The argument of analogue vs. digital is one that is probably not new to anyone here and one which will probably never be definitively answered (especially with many of the great analogue emulations coming out these days). But what can you do if you want to achieve warm analogue sounds without putting up the cash for the analogue tracking equipment? In this quick tip, we will look at one way of giving your 'in the box' mixes a warm 'out of the box' feel by emulating an analogue tracking session.
The first thing we want to do is think about what it is we are trying to emulate. The gear and signal path that is inherent to an analogue tracking session is paramount to achieving the desired sound. As such, we are going to place accurate emulations of analogue recording gear into the signal path as it would be done in the analogue domain (pre-amp, EQ, compressor, tape).
In the below kick track, I've used the Antares 'Warmth' plugin (you will most likely have to move on to 3rd party plug-ins in order to find vintage emulations) to get the pre-amp tube saturation. This plugin has the best sound (to me) from the ones I have tried. The controls are simple, yet the sound is fat and robust.
The signal chain
For the EQ I am using the UAD Pultec emulation which is great for drums, it has an amazing low end (just running the signal through with no boosts or cuts makes the sound instantly fatter) and has an equally good high end response which allows for drastic boosts/attenuations while maintaining the clarity and smoothness which made the hardware unit famous.
As UAD is in the business of making accurate emulations of vintage gear, who better to make an emulation of the classic 1176 hardware unit than the company who makes them? The 1176 is largely a go-to compressor for drums and vocals, and probably everything in between. It is a very fast compressor, with a reversed attack and release dial, making it somewhat counterintuitive, but worth the bit of extra thought as evidenced by its output.
For the tape saturation, I've decided to use Logic's 'secret' tape saturation plugin. A little known fact about Logic's tape delay plugin is that it comes with a tape saturation control which can be accessed through the disclosure triangle at the bottom of the plugin. Simply turn the feedback down to '0' and mess around with the distortion amount at the bottom to get instant tape saturation. There are emulators I like the sound of better, but you can't beat a first party plug-in you never knew existed.
Logic's Tape Delay set to tape saturation
Below are MP3's of the kick before and after processing. Notice how the 'after' sounds warmer and overall more musical.
Countless companies are coming out with extremely accurate emulations all the time so by no means is the above example exhaustive or necessarily the 'best' combination possible. It really all boils down to personal taste and the available technology. UAD has just come out with a great Studer tape emulator and I've heard rumor (read speculation) that Waves is soon to follow with their own tape emulator. Until then the best advice I can give is just to try what is out there and find the combinations you think sound best.