So, what is a plugin? Well, a plugin is essentially a software version of a hardware unit. In the olden days of yore, we used to manually patch in a rack-mounted hardware compressor, or effects unit, or sometimes a pair of cables that went nowhere (we never did find out what should have been plugged into them). Basically, A bunch of big metal units with dials on them were connected to a patch bay (you may recall an old movie with a telephone operator patching calls through by connecting plugs on a massive panel – that’s a patch bay). You would then connect patch cables from a send path, to the compressor, back from the compressor, and back to a return path. Well, not only is it an ordeal, but hardware units can be very expensive. Once you add a compressor, an EQ, and some effects, you’re a little out of pocket.
With a plugin, you go to your vocal track (for example), click ‘insert’, find your plugin from the menu, and click on it. Done.
When you compare these scenarios, consider the costs involved, and even hear the outcome of a hardware unit versus a software plugin, the benefit of using a software plugin far outweighs the alternative. Sure, some people will argue that a hardware unit is far better than using a plugin, but we’re talking about pro studios with plenty of money, an admiration for the old units (as if they’re classic cars), and a really long career of being stubborn. To state my position; I love hardware units, and have them in my studio, but I also have lots of plugins. There’s a special feeling you get when you unbox your brand new Distressor or 1176, make sure nobody is around, and give it a little kiss, but in a home or project studio, I’d use plugins, no question.
Now I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with using EQ etc. in Garageband or Cubase, and I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with plugins like Guitar Rig or Amplitube (yes, the thing that comes with the iRig is a plugin too!), but there are hundreds, nay, THOUSANDS of plugins on the market, so take a look at what’s on offer.