The end of the DSP Plug-in era.

It may seem a boring topic to talk about the world of music plug-ins, but it is also very interesting in some ways. In the old days, in the world of analogue instruments, an effect could only be a piece of hardware. However, with the development of computer technology, software has emerged to perform the tasks of hardware much more cheaply and conveniently. In the early days this software was not of the highest quality, but as the industry developed, software slowly caught up with its hardware counterparts. However, there was a problem with the performance of the computers, as the ever-improving software required more and more computing power and RAM, and computing could not develop as fast as the software. This is how the DSP came into being. This system was separate from the computer, a separate piece of hardware was developed to solve the computer's performance problems. The indisputable advantage of this system was that the DSP plug-in could also use more computing power, and thus achieve better sound quality. For example, the DSP could calculate the reverb at up to 32 bits, or the software could be designed to calculate a sequence of numbers at a few decimal places higher.

Many people saw this as a big step forward, and indeed it seemed to be. However, it seemed to me more and more over time that it was a sideline that would not last. Why do I say this? Unburdening the computer is quite simply pointless. We have such powerful computers nowadays that they can even handle a few hundred plug-ins at once. The difference in quality between DSP and native plugins has almost disappeared. Both compute equally well if the software developer has programmed the processes correctly.

Today, the big manufacturer Universal Audio, which pioneered DSP technology, is slowly backing out of further development of the system, and software that can run without DSP has appeared. This means that the focus is shifting back towards native plug-ins. UAD has realised that there is no longer any economic advantage in selling DSP systems, but rather in continuing to develop software without hardware. The question is what the future holds for UAD, which will have to compete with a dozen software vendors if they don't come up with something that stands out from the crowd. The big name will certainly give them a positional advantage for a while, but that can only be sustained if they come out with something new. My suspicion is that this native software use will be a temporary option, or an extra option on top of something else. With the global economic crisis knocking on the door, it is easier to develop and sell software than to maintain a complete manufacturing base. But a few years and UAD will bring out something new, because this state of affairs is more of a step backwards than forwards. It's more exclusive to say that you can make a much better end product with UAD hardware than to say that you'll be a god emperor with this set of bits. Of course, thinking ahead with DSP is not stopping, we already have the new buzzword of the future. I can explain the technology in a Sci-Fi and somewhat more neutral way.

What if we had a special analogue hardware that could be converted into a reverb, and later into a compressor. Always what you need! How cool would that be? This technology actually produces that, obviously to a feasible extent. Simplistically, this hardware is a stack of programmable semiconductors that physically switches itself to the appropriate task on a given command. Like a programmable logic matrix. This is not a new technique, it has been around for a long time in other industrial devices, but until now it was unusual to see it incorporated into an audio device. Now it is being implemented. The advantage, if the manufacturer is going for the more sophisticated solution, is that the hardware tries to have the characteristics of an analogue device, so that the output sound more closely approximates the characteristics of the signal stream coming out of an analogue device.

That sounds pretty damn good, doesn't it? Looks can be deceiving! They are still just wayfinding, small steps. At the moment, this technology works in hybrid mode with traditional DSP solutions. And the FPGA solution, because it can only be done in real time, sometimes produces phase shifting sounds on stereo sounds. By the way, the technology has been available since 2017, but it has not been widely used because UAD is more popular. A company called Antelope, which is using this technology, might have a slight advantage until UAD finds its way, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see a similar solution at UAD soon, only in a more sophisticated form. The slow demise of DSP technology could take decades, much like the ProTools Hd where retro pieces are still running on the second hand market. But it's safe to say that this technology is past its peak. Pioneering techniques are now being introduced on a conscious and pathfinder scale, so there's bound to be something beyond DSP in the near future, but the real big bang will be the introduction of artificial intelligence into the audio engineering industry.