Tape Machines and Emulations: Are They Worth Investing In?

Tape Emulations are often virtual versions of Reel to Reel Tape machines. For many, is the missing piece of the puzzle. Those who have used tape, love the sound it delivers but not the headache or cost(s) that come along with maintaining them. Those who haven’t…please do. I don’t mean a cassette tape, though that could yield some interesting results, especially if you create experimental or LoFi music.

Speaking of LoFi, If you’re looking for good Lofi sound packs check out Reel to Reel

Tape machines are easy to use but aren’t inexpensive, especially when we talk about the maintenance aspect of tape. This is where Tape Machines Emulations come into play as they’re much more affordable than the real thing and some developers nail the characteristics spot-on. Even when they don’t, the results are close enough that you can add that extra something to help polish off your tracks.

Reel-To-Reel-Tape-Machine

There are a lot of them out together and the tech behind the development is incredible these days. Today, I’d like to introduce you to Magnetite by Black Rooster Audio, which has been in my template for the last 3-4 weeks.

Black Rooster Audio Magnetite

This plugin is simple to use and has everything you need to add that extra spice to your mix/master. I find it best used on a bus such as your:

Instrument
Mix
Master

I love how Magnetite smoothens out the top end when using 7.5 ips. It’s also great in top-down mixing scenarios. A bit subtle, definitely one of those Tape machines where you may not notice what’s happening until you bypass it, but incredibly helpful when finalizing a mix.

Magnetite Tape Machine Features

BRA Tape Machine

WoW & Flutter

Wow and Flutter plays a significant role in tape machines. Yes, they can sound awful if pushed excessively on the wrong instruments. The objective is to not realize it until you bypass it and you lose a significant depth and movement of the mix. Movement is what I look for when reaching for a Tape Emulation.

I used to use a combination of tremolo, pitch shift, and other fx to mimic them.

Recording Level

The Recording Level changes the amount of gain that is applied to an incoming signal before it hits the tape.

Higher gain levels will increase the amount of saturation
Lower gain levels result in a cleaner (less saturated) sound

To introduce harmonics while keeping volume intact, right-click and adjust your Rec Level Knob and the Playback Level will inversely compensate.

Playback Level

Treat this setting as an amplifier

To introduce harmonics while keeping volume intact, right-click and adjust your Rec Level Knob and the Playback Level will compensate. You could also hold control and use the left mouse button if this is more comfortable for you.

Tape Speeds: 7 & 15 ips

Higher speeds tend to increase the lows and reduce the highs of your sound. Lower speeds filter the highs while boosting the low-end, resulting in a nice low-end punch. Which to use for which genres and circumstances are highly going to depend on the tape machine (or emulation) you’re using, the genre you’re working within and your taste between the two settings.

As with any Plug-In or Hardware unit, no two are going to be identical. One tape machine’s 30 or 15 ips will be different from other machines, even though the settings are the same, so you’ll have to fiddle around a bit here.

Tape Type

Allows you to select from three different tape options (Red, Blue, and Black). Each with a slightly different response in saturation/character.

Red: Sounds the flattest between the three settings, I do notice a little edge (mostly flat).

Blue: Adds a bit more emphasis on the midrange frequencies.

Black: Gives your sound a nice low-end boost, this can give mixes a nice weighty sound.

Where To Place The Virtual Tape Emulation?

There’s no right or wrong place to put the tape machine. Some music producers like to put them at the beginning of their chains others like to insert them wherever just to see what they get. I like to put mine at the very top of the bus followed by everything else just to get the signal processing of the tape hitting my sound first and then I shape the sound with other plugins from there if needed.

Top Tips For Using Magnetite I’ve Found Useful

Magnetite: Virtual Tape Machine

1. Push it!: Don’t be afraid to push this unit, just do so inversely so levels are compensated for and you’re getting the saturation! If you start to hear distortion that you don’t like, back off 2dB. The dB reduction can also be done with a gain plug-in.

2. Adjust Bias: Piggybacking off of the above tip, try adjusting the Bias setting (3+/5+), this can help reduce the unwanted high-frequency distortion without messing with your overall feed into the tape.

3. Try Things: Experiment with the different tape choices (Red, Black, and Blue) as they all have different characteristics. My favorites at the time of this writing are Red and Black.

4. Tape Speed: Choose a tape speed! I find that both sound good but may sound better for different applications. For example, 15 ips sounds really round to me, especially when I’m dealing with mid-low and low-end information. In some instances, 7ips sounds better. I typically use 15 on my mix bus, especially when working with genres such as Hip-Hop and Pop.

5. Throw It Around: Selectively of course. Insert an instance of Magnetite on all of your buses this includes drums, bass, instrument categories, etc. Give them all a different tape setting to add even more depth and character to your music.

6. Serial Process: Place two or more instances of Magnetite on your bus giving each instance different settings and see what you get. This is known as serial processing and can be very beneficial depending on the original Sound Source you’re using it on, the degree to which your dial in your settings, and most of all, what you’re after in terms of the outcome of the final sound.

7. Pass your time-based plugins through tape/tape machine emulations

Quick Video Run Through

Conclusion

Tape can be extremely helpful and fun to use while mixing. It introduces saturation, movement, depth, width, warmth, glue, compression, grit, and sometimes unexplainable tones and character, some that are easily felt but can be hard to explain.

There are lots of different ones to choose from for both software emulations and actual hardware units.

Overall, Magnetite is good for gelling instruments together and introducing harmonics and glue. I find it works better on grouped vs individual instruments.

 

About Author: Greg Savage is a music producer/sound designer with over 20 years of experience in the field. For information on music licensing and mentoring please visit https://www.diymusicbiz.com/

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