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Recording onto tape vs using a tape simulation plugin? Recorders, Players & Tape Machines
Old 6 days ago
  #1
Here for the gear
 

Recording onto tape vs using a tape simulation plugin?

Hey all,

Newbie here with a question I've been curious for answers for lately!

I have a rather modest home recording setup (Scarlett 2i4, Akai MPK 88, a few good mics [such as an SM57] w/stands - with Cakewalk for my DAW, and Superior Drummer for drums). As much as I love what I have, and the flexibility that modern recording gear/software offers, many of my favorite recordings are older albums originally produced on analog gear, and I'm also a bit of a vintage stereo hobbyist/enthusiast that owns a fair bit of vinyl/tape, and the gear to play it back on as well - something special about it all to my ears, as much as I love digital formats too.

I've been curious about adding a little bit of analog "flavor" (i.e - subtle tape hiss/saturation/distortion) to my own recordings, but I've been curious about how to go about it - simply buy a quality tape sim plugin? Or go all out and buy an old reel to reel machine to use?

Obviously the plugin is far cheaper/the more practical route to go (especially with the space requirements and cost of tape for an R2R), but I guess I'm just wondering how convincing the plugins available today are? I don't have a way to mic a real drumkit (or a suitable place to record drums), but figured bouncing the Superior Drummer drums onto tape, and back into a DAW might be a way to utilize the R2R w/a drum VST.

Just curious for some insight/opinions from the more experienced folks here.

Thank you much in advance!
Old 6 days ago
  #2
Lives for gear
 
CJ Mastering's Avatar
Quote:
avorite recordings are older albums originally produced on analog gear, and I'm also a bit of a vintage stereo hobbyist/enthusiast that owns a fair bit of vinyl/tape, and the gear to play it back on as well - something special about it all to my ears, as much as I love digital formats too.

I've been curious about adding a little bit of analog "flavor" (i.e - subtle tape hiss/saturation/distortion) to my own recordings, but I've been curious about how to go about it - simply buy a quality tape sim plugin? Or go all out and buy an old reel to reel machine to use?
You will not get those with a tape sim plugin or a old reel to reel. they got their sound form a $100,000 mixing console, analog tape multi-track recorder (not a reel to reel machine), comps and EQ's, and not to even mention their mics and room
Old 6 days ago
  #3
Gear Guru
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Flight_of_Icarus View Post
I guess I'm just wondering how convincing the plugins available today are?
who are you trying to convince? An old tape hand who has been using tape since the 70's?

Quote:
I don't have a way to mic a real drumkit (or a suitable place to record drums), but figured bouncing the Superior Drummer drums onto tape, and back into a DAW might be a way to utilize the R2R w/a drum VST.
The difference between real drums and sampled drums is not overcome by adding some tape distortion and hiss! Far more relevant is a lot of careful work in the programming - especially the velocities. Fake drums don't magically become "real" because they got recorded to tape.

I agree with CJ Mastering that the whole business of "running your tracks through" an old cassette or consumer reel deck is NOT the sound of the classic albums of Yesteryear that you admire. Those guys did not use crappy machines. They were trying to minimize distortion and hiss.

IMHO, the better sims come closer because, unlike some crappy old deck, you can dial them back to a level of subtlety. I personally spent too many hours of my life trying to get a good sound to have any respect for the idea that it's "cool" to deliberately crap up my recordings with heavy handed low-fi garbage. If lo-fi is your thing, then forgive me, go do your thing.

A little saturation can go a long, long way. People today seem to have no idea how long a way a little saturation can go.

In any case, why not get a sim to start since it is cheaper, it is less hassle, it is more practical. See if it is even in the direction of what you want. I personally consider such stuff to be a "direction" to go in, rather than a "destination" to arrive at. There are tons of tools and techniques that can push your sound in a "direction". Not just tape. And who wants to go to the exact same "destination" as somebody else already went anyway?
Old 6 days ago
  #4
Gear Guru
 
kafka's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by joeq View Post
The difference between real drums and sampled drums is not overcome by adding some tape distortion and hiss! Far more relevant is a lot of careful work in the programming - especially the velocities. Fake drums don't magically become "real" because they got recorded to tape.
... and, timing. Learning how real drummers hit is a big deal. Very far from the grid, even for drummers with impeccable timing. Nobody ever hits two drums at the exact same time.

Take a kick, a snare, and a hi-hat, all hit together. Which comes down first, and which is loudest? How tight is the grouping? How does a drummer do it on a downbeat, compared to how they do it on an upbeat? None of this is random. It's how a drummer spreads out the length of a hit that's played across multiple pieces.

This is separate from the question of push and pull of the beat inside a measure. And that doesn't even approach the subject of how they swing their 8th notes, or how they rush their triplets. Everybody rushes their triplets, but in their own unique way.

Tape or distortion won't make anything more convincing, because it has no influence on any of this.
Old 6 days ago
  #5
I'm a guy who owns tape machines because I prefer the sound to the tape sim. I don't think the simulators really come close to be honest, but that has more to do with all of the points listed above, but working with tape makes editing basically a non-starter. I know you can splice large format tape, but I work with 8-track cassette machines (that sound good, thank you very much) and if I'm doing anything that's going to require even one edit, I go digital.

Now, I own the tape machines and go digital for editing so you might wonder whether I then bounce down to tape and back into the machine, I don't. If I'm doing a tape project, it's a tape project. If I'm doing a digital project, it's a digital project.

I have overdubbed with tape, I don't like it. I reserve the tape for the projects that are live to multitrack, and only those projects.

Everything above is absolutely true. You can make MIDI drums sound passably real with attention to every single hit's velocity and timing. Live drummers push and pull, they'll play ahead of the 2 and 4 on the snare, or behind it, intentionally. A better use of your money is to find a remote drummer to redo your midi drums.

Now, for synths and completely programmed music, I like to use tape, but it's not really something you can blend because the speed of the playback varies enough to where you'll experience some serious drift, and the sound difference between that and a well-placed compressor are minimal.

Multitrack tape is great for things like live drums and then drop that into digital and overdub the rest against it.

This one always stood out as a good example as an aesthetic representation. I don't know if they used tape or not, though. I doubt it. Tape really can be a pain in the ass sometimes to work with: YouTube
Old 6 days ago
  #6
Lives for gear
There are some very good insights and opinions in this thread. I may not add either, but to address your specific question:
I was in some good studios during the late heyday of tape. While everything said about all the other elements contributing to the sound of that era are true, it is also true that the multitrack and two-track tape machines contribute to that special sound.
I agree with those saying that you are extremely unlikely to acquire a working tape machine today that will give you “that” sound. You may get a sound that you like, but it is not going to be “big studio 70s tape sound”.
I have not auditioned all the available tape sims, but I have the Slate sims. They DO give me the subtle (SUBTLE, not obvious) sounds of the consoles and machines of that era. The tape sims give the user selection options regarding tape speed, track width, and type of tape, as well as various biasing of the tape. You can control input level and add distortion or saturation in that way, and add some speed “wobble” if desired. The reaction of the sounds to the adjustments squares with my memory of the actual adjustments in the era, at least in a general sense. I don’t use tape simulation on a majority of tracks or projects, but I go to it for certain sounds. Tape sim has a “softening” effect on cymbals, for example, that is sometimes just about perfect.
I have two reel-to-reel two-tracks that I keep running for digital archiving and remastering. Only one of them is close to being a studio quality record/playback machine, and it isn’t close enough that it tempts me to master or bounce mixes on it. Having the two machines is an expense and ongoing maintenance project that I would not wish on others, especially if those others don’t already know the details of cleaning, demagnetizing, aligning, and biasing which I learned from experienced techs in the 70s. It’s a small version of having a steam engine and tiny railroad in your yard. I wouldn’t recommend it, but I also wouldn’t deny anyone the experience of real tape. You MIGHT find it worthwhile.
Old 5 days ago
  #7
Gear Head
 

What, you do not need $100,000 of equipment to make a single.

2" tape with the BIG HEADS. A Couple UA Pres and 1176's linked. Ribbon mics. Ribbon mics. The less the better in the chain.

You can do fantastic stuff with , 1/4" , a stereo 2 track will get real close.
Old 5 days ago
  #8
Gear Addict
 
BIG BUDDHA's Avatar
[QUOTE=Bushman;13568781
I was in some good studios during the late heyday of tape. While everything said about all the other elements contributing to the sound of that era are true, it is also true that the multitrack and two-track tape machines contribute to that special sound
[/QUOTE]

you were a lucky man Bushman.

Buddha
Old 5 days ago
  #9
Gear Addict
 
BIG BUDDHA's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Flight_of_Icarus View Post
I'm just wondering how convincing the plugins available today are?
UAD ATR-102 is a step in the right direction in terms of tape sound.

i would suggest for a very modest investment, its worth the money.

Buddha
Old 5 days ago
  #10
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crosscutred's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Flight_of_Icarus View Post
I'm also a bit of a vintage stereo hobbyist/enthusiast that owns a fair bit of vinyl/tape, and the gear to play it back on as well
Does it have a record button?
Old 4 days ago
  #11
Lives for gear
Quote:
Originally Posted by BIG BUDDHA View Post
you were a lucky man Bushman.

Buddha
With absolutely no clue that I had lucked into anything special.
Old 4 days ago
  #12
Lives for gear
 
Arseny's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Flight_of_Icarus View Post
Hey all,

Newbie here with a question I've been curious for answers for lately!

I have a rather modest home recording setup (Scarlett 2i4, Akai MPK 88, a few good mics [such as an SM57] w/stands - with Cakewalk for my DAW, and Superior Drummer for drums). As much as I love what I have, and the flexibility that modern recording gear/software offers, many of my favorite recordings are older albums originally produced on analog gear, and I'm also a bit of a vintage stereo hobbyist/enthusiast that owns a fair bit of vinyl/tape, and the gear to play it back on as well - something special about it all to my ears, as much as I love digital formats too.

I've been curious about adding a little bit of analog "flavor" (i.e - subtle tape hiss/saturation/distortion) to my own recordings, but I've been curious about how to go about it - simply buy a quality tape sim plugin? Or go all out and buy an old reel to reel machine to use?

Obviously the plugin is far cheaper/the more practical route to go (especially with the space requirements and cost of tape for an R2R), but I guess I'm just wondering how convincing the plugins available today are? I don't have a way to mic a real drumkit (or a suitable place to record drums), but figured bouncing the Superior Drummer drums onto tape, and back into a DAW might be a way to utilize the R2R w/a drum VST.

Just curious for some insight/opinions from the more experienced folks here.

Thank you much in advance!
There is thread on GS, with a youtube link to a song where a guy and his brother recorded everything through a Revox A77. It added such a nice retro vibe that suits well to the song. I was searching for the thread and unfortunately can't find it at the moment.

Those machines - A77 - won't cost you a fortune! For just a few hundred €/$ you'll get a nice time machine.

revox a77 | eBay

Then record, listen and decide for yourself. Coz here on GS you'll find 1000x pro and 1000x contra opinions anyway.
Old 4 days ago
  #13
Lives for gear
 

Yes. A few hundred dollars....but thats the startingpoint. Next up is revision and maintanance and buying new tape.

Tape is a very expensive hobby mate.
Old 4 days ago
  #14
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crosscutred's Avatar
None of the really great stuff in life is cheap.
Old 4 days ago
  #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by crosscutred View Post
None of the really great stuff in life is cheap.
European cheese, Hawaiian coffee, amazing sunsets... Not entirely disagreeing with you, but SOME of the really great stuff in my life is very cheap. And some of the expensive things in life are overrated. I won’t try to list my expensive audio mistakes, it’s too depressing.
Old 4 days ago
  #16
Lives for gear
 
crosscutred's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bushman View Post
European cheese, Hawaiian coffee, amazing sunsets... Not entirely disagreeing with you, but SOME of the really great stuff in my life is very cheap. And some of the expensive things in life are overrated. I won’t try to list my expensive audio mistakes, it’s too depressing.
Haha, yes, you're quite right.
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