Analog tape mastering...

Discussion in 'Mastering' started by niclaus, Jan 8, 2008.

  1. niclaus

    niclaus Active Member


    I was considering making some mastering tests using a nagra T-audio tape recorder...
    But here's the thing, i just can't have it to record while at 30ips (maybe some option not available or something), it reads but it won't record...

    has anyone already heard about that?

    Since it won't work at 30 ips, i thought that i could try at 15ips!!
    Maybe using a SR encoding so it doenst' get too noisy!!

    What are the usual procedures when using an analog tape recorder??
    Does anyone have any advices??

    Thanks for your help.

  2. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Do you have an owners manual, or the service manual for that machine? Everything should be explained in there in detail. You're dealing with a serious piece of analog technology here, and I wouldn't recommend just throwing tape on there and hoping for the best, regardless of the speed setting.

    You shouldn't expect to get great results without doing a little work ahead of time on the machine itself. 30 IPS vs. 15 IPS doesn't nec. mean better specs or less noise all by itself. There are other tradeoffs as well. I wouldn't bother with Dolby SR for classical or other acoustic material, but it might be ok for some rock & pop stuff. I wouldn't go out of my way to pick up or rent a unit, your time might be better spent getting the best levels, and the right tape for your machine for the best S/N ratio, at either speed.

    And speaking of tape, "Tests" will be meaningless without properly setting up the machine for the tape you'll be using. Has it been serviced recently? Do you have alignment tapes? Where there any alignment tapes with the machine? (This is critical for best playback and best S/N ratio when recording.)

    What brand of tape are you using? Do you know what the machine has been setup for previously? Have you adjusted the bias for this already? (Do you even know how to bias your machine for the tape you'll be using??)

    I applaud your experimental spirit, but you must have these things all in place before you can get any kind of usuable results out of an analog machine. Otherwise, any kind of "Mastering Tests" to tape will be rather pointless; you'd be better off with bouncing to 24/44 wav files in your computer.

    There's a lot of info out there on the web: You can start at and poke around at Eddie Ciletti's website, following the links to all of his analog tape alignment and tech info.

    Good luck! :cool:
  3. niclaus

    niclaus Active Member

    Hey JoeH,

    first of all, thanks for your help...

    Well, the machine i'll be using has been in service in the facility right next to mine for several years (they lend it to me for few days). They do maintenance pretty oftenly, so there shouldn't too much problems there...
    I'm using the same brand of tape that they usually do so i think the alignment and other technical issues should be OK.

    i'll sure put an eye on that website. Thanks by the way...

    You say that you wouldn't bother wth dolby SR when working on acoustical stuff, but maybe on more rockish programm!!
    Well, i would have expected the other way!!
    Aren't more dynamical programs more subject to noise??

    Thanks for sharing

  4. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Your instincts are good, but the problem with using SR on acoustic material is that it has too great of an impact on the sound of the original source material. For acoustic (specifically orchestral) to analog tape, I've found that embracing the noise that you have and using other means to work around it are almost always the best bets. Other means such as a HPF on the first few seconds of material (after that, the ear becomes accustomed and doesn't really hear much noise.)

    Tape hiss isn't usually a problem on a well-calibrated 15 IPS machine for classical as long as the gain of the material is proper. Peaks should, well, peak. Don't leave tons of headroom on acoustic material - allow for some saturation.
  5. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    Yes, wide-range dynamic programs can be more subject to noise, same as anything else.

    Back in the analog tape days (pre-digital, up to the mid-80's or so), we (the company I was working for) just didn't like the sound of ANY noise reduction, including Dolby SR. It wasn't all that bad, of course, but we could still hear it working on some things (esp solo piano and very exposed things like flute, etc.) so we just didn't find it worth the expense. We found instead that keeping all the other parts of the chain pristine gave us just about enough S/N to do 30 and even 15 IPS work with no serious problems. Those archived reel to reel recordings still stand up today, I'm proud to say. (MCI JH-110 series machines, using Ampex 456 tape w/elevated levels, etc.)

    These days, the dynamic range of most of the gear we all use regularly far surpasses many things from the old days. If the medium of tape is your weakest link in the chain, you may be alright if your levels are set properly. With a knowledgable tech, you can try a little overbias and hit the tape plenty hard, as well, depending on what kind of music you're doing.

    If it's going to end up as an MP3 somewhere, you'll never notice the difference anyway.

    Since you know the history/lineage of the machine, I'd check with the guys who are loaning it to you, and find out more, if you can.
  6. niclaus

    niclaus Active Member

    thanks for your kind answers guys...
    It's really helpfull..

    I just tried to record on it and play it again, but it seems that the guys didn't do such a great job on maintenance since it's really not calibrated... Not in level, nor in color so i think i'll have to check if they can do it properly...
    But i'm sure there's something to do with it.!!!

    Your experiences with Dolby SR are really interesting, and i can understand why you think it wouldn't worth it...

    About noise reduction, well, i do work in a sound restoration facility so i pretty much know my way around here... At least i hope so... That shouldn't be a problem... And a little noise never killed anyone, right!!

    Oh, and another question.
    I don't have any REALLY GOOD D/A converter, what do you think would better between the analog outputs of my 888/24, the analog output of a 192 I/O, analog outpur of a PCM7040 or of a DA98, oh, and a yamaha D/A converter...???

    Thanks again, and if you have other advices, well, i'll be glad to hear them.

  7. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    Calibrating a tape machine isn't like changing the oil in a car. you should calibrate the machine EVERY TIME you use it, which requires an MRL tape. The heads and tape path should also be cleaned before and after each use. You also need to bias the machine for the specific tape you are using, meaning you record and tweak on that tape. Demaging the heads will be something you should do regularly too along with azimuth. Sending the deck to a tech to check headstack height etc should be done too.

    Then you can evaluate that machine once you're sure it's setup properly. It can and will change day to day so you have to check the alignment before use. Then you can better evaluate the need or not need for noise reduction.

    Analog tape machines require a lot of maint, but when they're setup right, they sound great. When they aren't they sound like dog doo.
  8. niclaus

    niclaus Active Member

    well, this one sounds like dog doo...!!!

    I'll check with the techs to see if they can do the maint...

  9. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    And this is why I love digital.

    Although, when digital is setup right, it sounds great. When it isn't, it too sounds like dog doo.
  10. niclaus

    niclaus Active Member

    I'm not a big fan of self-quoting but i'd really like to hear your thoughts about that...

  11. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    I would use whatever tool I had available to me.

    In today's world, the quality of DA conversion is becoming less and less relevant as so many of the converters on the market are of similar quality and build. It's kind of like a bell curve. The vast majority are in the middle of the pack and do a phenomenal job at what they're supposed to do.

    Very few are exceptional, but those that are exceptional are quite breathtaking at what they do. (RADAR, Prism, Lavry Gold).

    Very few just genuinely suck. (I can think of a few soundcards to which this applies.)

    All of the devices you mention sit happily in that cozy, comfortable middle ground. Choose which ever one suits you best and run with it.

    I personally have not had any experience with the PCM 7040 but have had positive results with other Sony ADCs and DACs. I'm not sure which Yamaha you've got, so no comment there. The MOTU stuff seems rock solid too. I used an 828 for a little while and was quite impressed at its sound (or lack thereof.)

    In other words, you can do pretty much anything you'd like.

    Not the answer you were hoping for, right?
  12. niclaus

    niclaus Active Member

    well, thanks for your help.

    I'll guess i'll go with the 888 or maybe the 192 I/O (whish digedesign manufactured, and not motu)...

    I've never been able to listen to one of those AMAZING DA... I'm really wondering about that...
  13. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    Sorry...brain fart. I was thinking of whatever MOTU's 192 interface was. I'm personally curious to try one of those.

    As for the Digi...never tried that one either. Can't tell you much there. I'm sure it's a fine piece of gear though - I can't imagine how many hit records have been cut through one of those...
  14. niclaus

    niclaus Active Member

    yeah, the 192 sure does its work quite well...!!!
  15. niclaus

    niclaus Active Member

    So it turned out that i needed to find someone to do the maintenance...
    I found the guy, but it could take a while before i can find time to go and see him... But i sure will be able to have it in proper working order.

    In the mean time, i was looking around and i just found out about the "reel tape" digidesign plug in...
    Of course it can not be the real thing, but did any of you try it??
    What did you think??

  16. rouda

    rouda Guest

    hi! i was just wondering about mastering in ordinary c-cassette just getting analog sound from pro tools? we have old early 1980's fostex cassette deck player...
  17. JoeH

    JoeH Well-Known Member

    It might give you some help if it's three heads & you're routing out to it as an effects loop for certain instruments, like bass or snare or something. Then you could time-shift the latency in the delay and get it back to normal afterwards when you mix.

    I did something like that once with a digital rhythm track that needed a little grit & warmth; not much, but just a touch.

    Otherwise, I'd keep that cassette deck around for rescuing old tapes from friends and clients who have something on cassette they need transferred to digital from cassette.

    The wow & flutter & overall tape hiss would, IMHO, offset any potential gains you may get from the "Warmth" of it for an entire track. The S/N ratio isn't acceptable, either; the track width is ridiculously small, a fraction of what you get with 1/2 track analog tape. You cannot cheat the laws of physics here. Cassettes, even when set up for the best tape, bias, EQ & Dolby B, C or Pro just aren't good enough for any serious, professional work.
  18. Michael Fossenkemper

    Michael Fossenkemper Distinguished past mastering moderator Well-Known Member

    You'd be much better off getting one of those tape emulator plugin's, Still a little rough on a mix though.
  19. niclaus

    niclaus Active Member

    yeah, and i just figured out that you could "rent" those plug in (such as the reel tape saturation) for a couple of days for 7,50$. As long as you have a pro tools that is...
  20. Massive Mastering

    Massive Mastering Well-Known Member

    I'm with Joe (& Mike too).

    Cassette tape isn't the road to "analog tape warmth" by any stretch. It's a noisy, relatively crappy final delivery format. It was meant for "reasonable" reproduction (not even as good as a medium-resolution MP3) and portability.

    You want to hit 1/2" tape at 15ips on a solid machine? I'm not going to argue with you. But 1/8" tape at 1-7/8ips on a 20-some year-old cassette deck? I'd just leave that alone...

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