Apple Logic Pro’s plugins are, for the most part, fantastic. But one conspicuous omission is the lack of a tape saturation plugin.
Glue and Harmonic Distortion
Before digital audio workstations, signals would be summed through a mixing desk and printed to tape. Driving a strong signal to the tape deck would saturate the signal and give it a thick and warm quality. In modern parlance, we often hear buzzwords like “glue” and “harmonic distortion” to describe the cohesive effect recording to tape had on the audio.
In recent years many third party developers have tried their hand at emulating the type of warm saturation and subtle distortion that audio recorded and mixed on analog tape have. McDSP was one of the first with their AC101 and AC202 plugins. UA, Waves, Slate, to name a few, have all followed with variations on a similar theme. They all impart certain qualities that enhance digital audio and impart tape-like qualities to the audio run through them.
Enter Softube. Their newest offering, Tape, is the latest addition to the smorgasbord of tape emulation plugins out there. Now, no plugin will be a panacea for bad recording, arranging, production, or mixing. But Tape may just finally be the holy grail tape plugin we’ve all been waiting for. It does all the classic tape emulation style processing we’ve come to expect from its predecessors; and more.
And it’s easy to use.
To start with, Softube Tape contains three separate tape machine emulations. The differences between the three models are generally subtle, until you start pushing some of the other parameters beyond their normal tolerances. A simple Amount knob allows the user to dial in the amount of saturation desired. Softube got their gain staging right with this one. The Amount knob is programmed with a constant gain algorithm. So, as you dial it up, you won’t be distracted by differences in volume. You focus only on what the tape emulation is doing.
Metering is simple and efficient. A clever toggle button allows visual monitoring not only of the input signal but of the amount of total harmonic distortion (THD) the plugin is adding to the audio being run through it. The front panel is rounded off with a choice of tape speed settings. In addition to the familiar values, ultra slow tape speeds of 3 3/4 and 1 7/8ths are available in case you want to push the tape effect into a grittier type of distortion.
If the functions on Tape stopped here, it would be enough to be a great sounding traditional tape emulation style plugin effect. But a click on the side panel reveals some extended parameters that really make this plugin special. A dry/wet knob and separate Input/Output faders allow for a completely different level of gain staging that opens the plugin up to much more colorful processing. Push the input to the tape emulation for more saturation, and balance the output level either with the dedicated fader, or the dry/wet knob, for a richer range of tape-based saturation.
The speed/stability knob introduces a pitch modulation, that when combined with the dry/wet knob, creates a rich tape-based style chorusing effect. I for one can’t wait to try this on some vocals! The High-Frequency Trim and Crosstalk knobs, however, push the traditional aspects of tape saturation to new levels.
One of the aspects of traditional tape is that the more you drive it and saturate it, the warmer the sound gets. But at the expense of some of the high end. Use the High-Frequency Trim to regulate the amount of high-frequency compensation. When pushed past twelve o’clock, a rich upper sheen is introduced to compensate. I tried it on a drum bus and the high hats came to life. They had a crystal-clear sparkle, without compromising the “tape-iness” introduced with the amount knob. Move the knob to the lower half of its range for more of the vintage tape style warmth and fatness.
The Crosstalk knob controls the amount of "leakage" between channels on multichannel audio. So, dialing this up on a stereo bus adds the “glue” to the stereo image that we have come to love from tape emulation plugins. The stereo imaging is maintained of course, but the crosstalk adds a cohesiveness to the stereo image that tightens up the whole stereo image. It beefed up the drum bus and master bus I tried it on nicely.
Video Review - Softube Tape
Check out Softube Tape in action here:
Logic Pro users are generally pretty happy with the effects bundled with the DAW. But, as I mentioned at the top of this review, tape saturation is absent. Tape fills a much-needed void in Logic Pro’s rich collection of effects processors. And it may very well be the last tape emulation plugin you’ll ever need to buy.
Softube Tape is available now for $79, for use with VST, VST3, Audio Units, AAX Native and Mix Engine FX. For more information, or to try out a 20-day demo, visit https://www.softube.com/index.php?id=tape
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