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An Introduction to Equalization - A free download from Audio Masterclass

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Software instruments - not as good as the real thing?

If you use software instruments, inevitably they are not as good as hardware instruments. You pay less, and you get less.

There are two kinds of people who use software instruments. People who can't afford hardware instruments, and people who love computers.

Personally, I love music and sound engineering and I couldn't care less about computers. They are just a means to an end for me.

And the pleasure I get from playing a software instrument is zero. I'd have to say that a software instrument would just be a means to an end too. If I needed to use one to get a particular sound, then I would.

But how can you enjoy playing an instrument when the sound comes out a good while after you press the key? (I guess organists can answer that one!)

I remember back in the days of really quite primitive technology that you could line up a Minimoog, a Yamaha DX7 FM synth and an Akai S900 sampler, and they would all respond instantly.

How come things have gone so wrong today?

Clearly, hardware instrument manufacturers have felt a financial squeeze as software instruments have become increasingly popular, despite their inferiority.

But when the big hitters such as Korg can come out with something like the Oasys - which will never be equaled by a software instrument until some amazing leap in technology comes along - one has to conclude that hardware is simply better. More expensive, but better.

An instrument like the Korg Oasys has dedicated sound generating and processing circuitry that you simply don't have inside a computer. And it pays attention to you as the player first and foremost. Computers spend a good deal of time processing their own internal 'housekeeping' requirements.

And you can rely on hardware. Would you dare play a software instrument live? I know that hardware can develop faults, but they are occasional. Computer problems are a daily way of life.

But there is one area in which hardware instruments are lacking - orchestral libraries.

I find that a puzzle. Why is it that you can get something like the Vienna Symphonic Library to play via a software instrument on a Macintosh or PC computer, but you can't get it to play directly from a hardware keyboard?

The Vienna Symphonic Library in a standalone keyboard - now that would be something.

In conclusion, my view is that hardware is by no means dead. It is going through a lull at the moment because people find software instruments new and exciting, and cheap (apart from VSL, but mostly cheap).

But it will be quite some time before software instruments can compete with hardware in playability, sophistication of synthesis techniques and reliability.

I'm quite happy for both hardware and software instruments to co-exist. But if we let hardware instruments disappear, we'll be letting ourselves down and we'll have to make do with something that is clearly inferior.

By David Mellor Monday July 3, 2006