Spend enough time running around recording web sites and you’ll hear a few things about classic outboard gear. Audio geeks like myself salivate over these pieces of gear, longing for the capabilities they would bring to our studios.
Without a doubt, I would love to have my very own 1176 or classic Neve console. But I don’t have tens of thousands of extra dollars ready to throw at these units. And for the price of a single Fairchild compressor, I could style my studio out with some incredible plug-in bundles. If you’re looking to maximize your money, you have to stretch it as far as possible.
Fortunately, plug-in developers understand this. For the past few years, emulations of classic hardware have been all the rage. Every year, they get a little better. When they first came out, they were pale imitations of the original. Little by little, they come close to capturing sounds of famous outboard gear.
The idea that the original units are still the best persists. That is exactly the argument that Beards and Gear examines. He presents a level-headed take on the issue:
Bottom line is, get out there and mix. Don’t spend your life pouring over forums debating whether or not the UAD cards sound as good as an 1176, or if the Waves SSL bundle sounds as good as the real deal console. Just get SOMETHING and start making noise. Don’t let the search itself cloud the reasons why you began the search.
I’ll throw in my two cents, as well. I certainly believe in making records, rather than acquiring gear. I do think that any tool you use should be adding a little secret sauce to your productions. Focus on plug-ins and outboard gear that you use frequently (ahem…compressors?) and pieces that add character to your recordings, no matter how bizarre and unique.
A great place to practice this technique is at the pawnshop. I’m always popping in to see what strange outboard gear or pedal has surfaced lately. Even the simplest stompbox can make a big difference in your recording. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should have a sound that you like.