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Listen With Your Eyes?

Leader
By Paul White

It's a funny old world — folks smear themselves with expensive creams or inject their faces with chemicals in an attempt to look younger, while at the same time others are paying over the odds for a relic guitar that's made to look as though it's been played in a fight‑prone bar every night for the last 30 years. Music is supposed to be appreciated by the ears, yet only potential models seem to be signed up to make records and their careers are finished before they come anywhere close to musical maturity. And I fear this 'visuals before audio' trend is establishing itself in the studio, especially when it comes to software plug‑ins. It is very easy to be swayed by a photo‑realistic front panel when, in reality, the alternative with the boring graphics may provide a more realistic‑sounding emulation. 

Then there's the confusion surrounding the word 'modelling' itself, which means different things to different designers. Anyone can claim to 'model' a classic synth or piece of outboard gear, but what exactly do they mean? In loose terms, modelling means that you try to create software that behaves as closely as possible like the original device under a variety of signal conditions, but different designers will take different approaches. For example, an equaliser plug‑in should have the same shape of EQ curves as the original, and controls that adjust them in the same way, but there are also subtle distortions and level‑dependent effects that may be important. Should the designer try to list all the artifacts that he considers important and then create software to replicate them without considering how the circuitry is actually behaving (the block modelling approach) or would it be better to model every individual electronic component in the circuit? And if you decide to model every component, how do you account for component tolerances? 

At least one company seeks out 'golden' units that behave particularly well, then they measure each component to create their model, which results in extremely authentic sounding emulations. On the other hand, is absolute accuracy essential when most of the project studio owners buying these plug‑ins have never used the original unit, let alone a 'golden' example? Shouldn't it be enough that a plug‑in sounds musical and helps you produce great music? Perhaps if we gave our ears a chance and our eyes a rest, we might be more able to make up our own minds.   

Paul White Editor In Chief  

Published July 2009