Firstly, most listeners wouldn’t care if a piece of music was achieved using real analog gear or virtual analog emulations. And the quality and tone of different sound sources could be so similar that no-one could tell which one is which, at least not in the context of a finished track.
However, which synth is being used does matter for the musician, due to the sound is only one of many equally important factors for the operator.
Different instruments affect creatively and playability. And different purpose-built interfaces inspire different musical ideas and sound designs. For me, it’s just more fun with knobs and switches on a hardware synth. (Also there’s the resale value. Many hardware synths hold their value well, and vintage synths increase over time.)
Options to the Original
A real Roland Jupiter-8 possesses an unmatched tactility, but its sounds could be copied.
For example, Arturia has programmed a recreation of the synth, the Jup-8 V, and while it may sound quite like the original, softsynths by their nature have no physical controls (tweaking sounds and sweeping filters are being done with a mouse, keyborad or with a generic MIDI controller).
One could of course sample the original Jupiter-8, but samples are merely captured snapshots (even when using a round-robin algorithm) and samples may not convey all the nuances of playing the original instrument.
Roland’s own JP-08, a digital hardware synth with lots of controls and a dedicated set of processors that’s using Analog Circuit Behaviour technology to reproduce Jupiter-8’s sounds could be a third option in this case. Now this small device don’t deliver all the actual characteristics of the original hardware, but it has its own right and does step outside the in-the-box-environment.
Nowadays, many home and even professional studios are run with a digital setup, combining software and MIDI controllers. And as electronic instruments, there some are benefits of softsynths, like instant recall of settings when loading a project, and not occupying any physical space.
For a long time I used mainly used softsynths and a small MIDI controller, the Oxygen 8, and I was good with that. But I like unruly analog sounds, and analog synths with analog circuitry need to be hardware. While, in terms of digital synths, most things they do are technically feasible with comparable software.
Worth mentioning is that Arturia, that made a name for itself by making faithful software emulations of hardware vintage synths, has manufactured a few solid analog monosynths too since 2012.
What I don’t get is when a software company like Softube release a virtual modular plugin based on Doepfer’s Eurorack standard. The most obvious reason for these modular synths is tactility. The concept (already being done with Reaktor by Native Instruments) and sound of a modular system could of course be imitated, but the physical aspects just don’t translate. One of the main point here is manually signal routing on a physical, expandable and flexible modular grid.
Anyway, I think the sound of analog hardware per se can be comparable, if not equivalent, to software, but sound is not all when making music.