Latest track and the software/hardware dilemma.
Things have been very up and down in the studio lately. Plugging some of the hardware back in now I have an actually studio space again has been interesting after so long using only software. The first two pieces of kit I rushed to reconnect were the Prophet 600 and the Waldorf XTk, my main 2 keyboards.
Excited by the knobs and sliders ( and full-size keys, 10 months is a long time with only a Korg MicroKey ) I spent a couple of days repeatedly trying to re-bond with the 2 keyboards. No matter how hard I tried, despite enjoying the interface of having actual real controls to touch and tweak, the sound just didn’t grab me.
The Prophet is nice and has a lovely organic quality – but – and it is a big but, once in a mix I really couldn’t tell the difference between it and the recently purchased Diva. Even on a single oscillator solo patch I was just as happy with Diva and given the flexibility and power of Diva’s switchable modules for oscillators, filters and envelopes the Prophet is looking a little limited.
The Waldorf is an exciting looking synth in bright orange, plenty of continuous encoders, plenty of power and of course a stack of wavetables – including the PPG ones that I originally bought the synth for. However plenty of soft-synths have wavetables now, including my main soft-synth Vember’s stunning Surge. Except Surge has 3 oscillators per patch to the XTk’s 2, plus sub-oscillators, a more complete FM implementation, more flexible modulation, more filter options. etc. etc.
The biggest change for me is that with only soft-synths to use I took them a lot more seriously, I bought 3 that I really liked the look and sound of and I took the time to learn to use them well. With this I ended up finally seeing them as serious synthesisers, just the same as a piece of hardware but with huge advantages. The in-the-box workflow is massively advantageous, when I open a project in Logic all the synths in that project open up and load the patches I was last using in that project. Each one ready to do its job in seconds. No more trying to work out which track was sending to which synth, which midi port a particular synth was plugged into the last time you opened up this project. Just open up the project and carry on working. This suits me very well as I write a big range of music and I often work on several different tracks in a given day so effortlessly carrying on from where I left off is a big thing. The other big thing is that software has developed to the stage where the sound is easily a match for any hardware you’d care to stack it up against in my opinion.
So. I made the big decision to unplug the Prophet and the Waldorf and soon they will be listed for sale. It is a very big decision and I can’t help but question it but ultimately when the hardware was plugged in it just didn’t stand up to the soft-synths when the advantages/disadvantages of each were taken into consideration.
So will I have no hardware? Well no I don’t think that’s going to be the case. After disconnecting the 2 keyboards I connected up my Waldorf Pulse and Emu E6400Ultra. Immediately the Pulse was fun, the interface a little frustrating but the sound is incredible, powerful, individual and really stood out in a mix. On having a play with the Emu I was immediately reminded of what I always loved about it, the user interface is a delight. So intuitive and given you navigate with just a handful of buttons and a rotary encoder this is impressive. It is also very powerful in terms of the sound-mangling capabilities and above all it sounds lovely. The clutter of the hardware, the cabling, the extra power consumption, the midi-interface and subsequent synchronisation issues may yet return me to an all software solution though…
My conclusions on all this rambling are that synthesisers all have their place, whether hardware or software it is the individual instrument that should be considered when deciding if it has a place in your studio. For me I will tend towards software undoubtably, the advantages of the in the box working style are just too great. Having hardware around is always nice and often more inspiring to look at than a laptop full of soft-synths but the days of having it ONLY for that reason are gone for me. I am so much more productive with software and as I am now trying to make a career as a musician this must be taken very seriously. Where I will make exception is if the hardware has a sound that sets it apart from my other synthesisers or has an interface that just makes it more fun and inspirational to use than the software equivalent. Inspiration is not always easy to come by so if a piece of kit helps to trigger off ideas then it is here to stay for sure, It is also nice to stop staring at the computer screen for a while every now and again.
I’ll post more thoughts on this as I settle into the studio in its current form, there are still a few bits of kit to plug in and try and one very major instrument I’ve been using recently which is about as limited as it gets but I have found a revelation in terms of writing music. More on this later though. For the moment, here is the first piece of music I’ve written with the current setup. The main culprits are the Waldorf Pulse on FX and a nice lead, Emu on piano and choir, staunch support from Surge, Ace and DCAM Cypher. Rhythm duties ably covered by MicroTonic – a piece of software I’m really falling in love with. Hope you enjoy and if you listen at the end of the track you can get a very large hint on the limited instrument I mentioned earlier. Thanks for reading, and listening.