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Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

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Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby Elephone » Sat Jun 11, 2016 8:48 pm

Just wondering how people use tape emulator plugins. Is it best to use these emulators multiple times in the recording chain each with a very subtle setting? Wouldn't that introduce more naturally chaotic non-linearities? Also, what about using a combination of different emulators?

What works for you... any presets you recommend?

Have you tried to tweak a digital recording to match an identical track recorded onto tape? How close did you get?

I've heard one comparison here and on another video the guy tried to use the Kramer tape plugin to try to match it.

Personally, I think the tape plugins effect sound like they're 'adding to' the digital track, where as the analogue track sounds 'bathed' in the analogue world, which of course it is.

The fact that tape emulation software websites don't seem to offer these comparisons, with presets, 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.)

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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby Martin Walker » Sat Jun 11, 2016 9:34 pm

Elephone wrote:The fact that tape emulation software websites don't seem to offer these comparisons, with presets, 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.)

Hi Elephone!

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-ligned-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! :beamup:


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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby Martin Walker » Sat Jun 11, 2016 9:39 pm

By the way, there are some good 3rd party plug-in comparisons about, such as this one:




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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby Tim Gillett » Sun Jun 12, 2016 1:28 am

Elephone wrote:
Have you tried to tweak a digital recording to match an identical track recorded onto tape? How close did you get?


I havent because most of the time I've wished I could do the opposite: Remove the "tape effect" from an old analog recording, but that's not possible.

It's easy to assume that the "tape effect" on some old recording is what makes it sound so much better. But unfortunately, we dont have a record of what it would have sounded like without the "tape effect". We have no reference.

On the example linked, at 5:56 you get what seems like a pretty good comparison as he slowly winds up the tape distortions.

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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby CS70 » Sun Jun 12, 2016 12:13 pm

Elephone wrote:Just wondering how people use tape emulator plugins.

I have no hard rule - much depends on the nature of the piece and the tracks. I've tried the Waves Kramer emulation and the J37. I've never got along with the former for individual track, but I've been liking it on the master bus at times. The J37 I like quite a bit.

In general I tend to use just it as you would use a tape, "printing" to it. I tend not to use them on every track, but I often try them on, to hear what it does, especially if the track is a bit edgy and it doesn't seem to respond well to EQ cuts. Most often on vocals, and often on the master bus. Almost invariably as last item - certainly after any compression.

On the J37, I mostly I use the "as flat as possible" presets and tweak from there. After adjusting for volume, I find it often still takes a little edge away in a nice way.
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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Mon Jun 13, 2016 7:46 am

I use Kramer Tape on the electric guitars bus from time to time just to soften things up a tad if they've all used amp sims etc. And on the master bus too if appropriate.
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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby Mixedup » Mon Jun 13, 2016 9:37 am

Elephone wrote:Just wondering how people use tape emulator plugins. Is it best to use these emulators multiple times in the recording chain each with a very subtle setting? Wouldn't that introduce more naturally chaotic non-linearities? Also, what about using a combination of different emulators?

What works for you... any presets you recommend?

I don't try to replicate an analogue workflow by putting tape on everything. At least, not usually. Some sources just don't sound as good — drum overheads in particular seem to lose something. So I'll tend to use them on a few main sources if I feel the results are beneficial — kick, snare, bass guitar, distorted electric guitars and vocals are al prime candidates in rock/pop stuff for me. And I'll often use one on the drum bus, and occasionally one on the master bus. The LF bump of 15ips settings is usually helpful on drums. Generally 30ips on the master bus. The faster the tape speed the lower the bump is in frequency — at 30ips it sounds cleaner because the bump is out of the way of most wanted audio; at 15ips it puts an emphasis on drums, bass and the very low end of electric guitars.

If you want to do the whole mimic-the-analogue-workflow thing, then a great way to do that is to set up the tape effect as you want for all sources and then render each track with alternative takes to choose from. Eg you could have three versions (clean, to tape, driving the tape a bit). The same goes for console emulations, though I'd tend to leave those flat and still only have three options. That way, you save on CPU and still get to change your mind later; it's also a great way to compare the results of different emulations if that matters to you.

The other thing you can try, which you couldn't readily do with real tape is to use it in parallel with the dry sound. Some of the cheaper emulations can sound a lot better that way, and you can also get a useful effect on a drum bus or overheads without doing too much damage to the transients.

Finally... presets? Hmm.... I tend to use Slate VTM or UA Studer or Ampex. You just have to try them and see what you think. Judge them for whether you like the sound rather than whether it sounds like tape... because that's all that really counts with effects (ie do you like what they do or not?). There are some nice libraries for Nebula. In terms of presets, again you just have to listen and learn and set your own up. Eg. on the Slate VTM, I quite like the default preset as an all-rounder. But I went in and reduced the emulated noise and wow-and-flutter and saved that as the default, because I didn't want those characteristics in the effect.
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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby Martin Walker » Mon Jun 13, 2016 2:02 pm

Mixedup wrote:on the Slate VTM, I quite like the default preset as an all-rounder. But I went in and reduced the emulated noise and wow-and-flutter and saved that as the default, because I didn't want those characteristics in the effect.

Very wise - apart from the odd special effect, there's a limit to how many of tape's anomalies are pleasing :beamup:


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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby Guest » Mon Jun 13, 2016 3:04 pm

CS70 wrote:but I've been liking it on the master bus at times. The J37 I like quite a bit.

Yeah, I've been using that a bit lately. I was asked to make some tracks 'dirtier' and this (along with a few other things) did the job nicely. I also have the Slate Digital VTM but haven't had chance to play with it much yet.
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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby Jadoube » Mon Jun 13, 2016 8:07 pm

I've got all the ones mentioned... I like the UAD Ampex on the mix bus and I run 8 subgroup stereo buses with the UAD A800 on each. I have a bunch of buss processing setups that I can mix and match things in and out of. It's digital so I can add more or turn em off as needed but my starting template is set like this.

As the mix is coming together I will fine tune the "Tape"... usually the record volume versus playback volume. Sometimes brand of tape... Typically one combo is often noticeably better on a song. Funny that way. The UAD 800 is nice because you can link multiple plugins together. Most times this is a positive. It's very subtle. I'm not sure how I would do in a blind test... :-) But I do like the sound. That and a bunch of other little things I do add up to fatter sound without loosing the transparency one expects.

I usually turn the noise and nasty bits off. That's why we went digital in the first place! Get rid of that gack! (Have you ever had to fight with dolby? Enough said)
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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby Jadoube » Mon Jun 13, 2016 9:11 pm

O yeah! One more bit... the last project I did was mostly recorded on 2" Stephens 24 Track... my god I don't even know what tape we used... 15 ips. (I let the studio owner worry about the details.) Sounded great! But in the final analysis, I don't know that it was hugely different sound than the process I just described above. So I personally won't worry too much about comparing plugins to the 'reel' deal. You either like the sound or you don't. Except for the tape hiss :-) And that wasn't too bad at all.

The thing I DID like was I really miss the workflow and rhythm of tape recording. I like how linear it is and I like that you have to rewind and it takes time and you have to change reels. Might be that it's just something I am comfortable with like an old pair of shoes but I felt it made the session a bit more relaxed and it forced some decisions to be made. You can't just jump all over the place.
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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby Elephone » Fri Jun 17, 2016 2:44 pm

Cheers! Funny how thing's have flipped. I mean, to get a slick, 'perfect' sounding production is relatively easy now, especially if you use virtual instruments, amps, mastering plugins.

But imagine trying to get something to sound like a Joe Meek track (if you were inclined that is). Or one of the Jamaican studios of the 60s and 70s. Not easy or ...impossible?

I suppose, if you really want that exact kind of ghostly effect, fizziness, crunch or 'damage' you simply have to use real gear, valves, tape/vinyl, etc.

I wonder if developers of tape emulation software would be better to begin by attempting to recreate really 'crappy' tape sounds (cassette and reel-to-reel) and then tempering it. Of course, we could all get that tape sound with a crappy tape recorder, but it still means bouncing twice in real-time!

I know a lot of people dismiss the desirability of such sounds, but to me it's the same kind of appeal that early photography or print-making techniques have. The imperfections are just an effect that some people like.

Obviously, like tape, the more chemical photography advanced, the fewer artifacts it possessed, almost to the point where it's difficult to know if it's a digital or not.

I don't think tape is inherently 'better' at all, it's just an effect to me. So, I suppose I'm not after that near-perfect high-end tape sound of the 90s and beyond, but the more obvious effects... to actually use it as an effect. It seems it's still necessary to use an actual tape machine.
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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby Martin Walker » Fri Jun 17, 2016 6:11 pm

Elephone wrote:I suppose I'm not after that near-perfect high-end tape sound of the 90s and beyond, but the more obvious effects... to actually use it as an effect.

I tend to agree with that synopsis Elephone - if I reach for a tape plug-in it's to add that certain 'je ne sais quoi' that comes from pushing the levels, although I'm not really interesting in added wow/flutter or background noise :beamup:


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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby Jadoube » Fri Jun 17, 2016 6:30 pm

Martin Walker wrote:I tend to agree with that synopsis Elephone - if I reach for a tape plug-in it's to add that certain 'je ne sais pas' that comes from pushing the levels Martin

The Waves J37 Plugin is good fun in this regard... supporting slow tape speeds and more esoteric tape type emulations.
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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby Martin Walker » Fri Jun 17, 2016 7:04 pm

Thanks Jadoube!

I must take a closer look at that one then :thumbup:


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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby 4TrackMadman » Fri Jun 17, 2016 9:33 pm

I am using JB Ferox and for the most part it imparts something really pleasant on a drum bus. Depending on the project, I sometimes run it as a bus plugin or in parallel.
When in parallel I also bus in a little bit of everything from the mix. I tend to disable the 'noise' settings on it though, so it sounds more like a mild tube compressor.

Try it - it is free:
http://bedroomproducersblog.com/2012/10 ... -freeware/
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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby Jadoube » Fri Jun 17, 2016 10:40 pm

4TrackMadman wrote:I am using JB Ferox and for the most part it imparts something really pleasant on a drum bus.

I used to use that one a lot for a tape delay effects.. as i recall it had some interesting parameters to tweak. I'll have download again and remind myself... Thanks!
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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby Jadoube » Fri Jun 17, 2016 10:43 pm

Hmmm Winders only. O well!
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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby Elephone » Thu Feb 07, 2019 5:02 pm

Rather than start a new topic, thought it best to revisit this old one...

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEQV6ePUgbo

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...
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Re: Using Tape Plugins & Making Comparisons

Postby MOF » Thu Feb 07, 2019 5:33 pm

Have you ever had to fight with dolby? Enough said
Some engineers use undecoded dolby on vocal tracks, I’m surprised no one’s created a plugin to do that.
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