The biggest criticism levelled at digital audio is that it doesn't have the same 'colour' or 'vibe' as analogue. Faced with a demand for warmer timbres, clever developer folk decided that there was nothing to prevent vintage sounds from being recreated in the digital world; and today analogue desk and tape simulation plug-ins abound.
The big advantage of the software approach is that you can push and pull things in ways that would have been too much hassle on hardware. So, you can drive your drums hard via tape and your bass less so, while at the same time keeping your vocals clean, tidy and saturation-free.
Over the last 18 months, we've seen some impressive new tape sims become available, with a few even endorsed by the original manufacturers. But assessing such subtle processors can be tough, so we've decided to set several up together to hear how they compare.
Universal Audio Studer A800
UA started at the top of the multitrack tree with this meticulous recreation of Studer’s most successful analogue machine, the A800.
Universal Audio Ampex ATR-102
We feel that the Ampex is the slicker of UA’s two tape emulators, but with roughly twice the DSP hit, you’ll need to use it more sparingly.
Nomad Factory Magnetic
Magnetic pushes the boundaries for a tape emulator, even offering a digital tape setting. It’s great value, good for colouring sounds and easy to use.
Waves Kramer Master Tape
This has to be the funkiest plug-in of the lot - it focuses solely on the gritty tone of ¼-inch tape. It also provides both slapback and feedback-style tape delays.
VTAPE Saturator, Delay and Flanger make up VirSyn’s long-established bundle. You’ll use the Saturator for straightforward tape machine simulation duties.
Acustica-Audio/CDS Nebula3/CD SoundMaster
The Nebula3/CD SoundMaster combination is a well-established and flexible route to tape nirvana.
It’s a budget option, but Roundtone still includes cool features such as cross-plug-in linking and five oversampling quality modes.
Magix Analogue Modelling Suite
The suite includes a transient modeller and tube preamp plus am-track, a tape simulation and compression processor.