There is a never ending debate between those who prefer a hardware based keyboard setup where you can happily show up at a gig with your keyboard and little else, and those who don’t mind an extra 15 minutes with a bundle of USB cables for the benefit of that 100 GB piano sample. Why choose one over the other? Lets take a look at the pros and cons of each side – we’ll start with software first.
Software provides access to many high quality sounds
Soft synths can be the source of almost any sonic texture or instrument emulation. Many times these synths sound better than even the best hardware synths. Software based setups are common among some of the most popular worship bands and recording artists, and many times we can emulate album sounds more accurately with software. Software also provides access to synthesis techniques that may not be available on many workstations.
Software allows for flexibility
Software setups can be upgraded a piece at a time. Software runs on many different hardware configurations and software is easier to upgrade in an incremental fashion.
Software can be more economical
It is possible to achieve high quality sounds at a lower cost compared to a hardware keyboard in many cases however it certainly is easy to get carried away with constant upgrades. The entry cost for a software based setup is usually lower than a hardware configuration giving the same quality of sounds.
Software is easier to program and work with
Software interfaces can be a lot more intuitive and accessible than the interfaces of many hardware synths. If you’ve ever found yourself wandering through page after LCD page of menus on your hardware synth looking for that one setting you know is there then you understand what I mean.
Well if software is so great then why isn’t everyone lugging a laptop and interface around? Hardware may have less of a corner on the market but it still has a couple of cards up its sleeve.
Hardware is reliable
You plug it in, turn it on, and it makes sound. Well perhaps it’s not always that simple but overall hardware provides a level of reliability that software setups still can’t match. If you can’t risk a computer crash then a reliable workstation or stage keyboard is the way to go.
Hardware is cheaper
But wait – up there ^^ I said that software was more “economical.” The truth is it’s possible to save money either way. Hardware costs may be more up front but keyboards have a relatively long lifespan – I still occasionally use a Yamaha S80 from 1999 that holds up quite well. Synths are a good value on the used market, reducing the entry price if budget is tight. When you factor in the total cost of a software setup (laptop, host software, interface, synths) then hardware costs start to look more reasonable.
Hardware is familiar
Do you have a regular job? I bet you have some tools that you use every day, and I bet you can get twice as much done with them as the new guy can with his fancy gizmos. Having a hardware synth that you are familiar with can be very freeing by letting you spend more time with the music and less time with the mouse.
Hardware is faster
Hardware setups can be complicated but most of them are pretty straightforward and take less time to set up and less space on stage than software based setups. If you are trying to travel light or have a tiny spot on stage to set up then hardware may be for you.
I’m sure that you have your own reasons for choosing one over the other – please share your wisdom in the comments below. Until next time…