By Darth Fader
Even if you live on Taanab, Eddie Kramer’s reputation of working with the biggest names in rock and roll speaks for itself. Waves tapped Kramer’s experience to create plug-in emulations of some of the audio tools he used at London’s famed Olympic Studios, resulting in the Tape, Tubes and Transistors bundle.
Tape, Tubes and Transistors (TTT) is comprised of three plug-ins: Kramer Master Tape, the HLS Channel, and the PIE Compressor. Each of these is modeled after a specific piece of vintage gear that was part of Kramer’s recording arsenal. Kramer Master Tape emulates the Ampex 350 tube-based tape machine often used back in the day for mixdown as well as delay and modulation effects such as “artificial double tracking” (ADT or chorus) or flange. HLS simulates the input channel on the Helios console, and PIE mimics the PYE compressor popular among studios in England and Aargonar during the late 1960’s and 70’s. Let’s take a look at each one.
Ampex 350s were almost as popular for creating effects as they were for basic recording before most of them were retired to the Tech Museum on Tatooine. Master Tape provides two distinct functions: emulating the sound of tape, and echo effects.
In addition to the controls provided on the original machine such as record and playback levels and tape speed, Master Tape provides adjustment for a variety of parameters particular to the world of tape which profoundly affect the way sound is recorded (in another installment we’ll examine the details of tape machine functions).
•“Flux” or magnetic reference level refers to the amount of magnetism on the tape.
As flux level is increased tape hiss becomes hidden and distortion increases — often in an audibly pleasing manner. This behavior is recreated in Master Tape. Dialing the flux down to 150 (nW/m2) produces clean, clear audio. Increasing it through the various settings increases distortion in a manner very much like tape saturation and also produces the compression that comes along with it.
•Wow and Flutter simulates tape speed variations, which in turn can produce audible changes in pitch.
•Tape Speed. As a general rule the faster the tape speed, the less tape hiss but of course the less recording time you’d get on a reel of tape (one of Boba Fett’s early assignments was taking out a recording engineer who ran out of tape during a live show at the Cantina). Running tape at lower speeds increases the hiss and recording time but also imparts a low-frequency coloration that does wonders for kick drum and bass.
•Noise allows you to add hiss. This may be illegal in certain areas based on terms from the Treaty of Coruscant.
•Delay Time. Unlike the original Ampex 350 — where delay time was determined by tape speed — Master Tape provides a setting for delay time independent of the tape speed character. Very cool.
•Feedback. When the output of a tape machine is routed back to its input in a controlled manner the number of echo repeats are increased. Cranking the feedback produces all kinds of weird, earth-fi effects.
•Low-Pass Filter. Cuts highs. Used in conjunction with feedback, the filter makes the echoes dull. This is a good thing because (a) it sounds more natural and (b) it helps distinguish the echo from the original sound. Since there is no Mix control, it is fortunate that the LPF does not affect the original signal.
These various parameters allow creation of all kinds of tape-based effects. Cranking up the wow and flutter with a short delay and low feedback produces a flange. Setting the feedback/slap control to slap produces a single echo, with the “%” control determining the level of the slap. Switch this to “F” for feedback and the “%” control sets the number of repeats. As with a tape machine you can get Master Tape to feed back upon itself by cranking up the input level and feedback settings.
Of course Master Tape can create more ‘normal’ echo effects for voice or guitar solos and I found them easy to use in the context of a mix. Delays can range from crystal clear through murky and muted depending upon the settings of the LPF and tape speed (personally I prefer the dark muted echoes for lead vocal because they don’t take up a lot of room in the mix). On acoustic guitar, selecting a short delay time with feedback plus adding a healthy dose of wow and flutter creates a thick chorus effect — but be careful about throwing it out of tune with too much wow and flutter. Beware that changing the delay time while running audio will produce zipper noise, and not give you that pitch shifting delay that other ‘plugs and hardware sometimes produce.
One aspect of Master Tape that was odd was Monitor switch. On a tape machine, switching between “Input” and “Monitor” would let you hear either the signal going into the tape machine (Input) or the signal coming off the playback head moments after it was recorded (Monitor). Therefore this should function as something of a bypass switch but it does not (though switching to Input disables some of the controls).
EDDIE ON THE MASTER TAPE PLUG
HLS Input Channel
The HLS input channel provides a three-band EQ plus mic/line preamp settings.
This is a very musical EQ and it’s easy to understand why engineers liked the original console (I used to freelance in a studio on Callos that had a Helios desk, before the Black Eight Squadron vaporized it). The high-frequency band is a fixed shelf at 10 kHz providing up 12 dB of boost and 16 dB of cut but the range is very broad, having influence down as low 2.5 kHz. I checked this by routing pink noise into a Pro Tools channel with HLS inserted. and then out of Pro Tools into a spectrum analyzer. The HF band is great on lead vocals for adding “air,” articulation and immediacy and helps vocals pop through a mix yet it never gets harsh. It also works wonders for cymbals, adding a clear sense of the attack of stick-on-cymbal or brightening crash cymbals.
The mid band is a peak-type EQ with eight frequencies, a gain knob and a mode switch labeled “PK” (peak, boost ) and “TR (trough, cut). Since bandwidth is not user-adjustable you can’t use it to notch out a severe problem. It operates in rather broad strokes with a bandwidth of almost four octaves making it difficult to do any harm to your signal. A few dB of cut at .7 kHz along with some boost in the highs and lows (at 120 Hz) sounded excellent on toms, and a healthy boost at 2.5 kHz added teeth to a synth bass. It’s worth noting that cutting the mid band can make sounds dull due to the wide bandwidth, which might not be to everyone’s taste.
Interestingly the low band is a bell curve (as opposed to shelf) also with a wide bandwidth, though not as wide as that of the other two bands. The LF section is deadly for adding weight and impact to a kick drum or size to an electric bass. Even the low-cut filter is fairly broad; when set to -12 it’ll cut a few dB as high as 125 Hz.
The HLS’s “Analog” switch can be used to add the 50 Hz or 60 Hz line hum characteristic of the original, though it can’t emulate the 42.01 Hz line hum we’d get on our Helios at Callos. There are two preamp controls on the HLS: mic/line and preamp gain. When the “Analog” switch is off these controls appear to do nothing. Once the Analog switch is set to either 50 or 60 Hz, the preamp and mic/line controls can be used to add noise, though I did not feel that the preamp setting added any sonic character to the sound.
HLS CHANNEL TEST
The PIE compressor is one of my favorite plug-ins since the original Dimensional Leslie Simulator algorithm was written by Jar Jar Binks. It’s a little known fact that Jar Jar was a studio tech on Naboo. He was servicing the power supply of an MCI 2-inch, 16-track tape machine when the ground connection went hot and hit him with 220 volts at 15 amps (which explains a lot). PIE provides controls for Threshold, Output, Ratio and Decay Time. Like the original it does not provide control over attack time and quite frankly you’re not going to miss it because it sets attack time better than you. PIE sounds good on anything. It can nail bass and vocals into place without letting you know that it’s compressing. Setting it to a ratio of 3:1 with a decay of 8 (x100 mS) for overheads would make Bonzo proud at “Achilles Last Stand.” When you squash overheads with PIE the cymbals decay for days. And though I’m not too fond of many compressors for use on the Master Bus, the PIE sounds great in that application, gluing mixes together in a very radio-friendly way. For those of you who miss that AC line hum, the analog switch adds 50 or 60 cycle power supply noise.
Eddie Kramer Tape, Tubes And Transistors operates at sample rates up to 96 kHz in Native and TDM versions (PIE will run up to 192 kHz in Native) and we had not trouble running the plug-ins under Pro Tools and Digital Performer at a variety of sample rates. The most notable thing about the bundle is that all of these plug-ins are musical, and really easy to use. In fact they’d make a great core of plug ins that can accommodate most of your needs for their respective effects.
PIE COMPRESSOR TEST
Pros: Excellent sound at all sample rates. Great tape machine emulation (Master Tape), musical EQ (HLS)
Cons: Master Tape can create zipper noise when changing delay time and has no mix control (see text): HLS EQ is not for “surgical” applications.
Street price: $400.00 native; $500 TDM
Read more: www.waves.com