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What tape for tracking and for master mix? + gain staging Qs
Old 22nd January 2015
Gear Nut
MoTech's Avatar

What tape for tracking and for master mix? + gain staging Qs

Getting into R2R since I'm tired of digital sterility and the many tape emulation plugins I've tried just don't cut it.

Machine will be an 2-track Otari MTR 12 1/4" (with Time Code), purosefully no Dolby or DBX card added. I'm hoping to track down some of the stuff and get it back into digital workflow to add some of that tape magic and tape effects mojo, ditto on printing the final mix onto tape.

On tracking I'd love to have some decent tape "compression" for i.e. drums: RMG 468 or 911 formulations? What gain would it be optimum to record onto tape to start having a compression effect, but not an excessive one? +3-6 db peak a good starting point or already too much? Any particular preferences on creative use of equalizations for drums tracking (mostly analog electronic ones), IEC or NAB or better keep the equalization the same for everything throughout the workflow?

The same for vocals - what would be a good gain staging for non-agressive vocals or more agressive ones, or should I just experiement with different tape forulations and different gain stages?

On final mix printing, according to my homework, a good final mix tape would be: RMG 900 or ATR Master (+9/+10db)? Any tips or preference on those and where to keep the levels?

Hoping to use the machine as a tape echo as well, would a cheaper tape such as LPR 35 do allright to succumb those long echoes into a nice white noise?

Many thanks in advance and keep it reel,
Old 23rd January 2015
Lives for gear
I have a multitrack and a two track, and I can tell you, tape is only really worth the trouble if you are tracking and mixing analog. IMO the only real appeal of tape (and i am obsessed with analog) is that it is not digital, and when you go from digital to tape, you are not really adding anything, especially with a machine like an otari. You'd be much better off getting a rupert neve tape emulator or another color box/tape emulator. That said, going all analog from start to finish is something special, and the only way to get solid improvement over digital. I used to think analog was superior to digital, but neither is better, it's totally how you use them. The only real "magic" you are going to get from digital to 2 track is something like a tube machine, or something with mojo like the ampex 440. The tape itself has no real mojo, and the tape type matters much less than the machine, CCIR vs NAB, speed, and track width, and bias/reference level (which both could be considered the type of tape, but two different stocks with the same bias and level will sound very similar on the same machine).

Like a lot of things in audio, there is a lot of mythology surrounding tape like other gear, and don't expect dramatic improvements with only a 2 track, at least not of the same caliber and flexibility of something like the portico or something like that.
Old 23rd January 2015
Gear Nut
MoTech's Avatar

Anyways, since there're no recommendations I guess got to start experimenting with different tapes and gain stages for various track types.

As said before, I don't look for dramatic improvement or radical changes. Some old Soviet R2R or tube-output machine will bring you this and I'm not into this. Of course I'd love to have a decent 2" 16/24 track as you say, but I very simply don't have the money to run it, or even 1" 8-track. 4-track doesn't fully cut for me since most of my music is well over 12-channels parallel most of the time.

Mild is the word I seek. As said I'd like to track certain tracks through tape. Basically to have the best of both worlds. Hence I opted with TC function to have both the analog and digital tracks in sync no matter what I track within the workflow. One or two or three of four track would mean very little or no mojo of course, but if I go through 6-8-12-24 tracks over tape, give them tape compression in various degrees and the difference is already audible. Mix and master this material down to tape as well. This is what I seek for to find the sybiosis that would please my ears.

IMHO Otaris are very underrated because of the same industry mythology that still exists today, i.e. like the "common" understanding that Studer A80 or certain Apmexes or MCIs are some kind of sonic Gods of all tape machines and vastly superior over others, many have proved they aren't and their differences aren't as big as it's often made to be, it's more about the operator behind them and in time they tend to be get overrated since the village stories have been circling around for decades since one had big or bigger success in hit-making. IMO post 80s Otaris had to constantly fight against the "Japanese Junk" badge the American and European tape machine manufacturers had lobbied on them to gain that certain marketing advantage over them, thus at Otari they had to push many boundaries in R2R design and building, from mechanics to sonics to prove they're up to task vs the more "established" R2R manufacturers.

Last edited by MoTech; 23rd January 2015 at 01:24 PM..
Old 23rd January 2015
Lives for gear
I have an otari mx70 1" 8 track, amazing machine, but it's not exactly dripping with vibe. Extremely transparent, in fact even more transparent than digital to my ears, which is exactly what it was supposed to be. The point being that it's only underrated because in modern times the only reason people use tape is for the vibe. As far as the tape type, it really doesn't matter much, the only thing to worry about is having at least +6 so there isn't too much noise. Tape types with the same noise and bias recommendations are virtually identical in sound. There is as much of a difference in different batches of the same formula as between formulas, which is not much at all.

But again, if you just want a toy because you like tape machines and tape, fine, there is no shame in that, but in all honesty, a color box like the portico or a fatso or the like will give you way more control and vibe if you are using digital anyway, and will end up being much more valuable than a big clunky machine that can break at any time.
Old 23rd January 2015
Personally I always liked the higher output tape like GP9, which was my favorite. The RMG tape sounds good and the ATR Magnetics tape is supposed to sound really good, but I haven't had a chance to use it.
Old 23rd January 2015
Lives for gear
Spede's Avatar

Something worth pointing out is that if you use a high-flux (hopefully that's the correct term) tape like 900, you might have issue with the (slightly cheaper) tape machine's electronics clipping out. I had such issues when I had access to Otari MX5050 equipped with 900.

My understanding is that the European IEC equalization is better, more Hi-Fi (unless you're using some really grungy lo-fi tape) and if your machine is capable of doing both, you'd be better off with the IEC.

I've used about a half dozen tape machines, most of them Otaris (because they're quite prevalent in Finland) and haven't noticed any startling quality differences between them and say, Telefunkens.

The new RMG tapes (essentially copies of Emtec) are good as long you get a good individual; the quality control of the company is a bit meh. I think most resellers accept trades if your tape is deficient. Don't be surprised if it's the third reel you receive whose binder doesn't break down.

The ATR's on the other hand are expensive but you can count on them. If you're serious about the tape thing, you might wanna invest into a single ATR reel for your master deck and use it when printing final mixes.
Old 23rd January 2015
Gear Nut
MoTech's Avatar

Great info guys!

Also heard the same, while sonically stunning with the right batch the 900 can vary in quality from batch to batch. While noticably more expensive here in Europe ATR tape sounds like the right route to get those final mixes properly printed.

I guess it's all about the right gain staging but hoping MTR-12 handles +9db tapes better and more forgiving than a MX5050 since MTRs at least on paper is quoted to have decent pro mastering grade electronics with a massive headroom while 5050 is more of a prosumer oriented product(?).
Old 25th January 2015
Lives for gear
Spede's Avatar

Originally Posted by MoTech View Post
I guess it's all about the right gain staging but hoping MTR-12 handles +9db tapes better and more forgiving than a MX5050 since MTRs at least on paper is quoted to have decent pro mastering grade electronics with a massive headroom while 5050 is more of a prosumer oriented product(?).
That is very likely true. The cheaper prosumer machines sound good (at least I haven't had an issue with them sonic-wise), but these kind of things like headroom becomes the issue.
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