

I would like to add that External hardware units are in general great for take-out some CPU demands - especially mentioned TC Reverbs (or TC Electronic System 6000) are great because they have no impact on CPU :)

Today is "relatively easy" to model non-linear behavior such as saturation and others. Companies like UAD, WAVES or Slate Digital do their jobs very well. It's no needs for "analog gear fetish" :)

Another benefit of plug-ins is that you have ability use unlimited instances of one plugin depending on your CPU power :) which is impossible with HW units.

But as Christian van Caine mentioned there is no right answer - use what you like and what helps you to be better or efficient.


I personally love some of the sounds of the Waves modeled plug-ins, such as the API 2500 compressor. There are hundreds of plug-ins out there that model the analog sound, and do it amazingly as Tomas said above. Look at Reason 6.5's mixer, its modeled after an SSL board. However, one thing I really do enjoy is having the physical feeling of knobs and sliders.

I think it helps quite a bit to improve sonic quality if your not staring at the software interface and visually mixing and simply listening with no visual stimulation and turning a knob or a slider until you get the sound you like.

The beautiful thing is that if you have any sort of midi controller, you can do a hardware override and control something like the Waves API 2500 compressor with your midi controllers knobs and sliders if you have them. At this point, its almost like you have an infinite rack of outboard hardware that you can physically interact with. The "analog gear fetish" as Tomas quoted above can be fulfilled, and you don't necessarily need to go out of the box! It's the best of both worlds.


Another thing to keep in mind when it comes to post audio, especially on the mix stage, is I need everything automated. I usually don't do a record pass to my stems until after we have completed the reel and not all hardware gear is easy to automate. I use pretty much all software for mixing and that keeps my automation contained and also easy to recall. I sometimes will move a mix from one stage to another and it's easy to bring my plug ins along. I agree with Christian about the tonality when it comes to some hardware gear, and I would use them, but only when I'm in editorial.

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