The CLASP (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor) system I described yesterday is another studio tool that audio engineers can use to record create a very specific “tonal flavor” for an album. They describe it as putting back “the sound of what’s been missing” on their website. That characterization or “marketing spin” as I prefer to call it is not exactly accurate. It would more appropriate to say CLASP or analog recording puts “reduces the fidelity in a pleasing way”…kind of like vinyl LPs.
Figure 1 – The CLASP system signal flow.
The CLASP system is a very useful tool for those that want the “positive” things that analog tape recording does to the sound of a recording. If the sound that recording engineers and producers achieved in the days when the only choice we had was to work with analog multitrack machines is the sound that an artist or producer wants today, then CLASP is one way to get there. But it’s not the only way.
T. Bone Burnett is a very well know producer and loves the sound of analog tape. Virtually all of the projects that he’s produced over the past few years have been done on actual analog tape machines using reel-to-reel tape (each reel of 2″ tape goes for more than $300 each). The machines have to be cleaned, demag’d, and calibrated everyday prior to the sessions and they wear out. The oxide gradually gets scrapped away along with all of the high frequencies. There is a market for studios that still maintain analog tape machines…but it is a specialty offering.
Another way is to use a plug-in to emulate the kinds of things that a pass through an analog tape machine does…except you do it with a digital process inside of your workstation. These kinds of plug-ins (along with all of the other ones that emulate older vintage gear) have gotten very good and are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. And the best part is that they can be turned off and on! The “compromised sound” that you’re actually recording with CLASP is not permanent using plug-ins.
Wouldn’t it have been better if Mark Knopfler had decided to use the “analog tape” plug-in instead of actually doing a “destructive” process on his new album. If he had, then we’d be able to enjoy his production in real high-resolution. But that “warmth and air” that the former CEO of Sony Music describes in his testimonial video is all important to many legacy artists…and the younger ones that are nostalgic for the good old days.
In my perfect world, any of these “sound enhancement processes” can be applied at the delivery end of the music reproduction chain. Like heavy mastering of dynamics to get that punchy “radio/CD” sound, adding analog tape attributes like hiss and distortion, speed variations, scrape flutter, print through, etc could be applied at your music server or smartphone…for those that want that sort of thing. I can tolerate it when I’m listening to oldies, but not for new recordings.
Having dedicated myself to producing and releasing the cleanest, most accurate sounding, pure music recordings, I’m surprised that prominent engineers and producers believe that “everything old is new again”. CLASP is merely another tool to be used as necessary. It works but requires the use of an analog tape machine and I’m simply not interested in getting back into that sort of hardware.