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Tascam MS-16 & Otari MX70

Howdy,

I'm looking for some input in regards to both these two 1 inch 16 track machines because I'm in the market for one.
Both are currently going for about $1000-$2000 depending on the condition and seller.
I've never used either of these machines and don't know anyone that has had experience with them.
Any input from those of you (on parts availability, functionality, reliability, transport quality, etc..) that have had experience using them would be appreciated.
I'm also unsure what these went for new, back when they were still being sold (would be interesting to know).

I have the opportunity to get a MS-16 and drive it back from California to Utah myself, the seller has sent me pictures of the heads (but I don't know how to judge them or if you even can by photos?).

Here's a link to the listing:
https://reverb.com/item/3480066-Tascam-ms-16

Thanks Everyone

Comments

DonnyThompson Tue, 04/25/2017 - 03:19

Kurt's post was great info, I'll just add a few more tidbits...

I had an MS16 for several years, and I did a lot of great work on that machine. But, Kurt is right, the lifters were the weak link in the transport mechanism, during fast Rew or FF, the lifters really did make hard contact with the Repro head, and because the head stack of those series of Tascams were "softer", you could face premature wear on them.
---------------
Quick side note...
@Kurt Foster - Kurt, do I recall correctly... I seem to recall that Tascam fixed that issue about halfway through the manufacturing run of the MS16, so if you had one that came later (after '91 maybe?) that problem had been fixed? I'm almost sure that happened... looking to you for confirmation on that tho...)
------------------

That said, plenty of guys accidentally mixed songs off the sync head over the years - and not just on the Tascam either. LOL.
What was good about the Tascam,besides it having a great sound, was that parts were always readily available.
I'm not sure Otari still makes parts for their decks...? You might need to locate a third party parts service for those.
Either way, you'll eventually want to order up an alignment tape for either one you choose,and I would certainly check for head stack wear on the one you end up going to get, along with motors and speed control, too. Also check each track input and output and VU.
If you notice any problems, decide to either make a lower offer- knowing you'll have to put money into fixing it- or ...walk away.
Tape machines are electrical, and may have circuits-based issues, but they are also mechanical, with motors and bearings and moving parts, just like any other mechanical device, and as such, they are just as susceptible to age, use, wear and tear.

I'm not trying to sway you away from getting one, I think if you find the right one, that you'll have fun with it, and part of that is the analog experience, because there is a kind of "magic" to the sounds of tape machines and consoles; in a way it's sort of sexy (in an audio way) to hear them put their vibe to music....but I guess I'm also just giving you a heads-up that you aren't buying a simple device. All mechanical (and electrical too but particularly mechanical) devices will need maintenance and servicing eventually.
It's not a question of "if"... but of "when".
So, your first quest should be to find out if parts are still available for the two models in question.

FWIW

Kurt Foster Tue, 04/25/2017 - 09:35

i don't know anything about a "fix" for the MS16's lifter issues. all i know i what i have heard about them in the past and as we all know bad news travels much faster than good. Donny has actual hands on experience with MS16's so i defer to his opine on anything related.

although i tout analog recording a lot, i would never recommend buying an analog recorder and console unless you really have a passion for the medium. the reality is we don't own this stuff, it owns us. running an analog studio requires a business plan that includes regular maintenance not only for the machines but the instruments as well. i paid $100 bucks plus a month just to keep the grand piano in tune and playing correctly. if you own an animal, you have to feed it.

would it be cool to have a studio like that? yes it would ........ would it be cool to deal with all the issues it would present, not just in starting up but in continued operation? i don't think so. not without a client base to support it or the knowledge to work on all that stuff.

the problem? finding a tech that has all that old school knowledge that can still get to you to do the work. they are all getting long in the tooth. Michael Gore (the guy who kept me up and running) no longer does studio calls. you have to take your stuff to him and to tell the truth, who knows how long that will last until he just decides to go play golf all the time? if i were still running KFRS, i would be pulling my hair out. there are a lot of guys that call themselves "techs" who will do more damage than good, especially over a period of years working on your studio. when i bought my JH636, we had to spend countless hours going through it to remedy all the "fixes" some idiot had done. good techs are hard to find. bottom line is you really need to have a passion for tape and analog audio for it to make any sense.

the promise of DAW was they were going to democratize the recording industry, making tools accessible to many who couldn't afford them or the space to house and use them. this hasn't played out imo. the litany of complaints is too long to go into every time a discussion comes up but we all know what they are. the result is for every "solution" to issues that kept people from self recording, another issue arises. better mics? now your acoustics need work. quieter recordings? RF and EMI noise is now more of a problem. squeeze the sausage in one place and it swells up in another.

so i am not so much an advocate of tape per se, but rather an advocate of analog mixing. i have done dozens of projects on digital tape that i think stand up to anything recorded on big tape analog. it was once i got rid of my console and tried to mix on a computer that the frustrations set in. and it's not just a tactile thing either. i truly believe that itb summing just really sucks and digital eq has a much different sound than analog eq. i do not subscribe to the opinion that digital eq is better. it's just different. sometimes a little phase shift is what the doctor ordered. summing mixers are an improvement in sound but i still find them lacking in a way that for me stifles my creativity. what i would love to see is a multi track recorder DAW program, sans all the mixing and plug in abilities. just a plain multi track recorder that runs at 192 with all the editing abilities but no mixing facilities. a person has to be a computer scientist to be able to run a DAW. that's why you see a lot of old schoolers and even some of the newer crop of producers and engineers in the biz bringing in Pro Tools "operators" who may not be musically inclined but know their way around a computer.

audiokid Tue, 04/25/2017 - 11:11

Solid advice from Kurt.

If you buy a reel to reel, I'd use it to add vintage hype and decor for the clients that know no better but that's as far as it would go. They look really cool and will get people talking regardless of using it or not! That's all its good for.
From personal experience, you will likely get it working half ass and then it will die and never get fixed. Who is going to fix it? Better off, don't use it and just keep it looking clean and use it to hype your studio.

I'm going to add my two cents in this thread for forum content reasons now. My opinion on tape is not intended to sway anyone from investing in tape recording , but rather to put some thought into other key products that were part of the fat analog tape era too.

Guessing... if you have reached the level of wanting "tape sound", you are likely understanding a bit more about pro audio than just the average project studio so this post is for you.
I'm simply taking this opportunity right now, to talk about why I think pultecs and LA2A's vs tape might be just what you need to discover next, that is actually still being made like the good old tape days.

Looking for analog warm and fat. Here's what I hear...

If you are really looking for analog silk... build an analog tracking/ mixing system that allows you to switch "good pro audio equipment" gear from the tape era.... and start tracking and mixing in a direction that isn't compromising your capture. You'll be miles ahead.

If you are really wanting big fat sounding tracks that translate. Tape isn't a band aid to cheap gear and poor mixes.

Pultec EQ's from Pulse Techniques http://www.pulsetechniques.com/products are where I would look . Buy one at a time. Do a comparison and then imagine one per channel. Next, get LA2A's and 1176LN and that is your channel strip. The sound of this stuff is pro audio.

This stuff is expensive but its the real deal to analog. Even brand new tape would never rival the lush and smooth texture a professional analog front end. Tracking through good pultecs, LA2A's, > converters >DAW... wow.

If I could afford it, and it was a choice between a brand new tape machine or channels of Pultecs http://www.pulsetechniques.com/products... , I would have at least one MEQ-5 or EQP1A3 per channel (depending if that channel was a mid focus or full range) and never look back. Save your dollars and go one channel at a time. Tape is a dead dead dead end. :notworthy:(n)

Kurt Foster Tue, 04/25/2017 - 12:21

DonnyThompson, post: 449770, member: 46114 wrote: @Kurt Foster - Kurt, do I recall correctly... I seem to recall that Tascam fixed that issue about halfway through the manufacturing run of the MS16, so if you had one that came later (after '91 maybe?) that problem had been fixed? I'm almost sure that happened... looking to you for confirmation on that tho...)

i looked around on the web and i was not able to find anything regarding an update or factory fix for the problem. i did find quite a few posts where owners were complaining of the problem. many offered solutions ranging from rotating worn lifters, cleaning and replacing the rubber grommet on the lifter silinoid to proper lubrication of the lifter mechanism to even replacing bulging capacitors in the power supplies. it seems the design as a whole has issues.

DonnyThompson Tue, 04/25/2017 - 13:44

If it were me... and it was once... I would stear clear of tape. I'm not saying it doesn't behave a certain magic to it, but unless you are very good with repairing them, you're in for a long haul with the rewards being an eventual diminishing return.
The maintenance on tape machines is on going. As Kurt said, you fix one thing and another problem pops up.
Chris mentioned clients being impressed by them, and I think that's true for the most part.
People are a lot more impressed by the visuals of tape machines and big mixers than they are by one box with a keyboard and a screen.
It's always been that way actually. Very few clients on our level know the differences between pro and consumer gear. I recall one client who came to my studio who mentioned being very impressed by another "studio" in my area, mentioning that his control room was loaded with gear and had a big beautiful mixer.
I knew the guy he was talking about, and i knew what he had, too. He had a lot of low grade rack stuff and a large Sunn mixer that was designed for live use - and even for that, it was still low grade... noisy, power supply built in, 3 band fixed EQ. So the client didn't know any better, he was just impressed by the "look" of all that junk.
I think Chris is right, so is Kurt.. that you can achieve a pro analog sound by other means. Good mics, Good preamps, nice select EQs and Gain Reduction...
Perhaps start with something like a 500 Series rack that lets you expand and custom build to your goals. Something like that would make a far greater difference in your sound, improving it, stepping you up to the next level, and you wouldn't have to maintain it every week either... or even possibly everyday.
We've also not mentioned the cost of tape either. 1" is going for around $90 bucks a reel, and at 15ips, gives you less than 34 min of recording time...

FWIW
-d.

Kurt Foster Tue, 04/25/2017 - 14:08

you have to deal with the facts of what your market needs and what costs it will bear. in parts of the country like LA or Nashville, studios can afford tape and they are very much in demand. it seems the process is to record to tape and then transfer to DAW for edits and mix. most these studios also sport real analog consoles which imo, contributes more to a great mix and wow factor than an analog recorder. again we come up against issues with maintenance of a large format console. you need a client base to support these animals and the proper vets (techs) available to cure their ills. otherwise your pissing into the wind. fortunately they are still manufacturing large format consoles. i wish the same were true for analog multitracks.

DonnyThompson Tue, 04/25/2017 - 14:29

Addendum:
If I could afford it- (and afford the maintenance) I would love to track to a DAW through a big, beautiful console - a Neve, SSL, Harrison, Trident, even an Amek or Neotec - with the console groups and direct outputs sent to a great converter, and then to the DAW.

Where Kurt and I differ, is that where he prefers to mix tactile, using the DAW as a modern tape machine and having the console handle both directions, I would still like to mix in the box - but my thought about that is that because there would be great pres on the console, as well as the ability to insert great analog processing per channel, while tracking - there probably wouldn't be the need for all the plug processing that Kurt dislikes.
Short of a handful of digital delay/ plug ins, and perhaps having the advantage of the point accuracy of detailed digital EQ, there would likely not really be a need for the other bells and whistles plugs ...because the front load on the tracking would be of such high quality.

Maybe a few LA2's, or a Focusrite Red Opto Stereo Compressor, a few select EQs - Pultec, Weiss, API, etc. and maybe a few FET compressors ... I would be in "tall cotton", as a friend of mine from Georgia would say ;)
But... unless you are of sufficient financial means, or have a benefactor who really believes in you, ( and I don't have either) it's difficult to justify buying those things if I don't live in an area where entertainment biz thrives, and where I could at least have a chance to get some return on it ... Nashville, NYC, London, Toronto, LA ...
While the workflow I mentioned would be my "dream" rig, I know for a fact it would never pay for itself in Cleveland. It would be a personal indulgence. A nice one, a fun one, but only an indulgence just the same. It would be a terrible business investment.
And.. as a final note... those big, sexy LFC's ?They need maintenance, too. ;)

IMHO :)
-d

Edit - Kurt beat me to it with his most recent post. Lol

Kurt Foster Tue, 04/25/2017 - 14:39

aside from a itb mix sounds like ass to me, the main reason i dislike mixing itb is i pretty much just don't "get" computers. i dislike the constant cycles of upgrade and updates just to stay compatible with the world in general. computers are designed to be obsolete they day you take them home while professional recording consoles and tape machines are designed to military specs for the long haul.

using a nice console seems to me to be a more elegant approach than going into a computer and then out again into outboard into a summing solution and then back into the same or another computer. i know we've been going around and around on this as to what the trend is and what i have been seeing is all the big studios and mixing cooks are pretty much using DAW with LF consoles to mix with a few exceptions of guys like Andrew Scheps.

consoles and tape add a glue and a type of "goodulation" to a recording that you can't get with plug ins and mixing itb. tracking to tape and then going into a DAW and mixing on a LF console is the best of all worlds at the moment. of course, as Donny likes to say, in my humble opinion.

DonnyThompson Tue, 04/25/2017 - 14:49

I get your reasons, I respect your stance. I don't happen to share your thoughts on ITB mixing, and IMO, while computers are an ever-evolving technology, maintaining them - or even replacing them, is far less expensive than doing the same to a tape machine or console, especially these days when -as you mentioned in one of your posts above - the cats who are true masters of tape machine and console servicing are retiring, or, even dying off, unfortunately.
As far as the sound of ITB mixing, we'll just have to agree to disagree. ;). That's not to say that I don't respect your thoughts, because I do, and whether it's because we are similar in age, or that we came up in the craft at basically the same time and having very similar studio experiences, you and I see pretty much eye to eye on most everything else regarding audio.
It's just that one point where we differ. ;)

ChrisH Tue, 04/25/2017 - 14:56

I hear you guys.

Here's my question though..
What if your top priority isn't what's the absolute sonically superior route and you're priority is the intuitive creative process while tracking and mixing ?

You don't get the fun & intuitive experience of mixing with real faders, not staring at a screen, turning actual knobs on actual channel strip eq's, utilizing tape saturation/compression, and just listening while mixing without a screen getting in the way by trying to "show you" what you're hearing?

Do you really need a Neve, Studer, and the best of outboard processing to get great results in the analog world?
Isn't it more about the experience and workflow of working analog than what is technically sonically superior ?
Also, the beauty in limitations when you literally can not apply as many occurrences of compression as you want, tracks, eq, ect...
I've personally tried to make records while limiting myself like I only have a 16 channel console, couple compressors, and is what happens is you still don't end up limiting yourself and you fall back onto relying on limitlessness of the DAW.

I say all this humbly and with all do respect.
To me the mixing process between different mediums and setups drastically changes your mindset for better or for worse and you gotta find out what works best for you.

DonnyThompson Tue, 04/25/2017 - 15:22

I'm not gonna argue with you ... because I can't. Every artist has their own vision for their work, and as such, the way they want to go about preserving it.
I don't think anyone here was trying to talk you out of your vision... whatever that vision is - we were just trying to explain that the medium you are currently interested in is not always easy to keep working at its optimum, nor is it cheap to do that either.
If that's what you really feel you should do, and you feel passionate about it, then you should follow that vision. Just know going in that you will have problems from time to time.
I think that sometimes we look back on "the good old days" through rose- colored glasses, and we often forget - or choose to forget - that not everything about analog was "awesome".
Yes, there were limitations that could be beneficial to the creative process. But those same limitations could also be a hindrance from time to time, too.
You've heard from three guys who came up in the craft smack-dab in the middle of the analog era. There were some great sounds using that gear. But there was also a lot of maintenance and downsides to it too. And it wasn't easy to keep getting that sound without knowing how to service the mechanics of the medium.

As long as you know going in what you'll actually have to deal with, and you have the skill and knowledge to take care of that gear and keep it up and running, then by all means, follow your heart. But as Kurt said, it's like having an exotic animal... you have to feed it, take care of it, and understand that it has its own "temperament" that you will have to handle. ;)

DonnyThompson Tue, 04/25/2017 - 15:36

And...
If you are truly convinced that you want a tape machine, your very first step is to make sure that parts are still available for whichever one you choose.
I can't comment on Otari - I'd defer to Kurt on that one; I can say that I think you can still get factory parts for the MS16 ... but it would be NOS, (New Old Stock) which means that when it's all been sold, that's it. Teac isn't actually making new transport mechanisms for that machine anymore, they'd be selling off whatever parts they have, either new or used.

There's always the chance you could find a third party parts vendor, but it's gonna be the same risk... eventually they simply won't be available anymore. There's always a slight chance you could retro-fit a part made for another model for yours, but there's no guarantee if that either..
Just be sure you can still get parts, is all I'm saying, and it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to start buying spare parts now; reel motors, lifters, pinch rollers, and the pull-out cards that hold the electronics for each track, too. Get them now, because you don't know for sure that you'll be able to in the future.
Welcome to analog tape. Lol.

FWIW

Kurt Foster Tue, 04/25/2017 - 15:41

imo, if you are going to work with semi-pro gear, you should just stay digital / itb unless you just want to push faders and twist knobs for the sake of pushing faders and twisting knobs.

to get real tape compression, large format tape is the way. with narrow gauge tape you don't get the same effect before the distortion of the electronics sets in. you need head room to get tape compression that just isn't there with narrow gauge tape machines like Fostex's or Tascam's running @ -10, especially if you use the onboard N/R. for me that is one reason i am more attracted to a 1' 16 track Otari that is designed to run specifically @ +4.

and what i can say about LF consoles is it was a life changing moment for me the first time i recorded drums on a real console. it was like, "Oh! NOW I get it!"

i would be perfectly content with an old Trident 65 and a good tech in town to keep me running, if there were a client base. lol! . i could get by with 16 tracks on 2" tape, 2 or 3 channels of LA 2s a couple of 1176's and 3 Lexicon reverbs.

there are still NOS parts for the OTARI's. but Donny's right. there will be a day when they will no longer be available. on the other hand you could always go with an MCI or an AMPEX, which i am sure that even if there were no NOS parts available, some machine shop or boutique manufacturer like ATR services or MARA machines will fill the gaps.

Kurt Foster Tue, 04/25/2017 - 16:26

i know there were a lot of Tascam's that had +4 inzanouts. machines like the 48 and 58 and the ATR series. as far as the MS machines and others i don't know if they are dedicated +4 machines or if they internally run @ -10 with extra amps to bump the levels up and down. i suspect the latter as most of those machines were capable of -10 and +4 at the same time on different connectors.

bouldersound Wed, 04/26/2017 - 00:42

A DAW is just a tool. I've learned to close my eyes and listen, then look at the screen and adjust, then pace nervously around the control room and listen some more. I do understand the frustration with computers and the endless upgrading, but I also have, as my home system, an XP machine still running a 12 year old DAW just fine. I'm not on an endless search for the latest/greatest plugin that will make everything I do sound like some famous mixer, I just try to make the best of the small selection of plugins I've been using for years.

At one studio I use a more up to date version of the same thing, with a newer computer and newer version of the DAW, but it's running more or less the same limited set of plugins. It's not even connected to the internet so there's no temptation to do updates. It has been working just fine for several years without them.

At the "other" studio, my partner is always latching on to some new plugin. I just go with the flow and let him deal with the computer, software and plugins. It's nice to play with different stuff. He's tried out a few tape emulators lately, and though I can't say if they're accurate I can say that they offer some useful variation. My contribution has been to keep him from going too far out on a limb. I'll find things like the "wow and flutter" control and dial it back, or adjust the gains so it's bouncing the digital needle at an appropriate level on the virtual VU meter. While I'm perfectly happy to mix with a minimal set of effects, there do seem to be some good tape and hardware emulation plugins out there if you really want that kind of thing, and it's still possible to develop some restraint and focus so you don't end up down the rabbit hole.

I don't miss faders. Well, for mixing live I still prefer them, but for studio work I can live without them. Learning not to get mesmerized by the screen is key. Just look away or close your eyes, and take your hand off the mouse. Listen and decide, then go back to the tool.

DonnyThompson Wed, 04/26/2017 - 01:16

@bouldersound

Good post.
There's no doubt that DAW's have "changed" the way we mix... in both good ways - and not so good ways.
You're absolutely right, it is far more visually oriented these days than it used to be.
I remember experiencing that a little bit even before DAWs, when working on consoles with flying faders. I was working on a mix once with my instructor, using an automated desk, and trying to get a fade on a track "just right"; I'd program the fade, then watch the fader move on its own after, and no matter what I did, it didn't "sound" right to me. My instructor finally said to me, "try something for me... program a fade you think should work, and on the automated playback, don't look at the fader.."
It worked. The fade sounded perfect to me, because I was listening with my ears and not my eyes.
Our senses are all interconnected, and it's not always easy to disconnect them.
I remember seeing a band at a club once, they were absolutely dreadful, but a friend who was with me commented that he thought that they were a great band.
I questioned him about that, told him I thought they were awful, and he said (paraphrasing here) "you're crazy! They have an awesome lighting rig!!"
He was equating the way they looked with the way they sounded, and because they had a light rig that would rival a Genesis concert, in his mind, he thought that equated to them sounding great.
If you think about it, there are a lot of distractions in a typical control room setting; lights, meters, computer screens, scroll bars moving across the timeline, virtual fader automation...
Back when I had my commercial studio, I used to listen to rush/rough mixes in my car on my way home at the end of the day. I'd pop a cassette or CD of that day's work into the deck, (over time, I had grown accustomed to the sound of the car's audio system) and I would drive the 25 minutes home through the dark countryside, and listen - without all those visual distractions. I was able to focus on just listening. I got a lot of productive work done that way, making a mental list of what needed changing.

FWIW

ChrisH Thu, 04/27/2017 - 09:18

I agree, Donny.

DonnyThompson, post: 449797, member: 46114 wrote: Back when I had my commercial studio, I used to listen to rush/rough mixes in my car on my way home at the end of the day. I'd pop a cassette or CD of that day's work into the deck, (over time, I had grown accustomed to the sound of the car's audio system) and I would drive the 25 minutes home through the dark countryside, and listen - without all those visual distractions. I was able to focus on just listening. I got a lot of productive work done that way, making a mental list of what needed changing.

haha, I do this all of the time.

So what are my options to warm up my signal on the way in then?
If it's not going to happen due to what I'm recording to (tape)?
I already have great mics, pre's, converters but upon playback going straight in, it just sounds cold and sterile.
I get a much warmer and pleasing sound using the same mic and pre combo going into my old Tascam 424 portastudio which is a hard thing to swallow when a cheap old cassette based portastudio is getting you closer to the sound you want then your Api Pre > Apogee Converter > DAW is getting you.

Example:
I can get a warm fat crunchy drum sound with one single mic when recording to the 424 portastudio (obviously it lacks resolution/definition, and sounds like a lo-fi cassette recorder) & then I take that same mic and placement and record it into my high end gear and it sounds DRASTICALLY different (cold, sterile, small, malnourished), like night and day, but the later is not the better.

So I wanna to achieve that same warm, fat, crunchy sound but obviously with higher resolution.

bouldersound Thu, 04/27/2017 - 09:57

ChrisH, post: 449829, member: 43833 wrote: I agree, Donny.

haha, I do this all of the time.

So what are my options to warm up my signal on the way in then?
If it's not going to happen due to what I'm recording to (tape)?
I already have great mics, pre's, converters but upon playback going straight in, it just sounds cold and sterile.
I get a much warmer and pleasing sound using the same mic and pre combo going into my old Tascam 424 portastudio which is a hard thing to swallow when a cheap old cassette based portastudio is getting you closer to the sound you want then an Api Pre > Apogee Converter > DAW is getting you.

What you're hearing is the difference between inaccurate and accurate. You've gotten used to inaccurate. Now you have the option of relatively accurate capture of your sources, which is a good thing. If you want the degradation of cassette based recording you can get that after the fact with plugins, or you can alter your input chain to get some of that on the way in. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. The most simple treatment is to roll off some HF. Beyond that try saturation and tape emulation plugins. I know someone who swears by the PSP Vintage Warmer.

https://www.attackmagazine.com/reviews/the-best/ten-of-the-best-compressor-plugins/7/

ChrisH Thu, 04/27/2017 - 10:10

bouldersound, post: 449831, member: 38959 wrote: What you're hearing is the difference between inaccurate and accurate. You've gotten used to inaccurate. Now you have the option of relatively accurate capture of your sources, which is a good thing. If you want the degradation of cassette based recording you can get that after the fact with plugins, or you can alter your input chain to get some of that on the way in. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. The most simple treatment is to roll off some HF. Beyond that try saturation and tape emulation plugins. I know someone who swears by the PSP Vintage Warmer.

https://www.attackmagazine.com/reviews/the-best/ten-of-the-best-compressor-plugins/7/

That's one way to put it but another way to put it is clinical vs character.
If you're making rock records (which is what I do) then character is what you want a lot of the time.
If you're making the next Shakira record then a clinical signal is probably what you want.

I've yet to hear a plugin that is convincing in that regards, plus no offense but you're missing the point of tracking with it (having it there to influence the performace).

audiokid Thu, 04/27/2017 - 10:16

ChrisH, post: 449829, member: 43833 wrote: So what are my options to warm up my signal on the way in then?

When all else fails and you simply can't achieve a warm and natural sound (no matter what style of music), or you have clients giving you mixes that sound like glass... Buy A Manley VariMu and stick it on your two bus. That's what a lot of the old school pro audio guys swore by that didn't understand wtf was happening to their mixes as they left the tape era.... as they navigated out of large format consoles and tape to Pro Tools. A VariMu can help overcome the sound of poor converters and overly hot tracked mixes. Its somewhat like using tape.

ChrisH Thu, 04/27/2017 - 10:49

audiokid, post: 449833, member: 1 wrote: When all else fails and you simply can't achieve a warm and natural sound (no matter what style of music), or you have clients giving you mixes that sound like glass... Buy A Manley VariMu and stick it on your two bus. That's what a lot of the old school pro audio guys swore by that didn't understand wtf was happening to their mixes as they left the tape era.... as they navigated out of large format consoles and tape to Pro Tools back in the fletcher shill days. A VariMu can help overcome the sound of poor converters and overly hot tracked mixes. Its somewhat like using tape.

What about overdriving signals on the way in? In a way that sounds natural/musical of course.

DonnyThompson Thu, 04/27/2017 - 11:05

ChrisH, post: 449829, member: 43833 wrote: is getting you closer to the sound you want then your Api Pre > Apogee Converter > DAW is getting you.

Can you tell us exactly what your current gain chain is? Mic(s), Pre(s) converters, and any other other front-load analog processing you are using on the way into your DAW...

bouldersound Thu, 04/27/2017 - 11:35

ChrisH, post: 449832, member: 43833 wrote: That's one way to put it but another way to put it is clinical vs character.
If you're making rock records (which is what I do) then character is what you want a lot of the time.
If you're making the next Shakira record then a clinical signal is probably what you want.

I've yet to hear a plugin that is convincing in that regards, plus no offense but you're missing the point of tracking with it (having it there to influence the performace).

I record and mix rock, especially stuff in the classic rock style. I get what you're saying, even the part about tracking with tone that inspires. But, according to your post above, you have one preamp, one tonal option going in. Besides, you're not monitoring off the tape while tracking, are you? So you aren't getting that tone live anyway. Plus, I doubt a pro tape machine is going to give you what you're getting from cassette.

Maybe the API is the source of your dissatisfaction. If you want a more saturated sound up front you need more hardware options, different preamps and perhaps some analog compression, especially hardware with good tube design (not cheap tube gear) and/or different/interesting transformers. Check out the Shadow Hills GAMA preamps with switchable transformers. I found them to be useful for getting different sounds.

On top of that you might want to expand your mic collection. I find that mic selection is the single most important hardware decision when tracking. I don't know what you've got, but dynamic and ribbon mics may get you closer to your goal than condensers. Often a Sennheiser MD421 will succeed where an AT 4050 fails, especially when I'm going for a rock sound. I use them on guitar amps, vocals, toms, horns etc. A partner of mine has a collection of vintage dynamic mics that all sound different. We'll swap out mics until one gives us the sound we want.

ChrisH Thu, 04/27/2017 - 11:43

DonnyThompson, post: 449835, member: 46114 wrote: Can you tell us exactly what your current gain chain is? Mic(s), Pre(s) converters, and any other other front-load analog processing you are using on the way into your DAW...

Mic's:
Audix:
D6
Shure:
2 X KSM32's, 2 X KSM137's, SM7B, Beta 52, Beta 91, 4 X SM57, SM58
Sennhieser: E935, E835, E609
Beyerdynamic: TGX61
Rode NT1a
Akg D112

Pre's:
Api 3124 +
Daking Mic Pre IV

Conversion:
Apogee Symphony System 16X16 analog i/o

No other front end analog processors.

I record and mix rock, especially stuff in the classic rock style. I get what you're saying, even the part about tracking with tone that inspires. But, according to your post above, you have one preamp, one tonal option going in. Besides, you're not monitoring off the tape while tracking, are you? So you aren't getting that tone live anyway. Plus, I doubt a pro tape machine is going to give you what you're getting from cassette.

Maybe the API is the source of your dissatisfaction. If you want a more saturated sound up front you need more hardware options, different preamps and perhaps some analog compression, especially hardware with good tube design (not cheap tube gear) and/or different/interesting transformers. Check out the Shadow Hills GAMA preamps with switchable transformers. I found them to be useful for getting different sounds.

On top of that you might want to expand your mic collection. I find that mic selection is the single most important hardware decision when tracking. I don't know what you've got, but dynamic and ribbon mics may get you closer to your goal than condensers. Often a Sennheiser MD421 will succeed where an AT 4050 fails, especially when I'm going for a rock sound. I use them on guitar amps, vocals, toms, horns etc. A partner of mine has a collection of vintage dynamic mics that all sound different. We'll swap out mics until one gives us the sound we want.

@bouldersound Great advice.
You're probably onto something with getting some Ribbon mics, especially.
I don't own a single ribbon mic and never have. Also, outboard compression but probably second in priority?

Kurt Foster Thu, 04/27/2017 - 11:51

recording to analog tape vs. a DAW yields far different results because they are two completely different processes. digital is more or less "pure" while recording to analog tape is more akin to processing the signal while you record. all analog tape will limit dynamic range and bandwidth in varying amounts dependent on levels, tape speed and track width.

you might try adding compression on the way in to the DAW. a porta studio is going to severely limit the dynamic range right out of the gate especially if you are using the dbx N/R. real world dynamics can go well over 160 dB while a cassette recorder at best is going to capture a fraction of that.

adding to that, as you hit a cassette with signal, the current used to bias the tape self erases highs as you are recording. this is one reason why professional machines run at higher speeds. two contributing factors to what makes your cassette recorder sound the way it does.

from Wikipedia

Bias and self-erasure
"A conventional tape recorder uses two heads. The main head is used for both playback and recording. A second head, placed before the main head in terms of the direction of tape movement, is used during recording to erase any previous signal. Additionally, the record head is used to introduce a tape bias signal that improves frequency response.

Generally, lower frequencies are recorded lower in the oxide layer on the tape. In order to get the bias signal into these layers, the signal has to be fairly strong, stronger than what would be needed to write higher frequencies alone. This means there is some stray signal, both from the bias and new high frequency signals being recorded, that "leaks out" of the immediate area of the recording and into the nearby tape. For low frequencies this has no effect because the layer they are recorded in is far from the record head, but for high frequencies it is possible to self-erase a signal just laid down.

This problem is primarily seen at slower tape transport. If the tape is moving at high speed the previously recorded sounds will quickly move away from the record head and avoid self-erasure. At slower speeds there isn't enough time for this to happen."

DonnyThompson Thu, 04/27/2017 - 14:30

ChrisH, post: 449837, member: 43833 wrote: according to your post above, you have one preamp, one tonal option going in. Besides, you're not monitoring off the tape while tracking, are you? So you aren't getting that tone live anyway. Plus, I doubt a pro tape machine is going to give you what you're getting from cassette.

Boulder got why I was asking about your rig.
Options are good ... tube, tranny, even those without have their own vibe. But at this point I don't know that you can truly emulate the sound of tape ....without using tape.
I've tried several different tape emulation plugs; Waves, Slate... and while I think they can add a cool sort of texture to some things, I've yet to hear one that truly emulates the sound of tape, at least not in the way I remember it.

I think modeling technology has brought us some awfully cool textures to work with. And in some I've used, I think they've absolutely nailed the sound (waves SSL totally knocked me out, and I had some pretty substantial time on the real E Series desks back in the 80's so I'm not just"guessing"). I also have a friend in LA who has a real U47 and a real AKG C12, and he has told me that he can't tell the difference between them and the Slate Virtual Mic Models of the modeled design.
But there are others that - while perhaps might have a "somewhat similar" sonic vibe to them, have not yet been able to get it totally true to the iron that they are trying to emulate. I have no idea if a UA modeled Fairchild 670 sounds like a real 670 or not, because I've never been in any position to do anything more than just look at one of the real ones.
Slate modeled two well known pro machines, the first was a 2" Studer supplied by Jay Baumgardner, and the second was a 2 Track Studer A80 owned by Howie Weinberg, who then used the Slate Virtual Tape Machines modeled after these decks, and he said he couldn't tell the difference between his real Studer and the virtual model... but to my ears, there was "something" missing. I couldn't even really pinpoint what it was.. maybe saturation, maybe harmonics... I dunno, but I couldn't hear it sounding like any tape machine I had ever had experience with, no matter what I did to the adjustments on it.
I suppose you could try one out - I know Waves offers a trial on theirs, I don't know about Slate. I have their "everything bundle" and their virtual tape machines are just part of that package.
I'd be more than happy to run a track or a mix through it for you, if you want to hear what it sounds like.I won't add any EQ or GR, I'll just run it through the plug flat.
Let me know if you want to do that, and we can set up a DropBox folder so that we can use .wav files instead of MP3s.

audiokid Thu, 04/27/2017 - 15:00

ChrisH, post: 449834, member: 43833 wrote: What about overdriving signals on the way in? In a way that sounds natural/musical of course.

Other than all the other advise, buy a VariMu

ChrisH, post: 449788, member: 43833 wrote: On a related side note:

What about outboard tape emulators ?
I've certainly never heard (i've tried most) plugins that do that tape thing.
Can anyone comment on any of the outboard "tape emulators" ?
Specifically the Imperical Labs EL7 FATSO.

Yes, the Fatso too.

https://recording.org/tags/tape-emulation/

DonnyThompson Thu, 04/27/2017 - 15:57

audiokid, post: 449840, member: 1 wrote: Other than all the other advise, buy a VariMu

I've always been intrigued by the Vari-Mu. I've never used one though. I've heard guys describe it as a sort of "poor man's Fairchild" , although I think it's price is a bit higher than what "poor guys" could afford. LOL. Certainly not close to a 670, but still pretty pricey. Although, if it can give that true analog vibe to digital mixes, it seems like it would be an incredibly cool piece to have.
Would you prefer this over your self admitted favorite gain chain (with the Millennia/LA2/1176 combo that you've spoken about using in the past? ) Or are you saying you'd use the VariMu on the back end to warm up the whole mix?

audiokid Thu, 04/27/2017 - 16:10

DonnyThompson, post: 449841, member: 46114 wrote: I've always been intrigued by the Vari-Mu. I've never used one though. I've heard guys describe it as a sort of "poor man's Fairchild" , although I think it's price is a bit higher than what "poor guys" could afford. LOL. Certainly not close to a 670, but still pretty pricey. Although, if it can give that true analog vibe to digital mixes, it seems like it would be an incredibly cool piece to have.
Would you prefer this over your self admitted favorite gain chain (with the Millennia/LA2/1176 combo that you've spoken about using in the past? ) Or are you saying you'd use the VariMu on the back end to warm up the whole mix?

edited:

I thought about buying one a long time ago, before I upgraded to what I have now. They are wooly in a nice way but more of a one trick pony, imho. Mastering guys like them on the 2-bus but only use them in extreme cases. At least thats what I'm told.
Some guys like tracking with them and some like using them in a hybrid mix way.
I'd use one for warming up glassy mixes.

I think the Fatso would be better for, Chris.
But it sounds like he has a few more issues that I think we can all help him out in, that won't cost him money.

Like you, It would be helpful to listen to some of his tracks.

ChrisH Thu, 04/27/2017 - 17:02

DonnyThompson, post: 449839, member: 46114 wrote: I've tried several different tape emulation plugs; Waves, Slate... and while I think they can add a cool sort of texture to some things, I've yet to hear one that truly emulates the sound of tape, at least not in the way I remember it.

This is the same finding i've had, the closest I've found is the Waves J37.
To me tape has more significant of an effect than any of the emulation plugs, in a good way though and whether or not that is a correct way of explaining it, there's definately the "something missing" as @DonnyThompson put it.

I'm happy to share my work, would love to hear everyone else's as well.
What would be the best way to share it with everyone, Chris?

audiokid Thu, 04/27/2017 - 17:20

ChrisH, post: 449845, member: 43833 wrote: To me tape has more significant of an effect than any of the emulation plugs, in a good way though and whether or not that is a correct way of explaining it, there's definately the "something missing" as @DonnyThompson put it.

I don't think plugins are the answer to tape emulation. I think there are certain hardware pieces that help though. You might want to start looking at the Folcrom. I bet those API pre's would sound pretty good with it.

ChrisH, post: 449845, member: 43833 wrote: I'm happy to share my work, would love to hear everyone else's as well.
What would be the best way to share it with everyone, Chris?

I'd just upload a few MP3 tracks you feel are best representing your problems here. (see upload a file)

kmetal Fri, 04/28/2017 - 21:02

Late to this one. Otari is more vanilla than tascam. Basically pluggins would be more akin to tracking digital and mixing it analog, which is backwards for working with tape in a daw setting. What sucks about tape is editing and it wears out. That's what daws are best at.

There's no way to sound like tape besides track with tape. There's different ways: track to tape then transfer to daw, track straight off the repro head to daw live, track to tape and daw at once via splitting, use the grossly expensive and remarkbly cool CLASP system, get yourself a set of Burl a-d which is basically the electronics of the tape machine combined w a converter (no tape). Soon enough I'll unveil something tape related I've been cooking up, but I've got to solidify the concept a bit more first. Here's a hint- it's not a 'guitar pedal' per sey.

I own the slate nomad and ozone tape emulations, which are cool for what they do but it's not close to tape sonically or feel wise. The closest one to tape is nomad factory's which sounds similar to a portastudio. I like them so far on clean mixes that are just lacking some 'there-ness' or girth. It doesn't sound like tape but is appropriate where tape would be, and in some cases is just right.

To me tape is all about instinct and capturing a moment, excitement. And guitar sound lol. Definitely un matched for distorted guitar sound, becuase it sounds on the speakers, like it sounds to the guitarist playing more so than any other method I know of. Not the room the amp. The cool sonics are part of tape lo or hi fi, but really it's to me more about getting in the room w the band and using mic placement and just getting a vibe.

Professional level computing costs about $500 or so a year, and your working in the land of dual xeon workstations, and upgrading every 5 years. The key with this is using server grade parts means simple replacement, way longer useful life span, and 24/7 operation. So after five years if you upgrade to remain current, you simply re assign your older workstation to something else useful, or you keep it as is for running projects that run on that setup for future compatibility of old stuff. And save any upgrades for each new system. Or run the workstation for 8-10 years.

Old computers don't stop doing what they did do, just becuase something new came out. As long as your not using software that isn't fit for your software your good for the lifespan of the computer. Major things like 32-64 bit upgrades which basically create true obsolescence only happen every ten years or so.

Also Intel is slowing down their processer release from tick tock to 3-4 stage. So basically instead of a brand new chip series every three years it's gonna be more like every 5. So it'll be more like cars where they do little changes then a major release.

The biggest mistake people make with computers is buying something unfit. I was absolutely shocked to experience the fact that a 6 core computer w 64gb of ram capacity was around 1600 to build, and a dual 8 core (16 cores 32 thread) xeon computer w 3 TB of capacity was 2500 to build. Prices reflect 64gb of ram in either machine. (You da man @pcrecord for aiming me back at workstation level stuff)

Absolutely two different worlds of computing, and two nice computers for different purposes. I'm building that xeon myself. It's all about Diminishing returns. As soon as you add two more cores to the xeon the price goes from 450 to 1k. So it's about finding the sweet spots of price vs performance.

when you buy an off the shelf of build an in appropriate computer you end up w things you don't need like say a built in sound card, or internet perhaps, or a cd drive, whatever, all those little things take up space and money, which could be put into better parts that will be enabled, or lower total cost.

It's also a different depreciation schedule as far as tax concerns go, since computers and tape machines have significantly different life spans and maintenance needs.

One thing my demos to 4 track have revealed is the strength or weakness of the song and arrangement itself.

As an owner of two tascams and fan I think it's nice to have the option. I personally probably only use them 10% of the time, but have enjoyed them.

DonnyThompson Sat, 04/29/2017 - 00:00

@audiokid @kmetal @Kurt Foster @dvdhawk @ChrisH @bouldersound@pcrecord

For me, ( IMO) analog presents itself to be the most "pleasing" in the mids... it's not the only thing I like about it, but it's a biggie.
Probably the hardest task I had to face, when switching from analog to digital, was to "re-learn" how to mix the mid-range; because when I was using analog gear, the mids - particularly the upper mids - always seemed to just kinda take care of itself.
Whether this was the use of tube gear, or XFO's, tape - or any combo of all of those things, I can only guess - one of our analog purists ( like Kurt ;) ) would have to chime in on that.

I don't recall sweating those frequencies nearly as much in the analog realm as I did when I started working in digital, and honestly, there are occasions where I still have difficulties with those frequencies from time to time.
Or, maybe it's just me as I grow older. I had a hearing test last year, the results were quite good, and I'm in pretty good shape, no serious dips anywhere, but strangely enough, the test showed that I had a higher sensitivity to the frequencies from 800 to 2k than what was deemed "normal" for my age ( I'm 157 now), so maybe I've grown ultra sensitive to that particular range over the years. usually, those frequencies, and the higher ones, start to diminish. Mine went the other way. Go figure.

The Manley Vari-mu that Chris mentioned ( @audiokid ) has really intrigued me over the last few days. I do know a guy who has one - he's not really a "friend" per se', more of an acquaintance really, and I haven't talked to him in a few years, but maybe I could take a digital 2-mix into him (sans any GR on my end), and for a couple bucks, have him run it through the Vari-mu. If I can make that happen, I'll post the Before/After files here.

-d.

DonnyThompson Sat, 04/29/2017 - 00:55

audiokid, post: 449833, member: 1 wrote: That's what a lot of the old school pro audio guys swore by that didn't understand wtf was happening to their mixes as they left the tape era.... as they navigated out of large format consoles and tape to Pro Tools

Hey ... I resemble that remark. ;)
Although there's no doubt I was certainly one of "those" guys you mentioned. No doubt. From
what I've come to know about you, Chris, I think you made the transition to digital much smoother than I did. ;)
I went kicking and screaming into the digital age. I did not "go gently into that dark night". LOL
So, just being honest here...You kinda hit the nail on the head with that one for me. And it's okay. I can admit it.
I have a love-hate relationship with digital. I LOVE digital for editing. I do not miss cutting and splicing tape. And while I'm sure I could still do it well, I have absolutely no desire to ever pick up a grease pencil and a razor blade again. I love the noise floor of digital, and the "immediacy" of it as well; the ability to send files and collaborate in almost real time. I can work with a guitar player from Chicago, a bass player from Los Angeles, and a keyboard player from Canada or Australia, and be mixing their parts by that evening.
But sometimes - it seems that it's more frequent these days - I get to missing the workflow of analog ... the desk, the tape decks, the outboard gear, all hold fond memories for me.
In the past year - last spring when I was pretty sick and wasn't able to really do anything because the radiation left me totally exhausted, I started listening back to some of my analog mixes from the past, and while I wasn't always happy with what I heard, (of course there was some garbage in there, and more than just one or two really badly-written songs, LOL) at the same time, I was surprised at just how many mixes sounded very good to me.

BUT ... while it was fun to listen to that stuff, I'm not gonna go back to tape; the medium and the mechanism are just too costly, and requires more maintenance (and money) than what I'm willing to commit to at this point in my life ... and there are so many more reasons to stay Digital ...but there are times I do miss both the workflow and sound of an LFC and 2" tape on a well-aligned machine with a rack of nice OB gear.
I dunno, maybe I'm just equating the format and process with a certain time period in my life? ..When I was younger, thinner, had more energy, ( and more hair, LOL) ...and my session calendar was pretty much booked solid for over a decade.
But ...I can't say that I've ever been quite as happy with my digital mixes as I was with those analog mixes of the past. I guess I've done some good work in digital... but it doesn't seem to come as naturally to me as analog did. And I'm not even saying that the medium of digital is to blame for that. I'm completely willing to recognize that it's pretty much all me. I was also fortunate enough to be working on some very nice gear at the time... SSL, MCI, Studer, Ampex, Eventide, Pultec, Teletronix, Urei, Lexicon, dbx, Neumann, AKG, Telefunken, RCA....I was very fortunate to have worked in studios that had that stuff. ;)
But... obviously digital isn't going anywhere, and there are things that I really do like about it; and while I do occasionally find myself missing the "old school" ways, at the same time I find myself excited about the technology and what the future will bring.
Yeah... I'm a puzzle. Lol. I'm guess I'm what you'd call a "complex simpleton"..., a curmudgeon with a computer screen and a mouse. Lolol.
"Hey you kids! Get off my lawn! And stop makin' all that racket! I'm trying to watch Lawrence Welk here!!...". :confused:
FWIW ;)
-d

kmetal Sat, 04/29/2017 - 00:59

DonnyThompson, post: 449880, member: 46114 wrote: Probably the hardest task I had to face, when switching from analog to digital, was to "re-learn" how to mix the mid-range; because when I was using analog gear, the mids - particularly the upper mids - always seemed to just kinda take care of itself.

Me too. I honestly don't think I've mastered mids in either format. My personal un-educated theory is if the spaces between samples are somehow perceivable it's in the mids, or maybe mids are too harmonically complex and there's masking?? Whavever it is I think it's related that tape being continuous line of charge, that keeps those mids at bay or rather exciting. I can't explain why but the mid range vocals snare and guitars seem to gel more effortlessly for me with tape too.

I still in general like the low end of digital better in general than tape, and top end kinda depends on the song, tapes probably just more forgiving in the top, but digital top can be magic too. I've been fooled several times by sounds in the surrounds thinking they were real for a sec. lol

I've got no experience on anything considered a 'real' tape machine. I did get to see several amped and studers at Zeltec one time. Tubes in a tape machine is a different level I'm guessing? I wonder if it sounds more 'vintage' or more like what tubes do to a guitar amp.

kmetal Sat, 04/29/2017 - 01:15

DonnyThompson, post: 449882, member: 46114 wrote: I love the noise floor of digital, and the "immediacy" of it as well; the ability to send files and collaborate in almost real time.

I'm working on that almost. :)

You know D, I'm wondering if you were working with that level of gear today, just using the daw as a playback device, if you wouldn't equal the coolness of the analog mixes but in a different way. I'm not sure what can match the intuitiveness or instinctual workflow better than the 1:1 knob to function ratio. Although being 12 feet over on channel 64 of the console requires wheeling over and a potential move outside the sweet spot. But having dedicated knobs faders and levers is downright almost like performing on the console as a musical instrument. The bank button, fat channel button, just doesn't have the same thing going on. Even though it's mindless and just as fast, it's like 'extra'.

I like softubes approach to a dedicated pluggin controller laid out for an ssl channel. It also runs other pluggins as well.

Probably the next step is voice command daw/control surface. Hey Siri turn up .2 db on the kick. Lol. 'Sorry Kyle nick isn't available'.... 'no, KICK'...

That's when you find yourself angry that you have to get out of bed to make the adjustment, then stop being angry because you realize how ridiculous it is you actually can mix by voice. (Sometimes)

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