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DMNW Production School: Tape Saturation and Distortion

There’s a lot of misinformation to sort through online when you start searching for the answers to questions about analog audio, especially digital emulations. People attribute it to transfers being made from needles and records to digital. They’ll say it has to do with “analog warmth” from using tube electronics and outboard studio equipment. The truth of the matter all boils down to one important concept: analog saturation and distortion.

How to Use Tape Saturation in Your Productions

One way you can use tape emulation plugins in productions is as an obvious distortion effect. You can also apply it to the master track to emulate a vintage sound or to slightly compress the mix. Another popular method is to apply it to each instrument and the master track.

This way the combined saturated audio will sum together, simulating stems bounced to different tapes; mixed down to one final tape. Thankfully, many of the same companies responsible for analog warmth have moved on to providing smaller, less costly gear.

Modern single and dual channel strips and saturation units from manufacturers such as Neve, API, SSL, Chandler, Manley and Thermionic Culture dedicate themselves to recreating and reinventing the type of saturation that the industry demands.

There are also many tape and tape‑saturation plugins on the market, including UAD’s fantastic ATR-102 Emulation, Crane Song’s Phoenix Tape Emulation, McDSP’s Analog Channel, PSP’s Vintage Warmer, Voxengo’s Tapebus and Nomad Factory’s E‑tube Tape Warmer.

In the hardware department, Rupert Neve Designs’ Portico 5042, Crane Song’s Hedd and the Anamod ATS1 all try to emulate the effects of the typical tape‑recording signal‑processing chain and of tape saturation. Some also attempt to simulate the tonal changes caused by different bias level settings, tape types and running speeds. So what about us? What are we using daily to achieve this effect in our productions, you ask?

Our Top 3 Favorite Tape Emulation Plugins:

Unfortunately, the best plugins we’ve used for this effect come at a premium price. Universal Audio Ampex ATR-102 leads the pack by offering unparalleled control of parameters such as the Wow, Flutter, and the imposed EQ curve. Coming in at the steep price of $349, you are most likely best off trying to pick it up on sale, or as part of a Universal Audio plugin bundle. Another drawback is the necessity of a UA interface or “Satellite” to run the plugin.

Coming in second, but certainly, no slouch is Slate Digital VTM. VTM includes emulation of a 2″ analog 16-track, which is often considered to be the gold standard of analog tape. VTM is a great tool for smoothing out harsh treble or transients.

We often use the older tape type @ 15 IPS with low bias settings to tame our drum bus or bright guitars. For less than half the price of the ATR-102, we think VTM is an excellent option for those not looking to get into the Universal Audio “system”.

Last but not least is iZotope Ozone 8 Vintage Tape. Influenced by the legendary Studer A810 tape machine, known for excellent frequency response across the frequency spectrum, Boston-based iZotope makes a great module/plugin for analog tape sound inside of their excellent iZotope Ozone 8 Advanced mastering suite. T

he plugin is easy to use and sounds great, while slightly lacking in the instantly gratifying nature of the ATR-102 and VTM. Vintage Tape is based off of a two-track tape recorder and we find it’s better suited for mastering purposes.

In addition to our three favorites, there are lots of others on the market. What Tape Emulation Plugins are you using in your productions? Let us know on Social Media!

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. SG

    December 30, 2020 at 3:44 am

    I would pick Satin over izotope

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