12 Feb Guitar rigs – Computer-based vs. hardware-based
One of the most often asked questions I hear from guitarists is “why would I use VSTs (plugins) and a computer for my rig?”
They typically argue that computers are
- Prone to crash
- Ruined by spilling beer on them
- Too complicated to use
Interestingly, I noticed that most of them don’t actually stop to compare the sound quality nor view that as high-priority – rather strange for guitarists. In my book – sound is the king. I don’t care if I have to run 5 laptops underwater if it will get me a better sound.
Let’s address some of these concerns.
- Expense – Sure, you can certainly spend more on a computer-based setup, but it will generally be orders of magnitude better sounding and much more versatile. On the other hand you can certainly get a decent computer, audio interface, a MIDI pedal controller + software at a lower cost than some of the more expensive “hardware” solutions.
- Crashing – Well, I’ve been using a computer-based setup for more than 3 years – not a single crash on stage or rehearsal for that matter. Any hardware can crash, but a stage-optimized computer will typically crash only if its hardware fails. Hardware in any pedal can fail exactly the same way a computer can fail.
- Ruined by spilling stuff on it or banging on it … sure. I’m not going to dignify that one with further comments.
- It’s too complicated – Actually, I would argue the opposite. It’s often very complicated to navigate the hardware world – especially when you use one of these “all in one” kind of solutions. And often you need a computer anyway to create the configurations. And if you need to do a quick adjustment, you’re out of luck.
Many people will opt for a “hardware” solution which is not really a hardware solution after all. It consists of an internal computer, an audio interface and some software running inside an enclosure. No different than a computer and typically less expensive because its quality is not at par with a good quality audio interface and great plugins. These solutions are prone to everything to which any computer setup is prone, and often to a higher degree.
There is also no reason why one could not get a rack mountable computer and mount everything together creating a custom “hardware” solution that’s extremely modular. In fact quite a few of our own users have done just that.
So what are some of the benefits of running a computer-based guitar setup?
- It will typically sound better if properly configured
- Sounds the same everywhere. Same sound and setup in rehearsal, studio, stage, tour.
- Lightweight. Computer setups are typically easier to carry and setup.
- Creating your own, signature sound, is very hard when using stock, hardware solutions. Sound shaping options are almost infinite with a software-based rig (click here to learn more about our Probabilistic Sound Designer).
- Upgrades – computers and software evolve rapidly and upgrading your rig with a smaller, more powerful components is easy.
- More reliable – “Wait what!?”, most of you would say, but yes, hardware gets hot and breaks. Be it a computer or an amp or anything else. Wires get unsoldered, lamps burn out. Replacing a computer from a software backup is MUCH easier and often much less expensive.
- Completely different setups for each song. This is almost impossible to do with a traditional hardware solution, but with software like Gig Performer® you can have a completely different setup per song and you don’t need an entire room filled with amps and 3 technicians behind the stage to do it.
- The new “convolution” based simulations of sound shaping allow you to get that vintage cabinet or amp sound dialed in perfectly. This is something that solutions with less CPU power – like those “hardware” options will have trouble doing properly so your choice is either spend thousands on a huge vintage cabinets and amps, then carry those around or actually run a simulation of those characteristics in a computer based setup.
- Playing multiple instruments? No problem. I typically play an acoustic-electric guitar, an electric guitar and an Eigenharp Pico off of the same gig file. My entire rig changes with one press on a pedal. Try doing that with a hardware solution.
- Did I mention that it typically just sounds better?
If you haven’t spent time to dial in your sound in a computer based setup – there is not much anyone can do to convince you otherwise, but please – don’t dismiss it before you try because I can almost guarantee you that in a blind test you are much more likely to choose a software based setup due to its sound.
Like everything else – one needs to learn about various options and try various audio plugins that are available, then tweak those so that they match what you want. Simply opening one plugin on a computer, plugging in your guitar and trying a few presets is not going to get you there.
Ten years ago, things were different, but it’s a whole new world now!
Today, with Gig Performer®, inexpensive Intel i5 and i7 computers (or older PCs), great guitar plugins and high quality audio interfaces you can get a setup that 10 or 20 years ago would have either been impossible or would have cost you tens of thousands of dollars.
Keep pushing your rig with the best that today’s technology can offer and you too can Own the Stage® and get noticed!