The UAD Ampex ATR-102, but first a rant—
The Joys of Analog Tape
Calibrate it every day. Keep the tapes in a controlled environment. Push the signal so you get less noise, but not so hard that it distorts. Clean the heads and capstan. Be careful you don’t stretch the tape rewinding. Keep a log of how many punch-ins and re-records you have done to monitor tape wear. Test the motor and transports.
When someone starts going into the whole “tape was so great” speech is when I know they have never used it. You can find these people all over the audio boards. They hang out with the “you can never emulate the sound of tape” people. You know who they are. They are right, plugins don’t sound the same. Just ask the two or three hundred people in the entire world who can actually hear the difference.
Emulation takes the “good” parts of tape and lets you adjust the things that made it a pain in the butt. You can have wow and flutter, but now you can control it. You can get some saturation*, but again you can dial in how much. Want crosstalk? Go ahead. Don’t want any? Turn it off. Head bump? OK, or not. Soften the transients, sure — and you can even do it by pretending to use different tape speeds or formulas.
Plugins are great. I have no nostalgic desire to go back. We can have the best from decades of audio engineering and classic hardware, and also discover brand new ways of producing music. There, now I have had my own rant. And now back to my post…
(*Saturation – sounds just like distortion, because it is distortion.)
Back to the UAD Ampex ATR-102
All of that “scribble” in the charts is from the wow and flutter, and noise. I have never been that much of a fan. Listen to old solo piano recordings, you will be able to hear what wow and flutter did to the sound pretty clearly. Also notice the spikes in the frequency response, those are constantly moving up and down. (It’s that famous thing called head bump!)
What I like about tape (emulation) is that the harmonics and phase are constantly moving and shifting a bit. (At least, the well-programmed plugins.) This gives so much life, however you want to interpret that word.
Scroll down to compare the default setting to my ATR-102 preset. I have flattened the frequency curve, lowered the noise and tamed the wow and flutter. It can be a good starting point!
- No matter what else, lower the wow and flutter values. Really.
- You can make a lot of changes in the frequency curve by changing the tape speed, especially in the high end.
- Since this is meant to go on buses (and especially according to Luna) be aware of the input level and proper gain staging. Keep it below the red with only occasional overs..
Compare some other tape emulations:
My Penny_BUSS preset. The wow and flutter are reduced and the frequency response is as flat as I can get it. (But you still have a nice little head bump.) The noise floor is taken down as well. The good parts of tape without the bad! Check it out!