J37: Going for that Analog Tape Sound

Once in a while, a marketing email shows up in my inbox that merits some closer scrutiny. This morning I got an announcement about a new plug in that allows users of digital audio workstations to add “stunning analog warmth” to their recordings. The J37 Plug In from Waves is yet another attempt to provide audio engineers with a set of tools to modify the high-resolution audio that their workstations are capable of into a sound that is inherent in the output of analog tape machines.

Analog tape machines are still considered by many audiophiles and professional engineers to be the ultimate in audio recording and reproduction. Just the other day I received an email from a former student asking if I would comment on a list of equipment that Eddie Kramer had recommended for the public radio station that he works for. Eddie Kramer for those less familiar with his work has engineered projects for Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Kiss, John Mayall, The Rolling Stones, Peter Frampton, Joe Cocker, Curtis Mayfield, Santana, David Bowie, Derek and the Dominos and others. This guy is the real deal in terms of classic rock records.

The list of equipment included two analog 24-track Studer machines, an Ampex ATR 102 1/2″ Tape Recorder and lots of analog signal processors. I get it. Even though Eddie is very familiar with digital workstations (there is the ubiquitous Pro Tools system and state-of-the-art AD/DA converters on the list as well), he is suggesting that the station use 40-year-old technology to record the bands/artists that will come by the studio to play and record.

My response to the student was to abandon the past and stick with current recording technology. The J37 plug in from Waves can be switched on to provide the sonic signature of analog tape any time they need it. But don’t waste precious dollars on obsolete equipment.

Just take a look at the features list in the following marketing email blurb. The J37 plug in will allow discriminating audio engineers to add Tape Saturation (distortion when the signal is too hot), Noise and, my favorite, Wow and Flutter. In this day of ultimate clarity and sonic accuracy, the J37 Plug In adds all of the flaws of analog tape back into a clean high-resolution PCM digital signal. I recognize that degrading the sound quality is an “artistic” choice but it does represent a rather static approach to engineering audio.

Here’s the actual emailed product pitch.

“Waves and Abbey Road Studios present the J37 tape saturation plug-in, a precision model of the very machine used to record many of the greatest masterpieces in modern music. With a variety of user-adjustable controls including Tape Speed, Bias, Noise, Saturation, Wow and Flutter, the Waves: Abbey Road J37 faithfully recreates the inimitable sonic signature of the original machine. In addition to the J37 itself, three exclusive oxide tape formulas have been modeled. Specially developed by EMI during the β€˜60s and β€˜70s, each formula has its own unique frequency response and harmonic distortion behavior. In order to push the envelope even further, a comprehensive Tape Delay unit has been added to complement those warm tones.

The Waves: Abbey Road J37 tape emulation plug-in will bring stunning analog warmth to your digital recordings, delivering a level of hardware realism never before experienced β€œin the box.”

I would teach my students about this software tape emulator but I won’t be applying it to my recording any time soon.

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

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