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A "DAW" emulating old 4-track tape recorders?
Old 2 weeks ago
  #1
Gear Head
A "DAW" emulating old 4-track tape recorders?

For a while now (and I'm sure I'm not the only one here...) I've been contemplating challenging myself to produce music the ways it was done 60 years ago: limited track count, no automation or midi, and the necessity to commit audio effect processing.

I know there are ways to simulate these limitations in any DAW, but let's be realistic, it's quite challenging not to cheat...

I've also considered buying an actual 4-track cassette recorder like those revered Tascam Portastudios but quite too expensive these days to justify investing this kind of money into what is before all just meant to be an experiment.

I have an cheap ZOOM MRS-4 that I'm going to try but nonetheless, wouldn't it be awesome is someone actually came up with a "full-featured" software emulation of a 4-track tape or cassette recorder as a standalone application (and for Windows please)? And of course with the actual sonic character emulation too.

Unless there is already something like this that I haven't come across yet (I've done quite some research already)?
Old 2 weeks ago
  #2
Gear Addict
 

An Ampex 350 four track from the 1960's, a Teac 3340 four track from the 1970's and a Tascam Portastudio caassette machine from the late 70's and on are VERY different machines with VERY different sounds.

There are tons of plugins that attempt to simulate the sound of tape many of them even free but before you go searching you might want to figure out what "tape sound" you are after exactly.

If you want to sound like an 80's alternative band doing demos in the basement it's not all that difficult to muddy things up slapping some crud on with plugins but if you are after the sound of a professional machine like an Ampex 350 or the Studer J37 then it's maybe not so easy as those recorders were amazing but so was all the other gear used along with them. It not just a matter of adding some tape sound to get the sound of the Beatles or jazz recorded at Atlantic Studios in the 60's.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #3
Gear Head
Thanks for your reply, but I think you're missing my point here. I'm not talking so much about the sound than the WORKFLOW. Read my OP again maybe.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #4
Lives for gear
 

Check out Harrison Mixbus. The mixer is total console emulation, one knob per function.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #5
Gear Head
From the website: "unlimited input channels", "unlimited MIDI tracks", "unlimited plugins per channel". Sound closer to any modern DAW than anything else to me.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #6
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Bouroki's Avatar
 

I researched the same some time ago and pretty much the only thing I found is/was the Tascam Portastudio app for iPad. Don't have an iPad and don't know if the app still exists (released in 2010 I think)... might be worth a check if you do though.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #7
Gear Head
Yeah I've come across this one and do not have an iPad unfortunately. Those guys should really consider bringing their app to PC/Macs!
Old 2 weeks ago
  #8
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tomatoKetchup View Post
Thanks for your reply, but I think you're missing my point here. I'm not talking so much about the sound than the WORKFLOW. Read my OP again maybe.
Nothing difficult about recreating the workflow just limit yourself to four tracks or if you want to get crazy maybe eight.

Record at least rhythm tracks all at once and then add a few other extras like solos or vocal or additional percussion.

I guess I missed your point because I don't understand how one can't manage to plan out a session ahead of time and simply stick to the plan !?!?

If the method is more important than anything there are lots of older digital recorders by Fostex Boss and Roland with limited track counts that go quite cheap now (usually less than cassette 4-tracks) if you require to be strong armed into minimal track count in a physical way.

Many years ago there was an eight track demo version or Protools and if I remember clearly a basic version of Cool Edit that only offered four. Currently I can't think of anything that limits track count but maybe I'm missing it as I don't seem to be able to follow the concept.

My Alesis HD24 requires one to choose either 2, 6, 8, 16, or 24 tracks when you setup a project. Maybe that's the machine for you? Just add an analog mixer and you can mixdown just like you do with tape.
Old 2 weeks ago
  #9
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tomatoKetchup View Post
From the website: "unlimited input channels", "unlimited MIDI tracks", "unlimited plugins per channel". Sound closer to any modern DAW than anything else to me.
Sure, but you don't have to use them. I rarely use more than 3-4 tracks, only two plugins (reverb and a loudness meter). The channel strip emulation is excellent and it's very similar to using an analog mixer; has built-in EQ knobs and a leveler/compressor/limiter on each track.
Old 1 week ago
  #10
Gear Guru
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tomatoKetchup View Post
I know there are ways to simulate these limitations in any DAW, but let's be realistic, it's quite challenging not to cheat...
I often do the NY Times Crossword puzzle. Not only does my computer give me access to most dictionaries, atlases and encyclopedias in the world, but there are bloggers who specifically post the solutions to these exact puzzles. It's inches away from my fingertips. Yet somehow I refrain from looking up the answers.

IMO, it's not really that hard to "not cheat". Especially in a situation where cheating kills the whole point of the game.

Quote:
to produce music the ways it was done 60 years ago: I've also considered buying an actual 4-track cassette recorder
The music of 60 years ago was not produced on a cassette.

Quote:
like those revered Tascam Portastudios
Portastudio was only 40 years ago. By the time it came out, the music industry was working 16 or 24 track. As for "revered" - not by me!

Quote:
but quite too expensive these days to justify investing this kind of money into what is before all just meant to be an experiment.
I see Portastudios going for about $200 - $250. Even if someone made a dedicated "retro" audio software, it probably would not be free. What would you be willing to pay for it? By the same token, assuming you already have a DAW, you can do the experiment for free.

Make a session. Make 4 tracks. Don't make any more tracks.
Old 1 week ago
  #11
Lives for gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tomatoKetchup View Post
...I know there are ways to simulate these limitations in any DAW, but let's be realistic, it's quite challenging not to cheat...
So trade every motivation to 'cheat -if you could, would what, be replaced with a frustration of 'no you can't if you couldn't, presumably?

When I recall the "joys" of having to sub-mix -or 'sound on sound... My Dog Above, why.
Old 1 week ago
  #12
Gear Head
 
vsignet's Avatar
 

Not cheating at a crossword and not going beyond the limitations wanted by OP is not analogous:

in the crosswords example, "not cheating" is the boundary of the game. to cheat, one goes beyond the boundary.
in OPs workflow, cheating is not the boundary of the technology.

to constantly babysit the premise of an idea against the logic of the technology can obviously be exhausting, compared to simply having the technology built around the idea. escaping the overhead from that babysitting is part of the request (i assume).

Check this out, OP:

https://www.synthanatomy.com/2020/03...for-macos.html
Old 1 week ago
  #13
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telecode's Avatar
I recently tried something sort of like what you want to do. Tried to limit myself and used by my old digital Fostex multi track machine. It's fun to kill some time but its an exercise in futility. You can get so much more stuff and ideas down using a modern DAW. Beside, getting the audio off the machine into a DAW for further work might be a bitch and a half. [1]

I think *maybe* a better use of ones time is, try to get rid of the idea of using the DAW as an endless and limitless editing and audio and sample tweaking software and just try to use it to try capture live organic performances of either electronic music instruments or live instruments. that way you have a live on the spot performance captured in a DAW and you can fix it and master it as needed. I am thinking of trying to use this mixer I have and plugin a much on drum machines and korg volcas and try capturing live on the spot stuff. It might make for more interesting music.




[1]
Old 1 week ago
  #14
Gear Guru
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by vsignet View Post
in the crosswords example, "not cheating" is the boundary of the game. to cheat, one goes beyond the boundary.
in OPs workflow, cheating is not the boundary of the technology.
But it is nevertheless the boundary of the game he wants to play. The I-only-have-4-tracks game. If I do my crossword using the online "form", cheating is within the boundary of the technology, since I can click "reveal" at any time if I so choose. I have to choose not to, but it really isn't that difficult.

Quote:
to constantly babysit the premise of an idea against the logic of the technology can obviously be exhausting,
You make 4 tracks. You stick a tape plug-in on each one. You don't go to the Track Menu and make a 5th track. Doesn't strike me as being particularly difficult. In fact, if you can't do that, I would question your dedication to the concept in the first place.

It's getting there, but perhaps the OP will find it exhausting babysitting himself from using the Glitch feature, the Cosmic Trip controls, the loopers, the virtual LFOs and the ability to insert modern plugins.
Old 1 week ago
  #15
Gear Addict
 

While track limitations were certainly a filter on how engineers could work I think at least as important to a sixties recording mentality is that arrangements were generally figured out beforehand and then usually a performace of a band was captured. Some other elements might have added after but the bones of the song was firmly in place already.

This is very different than someone today working by themselves and futzing around with individual elements and instruments endlessly.

If you are working just by yourself you really can't emulate the way most bands recorded with just four tracks anyway. As one person you need four tracks just to get say drums, guitar, bass, and keys down unlike a band where you could record all those instuments to one track and still have three remaining for lead vocals, backing vocal, solos and whatever else.

I'd say the best compromise you can do is to keep your stuff somewhat simple but don't worry all that much about track count because unless you have a band to record then it's just a whole different deal.

Write a great song put plenty of thought into arranging and then do what you have to do to get it recorded.

If you want to see someone do a good job making a 60's inspired song with a four track cassette machine then check this guy out.

4 Track Cassette - The Marantz PMD740 Video Ive been wanting to make for 10 years!
Old 1 week ago
  #16
Gear Nut
 
Garage Rodeo's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tomatoKetchup View Post
From the website: "unlimited input channels", "unlimited MIDI tracks", "unlimited plugins per channel". Sound closer to any modern DAW than anything else to me.
Well, if you want an actual DAW that is emulated to sound like a console, that's what they're going for. Their busses have controllable tape distortion. If you want cassette tape emulation, a company just recently came out with a cassette plugin.

Or find an old 4 track cassette recorder on ebay. They cost more now than they did new once the hipsters got on it.
Old 1 week ago
  #17
Lives for gear
 

Lots of good advice already. IMHO a nice path, might be to get Bremmers Multitrack Studio. They have a version, that's only around $60.
It's was made/based on the old school analog approach. Other than (maybe) Garage Band and Audacity, it's the easiest DAW to me.
Harrison Mixbus looks cool too, but that's a lot of knobs/faders!
Chris
Old 1 week ago
  #18
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soundebler's Avatar
Magnetic recorded sound of 15 000 hz result in 30 000 magnetic cycles in the recording head , thats negative and positive cycle . So thinking recording should be high , 24/32 bit and than try to sound like 4 track by using plug-in
Old 1 week ago
  #19
Gear Addict
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by soundebler View Post
Magnetic recorded sound of 15 000 hz result in 30 000 magnetic cycles in the recording head , thats negative and positive cycle . So thinking recording should be high , 24/32 bit and than try to sound like 4 track by using plug-in
I think U hIgH.
Old 1 week ago
  #20
Gear Head
 
tankfield's Avatar
 

This thread got me thinking about how great demos were when we made them on a Revox A77, bouncing from one track to another while overdubbing a new part.
What made them great was the new overdub either improved the recording or it didn't, in which case you did it again or tried something else. You couldn't defer the decision - no fixing in the mix.
If you played back the new bounce and liked it, then you could bounce it back to the first track and add a new overdub. But that would erase what was on the first track, so you would be burning your bridge behind you. There was no going back, so you had to be sure that your last overdub definitely improved the recording.
The downside was that tape hiss soon built up - the quality of the recording was always poor and getting worse with additional overdub.
I've always intended to try using two good quality recorders and bouncing between them, while adding an overdub. Never got round to it. The trouble is you wouldn't have to record over previous takes, so it would take away the pressure to only keep overdubs that clearly improved the recording.
I think this pressure is what made those Revox demos so good.
Old 1 week ago
  #21
Gear Maniac
 
K.Lastima's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by vsignet View Post
Not cheating at a crossword and not going beyond the limitations wanted by OP is not analogous:

in the crosswords example, "not cheating" is the boundary of the game. to cheat, one goes beyond the boundary.
in OPs workflow, cheating is not the boundary of the technology.

to constantly babysit the premise of an idea against the logic of the technology can obviously be exhausting, compared to simply having the technology built around the idea. escaping the overhead from that babysitting is part of the request (i assume).

Check this out, OP:

https://www.synthanatomy.com/2020/03...for-macos.html
Uh....what?

If one wants to simulate the workflow of a four track, one turns off the grid and uses four tracks. Bounce downs allowed, of course.

The whole premise of the OP is that he can't be bothered to set his own limitations. He says it right out (except he says "we" when he meant "I."
Old 1 week ago
  #22
Lives for gear
Just setup a DAW template with your four tracks plus a simple mixer setup for bouncing. ChrisJ's free tape plugin sounds a lot like old cassette tape to me. Tape Redux (and extra non-plugin thingy)

Put that on your tracks and in the signal chain if you bounce. I always planned sessions on my 4 track portastudio and recorded tracks I expected to bounce with extended treble and rolled off bass (where I could) in an attempt to retain clarity post-bounce or you'd end up with too much accumulated low-end bump.
Old 1 week ago
  #23
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Bouroki's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scragend View Post
Just setup a DAW template with your four tracks plus a simple mixer setup for bouncing. ChrisJ's free tape plugin sounds a lot like old cassette tape to me. Tape Redux (and extra non-plugin thingy)

Put that on your tracks and in the signal chain if you bounce. I always planned sessions on my 4 track portastudio and recorded tracks I expected to bounce with extended treble and rolled off bass (where I could) in an attempt to retain clarity post-bounce or you'd end up with too much accumulated low-end bump.
I reckon Fuse Audio's TCS-68 would also be great for this as it does have the onboard 3-band EQ that can compensate for the tape's response.
Old 1 week ago
  #24
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Bob Ross's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by tomatoKetchup View Post
I know there are ways to simulate these limitations in any DAW, but let's be realistic, it's quite challenging not to cheat...
When I first started working with DAWs the software was such a resource hog and I was running it on the minimum recommended hardware configuration, and so out of necessity I offloaded all the signal processing and much of the routing to outboard equipment...which meant the DAW was really just a random-access record/playback device. A glorified tape deck, if you will.

And frankly, that workflow so appealed to me (since my audio career predated DAWs by several decades and I'd already developed workflow habits and techniques) that I still prefer it to this day. So I rarely find myself tempted to "cheat"

otoh, if you grew up with DAWs and have already developed habits that make it challenging to adhere to restrictions & limitations, the best answer is to simply embrace discipline.
Old 1 week ago
  #25
Gear Guru
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by JLast View Post
... to a sixties recording mentality is that arrangements were generally figured out beforehand and then usually a performace of a band was captured. Some other elements might have added after but the bones of the song was firmly in place already.

This is very different than someone today working by themselves and futzing around with individual elements and instruments endlessly.

This is just the clearest example of of how these discussions of "limitations" always seems to involve a large amount of arbitrary picking and choosing. Nothing wrong with that, but since this is very much an individual choice, it becomes less and less likely that someone will make and sell a product that has the exact constellation of 'forcings' that someone wants.

Do you want the Beatles doing Sgt. Pepper's? Or do you want a Portastudio from the 80's? The Beatles had two four-track machines of the highest quality. They could fill up 4 tracks before bouncing and did not need to bounce "back", because they could just pick up the tape and thread it on to the first machine. The Portastudio has to be bounced when 3 tracks are full, and it has way more generation loss per bounce.

I am not trying to say How the Beatles Did It is the be-all and end all, but if you wanted to imitate that workflow, I would say some nice EQs, compressors and reverb plugins should be "allowed". After all, they had access to mics, hardware processing, consoles and chambers that are still coveted today.

If you wanted to imitate a Portastudio workflow, you would have one sweepable mid band, perhaps. When a designer does make a "Portastudio DAW" he apparently includes a ton of modern gizmos. If someone wants "self-imposed" limitations he is almost certainly going to have to exercise the "self" part. Making some rules and sticking to them.

So, would one 'rule' be that a fifth track is allowed for bouncing to? And that you can insert effects during the bounce? Is it starting to get to be a PITA to keep track of what is possible/allowed? Yes, but it's the same PITA that those engineers had to deal with every single day 60 years ago!

Quote:
If you are working just by yourself you really can't emulate the way most bands recorded with just four tracks anyway.
Even before the pandemic, it was amazing to me how many people looking to The Past for inspiration would not even consider finding other musicians to play with. Anything else, yes. Be it "tape" or "tubes" or flat wound strings. Yet the band thing is obviously the number one difference between now and "the way it was done 60 years ago".

Another project waiting on that vaccine....
Old 1 week ago
  #26
I've been following this thread for days. I was an avid (rabid!) 4-track fellow in my teen years. With a trillion tracks now available in PT, my approach to recording has shifted considerably over the years, but I really get the longing for "limitation." In quotes because it's somewhat an aesthetic choice now. I had impressive discipline in my basement days, when all I had was time and those four tracks. I know I couldn't impose a "4-track mentality" on myself at this point. I'd cheat before I got started, trying to decide if a click track didn't count, and or if a MIDI track did etc. But the image of limitation and the discipline I attach to that image still pulls at me. Don't get me wrong, being able to be as loose with countless track numbers as I wish is fab. It's just funny that my 4-track recordings still have Thing to 'em. I've often thought of re-doing this song, but I halfway wonder if I'd nail the vibe.

4 tracks, a basement and a lot of time on my teenage hands!

Old 1 week ago
  #27
Gear Head
Kinda got distracted and forgot about this thread.

Just so you all know, I've already set up a DAW template that emulates the workflow of 4-track tape/cassette recorder (by the way @ joeq , I know in the 60's cassettes didn't exist, but again the workflow was similar and that's the main topic here) and yes I am totally able to force myself not to cheat. Nonetheless it's still feels like I'm working on a DAW, and it is not optimised for this kind of workflow so there is still a lot of clicking around that spoils the experience a bit.

My real point by starting this thread was to tease out the potential appeal of a dedicated tape-style recording software. Who knows, a software dev might come by and think about it...
Old 1 week ago
  #28
Gear Maniac
 
weave's Avatar
FWIW - some of the first recordings I have ever done was using a cassette double deck with a mic input. Record on record deck, swap cassettes, play the last recorded cassette and add to it with mic and record on another cassette. Swap the cassettes around and add more stuff until it sounded really bad or you were no longer amused. Usually until you ran out of booze or other such substances. It was fun, quick, focused, no real decisions to be made except for what to record next as there were no knobs available to twist.

A DAW can do some stuff, but with that many options, it can take away from making music. So...

In an effort to go back to a simple process that would keep me and my wife entertained in a popup camper I came into a Tascam Portastudio DP008ex. Yep - only 16 bit, has 8 tracks, has minimal controls (volume, pan, reverb) and if you really want you can drill down into the menu crap for compression and eq and such.



You can record 8 tracks and then bounce it down (yep - bounce all 8 down to one!)

We made one test recording of a simple song about Sloppy Joes - and we had a blast! Simple controls and setup.

Because we are 16 bit in this setup I used a preamp and compressor to maximize the signal And minimize noise as much as I could, but it is definitely a very simple setup that is fun and sounds good. Export your tracks (use a usb cable to your computer - if you just eject the SD card you will get your files, but screw up the format of your card and need to format with a low level utility). Mix and Master in daw of choice or use the onboard Mix and Master modes and work it all right in this little box.

They do have lower track count versions, as well. I think a 4 and a 6.

Or you can get one of these:



They cool too.

Reverb and eBay have them all day long. If you try them and they are not your thing, Reverb and eBay will help you move them along to the next interested party. And sometimes they go for CHEAP!

Just a thought.

And my recollection is there were a few iOS and iPad apps that were track limited, if that’s a way you would like to go.

Last edited by weave; 1 week ago at 02:10 PM.. Reason: Added bit about iOS and iPad apps
Old 1 week ago
  #29
Gear Maniac
 
weave's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by tomatoKetchup View Post
Kinda got distracted and forgot about this thread.

Just so you all know, I've already set up a DAW template that emulates the workflow of 4-track tape/cassette recorder (by the way @ joeq , I know in the 60's cassettes didn't exist, but again the workflow was similar and that's the main topic here) and yes I am totally able to force myself not to cheat. Nonetheless it's still feels like I'm working on a DAW, and it is not optimised for this kind of workflow so there is still a lot of clicking around that spoils the experience a bit.

My real point by starting this thread was to tease out the potential appeal of a dedicated tape-style recording software. Who knows, a software dev might come by and think about it...
And thinking about it, I just did the equivalent of the “amp sims” and real amps thread. Sorry.
Old 1 week ago
  #30
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by tomatoKetchup View Post
Kinda got distracted and forgot about this thread.

Just so you all know, I've already set up a DAW template that emulates the workflow of 4-track tape/cassette recorder (by the way @ joeq , I know in the 60's cassettes didn't exist, but again the workflow was similar and that's the main topic here) and yes I am totally able to force myself not to cheat. Nonetheless it's still feels like I'm working on a DAW, and it is not optimised for this kind of workflow so there is still a lot of clicking around that spoils the experience a bit.

My real point by starting this thread was to tease out the potential appeal of a dedicated tape-style recording software. Who knows, a software dev might come by and think about it...
Don't forget to include a noise generator on each track so as you bounce you accumulate an increased noise floor - and a low pass filter set at about 14kHz. I think there would be an incredibly limited audience for a four track portastudio DAW with all the same built-in limitations.
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