Software vs. Hardware

The Great Hardware vs. Software debate.

What useful information can we extract from the controversial dispute?

I have never really been big on these types of conversations, but, sometimes, it can create meaningful dialogue. I think the most important thing to acknowledge is that the conversation invites both parties to explore. In reality, there is no right answer, but the curiosity could lead to valuable discovery.

In order to have a commendable opinion, one would have to be familiar with both sides of the spectrum. Right? I mean, how could I have an opinion on an album if I haven’t listened to a single song on it? Perhaps, I could invest some time into reading reviews on said album, but then I’d just be regurgitating other people’s opinions. To have a solid stance on the subject matter, I’d have to download the tunes and listen for myself, wouldn’t I?

So, let’s jump into it…

Hardware vs Software. What’s my take on it?

The main reason I typically don’t involve myself with these types of discussions is because more times than not there is no accurate answer. It’s the equivalent of asking, “Is red better than green?” Some people prefer red. Some people prefer green.

But, in the midst of all the commotion, you can hear things that you’ve never heard before. For instance, a hard-core, underground hip-hop fan might not enjoy listening to Lil Wayne or Drake. “That’s mainstream garbage – bubble gum rap” might be something they try to throw at you. Contrarily, a Lil Wayne or Drake fan might not listen to KRS One or RZA, or flat out doesn’t even know who they are. But, imagine attending a concert where both acts followed each other. Drake finishes his set with commercial-hit “Hot Line Bling”, then on comes KRS One with the erupting “Step Into a World”. Very different soundscapes, no doubt, but maybe a Drake fan could say “this KRS guy’s energy is off the chain!” or “his lyricism and cadence is fresh!” And maybe a KRS One fan could listen to Drake’s set and say “his melodies are catchy” or “homie’s flow is crazy!”

The point I’m trying to make is that both sounds have their purposes. If you’re in a club trying to get your groove on, maybe you’d prefer some Drizzy. If you’re bumping it in the ride, maybe you’d prefer some KRS One. Why stick to the same script and never change up? You can be a Drake fan, and a KRS One fan, too… can’t you?

This same philosophy applies to the Software vs Hardware debate. I’ve made bangers with a Motif XF6, and I’ve also cranked out classics with a Midi Controller and VST Plug-in (Virtual Studio Technology). In my opinion, what’s better about the two depends entirely on personal preference.

I think the Motif XF6 definitely has a cleaner and warmer sound than some VSTs, so if we’re talking about ‘better’ quality, I’d say hardware is better. On that same note, I also think VST Plug-ins heavily outweigh the Motif in terms of diversity and expansion, so if we’re talking about ‘better’ variance, I’d say software is better.

But, the thing about audio is there is no kinetic quality from hardware that can’t be replicated with software. Maybe 5-10 years ago, I couldn’t say that truthfully, but times have changed, and so has technology. In this day and age, you can tweak sound so much with equalizers, pre amps, compressors, FX, mixing, that you can hardly establish a difference between hardware and software sounds.

However, like anything else, there are pros and cons to using both hardware and software.

If you’re pro-hardware, maybe you prefer turning knobs, switching faders, and pressing buttons opposed to clicking with a mouse and staring at a monitor. Maybe you just enjoy feeling an instrument in your hand, because, let’s face it, there just isn’t anything that compares to plucking real guitar or bass strings, slamming drum skins with sticks, or feeling the bounce to those Fender Rhode keys. And maybe your preference of sound is just that of a Moog Minitaur or Roland Jupiter 80, that’s respectable. But, on the flip side of that coin, there are some downsides that come with the territory. Many hardware junkies have expressed frustration in trouble shooting their hardware. Because hardware gets so complex in tracking and fixing problems, it can sometimes kill your creativity and motivation to make music. The final thing to factor in is that hardware can be very expensive, so if you’re building a set up on a low budget, you won’t have much to invest in hardware.

If you’re pro-software, you might be interested in the speedy workflow and ease of operating software. There is, undoubtedly, an advantageous, time-saving, aspect to using software. Before software was developed, if you wanted to pitch a clip in an AKAI sampler, you had to wait a few minutes for the sampler to create an entirely new sample. In a modern sequencer, you can do this same application in real time and save it instantly. Also, if you wanted multiple instruments on a track, you had to find multiple musicians (or learn how to play multiple instruments). With a VST, you can imitate just about every instrument you can think of: pianos, guitars, strings, horns, flutes, you name it. That means you don’t necessarily have to know how to play a bass guitar, because you can emulate a bass sound with a keyboard. This workflow and freedom allows a producer to maximize productivity in the studio, and I’m all for that. Some cons that come with using software is that the sounds can’t accurately duplicate hardware characteristics. Although it can be argued, the sound of a real flute or mic’d up drum set just can’t be mirrored with software. Another drawback for software users is that with modernized programs, it is easy to become distracted with all the eye candy that comes with it. Equalizers, compressors, limiters, oscillators, and other FX can light up your screen and have you making music with your eyes instead of your ears. Research shows that in the brain itself, neurons devoted to visual processing take up about 30% of the cortex, as compared with 8% for touch and just 3% for hearing. Pretty crazy, huh?

The important thing to note is that I have fun creating music with both Software and Hardware, and at the end of the day, that’s what music is all about. Music is about having fun, and self expression. It’s not about what you use, it’s how you use it. But, people like to argue. They like to argue about mixing and mastering, about .wav and .FLAC files, about near field and active monitors. I recommend using, or at least trying, both hardware and software while trying not to focus on what’s ‘better’.

People, let us spend less time forming opinions, and more time making music.


Written by Legend Beats




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