Trent from Indiana sent me a great question via the Ask Joe form. Let’s take a look at it:

Joe – I’m new to Pro Tools.  I have simple tracks that I just want to get down onto disc.  I have acoustic guitar, vocals, and might add mandolin or some more guitar parts.  I don’t want to color my tracks too much with the cheap plug-ins that came with my Pro Tools LE.  I’m wondering what you think is the best way to get these onto a disc without it being just a rough mix?  Hope I’m making sense.  Thanks.

A Common Assumption

Trent gives us an example of a common assumption in the home recording world. Most people believe that the plug-ins that come with your recording software are inferior by default. I would challenge this a bit.

If you assume that you can’t get a good sound out of the stock Digi (or Logic, Cubase, Sonar, etc.) plug-ins, then you might be shooting yourself in the foot. In my mind, it’s just another example of Gear Acquisition Syndrome, and it can lead to waiting around for months or even years, putting off making any music while you save up and buy the “perfect” studio setup.

The truth of the matter is an amazing engineer can sit down with a basic Pro Tools LE system and get an great-sounding mix with just the stock plug-ins.

Using High-End Gear

Yesterday I was listening to the latest Home Recording Show Podcast. It’s a great roundtable discussion with all the big names in the home recording podcasting world. Go download the show as soon as you finish reading this. 🙂

About halfway through the discussion, everyone weighed in on their thoughts on using cheap gear. They conceded that a great engineer could still get a good sound with cheap equipment. However, they emphasized that using high-end, quality audio equipment makes a big difference. I totally agree.

Okay, you may think I’m contradicting myself, but I’m not. To assume that you can’t possibly get a good sound with cheap gear is naive. On the flip-side, to assume that you can only get a good sound with high-end expensive gear is also short-sighted.

We need to take a balanced approach.


You may notice that I wrote that an amazing engineer would create a great-sounding mix on a basic LE system. However, if he had access to high-end outboard gear and top-notch plug-ins, he would create a phenomenal-sounding mix.

The gear you use does make a difference. The point I’m trying to make is this – the gear is important, but the person using the gear is equally important.

Take the tools you have at your disposal and get the best sound you can. If you can afford upgrading to nicer plug-ins, etc., then do so, but don’t assume you can’t get a good sound without them.

So to answer your question, Trent, I don’t think the stock Digidesign plug-ins are going to “color” your sound. And they’re certainly not going to hurt your sound. You can produce a great-sounding demo with them. My brother-in-law mixed an entire album using only Digidesign plug-ins, and it turned out great.

So I would suggest using your ears and dialing in those EQ and compressor plug-ins. Cut out offending frequencies. Compress as needed. You may find that your microphones may need to be upgraded before your plug-in package.

What do you think? Leave a comment!

[Photo by laurakgibbs]