Remember when “tube” was all the rage? The underlying drive was to get digital to sound more analog by introducing a tube into the signal chain. Not to be outdone, software manufacturers over the years have done their part with versions of tape emulators like the Massey Tapehead, Ferric TDS or Digidesign’s Reel Tape. Avid moved it into the next generation with the Pro Tools HD-specific HEAT feature, which is not really a plug-in but gets to the same point. Console manufacturer Harrison even offers another DAW-specific tape emulator in their Mixbus DAW.
In the past couple of years, there have been releases making emulation choices a head-spinning experience, in ever widening market niches, from amplifiers to channel strips. For the Mix roundup this month, we dive into the deep end and make sense of the most recent tape emulation software.
UAD Studer A800, ATR-102
For use within the UAD-2 platform only and slickly modeled after the Studer A800, this plug-in gives users all the tweaks you’d expect from the real thing. You can dial in four magnetic tape formulas, play with calibration levels, three tape speeds and more under the hood. Users can dig deeper to adjust EQ controls (NAB or CCIR), HF Bias calibration, Sync and Repro HF and LF calibration, and separate controls for Hiss, Hum and global noise bypass.
Also for UAD-2 users, the UAD Ampex ATR-102 plug-in allows you to choose between Input, Sync and Repro signal paths, different tape speeds, bias, emphasis EQs (NAB, CCIR, AES) and tape formulas, even including consumer/home brands. You can saturate “tape” with record gain knobs, switch in/out noise, crosstalk and wow and flutter and even use the plug-in as a fully adjustable tape delay.
Waves MPX—Kramer Master Tape
Developed in collaboration with engineer Eddie Kramer, the Kramer Master Tape plug-in is modeled on a vintage ¼-inch reel-to-reel machine. Adjustments include tape speed, bias, flux, wow and flutter, and noise parameters. There’s also a flexible slap and feedback delay. The plug operates at up to 96kHz/24-bit and supports TDM, RTAS, AU, VST and Audiosuite, across Mac and PC platforms.
Slate Digital VTM
The VTM from Slate Digital offers two tape machine types, a 2-inch, 16-track and ½-inch mastering recorder. Users can choose between two tape formulations, 15 and 30 ips tape speeds, noise reduction, auto mute, and wow and flutter and bass alignment controls. Other features include normal, low and high bias controls, and level calibration plus GUI controls like VU ballistics and grouped operation of parameters. AU, RTAS and VST formats are supported.
URS Saturation Plug-In
URS offers a hybrid plug-in that offers console and tape machine algorithms for preamps (6), tape saturation (2), transformer core saturation (2), tube and discrete analog saturation, soft clipping and even/odd ordered harmonic distortion. Tape emulation features include tape head algorithms (2) and choices for 15 or 30 ips. All major DAWs are supported including full Avid ICON and ProControl support.
Crane Song Phoenix II
Phoenix II is an update of Crane Song’s suite of TDM plug-ins designed to emulate the unique properties of a magnetic tape machine. The five control categories are grouped by personality. Luminescent is the most neutral-sounding process of the five; Iridescent has a similar magnetic character, but with a fatter bottom and midrange; Radiant is characterized by a more aggressive compression curve; Dark Essence is even more aggressive, and Luster starts more gently than the other four processes but becomes as aggressive as Dark Essence when the process is at full-scale. Phoenix II runs both Native and DSP on Avid’s Pro Tools 10 AAX format.
McDSP Analog Channel
The Analog Channel from McDSP is two plugins, AC101 emulates channel amplifier circuits, while the AC202 features standard tape machine parameters such as bias, playback speed, and IEC1/2 equalization plus adjustable low frequency roll off and head bump - independent of playback speed. Users can select from several playback head types, tape formulations, and even control the tape saturation recovery time. Supported formats include TDM, RTAS, Audiosuite and AU formats, Mac or PC up to 192 kHz.
MAGNETIC II Reel-to-Reel Audio Tape Warmer
Nomad Factory’s MAGNETIC II features controls for tape speeds, tape/tube saturation and tape color effects, as well as a dedicated vintage style EQ and a built in Boost mastering section. There are nine tape machine models from Otari, Ampex, Tascam, Studer and MCI. Other controls include wow and flutter, fully variable tape speeds (1 to 30), magnetic tape color, saturation, low- and high-frequency control, gain and a brickwall output ceiling. Supported formats include AU, RTAS, VST, 32- or 64-bit Mac or PC.
VTape is a set comprising three plug-ins—Saturator, Delay and Flanger—that are based on a thorough simulation of the sound of analog tape machines. VTape Saturator simulates the recording and playback on an analog mastering machine. VTape Delay combines the Saturator sound with a modern, step sequencer-like tapped delay engine. VTAPE Flanger simulates the legendary “tape flanging” effect, simulating playback of two tape machines running at slightly different speeds. New for Version 2: Delay adds optional triplet and dotted notes; Flanger adds LFO Modulation. For VST3/VST2.4: 64-bit version for Windows 7 and Windows Vista.
DUY Software DaD Tape
DaD Tape models four of the most representative tape recorders on the market: a vintage machine with valve circuitry, a transistor-based machine of the late ‘60s, an op amp-based machine of the ’70s and a current machine. There’s also simulation of the three most common noise reduction systems, plus a proprietary noiseless-tape mode. Switchable tape speed (7.5/15/30 ips) permits unusual combinations of tape recorders and speeds. For TDM, it can be purchased as part of the Analog Bundle. For RTAS (Mac and Windows), Audio Units, VST (Mac) or MAS/MOTU-based computers, DaD Tape Native can be purchased individually.
Yamaha Vintage Open Deck
Based on the company’s Virtual Circuitry Modeling technology, the Vintage Open Deck offers four machine types—Swiss ’70, Swiss ’78, Swiss ’85 and American ’70—and each type can be applied to the record and playback deck — independently. Typical parameters such as tape speed, bias and EQ settings, distortion and saturation characteristics are adjustable the type of tape can be selected. Vintage Open Deck is available in VST 3, VST 2.4 and AU plug-in format, allowing for multi-instance use with DAWs such as Cubase, Nuendo, WaveLab and Logic.