The fact that tape emulation software websites don't seem to offer comparisons between split-signal recordings (one going to the real tape machine and one to the plugin emulation of that actual tape machine and tape) suggests they're not convincing enough.
I mean, why wouldn't they offer customers audio examples of identical tracks recorded both digitally and on tape, then compare their plugin effect with the tape track? Seems the obvious thing to do.
Martin Walker wrote: I'm sure I've seen some web sites that do exactly this, and will post links if I stumble across them again.
However, I wonder if some tape plug-in developers get caught out by the huge number of people who seem to think that 'tape' sounds hugely different, when in fact the whole idea of a well-aligned-up tape machine run with conservative audio levels sounds far more clean than the 'bass hump with lots of extra harmonic distortion' that people expect.
In other words , comparisons between 'real' tape and a plug-in that sounds very similar might actually put some potential customers off, because they were expecting it to make far more difference!
I have heard some examples of general "real tape vs plugin" comparisons, but that's not ideal, and they're not very thorough. I would have thought the best way would be to (also) elicit the more extreme responses of tape, by driving both the tape machine and the emulation hard using the same audio examples.
The differences often seem subtle, perhaps, because they're only emulating the most subtle aspects of tape and high-end, perfectly maintained machines. Also, there's no second or third generation (bounced) accumulation of tape effects being tested.
Though I don't like the example, here's a comparison (albeit on YouTube) where his actual tape machine (@ 27secs in) sounds far nicer, for me:
Another thing I've noticed with real tape, is the way noise is more integrated with the wanted sound, and how the signal breaks through it almost like gating/compression effect. With emulations, they seem to offer a parallel noise track that doesn't interact with the signal. Perhaps the solution is to cleverly use gates and side-chaining on a noise track.
I know most people don't want noise (unless it's dialed in on a synth) but I don't really draw those lines in the sand. I think it's part of what some people like even if they don't acknowledge it. I mean, we all like the sound of a crackling fire don't we? Not all the time, but...