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Reel to reel recording...

Hi, I was talking to a friend the other day, about the difference between the greatest albums recorded, and the rest. He says the most important feature about these albums, like Nirvana´s Nevermind, or Metallica´s Black Album, is that they were recorded with reel to reel tape machines, I have my doubts, I think it´s mostly the mics, the room and the instuments that give them the warmth they have, as well as the engineers mixing techniques, what do you guys think?, Is it true that "every famous artist" or "every great recording engineer" uses analog tape recorders before using digital editing?


TheBear Tue, 10/09/2007 - 22:19

haha no its not true. analog and digital are both equally good...but in different ways.

like with digital- digital has a lower noise floor, and (to me) its easier to edit. quality i think is just as good and sonicaly is almost impossible to hear the difference between the two.

analog- you get a slight compression form the tape which is nice. but you get tape hiss from using analog.

i mean a lot of these "great artist of the days" used analog because digital was still in the works or wasnt as good as analog at the time. but now a days theyre both as good. but in different ways as i said before.

RemyRAD Wed, 10/10/2007 - 20:28

There is this "thing" that analog tape does that cannot be reproduced yet in the Digital domain. I don't care if Rupert Neve has a little tape emulator, complete with recording and playback electronics and tape heads. THERE IS NO TAPE to create with tape does. Another fake. This is because analog recording has nonlinearities in its transference characteristics. The good engineers of yesteryear knew how to manipulate this nonlinear distortion characteristic. Yes, it added to the warmth. Yes, it added to the harmonic content. Yes, it was a type of dynamics limiting. Noise at 15 IPS with Dolby A or,SR or even at 30 IPS, barefoot, with a properly aligned machine and proper recording experience and technique was not really a problem as evidenced by the bulk of hits made that way. How much hiss do you hear?? Right, not much. Of course, to deal with that inherent noise required a little more recording technique expertise, which professionals have no problems with. Only beginners have problems with that. And plenty of us EQ'ed to tape, knowing that if we were to EQ that way in mix down, it would add noise. Usually indicating that us old analog engineers know a lot more about what we're doing than you young whipper snappers. We were always thinking ahead.

I'm even considering obtaining another 24 track analog machine to track through/to the digital recorders input. No wiping off of high frequencies. Half as much wow & flutter. No print through. Overdubs would have to be dealt with differently but a variation on the above theme can also be accomplished to obtain a pure analog digital recording.

Mix down in the computer or, mix down through the analog console. Or, do both i.e. do your pitch/tempo/synchronous editing/DSP in the computer and create stereo stems the fed to the analog board for analog summing. The recipe can get quite involved and complex. But don't try this at home without your parents direct supervision as I could make you go blind or crazy. Then your parents might think you're doing something else to yourself that could be immoral??

Not blind yet
Ms. Remy Ann David

Thomas W. Bethel Thu, 10/11/2007 - 05:15

Well written songs + well played instruments + good recording technique + good mixing and mastering = A GOOD SONG.

There is more to making a song sound great than the difference between recording it on digital or analog. It is the whole package from the concept to the final mastering.

At one time I had both analog and digital recording equipment coexisting in my studio. Everything from an Otari 8 track 1" machine to a Panasonic DAT machine to an Ampex ATR102. They were all used for different purposes but the "trick" was knowing how to use them and for what. Now with us doing a lot of restoration and mastering work we have three analog R to R decks and 4 DAT machines and a DA-88 all for playback only.

Lots of people seem to think that by going back to analog it will make all their stuff sound GREAT! It may help or it may not but if you haven't got all the other stuff in place then it really will not make as big a difference as you think it will.

Best of luck!

Cucco Thu, 10/11/2007 - 07:56

Here are my thoughts on analog versus digital and what makes a good album a good album.

1 - Analog is great. Caveat: You must be able to bleed the most out of the system to make analog great. If any part of the analog chain is deficient, the whole final product suffers. This means that your tape machines MUST be calibrated, demagnetized and cleaned regularly. Your tape has to be in great condition (you can't overdub it 30 times and expect it to sound the same as it did brand new).

1A - Analog sucks. Okay...before anyone grabs any weapons, bear with me here. People that LOVE analog site its flaws as its benefits. The noise, the distortion, the non-linearities and all of its other limitations.

2 - Digital is great. There so little that can go wrong in digital. You get a pristine transfer from even modestly priced converters and once it's digital, nothing can happen to the 1's and 0's to degrade it (other than poor mixing...). There is no terminal point to digital - it should last forever as long as the medium is stable (unlike analog).

2a - Digital Sucks! - Because of its clarity and precision:
1 - poor engineers have nothing to hide behind.
2 - as human beings, we are not accustomed to hearing music (even live) without distortions, non-linearities, seems fake.

There are lots of people who record to tape then dump into digital or vice versa and I think that, if you're looking for an analog sound, this is a great way to do it in the modern world. No need for razor blades and isopropyl and band-aids.

Personally, for the work that I do, I like digital and there's not a chance I'd be going back to analog any time soon. There's too much maintenance and headache with analog not to mention a much more lengthy editing process.

As usual, Tom is right. A good recording is a good artist, a good performance, good recording, mixing and mastering techniques. The messenger (or the format) should not be a concern other than for the purpose of effect.

Anyway...rambling over.

Slap your friend for me.

TVPostSound Thu, 10/11/2007 - 08:55

My take on analog VS digital, was that we all had to mix near the magic 0VU, tape was a natural compressor. You hit tape saturation by hitting 0VU
There was a lot of headroom left.

Now on digital everyone tries to hit the magic 0dBFS, which there is nothing above, they use compressors, and limiters to get the highest level possible, thus ruining a good recording.

Thomas W. Bethel Thu, 10/11/2007 - 10:41

Somebody should put all of this stuff down in a book there is some great advice being given here.

I think the biggest thing with audio in the "olde" days was you were looking at VU meters and you got to know what you could and could not do by staring at the meter. Now days everything is LED peak meters or the computer screen version of them and people have nary a clue to what they are doing when it comes to levels. In the old days 0 dBu was also 100% modulation on the transmitter ( before the days of Orban Processors and limiter compressors stacked three high in the chain) so if you worked in radio you tried NOT to go over zero or your boss could get a nasty letter from the FCC for over modulation. When you were doing recordings you tried to stay below O dBu on the meter otherwise you would be in danger of distortion and you tried to keep it above -15 dBu other wise you would have too much tape hiss. There were some limits and professional audio engineers knew what they were and kept things in the normal range. Today many people misunderstand the whole recording and mixing operation and think that by simply running things though an analog tape deck it will make badly recorded music sound good.


Cucco Thu, 10/11/2007 - 11:34

Remy...your response was a little too loud. Can you keep an eye on your output levels please or you'll get a letter (and possibly a fine!)

Perhaps you could check your keyboard's Optimod settings and dial them back a little.

Just don't have a wardrobe malfunction and show a nipple or you'll incite an FCC meltdown!

pedalsteelman Thu, 10/11/2007 - 17:21

I can't personally make a definitive comparison because I'm still analog in my home studio.
The only judgement I can make is when I'm playing sessions as a musician in commercial studios which are to the most digital.
I play sessions as if I'm on analog. No edits, comps, and try to avoid drop ins. It's all about musician performance. I key myself up for that one performance and a good clean take from start to finish.
I would normally expect to have nailed a track by the second or third take while it is still emotionally fresh and vibrant.
I've even got some tracked on the run through! I often haven't heard the song before either.
I'm sure the lack of technology forced better performance from both musician and engineer. Knowing that there isn't a 'turd polishing' edit tool in the setup makes a difference.
Our ears are analog, whether there is a factor there or not I don't know.

I'm very carefull when recording at home to get the eq right before tape. I think this shows up when I play back at a later date and find I've got the eq switched off on all channels and it sounds good. I only do very slight adjustments to make things sit right in the mix.

Yes, it takes longer, yes it is more expensive in tape cost, and yes I can't do vocal comps very easily, but I've already pushed the singer to get it right in the tracking stage.

In the end, it's horses for courses, but if you are going into analog tape you need to pay alot more attention to audio engineering detail.

We always used to have a joke that VU stood for 'virtually useless'. :lol: