One of the most discussed subjects in the world of music production. Here is our approach!

In our latest studio tour video, you could catch a glimpse of my newly arranged studio. And at one point, I have briefly touched on this sensible subject. With this one we would like to share some of our thoughts about this. Of course you are invited to discuss this with us in the comments!

Especially because we have two totally different standpoints it might be an interesting one. First, he is half as old as I am. I have enough money to spent in synths and gear, he is always broke. I grew up with hardware synths and experienced live the very first and very bad plugin emulations of them.

Until he started to work for me, he almost never touched a real hardware synthesizer and was trying to learn the basics of Ableton. The same for Deejaying: he plays almost every weekend in one of Berlins coolest underground venues and the first time he played a real vinyl on a classic Technics deck, was in this room!

And after nearly two years of working together on this Youtube/Label-Project, we have slowly developed our own views on these things!

So no matter if you are just starting to built you own production suite around your Laptop, or if you are an experienced old producer drowned in countless plugins and Hardware Synths, and slowly loosing control about your studio. In this video we will try to guide you through the different use cases of plugins and we will try to point out where hardware might be a better choice! And we even prepared a blinddtasting challenge at the end! So stay tuned!

1. Where to start?

For recreational use, and to put together a demo every now and then, a MacBook Air with M1 processor is completely sufficient. Ableton Live or another decent DAW installed on it, and you've got a complete studio for home and on the road! Since this DAW is a complete toolbox with plugin sound generators, sound processors and of course a mixer. In principle, you can create and realize complete pieces of music with it. That's all it really needs!

Also, if you only record acoustic instruments, for example, you don't really need anything other than a DAW of your choice, a good interface and decent Mics to create a complete mix.

If you've ever recorded in a studio and know your way around hardware, as a re-entrant, like me, you'll immediately recognize the similarities between, for example, a hardware compressor and the corresponding plugin. That makes it easy, because ideally everything works the same here! So go straight to it and get started! If you follow the same workflow with sends and groups as in an analog studio and understand your DAW like that, you'll get there fast!

If you are just starting out, a DAW like Ableton is the perfect opportunity to learn the basics of music production. Sorry if I have to say this, but despite all artistic freedom: If you want to produce good sound, you have to be ready to grasp complex technical contexts and invest a considerable amount of time in trying out various techniques. Because especially with music, regardless of whether you play an instrument or record in the studio: Practice makes perfect!

And a lot of things in the studio are electrical engineering and physics. Fortunately, today there are countless Youtube videos by truly excellent people who explain a lot of things very well. In the past it was honestly not so easy!

So for beginners and re-starters, from us a very clear vote for a DAW and the learning of the built-in plugins first.

If you have some experience here, you can basically think about what you would want to use hardware for?

So let's move on to point two:

Plugins in the MIx:

In my opinion, you can get quite far with the built-in plugins, such as from Ableton or Logic and can achieve absolutely professional results. Especially if you work with Ableton and like to record a hardware jam, definitely use the stock plugins to compress and equalize! Because these have Oms additional latency and guarantee you a perfect timing especially in live situations. That's probably why Live is called Live! Right?

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A compressor actually has nothing more to do in audio engineering than to boost a quiet signal, for example to achieve a more constant level of an unsteady signal.

First of all, it is undesirable that the compressor colors the sound in other ways than just compressing it. Even if you ask old hardware engineers, you will always hear that sound coloring is rather undesirable in high-quality studio equipment and that a neutral sound image was always the goal. The same applies to equalizers and other sound processors. Therefore, other characteristics are actually more in demand here than photorealistic reproductions of old hardware. (Even if the Arturias sound quite nice... But for me that's already part of sound design).

With the stock plugins you are very well served. I actually only use those and sometimes a Fabfilter-EQ is added. I like this one especially because of the very good user interface and the graphical representation of frequencies and resonances. First class tool! But the EQ-8 in conjunction ith the Analyzer from Ableton does the same and sounds just as neutral. I always use the Fabfilter L-Limiter in the master. Also an excellent tool: I like it because of the good control over the loudness of the final mix. But sonically, you'll surely get that with the Ableton Limiter as well. And for the loudness measurement there is the free U-Lean Loudnessmeter, which I can also highly recommend.

Our most used plugins in the mixdown are:
Utility definitely on number one! Belongs in every channel by default, for example to automate the volume of a track.

After that come the two compressors. The normal comp is used everywhere where signals have to be compressed solo and neutrally. If a little more precision is required in a sidechain, its graphic display is definitely a big plus.

The Glue compressor is used more in sub-groups, for example on drums, where it nicely compresses and glues together individual sounds. Since it is supposed to be a copy of the SSL G compressor, the Glue compressor actually also colors a bit when you turn Softclip on and run it a bit hotter. And at some point it just starts to distort. Just like the hardware counterpart from Warm Audio, which we've had here for some time to test out.
However, we don't use it on individual tracks, but on the sum in mastering, which we are currently studying in more detail. But that's a whole other topic again.

Yes, and in the meantime the Ableton stock plug-ins have got competition from the fat channels in our new Presonus digital mixer, which I already reported about in this video! Basically, these are plugins that are cast in hardware and are computed without latency by the mixer's extremely powerful DSPs.

So when it comes to mix plugins, for me very clear vote for stock plugins. Everything else distracts you and steals precious time in which you could already be creative!

And no matter what these plugin manufacturers promise you: In the end, they all only cook with a lot of marketing water. And rarely with good wine... Sniff. Trust me!

Which brings us to point three:

3. Plug-ins as sound generators and in sound design:

This, in turn, is a completely different topic, which I have clearly decided for my part. However, you can of course also have a contrary opinion about it. And of course what is better or worse is always up to the viewer's eye and subject to the rules of personal taste.

Personally, when I returned to the game, I decided relatively quickly in favor of hardware sound generators. Why?
Well, when I bought my first real Mac with the firm intention to fill my extreme boredom and depression caused by my illness with music production, I was a bit disoriented and pretty flashed about the range of software synths.
The internal sound generators of Ableton seemed a bit abstract to me at first. And since I've been lucky enough to use and even own quite a few classic synthesizers in the past, I quickly ended up with Arturia's V-Collection. At this point, thanks to Arturia for providing us with the V9 for testing purposes! By the way, the test period expires soon! Can we extend this again? Or is version 10 arriving at Superbooth any time soon?

With it I actually produced my first demos and remembered how for example a Jupiter-8 or a Minimoog works. It also sounds quite good and if you turn off the inflationary effect sauce on the presets, it even sounds pretty decent like a vintage synth.

For on the road and to try something out definitely awesome. The FX collection is also really very well done, except for the excessively power-hungry Bus Force. However, these are real sound colorants that need to be used very carefully. It can quickly become too much here.

On the other hand: who of you has ever heard a Siemens Sitral EQ, an AKS synth or a real CS-80 live and in the flesh or even programmed it himself? However, with the stuff I can personally compare here, like our Juno, I have to say that the sound is already quite well-matched. The TAL Juno is also well worth recommending there. But compared one to one, the sound is not one hundred percent accurate. With the Jupiter-8 plugin you can also effortlessly imitate JX-8P sounds, which is not necessarily possible with the original ones, even if both synths have a clear family resemblance.
From my side, therefore, this is an absolute recommendation to get to know the portfolio of the classic machines. In any case, you get a relatively authentic impression of the structure of these synthesizers. Therefore I also recommend it clearly to beginners! In addition, everything here can always be saved in the song and can be recalled at any time.

So: Then why did I get all this stuff again in the first place?

Which brings us to point 4:

4. Plugins vs Hardware - A matter of UI

While thinking about this video, I came to the conclusion that for me, sound is only one part of the reason why I chose to go back to hardware synthesizers.

And that might have to do with my age and my personal history with technology, but mostly it has to do with the kind of music I produce. And that is indeed often much easier to realize with the old gear or new analog clones than in a virtual environment with plugins.

For me, this is mainly due to the handling and the limitations that the original machines had. The weird sequencer in the 303? Arpeggiators triggered by drum computers? Sawing analog sequencer lines? None of this is witchcraft, and with a bit of tinkering it can of course be realized similarly with Ableton. However, "in real life" it's all much more efficient and fluid to integrate into my creative workflow. Since the critical functions are laid out in front of you, like in an open book. The Juno-6/60 is really my benchmark for this. Each function has its own fader or button.

Wonderful! That's all it needs! And exactly this lack of possibilities is what fascinates me about it again and again, brings on new ideas and stimulates my creativity when composing. Maybe it's also because I learned to play a real instrument, and you don't constantly jump back and forth between saxophone and let's say electric guitar and piano. Unless you are Roland Kirk or another alien!

And with that we come to an extremely important point, which concerns the choice of your instruments. And this applies one hundred percent to both plugins and hardware: Plan your home setup with which you want to produce tracks as if it were a band! Or an orchestra!

5. The right lineup for your band!

Because in these classic constellations, each member has its function and, as it happens, each instrument has its frequency range and together they create a well balanced sound. From the double bass to the piccolo flute. From the electric bass up to the screaming Stratocaster and in between the complete fireworks of frequencies from the drums!

And that's exactly how I chose the synthesizers here in this setup. Each device has a special function and there is actually not a single "newfangled" all-round part with any menus. And there is hardly any overlap in the sound characteristics of the individual synths.

Since I like Roland sound, my drums are classically 808 and 909 in the form of the corresponding Behringer clones. And an old Casio RZ-1 for the 8bit lofi experience. Soundwise, the drum computers are the ones that I could most easily do without. Because the Drum Rack from Ableton is just as nice to program live in conjunction with the Push, just like the drum computers. That's why I use both in parallel. In the Drum Rack, I mainly have Linn samples and my own drum sounds that we made with our analog synths for all our OneSynth-only demos. In order to bring variation and new impulses into this eternally same incarnation of "four to the floor", there is nothing more intuitive and at the same time more surprising than these old machines. And of course they have their own, quite charming way of grooving and are perfect as triggers for the other analog devices.

By the way, I made an interesting video about this the other day here!

Better than a Multiclock? The Behringer RD-8 used as Synchronizer!

When selecting the synthesizers, I went by their sound character. The Juno is versatile and can do fat basses as well as weird pad sounds and is simply the sound classic par excellence. And for me impossible to replace by plugins. The reason for this is that one of my first own synths was a Juno-60.

Odyssey is a secret weapon in the bass range and pushes pretty much everything against the wall. The TD-3-MO is absolutely satisfying for everything that has to do with acid and typical 303 sounds and has much more to offer than a conventional 303. In addition, the pedals from Electroharmonix and the fun begins. Because I have a soft spot for vocoders and string machines and I often use such sounds in my music, it had to be the VC-340. The sounds of the vocoder can be gated and modulated with the drum machines. The JX-8P is more for wide modulated pads and dub chords. So it's more my rhythm guitar or piano.

Then on the other side there is the Moog Matriarch, which takes over the position of a Minimoog or Moog Modular, which have a completely different rather "organic" sound personality for me. In the bass range, it complements Roland and Arp very nicely. But for me it also replaces a Korg Monopoly I used to have, as it allows similar grooves with the 4 oscillators and its round-robin arpeggiator.
There is also the delay, which I use a lot on the sends in my mixes. And of course it is also the center of my small semi-modular experimental lab, which consists of a Radikal Delta CEP A as well as a Behringer B2600, which I like to use a lot to make analog drumsouds.

In addition, I have a Lexicon MX400 as a standard reverb, which is mostly set to the gothic cathedral preset. However, in the medium term I would like to replace / supplement this with a PCM70 or PCM80. If someone wants to get rid of something like that, please let me know!
I don't know, but somehow I like this typical Lexicon reverb density. Otherwise I am an avid user of the Hybrid Reverb in Ableton. There is a lot you can do with it!

That's about it with my band. And the same can of course be done with plug-in synths. With V-Collection, too, you don't have to install everything. Decide at one point for a device that appeals to you particularly and with which you achieve good results. Make yourself an expert in it! And so you can create your own virtual band. It's also best to build Ableton templates, where you can start directly with all band members, without long discussions! 1 2 3 4 Beat!

The less psychological hurdles your studio puts in your way, the faster you can get back into your workflow and be creative! That's what it comes down to!

And finally, as promised the blind tasting


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Thomann Affiliate Links:

Presonus Mixer:

Moog Matriarch:

Floatingpoint Multiclock:

Jaspers Keyboardstand on wheels:

Behringer Dual-Phase:

Behringer 2600 Normal:




Behringer VC340:

Pittsburgh Modular Taiga:

Radikal Technologies Delta CEP A:

Behringer 2600

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