A huge amount of my time with my students involves discussing equipment purchases and decisions. This series of posts will address some of the most common areas of discussion. This is targeted to young students just getting started. There are no ground-breaking secrets here; just real-world considerations for purchases.
This post will focus on plug-ins.
Do we need to buy plug-ins in the first place? Pro Tools comes with plug-ins, as does Cubase and Logic. The simple answer is no. There is plenty that you can do with the built-in plug-ins. In a few cases (a simple digital delay, for example) there will likely be little difference from one plug-in to another due to the simple nature of the digital algorithms involved.
However, in many cases, the algorithms are more complex and we can expect greater variations. One thing that a 3rd party plug-in can give is consistency across platforms.
Of course, of greater consideration is the actual audio quality of the process, and this is the real reason that people pay so much money for 3rd party plug-ins. In some cases, the plug-ins simulate the “character” of very expensive real-world analog circuits. In other cases, they represent a proprietary algorithm that other software companies don’t have.
Given the cost of plug-ins, and the abundance of available options, this is a prime area to start with Want vs. Need.
In my opinion, an audio student needs access to good versions of the following plug-ins. These are used so often that the sound of a mediocre plug-in will emerge quickly in a mix simply due to the number of iterations
- A great parametric EQ
- A really good Shelving Filter
- A really good (i.e. transparent) High-pass/low-pass filter
- A great compressor
- A good expander/gate
- A great limiter
- A great reverb
Just about anything else can be worked around. For example, a particular phaser from one DAW can be printed to an audio track. Additionally, modulation and other effects make up less of the day-to-day workflow of mixing.
In terms of those areas, here are some opinions from the Kent State University – Stark faculty. I’ll add the others as Mr. Kopp and Prof. Tackett weigh in.
- McDSP Filter Banks – This is a must have for me. I use these EQs in every session.
- McDSP NF575 – I use this for WAY more than noise filtering. I love the transparent, super-surgical quality for detailed filtering with a high Q
- Compressor – McDSP Compressor Banks – Again, this is my go-to “un-charactered” plug-in. Simple, clean and great sounding. I use a ton of different compressors, but the CompressorBank is a staple for me.
- Limiter – McDSP ML4000 and the Massey L2007. I rarely use anything other than these two.
- Expander/Gate – Sonnox Dynamics – This isn’t a must-have for everyone, but I do a lot of keyed expansion, so I need a good, transparent plug-in. Sonnox is it for me.
- The only reverbs I use are McDSP Revolver and the Sonnox Reverb. Revolver is my go-to for halls and plates. Sonnox is my go-to for anything “effect-y.”
- Other Personal Must-Haves
- Celemony Melodyne – This is my go-to pitch correction software, but I use for so much more. Harmony parts, loop editing, MIDI doubling of real instruments…
- SPL Transient Designer – I use this a lot, especially if I am mixing drums tracked by someone else.
- A great De-esser. I use the McDSP and the SPL, depending on the quality of the sibilance on the track.