The war against technology....
Some people will swear by hardware and that it sounds better than any plugin compressor or EQ, others will say "technology is so advanced now that the plugins sound exactly the same". Both arguements have merits in my opinion.The matter of the fact is they both have pros and cons and there is no right one or right way, its totally subjective to the mixing engineers workflow.
Analog hardware does have something that up until today plugins can not replicate. That is the sound that tubes and circuitry produce when passing a sound source or signal through it. Their are many emulation plugins that come close, but to my ears, no cigar. The downside of Analog hardware is that it can be quite expensive - not just to buy but also to maintain and use. Once that essential piece of analog hardware has issues and needs repair, you are looking at a few hundred of $$ and a few weeks without your equipment.
The main reason I believe analog mixing isn't as used as much, besides the small fortune it costs to buy, is that it is not easily recallable and it is quite time consuming. Let me give you an example.
Client A sends me a song that they want mixed, it has 64 stems. 8 of those are just individual drum piece, kick, snare, hihats etc. you send the kick to an EQ, adjust it to taste then to the compressor and it sounds big, banging and thumping in your chest. You need to record the output of the eq and compressor back into your DAW. This process you would need to repeat 8 just to finish the drums. Then you need to document the settings using recall sheets incase the client wants to make small adjustments to the drums.
In today's society where everything moves fast and everyone needs things yesterday, Analog mixing seems to be too time consuming for modern society.
When we talk about mixing digitally you will hear terms like "in the box" mixing or "ITB" mixing. This means we are using our DAW with alll kinds of plugins like EQ, compressor, reverb plugins without the use of any external hardware. There is nothing wrong with mixing in the box. As far as I am aware alot of songs were mixed in the box, for instance - Kelly Clarksons - Miss Independant was mixed in the box by Rhett Lawrence.
ITB mixing is great as you can recall sessions and make any revisions you need necessary. There is no need to record back into your DAW and any revisions necessary can be done in seconds without re-routing
The New Trend...
Today, people are seeing the benefits of both digital and analog and are creating what is termed a hybrid studio. A hybrid studio is where the studio will use both analog and digital equipment to complete a mix. This is the best of both world and with our online mixing service, we use Analog EQ's, compressors, summing mixer and stereo imaging equipment in our studio. We use these in different scenario's where we know this equipment will be the best fit for the job.
I personally like using hardware eq's and compressors, not because it sounds better or because I think plugins are crap (they are not), but because I do not like using a mouse all day as if I was in an office. I like to feel that when I turn the knob I am making a difference to the music and that it is sounding better because of my decisions, that is it. Mixing is as much musical as it is technical.
It really doesn't matter if you use solely plugins to mix your song or if its all analog. As long as the end result of your mix is sounding great. If you get all your music recorded correctly straight away and don't cut corners, your mix will sound fantastic because mixing ain't fixing.