By Francis Preve
All too often, we hear artists and producers bemoaning the loss of
tape in modern recording rigs. The compression, saturation, and warmth
of tape still haven’t been properly duplicated by software. So, if you want the
sound of real analog tape, where do you go? To your garage, of course!
that the majority of Keyboard readers still have a cassette deck lying around. I’m also betting that the deck has some life in it. Oh, sure, some of those decks
(like mine) may be well worn aft er a decade of disuse, but they can still add true analog grit to even the most digital of synths. All you have to do is route
one of your DAW’s audio tracks out of your audio interface and into the cassette deck (for mono tracks, just use one channel of the deck), then record it
onto a cassette. After that, re-record the cassette back into your DAW, and align the beginning of the taped audio with the original audio track. Here are
a few tips on how to use this archaic technology in a modern context. Instructions continue after the SoundCloud player!
07-2011 Dance: Hit the Deck by KeyboardMag
1. Cassettes are hard to find these days. I went to my neighborhood
Radio Shack and asked if they had blank cassettes in
stock. The staff looked at me like I’d grown a third eye. If you
can find a shop that sells cassettes of any kind, stock up.
2. If you can’t find a brand new cassette, consider taping over an
old one. Chances are, that high school mix tape you made about
a distressed romance will have unusual audio characteristics
that make it perfect for distressing your signal.
3. Tape versus digital isn’t an either-or proposition. In fact, you can get
some really unique results by blending the two in various ways, so
experiment with mixing the original and taped tracks to taste.
4. If you use sensible gain structure, you can get a solid recording.
If you hammer your input levels into the red, you can get wonderfully
warm compression and distortion that sounds nothing
like a guitar pedal or a plug-in.
5. Dolby or dbx noise reduction, tape type switches (remember
metal tape and CrO2?), and bias knobs can all do cool things
to the signal. For example, if you record with noise reduction
and play back without it, you can brighten (and add hiss to) the
signal. Doing the opposite will soften the high end. CrO2 and/
or metal switches will function a bit like preset EQs. Experiment!
6. If you just want to run your signal through the deck’s analog
circuitry (and/or can’t find cassettes), pick up a cassette-shaped
adapter for old car stereos—big-box stores still sell these. Put the
adapter in the deck, and run your DAW track into the adaptor’s input.
Since that input is a 1/8" male plug intended for the headphone
jack of your MP3 player, get a 1/8"-to-1/4" adaptor and tap into
the headphone jack of your audio interface. Press Play on the
deck, and run the output of the deck back into your DAW. You
won’t get tape saturation, but your audio will still pass through
enough transistors and capacitors to heat up the signal in
strange and wonderful ways. (Thanks to Keyboard regular Peter
Kirn’s site, createdigitalmusic.com, for this tip.)