There was a time once where it was the standard to record a track with nothing but hardware. From an engineer’s perspective, the band would come in plugin. The engineer would then mic up the vocalist, guitarist, bassist and drummer based on the style demonstrated by the band. These tracks would then be routed though a massive console and outboard effects would be patched in via a patch-bay. The signal would then be routed to a tape machine for record and playback. If there were any errors, the band would have to do the take again. In those days recordings were great not only because the band was great but also due to the fact that they had to practice more in order to get the perfect take.
Fast forward to now and we have DAW software. The workflow for the most part continues on the same path as before with the exception of TAPE and plugins. The signal is routed to the console and from the console to the DAW software. From the DAW software the output channels are routed back to the console in order to enable playback. It is now up to the engineer to decide whether to record to tape or not. Many opt to do so as they claim that the tape enhances the sound.
In reality, all that is necessary to record a band are great microphones, A low latency audio interface with great preamps, with enough inputs/outputs and a reasonably powerful laptop. That is all that is needed. There have been many arguments over hardware vs. plugins that try to emulate that “analog” sound. But let us take this a step back without being over zealous in mentioning any names. In today’s age we have superior audio with a resolution of up to 192 kbps and 24 bit. We never had any where near that resolution with tape. Now that man have accomplished this massive feat, plugin manufactures are now placing the illusion that great mixes cannot be made without these “classic” hardware models. This is simply not true.
In simple terms: a compressor is a compressor, an eq is an eq, and distortion is distortion.
A compressor is designed with only one thing in mind, and that is to reduce dynamic range.
An equalizer was designed to accentuate favorable frequencies to better sculpt the audio spectrum. Anything else is distortion, which in many cases can prove to be unfavorable and yet quite favorable in some instances. I have experienced many different pieces of hardware and software used to emulate the corresponding hardware and I can confidently say that the differences are greatly exaggerated. A knowledgeable engineer can get a usable sound out of most compressors. Having said that the SSL 4000 Buss compressor and the 1176 are two excellent compressors. The 1176’s super fast microsecond attack time distorts the incoming signal, giving it a perceived “liveliness”. The SSL 4000 Buss compressor add life to a mix through the use of distortion as-well.