The musicians and music producers often try to get the analog warmth into their digital tracks, but the process is a lengthy one. By process, we mean the manual one, like recording the tracks via tape recorder. But isn’t that the old time-taking method? Being the people of the modern generation, we should get smarter and use a plugin to sort this situation.
Tape emulation plugins are here for quite some time now, but if you are still unaware of them, let us introduce with them, well, a few and the best ones from the lot.
What to check in an emulation plugin?
When it was the time of analog music production, big tape machines were used by the engineers to record tracks, which is the reason of using the word “tape machine” while working with DAW (digital audio workstation). When you see the arranger view, the MIDI notes or the waveforms of the audio files can be seen as the strips in rows. You can cut, paste, or split them.
But then also, you cannot get the tape sound in the tracks. That is because the visual representation of the soundtracks will be seen on the computer screen, and the GUI is great to work with, but definitely it is not the real recording with a tape recorder. This is why you need a tape emulation plugin which will convert the tracks of the digital era to the warm analog tape machine created the soundtrack.
How Tape Saturation works
Tape saturation is basically the key to put the warmth into the musical or vocal track. In older times, the sound or vocal tracks were recorded or pre-recorded at different stages. Each stage would have added some kind of noise or distortions, which went unnoticed individually but added the warmth at the accumulation of the tracks at the final stage.
The modern-day technologies of digital recording eliminated this noise and distortion successfully, but along with that, the warmth and realness are also lost. This minor noise is called audio saturation. Now, the modern engineers have worked with the software developers to create plugins or software to emulate the “noise” deliberately to get the tape recorder effect to the tracks. So the name “tape emulation” has been thus derived for certain reasons.
Using plugin to the desired tracks or the mix, to any particular instrumental track or to the compiled master track, or to both the items, will result in the tape recorder like tracks. If the emulation is done rightly, you can omit the extra loudness of the track as well as the get the gritty and rich soundtracks.
What are the best Tape Emulation Plugins
- VTM by Slate Digital
The Virtual Tape Machines by Slate Digital gives the tape recording type feeling to the digitally recorded tracks by employing two kinds of machines. One is a 16 track 2-inch tape machines and a ½ inch stereo mastering tracks. This emulator also provides control over bias, tape type and speed. There is sufficient flexibility so you can apply the effects on recordings, and also you can control the amount of warmth to put into your tracks.
Basic requirement to use this plugin is Quad-core i4 processor and 4 GB RAM and it supports various plugin formats on both Mac and Windows computers. Most of the users are happy with it, though a few complaints about the outcome of the plugin is slightly louder than required. So you need to normalize the output once the emulation is done, to keep things right. The uses of two well-adjusted tape machines obviously produce the appropriate copy of tape recording sound, and the interface is quite user-friendly. This emulator comes with an affordable price tag so you may try your hand at this to get the old-time effect for your tracks.
- Satin by u-he
This plugin tried to mimic the different parts of the tape recording machine, rather than copying the whole machine effects. This is best for getting the desired effect of interaction among the components to produce the track with the right amount of distortion. Thus you can assume that the flexibility of this plugin is its key feature. You can produce the exact distortion coming out from a particular part of a tape recorder to moderate the track, and the output will be customized.
This emulator comes with 4 tape head emulations and phase-shifting ability. This allows the producer to induce necessary delay and flange within the track. Also, format conversion can be done with this plugin as it provides the feature of a decoder which can break the recorded track as well.
Compatibility of this plugin is also unquestionable. It works well with Mac, Windows and Linux perfectly. It can even work on 1 GB RAM, however, the higher the RAM is, the faster it will operate. Users love this plugin for its flexibility. This one has larger control over available parameters, so a specific tone or feel can be availed by using this emulator. When subtly is required within the tracks, Satin is undoubtedly the best option for the musicians.
The only con mentioned by the users is, it takes up a huge space of CPU if a large number of variations are included in the working process. So a powerful laptop with higher RAM is best suited to use this plugin.
- Waves J37 Tape
Waves J37 is already a popular plugin among musicians and music lovers. Waves 37 was built by emulating the Abbey Road Studio tape machine along with three other tape emulation models. These three models always provide the accurate tape kind of warmth to the soundtrack together. The facilities that Abbey Road Studio features are available with this plugin, such as bias enabling, tape speed, flutter and wow control are to name a few. It gets you the machine level emulation where you will be able to delay the track in three different types.
As per the compatibility, it works with the Mac operating system as well as Windows. At least 8 GB RAM is required if you want to use this emulator to work smoothly. Most of the audio hosts are supported by this plugin. Though this plugin is actually quite high priced, it always offers some kind of discounts. If you wish to avail it, keep checking for the price drop. Users verdict goes for it, as they love this one for its superb delay implementation.
The emulator comes with a bulky interface which may cause a problem for some. The 8 GB RAM requirement is also something to worry about, as it eats up a lot of space on your CPU. The effect that it produces with minor change is a great benefit though. Basically, this one can be called a great plugin with some considerations.
- Waves Kramer Master Tape
This one is another product created by Waves. Kramer Master Tape was produced before J37. This one is created based upon the model of a vintage ¼” reel to reel machine with adjustable control over bias, flutter, wow and tape speed. This one costs a bit more than J37. When compared with J37, the reviews of Kramer Master Tape are mixed and controversial. Some say this one is a good emulator while others say they are not satisfied with this one.
According to the negative feedback, the output is disappointing and the users had to buy J37 to get the right kind of effect on their soundtrack. It is said that Waves had come up with Kramer after the release of Slate’s VTM to compete with them, but the plugin was not really well planned and well-thought-of. This one cannot be called an all-rounder product, but you can trust this one for some of the effects to perform well.
Mac and Windows operating system with a good 8 GB RAM will work for it.
- Tapedesk by Overloud
Tapedesk is a rare emulator which is designed by combining both a tape machine and different console models. This one imparts the desired analog warmth to your soundtrack. It works with a 2” 24 track tape machine and three analog consoles. This one smartly conjugates all three parts and the output is perfect replica of their interaction. Its requirement for low storage space on the CPU is a great reason to buy it.
Though it needs less space, it can finely simulate all the sub-components in the original unit. That way it never compromises with its working ability. Thus if you are looking for a great plugin which will work lightly on your DAW, surely you can choose this one.
Users have always spoken well about this emulator. The complicated procedure of conjugating three systems, however, has frustrated a few users though. But once you get the grip on this plugin, you are sure to be satisfied with the output.
Satin plugin definitely provides more controls than Slate’s VTM, as Satin lets you work with each component of tape machine individually and thus you get better controlling over the modifications. On the other hand, VTM offers the total response of a tape machine. Thus Satin wins over VTM on this ground.
However, Satin requires more space on your CPU when the emulation process is continuing. VTM takes up lesser space and thus is lighter on your CPU. The costs of both the plugin are nearly the same, Satin being slightly on the cheaper side.
Kramer and J37 are both Waves product. Depending upon the users’ experience, you can find that J37 offers better control over a large number of presets, and thus resulting in better output than Kramer. But along with that, this is a heavier plugin to be worked on the CPU. But still, it wins over Kramer as its working process is quite methodical and deeper than Kramer.
Overloud has produced the Tapedesk which is good for the ones who have taken up music as their hobby. This one has many facilities with a lower space consumption of CPU, but compared to the other four emulators mentioned above, this one will score lesser for features.