In any area of technology, the only thing that you can depend on being consistent is the presence of change. When I started out writing magazine articles, the first digital synths were still in the R&D labs and serious samplers cost as much as cars, or in some cases houses. When the first software synths appeared some years later our PC columnist was keenly enthusiastic, even though the computers of the time clearly weren’t really up to the task. I took a little more convincing, but as computers became more powerful I used my hardware synth modules less and less, coming to rely on software synths and software samplers almost exclusively.
In some cases the software synths were direct replacements for their hardware equivalents, such as the pair of Korg Wavestation SRs I still have tucked away somewhere at the back of my cupboard of despair. When it comes to samplers there’s no contest, as having all your samples accessible within a DAW environment with all the recall and high-capacity storage benefits that that includes makes the days of pushing floppy disks into an Akai S900 seem like ancient history. Those same recall benefits apply to synths too, of course, and while there are those who argue over the merits of real analogue hardware versus analogue emulations, there’s no denying the convenience aspects of having everything in the virtual world where nothing takes up desk space and nothing is ever forgotten.
It all seemed perfect, but then the real world started to intrude. I discovered that updates of some synths couldn’t access some of the sounds I’d used in earlier versions, while other instruments I’d come to rely on were discontinued, soon to fall foul of an operating system update that didn’t support them. Worse, almost, were those that once behaved perfectly stably, but that now seemed at odds with newer operating systems or DAW updates — still continuing to work but occasionally causing crashes when you least expected it.
The outcome is that my rack of hardware synths has started to grow again. It’s a slow start with only two full-time members in the rack, but I just know that the day will come when I drag those two Wavestation SRs and their friends out of the cupboard of eternal darkness and hook them up once again. Even knowing that before I get everything working I’ll probably have to contend with locating and replacing failing memory backup batteries and hunting for long-lost memory cards, the prospect of having something in the studio that isn’t going to go out of date (at least as long as five-pin MIDI survives as a protocol) is somehow very reassuring.