The main audio examples for this review are downloadable as two .RAR archives. The content is the same, but in one archive the files have been converted from 96kHz to 44.1kHz, in order to reduce the download size. This unfortunately clouds some of the finer details and some of the low-end dynamics.
The first track in the archive is actually the second song we recorded, and it's a good example of what tape compression is all about. The differences are subtle, but listen to the way the guitars sounds in the mid-range, and the dynamics of the drum kit. If you have a hard time hearing the differences, use a good set of headphones. Exactly the same processing was applied on all three mixes except for the addition of the UAD Studer A800 plug-in on the mixes named 'Studer_plug-in'.
Recorded onto Quantegy 456 tape at 15ips. If you listen carefully in the intro you can hear a little bit of self-oscillation on channel one, which is the room microphone. There is also some guide-vocal leakage into the room microphone.
I tried hard to achieve the same bass guitar sound with the plug-in, and I think I got about 80 percent of the way there. The input transformers of the tape recorder we used are not emulated by the plug-in, and the tape mix has a nice roundness that the plug-in couldn't quite achieve. Same thing with the guitars. Still, the overall sound is very close to the tape mix.
This is the version that was recorded to Pro Tools, without the Studer plug-in applied. Listen to the guitars in the intro and compare them to the tape mix, and you'll notice that they sound slightly more pokey. The mix doesn't have the same stability as the other two, and the bass guitar has a deeper sound but lacks a fuzzy warmness around 100Hz.
The next three examples are the same mix, but just the drums and bass guitar. The mix without the Studer A800 plug-in sounds a bit more grainy and lacks the warmness of the two other mixes. On the other hand, it has stronger transients, due to the lack of tape compression.
The next song is called 'Galaxy Gramophone', and is an old Soundtrack Of Our Lives song resurrected for your enjoyment. This was also recorded onto Quantegy 456 tape at 15ips. The guitars are rather distorted and have a very prominent position in the mix, which is intentional. Listen to the guitars in the intro: both the tape and Studer mixes sound warmer compared to the third mix, which is also a bit more pokey-sounding.
Again, here's the same mix, but just the drums and bass guitar.
There's no question about the authentic sound produced by the UAD Studer A800 plug-in, but how does it sound on a basic rock production not recorded through a vintage Neve console? For the last two examples, I used a straightforward recording of drums, bass, two electric guitars and two acoustic guitars, played by some friends of mine. The recording was done with a Yamaha DM2000 digital mixing console, using a mixture of Shure and Audix microphones. The mix was done in Cubase 6 using the UAD SSL E-Channel Strip plug-in and some basic reverbs. I simply put the UAD Studer A800 plug-in on the first insert slot of every channel and set it to 456 tape running at 15ips. Some minor tweaking was done on the most important channels to get the best out of the plug-in performance.
Listen to the mix without the tape plug-in and then listen to the mix with the Studer plug-in.
The tape plug-in makes everything more coherent; the guitars gets a little fatter and so does the bass guitar. The drums get some nice tape compression, making them sit together a little better. The snare and the toms have more mid-range punch in the first mix, but at the same time they don't sit together as well as in the tape mix, and the latter have more low-mid punch making them sound larger — something not so easily achieved when mixing. The tape compression also helps by masking the drummer's uneven hits on the snare drum, and the acoustic guitars gets a much-needed push in the low mid-range, making them more audible.
One could argue that it's possible to achieve the same result by tweaking the first mix and that might be true. But bear in mind that all I did was adding a tape plug-in on every channel, then making a basic tweak on the most important channels — which took maybe 10 minutes to do.
I hope you enjoy tape compression as much as I do!