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Old 17th May 2019
Thanks for your thoughts, really in-depth I think you are making a few assumptions (maybe you skim read my post?), I actually own a lot of tape emulators, UAD, Slate, Softube, Izotope etc. I also own a tape machine (as I mentioned in my post). I am well aware of its sound and history.

All I am really wanting is to do a VERY oversimplified tape emulation for a university assignment (I've just gone back to university part-time after working as an audio engineer/producer for almost 15 years). I am still working on educating myself on analogue electronics, which makes trying to do a "white box" model of analogue gear pretty much impossible. However, I can try a bit of a "gray box" model (ie knowing the input and output and being able to approximate its behaviour).

Originally Posted by wrgkmc View Post
If you want to design a tape emulator, I suggest you first try out some that are already available. Trying to build one blind without knowing what's already available is pretty silly. Its like building an automobile before you' e ever even seen of driven in one. its makes no sense at all trying to reinvent the wheel after the discovery has already been out there for decades.

There are a bunch of free ones you can start with and then maybe even try some demo versions of ones you'd pay for.
The one Voxengo makes is one of my favorites, but you can simply google up a half dozen including Ferox which is really popular.

next you need to separate what the analog preamplifier does vs what the actual process of magnetizing and reading AC waves on tape.
each have their own unique characteristics in what they do to the sound.

I do know there are emulators which include features that emulate a damaged recorder by including flutter, wow, or head alignment issues.
Really stupid idea if you ask me. Any professional who's worked with tape knows the ideal tape sound is flawless and pristine. Its the kid who digs his grandpas reel recorder that's barely able to run properly that thinks those flaws are the intention of the manufacturer.

Likewise his is a side effect of the high fidelity preamps and the iron oxide particles of the tape. Manufacturers eventually developed Dolby which hides most of the hiss by first encoding the high frequencies, then decoding them on playback. As a result most commercial recordings had no hiss at all by the time it was burned to an LP. Why on earth would anyone want that noise in their recordings is beyond me.

There are frequency response differences based on tape speed, tape types and head types which can be significant. Several of the tape emulators I've used have those features and that come in handy. Emulated recording gain and saturation are key items as are output volume and at least a bass and treble adjustment so you can dial frequencies back for a small sounding, mission impossible recorder type or boost the highs and lows so the response is bigger then life.

What they don't have is a midrange knob which is where the real mojo using tape comes into play. Allot of people who write the software have zero experience using the actually analog tape on a professional and are clueless how tape is used and abuse to get the kinds of magic tones people seek.
What most engineers wanted is a flat full fidelity medium with any unwanted distortions. Their wish actually came true once digital was perfected.

Beyond that however was the ability to push tape in a selective and aggressive manor which wound up being very difficult to accomplish digitally.
The first thing I had a hard time adjusting to when I moves from analog to digital was the ability to tweak input gains to the edge of the cliff, just before the tape began to distort but produces the greatest fidelity, maximum compression and has the liveliest sound being that close to clipping. On top of that you can EQ the input and get specific notes to saturate before other notes begin to. In short the engineer has some control over the notes being played and can amp up the musicians musical performance getting specific notes to jump out at you on a musical and emotional level.

So far I haven't found any of the tape emulators to do that job on their own. Part of the problem is, it isn't occurring before the tracks are recorded and its not occurring from simply placing the music on a medium. What the hard drive sees as binary bits are exactly the same as what comes off the drive.
You can get close using a combination of 5 plugins in various amounts including EQ, Compression, Gain Saturation, Harmonic Exciter and tape emulation.

It really takes most of those plugins to come close to sounding like tape, and the tape emulator plugin isn't always necessary in getting ideal results which just goes to show you that these kinds of plugins simply aren't as good as you'd think in creating a realistic tape sound, but on the other hand what is. If you listened to a recording done on tape and digital then burned to a CD and played back on a radio would you be able to tell which one was recorded on tape or straight digital all the way? I been recording for over 50 years and you wouldn't catch me trying to win that blind A/B comparison. there are far too many ways of making Digital sound analog and analog sound digital. The line between the two is blurred most of the time, especially when you have it all down sampled to MP3's which kills your top end and wipes out anything a tape emulator would do for your music.