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Anybody else going all software?

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by Taylor Livingston, Oct 3, 2007.

  1. Taylor Livingston

    Taylor Livingston Supporting Member Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    Oregon, US
    Owner, Iron Ether Electronics
    So lately, for a few reasons, I've been getting rid of all my hardware in favor of software. The first reason is that I can do so much more with software than I ever could with hardware. Using Plogue Bidule as my host, I can route audio and control signals in any way imaginable, splitting my signal into 2 (or 10) parallel effects paths, feed one back to the beginning of the other and control the amount of feedback with the dynamics of my playing (or whatever). I also use Bidule for sound design and keyboard stuff, which has greatly simplified my life, but doesn't matter to you bass guys, I'm sure.

    The second reason is price: many amazing and innovative effects are free, and those that aren't are usually pretty cheap - I replaced my EHX 2880 looper with Augustus Loop, which costs $39 as compared to the 2880 which cost hundreds plus another hundred for the controller. This is just one example. For nearly any effect you can think of, there's a software equivalent that sounds as good, can do more, and you can have 10 of them for the price of one (for those of you who use several delays in series, or if you're crazy and you want 6 ring modulators at the same time or whatever).

    The third reason is simplicity. I saw myself with a stereo effects path, through many effects, some designed for line levels and some for instrument levels, and things became so complex, with so many cables, running back and forth from the pedalboard to the amps, out the effects sends, back to the pedalboard, back to the amps... It was too much for me. It became such a chore to hook everything up and to carry so much stuff to a gig (not that I play out very often, but still). Admittedly, some folks come up with pretty elegant solutions for this problem, but I never could.

    Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to convert anybody. I think for some people, hardware effects, specifically a big ol' pedalboard, will never be replacable. For instance, I'm not a big gain pedal fetishist. There is an assortment of od/distortion/fuzz effects available in software form, but nowhere near the orgasmic smattering that exists in the stompbox world. Although software offers you far more capability to alter effects to suit your taste, those of you who play fuzz after fuzz after fuzz until you find the one for you probably won't find the VST gain effects varied or mojo-y enough. Likewise, I haven't ever found a software emulation of spring reverb that sounds as good as my Premier or Tube Works units, which is why I've kept both (I guess this is the effect I fetishize most over). I also haven't come across a good pitch shifter, except the Whammy in NI Guitar Rig, which is spendy (but the free demo is very usable...)

    Getting all set up can be difficult, but if you get a good audio interface (I settled on a Presonus Firebox after trying a couple others) and a good controller (I use the Behringer... yeah, Behringer sucks, whatever, but this thing is built like a tank and has 2 expression pedals), it can be a very seamless affair.

    I know a main concern of people is having to depend on a laptop in a performance situation, and this is probably valid. First, I would say get a Mac. Although PCs have supposedly come a long way recently, my Mac has frozen only once in the year I've had it, as compared to every PC I ever had crashing all the time. Secondly, if you play rowdy bars, you probably don't want a laptop on stage. But if you play civilized joints, I think this is less of a problem than people think it would be.

    So, anybody heading in this direction? Anybody using a combination of hardware and software (which I tried for a while)? Anybody thinking about trying it?
  2. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    I went that direction for a while, and grew frustrated by processor speed/bandwidth bottlenecks and poorly-designed UI's. I feel that if I had the latest, most powerful processor, and delved more into self-designed UI or the software with big libraries of user-developed UI's, it might have been less frustrating.

    Bear in mind, I had a pretty dang fast, recent computer; but it was not enough to handle the software that was "current". So I won't go there again until I have more cash to sink into some kind of quad-core muscle car and the free time to develop/select UI's.
  3. props to plogue bidule--I have been using it for some time now, and it is exactly what I have wanted. I wouldn't use it live (yet) but for the music I don't make money on, it wouldn't make a whole lot of sense to put a ton of money into making music that doesn't get any returns when i can do this for a lot less $$

    definitely something to check out for people who want a complex rig setup without a lot of money--i believe bidule is around 75 dollars and there are tons of VST and AU for free :)
  4. tycobb73


    Jul 23, 2006
    Grand Rapids MI
    I'll admitt I know nothing about this, but a question. If you're going to use this live, how do you change between effects in the middle of songs?
  5. you would have to program a midi foot controller for bidule
  6. Sir Edward V

    Sir Edward V Not Actually Knighted... Yet!

    Dec 11, 2006
    A Midi controller, I do believe. The OP said he has the Behringer. it might not be Midi though, it could be USB or something.
  7. i use my modified commodore 64 and its SID chip if that counts as softwear!!! hehehe
  8. Lalabadie

    Lalabadie Guest

    Jan 11, 2007
    It's MIDI if I'm not mistaken. But a way or another, most audio interfaces have at least one set of MIDI in/out/thru. The Firebox has them, and so does my Alesis io|2.
  9. EricF

    EricF Habitual User

    Sep 26, 2005
    Pasadena, CA
    For live playing, I will continue to believe in the UI simplicity and program stability of stomp boxes.

    For recording, VST effects and processors often sound better than hardware that costs many times more.
  10. Taylor Livingston

    Taylor Livingston Supporting Member Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    Oregon, US
    Owner, Iron Ether Electronics
    I'm interested in what you guys mean about the UI. Most effects have just a few sliders or knobs and maybe some buttons, which is the case for stompboxes as well. What sort of interfaces do you come across that you find hard to use?

    Regarding control: yes, I use the Behringer FCB1010, which I either plug into the Firebox, or use a little midi-to-USB cable I have, both of which work perfectly. USB is fine for midi, but for audio, I think you need a firewire interface in order to get the best audio with no appreciable latency.
  11. speak_onion


    Jun 22, 2007
    Queens, NY
    I was seriously considering it a ways back, and this thread is re-aggrivating my itch. I have no trouble with the trusting a laptop for live music (I played laptop shows before I ever played bass on a stage), and I see through all the nonsense about digital being sucky. That said, I find that digital distortion models leave me unsatisfied. Although, with an audio interface that has enough ins and outs and enough processor speed, I could go out to and in from my OD and fuzz pedals and bring them into the chain whenever necessary. Hmm. . .

    Conical Johnson- do you mind sharing your computer specs? I'm wondering what kind of juice it takes to make it work.
  12. David Vector

    David Vector Supporting Member

    Jun 4, 2006
    I've been almost completely "virtual" for quite a while. I've used Waves plugins for all my EQ and compression for years now and am using software for reverb too, now that I've found a plugin (IK Multimedia CSR) that sounds as smooth as hardware reverb to me.

    The one thing I probably won't replace with software anytime soon though is my Sansamp BDDI. I have the Ampeg SVX plugin (got it free along with CSR) and have yet to get an amped sound out of it that really does it for me. I finally picked up a Sansamp a couple of weeks ago and to me it just makes the bass sound "amped" in a more musical and pleasing way than any of the amp emulator plugins I've tried.
  13. Taylor Livingston

    Taylor Livingston Supporting Member Commercial User

    Dec 25, 2002
    Oregon, US
    Owner, Iron Ether Electronics
    This may surprise you, but I'm using a G4 iBook. 1.2 GHz, 768 mb ram. Definitely not a high end machine by today's standards. I think one key is my interface. Since the ADA conversion is happening in the Firebox, the computer is just processing effects. Some people's plugins are better designed than others in terms of CPU usage, so that's also a factor. Some effects, like pitch shifting, are processor heavy, so if that were something I used a lot of, maybe it would be a problem (although I've used 2 Whammies in series in Guitar Rig, then out to a ring modulator and a long delay without any trouble, so maybe not).

    Speak_onion, I've done just what you're talking about. The Firebox has 4 ins and six outs (plus SPDIF i/o if you have a use for that... I don't), so I've used that to send out from a VST effects path, into some hardware effects, and back into Bidule for more software effects. I've also gone into Bidule for effects, out to my amp which was mic'ed, and then sent the microphone signal back into Bidule to record the mic'ed cabinet. It's the ideal interface for me, since it has plenty of i/o, midi, 96KHz sample rate, and is just a little tiny box. And it's powered by Firewire, so one less power cable. I could theoretically play through six amps, too, with multi-tap delays bouncing around the room. I need to make friends with tombowlus...
  14. tombowlus

    tombowlus If it sounds good, it is good Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 3, 2003
    North central Ohio
    Editor-in-Chief, Bass Gear Magazine
    And here I thought we already were friends! :eek: :meh:

    Then again, you never call... :rollno:

    :smug: :p :D
  15. Hawkeye

    Hawkeye Canuck Amateur

    These comments are mainly for a performance context. Both hardware and software have their place. The cost factor has reversed too. You can pick up some very nice synth modules cheaply now because guys are dumping them in favour of VST symths and the better software synths are becoming fairly expensive. Personally, none of the bundled synths or free ones I've come across sound as good as my simple hardware synths.

    I would also trust hardware driven by MIDI a lot more than I would trust some laptop with its CPU maxed out during a live situation. I've used MIDI since the early 90's and used it live on many occasions without incident.

    You need a really nice D to A converter for live use of virtual instruments as well. If you're using a laptop's own DtoA with line or headphone out as your source, that's idiocy and will never sound as good as a hardware synth.

    Another thing with using this stuff in a gig setting is that sequenced MIDI hardware is still being played live. Samples, pre-recorded audio loops etc. are recorded and never sound as immediate and present as the real thing (especially if that thing is a hardware synthesizer) no matter how good the recording.

    I know the technology is changing in favour of loops, clips etc. vs. MIDI sequences. More of the effort seems to be put into the recording of audio chunks rather than MIDI. I've just been using MIDI for a long time and trust its simplicity and robust architecture. It just works.
  16. Hawkeye

    Hawkeye Canuck Amateur

    A known fact is that many of the best mastering engineers in the business still take the music "out of the box" for EQ and processing with their hardware and then it goes back "in the box" as the finished product afterward.
  17. Hawkeye

    Hawkeye Canuck Amateur

    Assuming you're using a PC to play back a sequence of audio or MIDI (it doesn't matter) you can also end a track with one effect and start another track at the very next beat or measure with a different or modulated effect being active for the new track. The end result in the final mix is the same.

    You just use your sequencer's multiple track features to do this. You dont' need a MIDI controller. it can be done with a MIDI controller, but you don't need a MIDI controller.
  18. Dirk Diggler

    Dirk Diggler Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2004
    Anytown USA
    I sold all my cash worthy old hardware and have been virtual effects via laptop ever since. Only had a few issues live and they were my fault for trying to do too much FX, Looping, VST synths, and lastly visuals for projectors and TV. Only then was I able to crash a P4 3.2 with then 1 Gig ram, I now have 2 gig and it's much happier.

    I'm also hoping the new Guitar Rig 3 will be better as well.
    I also must note I had my pre and power amp that if failure happened I could just pull the plug and go straight into the pre and be playing in an instant.

    Don't be afraid of new technology, personally I don't think the best basses, amps, and effects were created in the 60's. IMHO of course. :) YMMV
  19. keb


    Mar 30, 2004
    I'm probably stating the obvious, but digital effects boxes are in essence just little specialized computers running software within anyway. Running effects on a PC or laptop gives you a nice big easy to use UI instead of squinting at a little LCD display.

    Myself, I'm mostly using analog stomp boxes, but I use VST reverb and compression when recording/mixing.
  20. i agree with keb as well--I think the future of effect processing are in computers anyways--I know it still has flaws, but I think the future is in the Muse Receptor (or a product similar). It is just a 2u rackmount processor that is in essence just a VST host like a computer--just with a specially designed OS/UI that is made for musicians

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