At this point you literally have to be living in a cave to have completely missed the fact that synths in worship are here and here to stay.
The world of synths is quite an intimidating world to get involved in. Honestly it’s a lot easier to buy a couple of MainStage patches and call it a day. I honestly understand why musicians just hound people’s instagram accounts and buy their exact gear. And then comes the question of synth plugins vs hardware.
When it comes to “synth world” a big question that gets asked is what’s the better choice: plugins or hardware?
For some this can become a source for heated debates. At the end of the day, it comes down to what’s best for the specific environment you’re playing in. In some scenarios hardware might be the better approach. And in other scenarios plugins are the move.
Today we’re going to talk through the synth plugins vs hardware: the pros and cons of both!
All so you can determine what is truly best for your context.
Hardware Synth Pros & Cons
Easier Setup – The nice thing about physical synthesizers is all you have to do is get it out of the case, plug in 2-4 cables, and you’re up and going.
Less Gear Required – What’s also amazing about them is, like the point above, for the most part, the only thing you need is the synth itself.
Effectively Zero Crashes/Bugs/Latency Issues – Rarely will you have to worry about some sort of error crashing your setup.
Durable – Hardware devices can usually take a pretty big beating. Unlike computers that feel a lot more fragile.
Buttons, Knobs, & Controls at Your Fingertips – The advantage of having a physical knob for almost every parameter of your synth, personally, brings a much denser musicality and inspiration to the experience. Having access to everything, right in front of you while playing, has always allowed me to stumble into amazing sounds that stopping to click-n-drag my mouse to the right spot could never achieve. It’s about maintaining the inspiration before you lose it.
Typically More Expensive than Plugins – These are all inclusive devices. There’s material, labor, shipping, distribution, etc. costs that are way lower or you simply don’t have to worry about with a plugin. So you’re often looking at a higher price tag to get a piece of hardware.
Limited to the Sound Library on the Device – This technically applies to plugins too, but what’s on the device is what you’ve got to work with. So if you’re wanting a sound that the synth doesn’t have, you’re out of luck.
Synth Plugins Pros & Cons
Commonly Inexpensive – the average synth plugin ranges from $50-400.
Multiple Plugins Useable at the Same Time – With a hardware synth setup, you’re pretty much limited to the sounds you can generate on the synth itself. If you wanted something different than the synth provides, you’re out of luck. Whereas with plugins, if you don’t like the sound it provides, just open up another plugin. You can even stack two plugin sounds on top of one another.
The sound possibilities are essentially endless.
Easy to Share Presets – Sharing presets from one hardware device usually takes a little bit of work. However, the computer approach is as simple as sending a file to someone via email.
The Gear – This approach requires a computer, midi controller, cables & accessories, interface, etc.
The Setup Duration – The software approach requires you to setup your computer, the midi controller, the interface, and connect all of the devices. In total you’re looking at a 7-12 minutes longer process than what a hardware synth requires.
The Amount of Things to Troubleshoot – If something goes wrong in this setup, there’s a whole list of things that could be the issue. Is the issue with the midi controller or the interface? Did the problem arise in the specific synth plugin or the DAW or is the computer itself messing up? Then reboot time of the computer, do you have time to run that risk?
Potential Computer Crashes – This is another scary potential: computers crash and programs fail. I’ve been in the middle of services before and all of a sudden my Ableton session crashes. Goodbye tracks, goodbye keys.
Deciding the best approach for you in the synth plugins vs hardware conversation.
At the end of the day, it comes down to your situation and whatever will allow you to best succeed within that setup. For some people, they can leave all their gear on stage from week to week. So all they have to do is setup their laptop. The cost effective nature of using synth plugins very quickly proves to be the smartest option. Then you have others that are much more creative with a physical hands on approach.
Ultimately you need to determine what’s the smartest move for you personally and go from there.
Weigh the synth plugins vs hardware pros & cons. Maybe see about renting or borrowing a synth from a friend to test it out. Personally, simplifying my setup so that it wasn’t a chore to get up and going brought so much life into my playing. Yes it’s a more expensive route to go hardware, but the pro of a hassle free setup far outweighed the endless possibilities of sounds. The goal here is to figure what most inspires you and keeps you excited about playing. Happy synthing everyone!
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