Tape Emulation Shootout: U-He Satin vs. UAD Ampex ATR-102 vs. Waves J37 and Kramer Tape

Discussion in 'Software Reviews and Tutorials' started by mercurysoto, Nov 29, 2016.

?

Which one do you like better?

Poll closed Nov 29, 2016.
  1. Sample A

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  2. Sample B

    1 vote(s)
    20.0%
  3. Sample C

    2 vote(s)
    40.0%
  4. Sample D

    1 vote(s)
    20.0%
  5. The difference, if any, doesn't justify the expense.

    1 vote(s)
    20.0%
  1. mercurysoto

    mercurysoto Rock Star

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    UPDATE:

    I have closed this poll temporarily. I'm reaching @WillTheWeirdo to include Nebula tape emulations in the mix. This will provide a more useful comparison among so revered plugins in the real world. Putting Satin, Nebula, Waves, and UAD together is gonna be fun at least.

    If someone wants to contribute by treating the unprocessed audio with Slate VTM, PM me to discuss testing parameters and include it too.

    --------

    Ok, this is Cyber Monday's digital hangover, so I decided to put together another shootout. I put four tape emulation plugins elbow to elbow: Waves J37, Waves Kramer Tape, U-He Satin, and Universal Audio Ampex ATR-102. Listen a form an opinion by yourselves.

    Neither tape machine plugin was calibrated for this test. They are all at default settings, running at imaginary 15 IPS. The only thing I did was to feed the input gain until the VU meter was kind of hot, peaking at slightly above +2, being careful not to "bury the needle." The output was then compensated to avoid fooling your mind with louder-is-better illusions. Three of the plugins had automatic compensation settings, but UAD Studer doesn't, and it surged the audio by around 6dB and I had to use a gain plugin to pull it down. My goal was to see all four plugins go gently into the red at about the same point (around +2). The tape saturation effect is mostly subtle and when the needle was at 0 dB, I couldn't actually hear a significant change. It's in the red area where saturation and its related compression starts to occur. Anyhow, the effect is subtle.

    The song is just a fragment of "Sing Along," a yet-to-be published song by Frankie Barranco, featured in Dueling Mixes by Graham Cochrane and Joe Gilder. The song is mixed by me and it is unmastered (and with very conservative gain staging, peaking at around -16 on a VU meter). The fragment contains all kinds of dynamic range so you can assess the sound as thoroughly as I can get it to be.

    Enough blah, get to listen. Here's the unprocessed audio. All files are .wav at 48kbps, 24 bits.

    And here are the samples:

    Sample A
    Sample B
    Sample C
    Sample D

    You be the judge.

    Peace

     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2016
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  3. mottell

    mottell Noisemaker

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    Would love to have the Slate VTM in the comparison choices. But nice test anyway.
     
  4. mercurysoto

    mercurysoto Rock Star

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    Yeah, I would've loved that too, but my gratis subscription expired already and I don't feel like renewing it with Slate.
     
  5. erminardi

    erminardi Member

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    Pretty useless IMO if you ever tried the AA Nebula R2R and similar programs.
     
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  6. mercurysoto

    mercurysoto Rock Star

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    I don't know about useless, but at least it can be informative. Not everyone has the chance of putting these side by side. I understand your point in hightening Acustica Audio stuff. People can get sided that way.
     
  7. Jack On

    Jack On Newbie

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    I like the unprocessed audio the most, following by B and C. But I am a tape noob and totally dont know what it should sound like.

    Just an opinion.
     
  8. Herr Durr

    Herr Durr Audiosexual

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    track has a sort of ethereal feel to it.... and seems like B matched that vibe best for me..
     
  9. Seedz

    Seedz Producer

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    A lot of difference in the saturation effect between the intro and the "meat" of the track.
     
  10. WillTheWeirdo

    WillTheWeirdo Platinum Record

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    Best Answer
    I applaud your testing efforts, but I agree that we need to expand the tests to cover as many of our tape tools as possible.

    I have tested all of these plugs but the UA Ampex ATR-102, I also have almost all the many Nebula tapes and have done many tests myself, I also started out working with tape back in the late 80's-90's. IMHO, you should include the Nebula R2R tapes and Tim P's 2 tape libraries into this test, as of right now you are comparing just algo tape plugs and leaving out available tape tools.

    My issues with algo tape plugins is that when real tape saturates it is with even harmonic distortion, no math based plugin captures that properly thus algorithmic plugins do not saturate like real tape, even in the red, and thus do not sound like real tape, defeating their intended purpose. Experienced Engineers understand this. I will also add that all of the algo tape plugs can be used as an effect in any style of music, but less is more as the algo buildup reduces quality, and expectations about matching real tape results must be tempered.

    PM me and I'll run the file through some Nebula tapes for you to post if you want.
     
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  11. erminardi

    erminardi Member

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    Nebula is unbeatable (and necessary) for every kind of realistic (yep, it's basically a 98% copycat of the real thing) saturation, distortion, EQ, and pre amp sim duty.
    No way to obtain all of this in the algo realm. Period.
     
  12. mercurysoto

    mercurysoto Rock Star

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    UPDATE:

    I have closed this poll temporarily. I'm reaching @WillTheWeirdo to include Nebula tape emulations in the mix. This will provide a more useful comparison among so revered plugins in the real world. Putting Satin, Nebula, Waves, and UAD together is gonna be fun at least.

    If someone wants to contribute by treating the unprocessed audio with Slate VTM, PM me to discuss testing parameters and include it too.
     
  13. digitaldragon

    digitaldragon Platinum Record

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    It might be useful to have someone treat with actual tape also if someone has a working machine. It'd be nice to compare that also. I'd volunteer, but all I've got is an Akai GX-260D and am in need some blank tape which I haven't gotten around to ordering. I've actually got it hooked up and working for playback. I just want to get the heads cleaned up prior to use, so haven't fully tested it yet.
    But if someone has access to some of the standards (Studer, etc.) it would be a great comparison as well. To "truly" see how close these plugs will get.
    I tend to agree with @WillTheWeirdo regarding the difference between Nebula and the algorithmic plugs.
    But... usage will vary with need. For me, I'm just using it to knock off some of the digital harshness from distorted electric guitar parts, at get a little light compression. Slate VTM worked better for that than Waves J37 which seemed to give me a nasty resonance in the 5k area.
    I think I'm going to go back and compare to some of the Nebula Tape Libraries though after reading Will's suggestions on the libraries to look at.
    And what is this about calibrating the plugins? What's the purpose of that?
     
  14. WillTheWeirdo

    WillTheWeirdo Platinum Record

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    I believe his usage of the term "calibrate", is meaning to give as even a test as possible between the different plugins and all their variables.

    FWIW, LOL, those of us with tape experience are sensitive to the term calibrate, as you have to bias, demagnetize, align and calibrate analogue tape machines..... I do NOT miss those days.... than you DAW gods!
     
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  15. mercurysoto

    mercurysoto Rock Star

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    A practical use, which might prove beneficial for testing, is to use old tape and capture the line out of your machine into your DAW. The wash of electronics into the signal could give it a nice analog touch, which in the end, is what we all look for in an emulation.

    Some tape machine emulations give you calibration options, for instance UAD Ampex allows you to change tape formulation and saturation headroom, as well as tweak several other parameters.
     
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  16. SineWave

    SineWave Audiosexual

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    I really appreciate how informative this is, but it would be much more informative if you included ToneBoosters "ReelBus", my favourite tape plugin. But the best warming plugin is still having a bit of hardware to pass your audio through, really.
     
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  17. SineWave

    SineWave Audiosexual

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    If Nebula was that good, then nobody would use anything else, don't you think? But people do use other plugins, a lot. Doesn't that make you feel a bit inquisitive? :wink:
     
  18. mercurysoto

    mercurysoto Rock Star

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    Duly noted. Reelbus is on the pipeline.
     
  19. Torrao

    Torrao Kapellmeister

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    Not everybody can whithstand Nebula workflow and CPU hit. That doesn't change the fact that Nebula is the clear winner in this specific area if we only care about sound quality and realism.
     
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  20. dim_triad

    dim_triad Producer

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    I'll just tell you without listening... UAD is better.. cuz it can't be pirated :D

    oh, and it's a lot of money too
     
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  21. ClaudeBalls

    ClaudeBalls Producer

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    Kind of a pointless exercise since all of the plugs have numerous parameters that can be adjusted from "perfect" to anywhere beyond "total crap". I think the only way anyone could actually form a useful opinion on the strengths, weaknesses and overall character of any set of Tape emulators is to use them and compare their ranges on the same tracks in your own environment.

    Someone else randomly setting the parameters across different plugins isn't going to tell you anything useful about the plugins only the engineer using/misusing them. (trust me I can make anything sound terrible in 20 seconds or less)

    I think a video of someone showing the range of the different products would be a better use of everyone's time. Poster and viewer.

    I think we all know the overall character of the various manufacturers by now as well (at least across the similar products they all offer: Tape, 160, fairchild, 1176, Pultec, API, Neve, SSL etc).

    Slate : nice interface, hyped tone, glassy sound with weak effect. Very digital and sterile. Things get aliasy very quickly when used on multiple tracks.

    Waves: worst interfaces, boxy sounding, instantly lose bandwidth just by instantiating it. Crunchy and brittle. Barely better than nothing, often worse. Very small range of acceptable parameters.

    UAD: Best sounding, pro-level quality but still way inferior to the real thing. Widest bandwidth and most useful range of controls.


    (Disclaimer: Also Slate sucks, because they are pushing the "rent your plugins" and if it catches on, everyone will do it and we will all be on the losing end. Think it through, rent to own is kind, rent forever is greed. If anyone should be driven out of business as a punishment it should be them.)
     
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