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 Another GREAT R2R tape shootout
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Posted - 01/29/2011 :  03:41:17  Show Profile  Visit clubvst's Homepage Send clubvst a Private Message  Reply with Quote
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I don't think it could be stated any better than described here:

"The Studer A800 MKIII is the creme de la creme of analog tape recorders, and boy what a complex plugin this is!
I'm not going to list all the features here since you can get that at UA's website or just watch the damn video.

But the quick list would be...
Four different tape stocks
Three tape speeds
Different level calibrations
EQ, Noise and Bias controls
Reprod, Sync and Input modes

If you have a lot of instances going and you want to switch the tape stocks on all of them, there is a grouping feature on the plugin that lets you do just that. You can run 24 instances on a Quad which is WAY more than a lot of people expected, so kudos to UA for that!

For us digital folk, the benchmark test is with the CDSoundmasters R2R library for Nebula 3 Pro where there's also a Studer A800 MKIII machine modeled with Quantegy 499 tape I believe, but I could be wrong there. With the plethora of features in UA's model, the comparison is a little bit like apples and oranges but with the more nominal settings on both a good judgement of quality can still be achieved I think.

For you who use Nebula and wish to do the same comparison, remember this...

The first thing you will notice is that the UAD Studer sounds a lot fatter. Why?...
Because the low-end EQ on the sync and repro playback modes are calibrated that way. So what you want to do for a fair comparison is to “open” the Studer and set the low-end controls to full counter clockwise which reduces < 100Hz by 2.5-3db in level. I found that the R2R library input levels of -10 is as nominal and general purpose as you can get and seems to correspond to around 0VU on the UAD Studer, so this might be a good starting point to consider.

So after making these tweaks and comparing the two, they're very hard to tell apart. The UAD Studer sounds a tiny bit smoother to my ears but changing the tape stock around kind of makes the same difference I'm hearing between the UAD and R2R models anyway so here is where the apples and oranges come into the picture.

All in all I might be inclined to say that they're as close as need to be. It's very hard to say that one sounds “better” than the other in this regard.

When pushing the levels of the UA Studer it tends to break up in a way that sounds plugin and fake to my ears. Kind of like comparing the hardware and software FATSO. The hardware can be pushed a lot harder and still retain character and fatness while the software tends to break up into this pile of digital sounding mess. Which is nothing new... that's just the way it is. But here is also where Nebula takes the price since with the CDSoundmasters Tape Booster+ package, which is designed for this beyond nominal level type operations and was made to be used in conjunction with the R2R library. It just saturates a lot more gracefully without that kind of digital edge to it.

It all comes down to what you need here in deciding what to get. You can have Nebula and CDSoundsmasters for about $100 cheaper than getting the UAD Studer.

What makes the UAD version very attractive are the multiple ways you can tweak it, with different EQ, Noise, Bias and Tape Stock plus different “drive” levels. With R2R for Nebula you are bound to 15ips and 30ips programs, one tape stock and with levels recorded to tape going in 5 to 10db steps, so it's not close to being as tweakable. What you DO get are a total of 7 tape machines modeled with different tapes, ranging from lo-fi fx type sounds to Studer hi-fi.

As said, when pushing the envelope... using the Tape Booster+ package sounds more appealing than driving the input of the UAD Studer over the top, but when using the two at nominal levels it's very hard saying which one sounds better. Just a bit different.

Enough with the boring stuff... how does it sound??

They sound great on pretty much everything!

Drums- is a big no-brainer. It fattens them up, adding tone and resonance to the sound and getting rid of this thin digital signature on overheads.

For Bass, Guitars, Vocals etc.... what happens in general is that you get this nice focus going where you have the musical elements of the sound come alive and present the relevant parts of it rather than ALL of it like you get with straight digital recording. In some ways you get handed half of the mix for free since I find myself using less EQ and filters trying to get the right focus. In large part that focus has already been created with going to tape, or in this case very hi-quality tape emulations.

Either way, UAD Studer A800 and Nebula 3 Pro with CDSoundmasters R2R library are the two best tape emulation options on the market, bar none!
Tape style effects like these are really an option everyone should have available to them and try out on stuff they're doing since it really is a whole new way of working ITB.

Game changer?

And here is how we have it now that 3rd stage tape compression has arrived; each time U-D releases a tape machine, if so, (old article has some interesting info about dragging an important reel and tape stock developer out of retirement in order to get their 'seal of approval' on a future project)it will include the device controls and saturation and compression, and cost a lot. This is in addition to the processor chip/dongle cost of entry platform. With Neb, R2R, TB+, and VTM-M2 all added together, you have all tape stock, calibration, record levels, and fully controlled saturation and saturating-compression+limiting, and are still saving a lot of money in comparison if you only got the one 'other' Studer.

It may seem that R2R limits some of your choices, but if you lay out every option that one would calibrate for accurate use of the Studer, you will find there really aren't any limitations involved. We hit that machine at every setting and chose everything that dictated the proper response, and edited it for perfect relation to your sound files. There is nothing that will sound more like the machine itself being driven naturally into compression than starting with the machine itself at everyday levels, and then using a complex system for adding saturated limiting and compression. When the entire chain is emulated, as people have mentioned, the 'plug-in' sound shows it's ugly face.

I have said this a lot, but to get really inspired, please give yourself a chunk of time to listen and read the long audio samples of VTM--M2 especially with Mikael Wikman drums and R2R-TB+ examples. I just get so excited going back over those! I hope this gets inspiring for you guys!!! This is not a game :-)

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