The problem with most plugin emulations is that, like a pair of tight, pink, zebra print, lycra leggings they are not subtle like real tape actually is. Most have a massively exaggerated bump in the low end or exhibit way too much compression and/or distortion.
Thusly they are more of a pastiche of people’s idea of reel to reel tape. We were interested to find out whether Tape went down that same route. A great many people expressed excitement to APN when we ran the story on Softube’s new Tape plugin.
“The problem with most plugin emulations is that they are not subtle like real tape actually is.”
Immediately noticeable is Tape’s beautiful interface. Extremely clean and well thought out it places the main controls right where you need them. The twin VU meters are particularly useful in that they double as both level meters or, at the flick of the THD switch, they will give you visual feedback on the level of Total Harmonic Distortion.
“Immediately noticeable is Tape’s beautiful interface.”
The main hub of Tape is the gigantic AMOUNT knob in the middle of the main interface. It is with this that you dial in the level of color or harmonic distortion that you need. To the right you will see the tape TYPE selector. It is widely agreed that type ‘A’ is the Studer A820 24-Track whilst types ‘B’ and ‘C’ are rumored to be a Revox 4-Track and an AMPEX ATR-800 respectively. Finally, the ‘TAPE SPEED’ dial is non detented so it enables you to choose tape speeds that never actually existed. Our best advice is to use 15 and 30 ips for a higher resolution which will leave your transients more intact, saving the lower speeds for vintage style degradation.
“The main hub of Tape is the gigantic AMOUNT knob in the middle of the main interface.”
The best way to use Tape is to strap it across your Master bus. However, you may still use it on groups and even individual tracks, in certain circumstances. Button ‘A’ will give you a very subtle sheen – especially at 30iPS. Moving into the RC-1 section or ‘Remote Control’ you’ll find a gang of extra knobs and sliders and it’s in here you’ll notice the ‘HIGH FREQ TRIM’ knob. This will allow you to accentuate your high bias response or very elegantly darken your track.
Lower iPS will begin to degrade your sound, albeit in a generally organic manner – until you get down to 1 iPS at which point you’ll witness utter, transient destruction.
“This will allow you to accentuate your high bias response or very elegantly darken your track.”
The workflow that Tape elicits from the user is modish and neat, just like its GUI. It’s very easy to switch the meters to ‘THD’ mode which is how you gauge the level of ‘mojo’. But it’s with the RC-1 panel that the most fun can be had. We’ll start at the bottom with CROSSTALK. Now this is a control that for the most part is about as much use as a one legged man in an arse kicking competition. However, for the sake of realism it is included – leaking, as it does, information between left and right channels on your stereo bus or mix.
Above this is the extremely useful HI FREQ TRIM as previously discussed. Next up is my personal Joint favorite – the STABILITY control. This simulates tape destabilization with the accompanying wow and flutter at a randomly generated, intensity-adjustable pace. This difficult to find feature is great for post work in movies and sound effect design, but also amazing on glitchy synths, organs, strings and drum machines.
It’s so much more useful than it sounds and I have been wanting this functionality, this easily attained for years. Now, the DRY/WET knob would normally be a very straight forward, parallel processing affair. However, in the case of Tape, that’s only true whilst you have the STABILITY control 100% to the left, or stable. As you dial in less stability and turn the DRY to WET you’ll begin to hear some delicious tape flanging which is a fabulous effect and very welcome in this potent package.
“The workflow that Tape elicits from the user is modish and neat, just like its GUI.”
At this point I must mention the NOISE switch. On any normal modeled, vintage plugin I would automatically keep such a feature dormant – after all, you have to ask yourselves why so many millions of dollars have been spent by engineers and studios in the past 50 years on external noise reduction boxes – it’s about as desirable as cross-ply tires on a brand new Dodge Challenger. Again though, Softube just get it right. I was more than happy to leave NOISE engaged as it imparts only the subtlest of nuance to your signal. Working almost like dither it helps to smooth and fill gaps in your audio as a pose to the gigantic ‘clown’ button found on other plugins that pastiches everything we’ve been trying to get rid of since the dawn of recording.
“I was more than happy to leave NOISE engaged as it imparts only the subtlest of nuance to your signal.”
The last couple of tricks are very sweet indeed. First, and most obvious, are the RUN/STOP buttons. As you would imagine they do exactly what they say. When you hit STOP it gives you a perfect tape stop effect and then after, when you punch the RUN button your audio winds back up to the correct speed. A brilliantly implemented, easy to use and very welcome effect that I did not expect to find here. I would love for there to be adjustments available for RUN/STOP and the STABILITY control – but perhaps that could be saved for a dedicated tape fx plugin. Lastly, comes the main, operational zone of Tape. The input and output controls. This is where you set the fundamental groundwork for your tape play. Raise the INPUT and you will drive Tape harder, creating distortion but also raising the output volume Which is why you must then lower the OUTPUT slider. Whilst you’re balancing the sliders you can keep your eye on the THD meter to make sure you’re not overdoing it.
“…A brilliantly implemented, easy to use and very welcome effect that I did not expect to find here.”
Time and again Softube release plugins that have been done to death by other devs but end up proving the adage that you can never have enough of a good thing. They imbue their software with a high level of charm and the sound quality is always undeniable. Tape is the perfect example of a plugin that you can buy from almost any manufacturer yet you should probably consider Softube’s version to be the yardstick. Its sound and bias response is so subtle that under congenial operating temperatures and without critical listening experience or aptitude you’ll wonder if it’s even on. But that’s the point. Artists and labels employ engineers for a reason – because when they’re done with a track it just sounds better. Tape is one of those tools that almost any pro-engineer will likely be happy to rely upon to help smooth the spackle and glue a producer’s song into a warm, cohesive product. It has any flavor of tape you could possibly need and the special fx are worth the price alone. This is tape, done perfectly.
“…You should probably consider Softube’s version to be the yardstick… This is tape, done perfectly.”
Price and Availability
Softube’s Tape weighs in at a reasonable $99 USD and it also includes a ‘MixFX’ version for Presonus’ Studio One owners that allows the plugin to ‘CROSSTALK’ across multiple channels. For more info please look here.
For a 20 day demo you need to download the gobbler app here follow the set-up instructions and requested license will be deposited to your new Softube/Gobbler account.
To purchase Softube Tape, please look here
Compatible on Mac:
For use with VST, VST3, Audio Units, AAX Native and Mix Engine FX.
Compatible on Windows:
Windows 7 or newer
For use with VST, VST3, AAX Native and Mix Engine FX.
*All Softube plug-ins support both 32- and 64-bit hosts, although a 64-bit OS is required.
- Ease of use
- Low CPU, even for older computers
- Special FX
- Getting acquainted with Gobbler
- So accurate, some may find it boring
- Can't save presets within the plugin