When would one use plugins?

Chelonian

Member
In another thread I posted recently (https://homerecording.com/bbs/threads/thoughts-on-these-silent-pcs-for-recording.416613/), I got the sense that whether or not one uses plugins is the make or break issue for how much computing power you need (RAM and speed of processor).

I have never used plugins. The most I've done is use Audacity's built-in effects, applied to one track at a time (things like reverb). I am not even sure what plugins are or when I might use them. I want to do something in the general realm of progressive rock/pop, recording guitars, bass, keyboards, and vocals and then using some kind of electronic drum patches or something (I also have an ancient small Dr Rhythm drum machine but it's limited).

I don't want to be massively unnecessarily limited in what I can choose to do musically in recordings, but maybe I don't need to use that many plugins? I have zero sense of this, so if you could weigh in, I'd love to hear your thoughts.
 

spantini

COO of me, inc.
I'm no expert - a relative newbie to all this digital stuff, myself.. so I'll kick this off..

Mostly, plugins are the digital software version of hardware processors (e.g., reverb, compressor, delay, equalizers, any kind of guitar foot pedal - to name a few of the basic ones). Those probably won't load down your system much. When you get into synthesizers using plugins for voices, that can begin to slow things down some if you don't have enough RAM or speed. Same with drum program plugins using hundreds of GB of samples (not all are this large).

So basically, plugins are the software versions of any kind of effects processors, drum "machines", synthesizers, guitar simulators, amplifier simulators, microphone simulators, speaker simulators.. any kind of recording hardware that a studio might have in a rack filling up their control room. There's a software plugin to replace just about any piece of hardware.
 

TalismanRich

Well-known member
Plug-ins are all the effects that can be used with a recording. The "built in effects" in Audacity are plug ins, just look in the Audacity program folder. They are programs add ins that are used to reproduce the hardware tools that would have been used with old analog recording systems. Compression, EQ, Reverb, Limiter, Noise Reduction, Delay and Noise Gates are the most basic effects. There are many more things that can be done.

Audacity is a very basic audio editor program that does some things very well, but as a multitrack recording program, it leaves a lot to be desired. A real recording system such as Cakewalk by Bandlab (free), Reaper ($60), or even the entry versions of Cubase or Protools that are often included with recording gear like audio interfaces are infinitely better suited to the task.

The system you were looking at is a 10 year old system. That's not a lifetime, it's an EON in computer circles. I hope you realize that there have been NINE updates to the processors in that time, and the processor isn't even a top of the line for the period. It might be adequate for browsing and emails, but as a recording platform, you'll find it sorely lacking. A better choice would be a refurbished system with a more current processor, and enough RAM to handle the current programs. I could buy a system off Craigslist from a local refurbisher, for the same price as the one on Amazon with a 60% faster processor, twice the memory and a 500GB SSD. That would be a bare minimum system.

We aren't trying to be mean, but are trying to keep you from going down a path with little hope for success.
 

Chelonian

Member
Plug-ins are all the effects that can be used with a recording. The "built in effects" in Audacity are plug ins, just look in the Audacity program folder. They are programs add ins that are used to reproduce the hardware tools that would have been used with old analog recording systems. Compression, EQ, Reverb, Limiter, Noise Reduction, Delay and Noise Gates are the most basic effects. There are many more things that can be done.

Audacity is a very basic audio editor program that does some things very well, but as a multitrack recording program, it leaves a lot to be desired. A real recording system such as Cakewalk by Bandlab (free), Reaper ($60), or even the entry versions of Cubase or Protools that are often included with recording gear like audio interfaces are infinitely better suited to the task.

The system you were looking at is a 10 year old system. That's not a lifetime, it's an EON in computer circles. I hope you realize that there have been NINE updates to the processors in that time, and the processor isn't even a top of the line for the period. It might be adequate for browsing and emails, but as a recording platform, you'll find it sorely lacking. A better choice would be a refurbished system with a more current processor, and enough RAM to handle the current programs. I could buy a system off Craigslist from a local refurbisher, for the same price as the one on Amazon with a 60% faster processor, twice the memory and a 500GB SSD. That would be a bare minimum system.

We aren't trying to be mean, but are trying to keep you from going down a path with little hope for success.

I totally understand your point and very much appreciate the feedback. I easily could go down a path with little hope for success so I benefit from the guidance.

I guess my problem has been my current baseline, in that I have been using a 12 year old computer, an Inspiron 560 (Pentium dual core E6700 at 3.20 GHz and 4GB RAM with an old and possibly somewhat fragmented regular hard drive) and have been able to record simple (and often short) things on Audacity with that, including a few basic effects. I thought surely if I jumped to that Amazon offering (8GB RAM with an i5 and a 512 SSD) it would feel like going from a beater 1994 Dodge to at least a 2004 Camry--and silently. But I'm getting the sense that it's more like I'd be going from a 1974 Pinto to a 1981 Chevette.

But I bet the issue is, I just haven't really put my current desktop to legitimate recording/processing tests. Heck, this computer daily bogs down if I have too many tabs open and I have to wait after I type something for my text to appear. It's time for something better for sure.
 

Slouching Raymond

Active member
Things like EQ, which are just frequency filters, are very efficient because they use tight recursive algorithms, so their main cost is processor speed.
Virtual instruments that are sampled, will require significant memory space.
Delay effects like Chorus and Reverb, sit somewhere in the middle.
 

rob aylestone

Well-known member
Plug ins are a bit like buying cooking ingredients, you end up with cupboards full of things you never use, but often, you might actually have tucked away. In normal use, they just take up a bit of disk space so it doesn’t matter. However, many people nowadays use templates. I don’t. If I record a guitar, I start by creating an empty track. My good friend has a guitar template (actually he has lots) each one brings in a new track, with a few reverbs, processors, delays, eqs and God knows what else. He sends me a project sometimes and there are hundreds of active plugin, that I usually haven’t even got! He uses them automatically, without even thinking.
 

markmann

Member
Like with many questions the answer always seems to start with "it depends..." In this case it depends on what DAW and what plugins you plan to use. I use Reaper that, at least to my knowledge, requires less CPU to run than many other DAWs. I use many of the plugins that come with Reaper that are also CPU friendly and when I choose other plugins I always make sure they are not CPU hogs. I use an ancient HP laptop with 8g ram and I run loads of effect plugins and virtual instruments and I have zero issues, and that's running at 128 buffer in Reaper. I generally have 20 to 30 tracks most of which have 4 to 8 plugins per track.
 

VomitHatSteve

Hat STYLE. Not contents.
The primary plugins I highly recommend learning to use are compression, EQ, and reverb. Obviously, Audacity (like every DAW) comes with built-in implementations of these. Alternate versions of these same plugins can accomplish different things and affect your workflow and results in various ways. It's best to experiment and figure out what you like.

As long as you're using Audacity, the performance of your computer hardly matters. Audacity doesn't run effects in real time. It applies them to the track offline. So if you try to use "too many" plugins, it just means you'll spend a lot of time running the effects dialog. Most other DAWs do apply effects in real time, so if you run too many at once, playback will slow down and stutter.
 

Chelonian

Member
Like with many questions the answer always seems to start with "it depends..." In this case it depends on what DAW and what plugins you plan to use. I use Reaper that, at least to my knowledge, requires less CPU to run than many other DAWs. I use many of the plugins that come with Reaper that are also CPU friendly and when I choose other plugins I always make sure they are not CPU hogs. I use an ancient HP laptop with 8g ram and I run loads of effect plugins and virtual instruments and I have zero issues, and that's running at 128 buffer in Reaper. I generally have 20 to 30 tracks most of which have 4 to 8 plugins per track.
That's really encouraging! Can you tell me the specs on that HP laptop? Year, make, CPU, and anything else? (SSD?). What about fan or other noise from the laptop getting into your recordings? (for quiet passages)
 

jamesperrett

Active member
I can do a basic 24 track mix in Reaper on my 2004 vintage Acer laptop using Reaper's own plug-ins - and that's at 96kHz sampling rate. My main computer is currently a 2012 vintage Dell Precision M4600 with a 2nd generation i7 processor and 8GB of RAM which handles just about anything I throw at it.

Edited to correct model number - the 4600 is what I have while the 4800 is probably what I'd go for now if buying a refurbished machine.
 
Last edited:

Chelonian

Member
The system you were looking at is a 10 year old system. That's not a lifetime, it's an EON in computer circles. I hope you realize that there have been NINE updates to the processors in that time, and the processor isn't even a top of the line for the period. It might be adequate for browsing and emails, but as a recording platform, you'll find it sorely lacking.

I'm trying to reconcile that statement with the posts on this and my other thread of people using 2004--2012 era computers and them working just fine, including with plugins running. I'd really like to understand this better before I commit to a purchase.
 

markmann

Member
That's really encouraging! Can you tell me the specs on that HP laptop? Year, make, CPU, and anything else? (SSD?). What about fan or other noise from the laptop getting into your recordings? (for quiet passages)
My HP is a 2011 model, 2.7g quad core, 128g HD (no SSD), 8 g ram. Like I mentioned in your other thread, this laptop is not quiet but it is not heard on my recordings as long as my mic isn't aimed at it.
 

TalismanRich

Well-known member
I'm trying to reconcile that statement with the posts on this and my other thread of people using 2004--2012 era computers and them working just fine, including with plugins running. I'd really like to understand this better before I commit to a purchase.
I'm not saying you can't run on an old system but what you are looking at is below even markman's and Jamesperretts system. It's a 1.6 or 1.7GHz processor vs their 2.7G. That makes a difference. I have an old Asus laptop with a 2nd Gen I3-2350, two cores, at 2.2GHz, 8GB ram and 320 +500GB hard drives. I tried to do recording on it and it stumbled. I can do mixdowns on it if I set the buffers high enough. Would I depend on it for recording? No way. You can buy them on Ebay for under $100. Dump the hard drive and put in a 500GB SSD and it gets even more quiet. Total outlay of under $200. I still think it's a mediocre unit for the task.

My recordings are done on a Lenovo H50-50 with an Intel Core i5-4460 CPU @ 3.20GHz which is 4 cores with 12GB of RAM. I swapped in an SSD for the system, and put in a 2TB drive for data. The system was bought in 2015. I don't have any problems with mixing or recording 8 channels at one time. I do video work on it. You can buy a used one on Ebay for under $150 right now.

If you really think you need a PC with no fan so that you can record, be my guest and place the order. I just think you can do better for the same amount of money, with a more current system. You don't need to go with the latest/greatest thing, but starting out such a low end system just seems foolish.
 
Top