Any thoughts on tracking to tape verses mixdown to tape?

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reelgain
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Any thoughts on tracking to tape verses mixdown to tape?

Post by reelgain » Wed May 25, 2011 6:14 am

Presuming in all cases you're using good mics / pre-amps / plug-ins / converters and a good deck.. and your goal is to get an overall nice warm analog sound...

What do you think are the subtle or not so subtle differences between tracking to tape then transferring to digital for an "in-the-box" mixdown compared to tracking to digital then mixing down to tape?

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Post by Theo_Karon » Wed May 25, 2011 6:32 am

In my typical process, at least, the biggest difference is being able to adjust level, as well as eq/compression/fx (if any) to tape per track to get it to react in the most ideal way for that specific sound. For instance, I often record vocals with noise reduction engaged and peaks well below the red; for kick drum, floor tom, and other low-end heavy percussion, when I want a heavy sound, I'll often allow that track to completely saturate at peaks, which produces a wealth of useful harmonics.

It's often beneficial to roll tape and monitor from the repro head when making these decisions.
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Re: Any thoughts on tracking to tape verses mixdown to tape?

Post by Dakota » Wed May 25, 2011 8:06 am

reelgain wrote:What do you think are the subtle or not so subtle differences between tracking to tape then transferring to digital for an "in-the-box" mixdown compared to tracking to digital then mixing down to tape?
Very different results. Tracking to tape, each track gets individual saturation and smoothing depending on how hard you hit. Mixing down digital tracks to final 2tk tape, sure you get some smoothing... up to a point, because as you print hotter, the whole mix will eventually frazz out.

Basically, individual tracks can sound great with quite a lot of tape saturation, depending (snare, bass, guitars), but a whole mix that saturated falls apart.

Part of that is intermodulation distortion - sum and difference tones - simple individual sounds are often cooler with some added harmonics - already complex sounds collapse.

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Tracking to tape verses mixdown

Post by reelgain » Wed May 25, 2011 8:28 am

That's kind of what I thought. But obviously mixing down to tape must add some of the "warmth" / "tape" flavor right? It seems slit of top engineers still work that way. (tracking in the box and mixing to tape.) I'm also aware of slot of top guys who have done everything in the box and they're so good that you really can't tell either way.

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Re: Tracking to tape verses mixdown

Post by Dakota » Wed May 25, 2011 9:35 am

reelgain wrote:But obviously mixing down to tape must add some of the "warmth" / "tape" flavor right?
Yes, definitely. Every little bit helps. Mixing digital down to 2tk tape does get some glue and analog flavor in any case. And even in mastering, it's common enough to take an ITB mix and run it through tape as part of the total chain, warm it up some.

It being a hybrid world, I'm much into taking ITB tracks individually out to tape and back in off the repro head, fine tuning saturation for each track. I like working that way, tape as a "hardware effect", a texture choice.

Funny thing in recent years - if a client is given a choice between a mix that went to tape and an equivalent one that didn't, sometimes they'll take the non-tape version because it's "slicier", more cutting sounding, more "competitive" with the harder-edged digital stuff we mostly hear nowadays. Tape makes warm, but it also can make a little blur or mush.

That being said, I love tape sound in all versions from lo to hi fi, and do as much of that as a budget permits.

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Post by @?,*???&? » Wed May 25, 2011 10:33 am

Your biggest discussion here should be about signal to noise ratio and dynamic range.

With tape you sacrifice both. With digital both improve.

In the Musician/Engineer Survey, a little over half of the 600+ folks responding favored dynamic range over frequency response.

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Post by MoreSpaceEcho » Wed May 25, 2011 10:44 am

oh please. even my otari 1/2" 8 track has a perfectly excellent dynamic range and a noise floor i have to crank the monitors to hear. i'm actually thinking of putting that sucker back into service for recording drums, as the tape compression just makes them so much easier to deal with later.

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Post by tonewoods » Wed May 25, 2011 11:27 am

MoreSpaceEcho wrote:...as the tape compression just makes them so much easier to deal with later.
That, in a nutshell, is what it's all about....

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Post by drumsound » Wed May 25, 2011 11:31 am

Mixing is much easier off the tape deck in my experience.

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Post by @?,*???&? » Wed May 25, 2011 11:34 am

MoreSpaceEcho wrote:oh please. even my otari 1/2" 8 track has a perfectly excellent dynamic range and a noise floor i have to crank the monitors to hear. i'm actually thinking of putting that sucker back into service for recording drums, as the tape compression just makes them so much easier to deal with later.
Spoken like a true layman!

Tape typically yields around 65 db of signal-to-noise ratio. With multiple tracks open that can drop quickly to 55 db or less.

16-bit digital has a dynamic range of 97.8 db

24-bit digital has a dynamic range of 145.8db which is greater than the human ear can perceive.

Giving up that much information during tracking is a serious consideration for ANY recording engineer.

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Post by MoreSpaceEcho » Wed May 25, 2011 12:05 pm

spoken like a guy who never actually records anything.

i'm quite familiar with the dynamic range of 16 and 24 bit digital, thanks.

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Post by Dakota » Wed May 25, 2011 1:05 pm

Barcoded releases have better signal to noise ratio.

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Post by MoreSpaceEcho » Wed May 25, 2011 2:10 pm

they have whiter teeth and better posture too.
drumsound wrote:Mixing is much easier off the tape deck in my experience.
i haven't mixed anything off tape in years, but i recently mixed a couple songs that had been tracked elsewhere to 2" and transferred to PT. i noticed my compressors reacted differently than they usually do. and by 'differently' i mean 'better'. i think digital's great, i have no problem mixing ITB, but there's definitely a lot to be said for the way tape can gently (or not) smooth out the bigger transients.

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Post by Dakota » Wed May 25, 2011 7:24 pm

@?,*???&? wrote:Your biggest discussion here should be about signal to noise ratio and dynamic range.
Biggest discussion should perhaps be about music sounding "good" "compelling" "euphonic" "cool", & whatever it takes to get there. Tape still has that wonderful way of smoothing transients and adding pleasant harmonic distortion and frequency saturation compression and overall auto-packaging in a way that sounds good to the ear. I'll take all that over S/N and DR any day. Besides, if one can't gain stage tape...

Enough rising to the bait. Ha.

Anyway, case in point, was just on a tracking session (Garvy J) in an A+ giant beautiful sounding orchestral room, A+ mics, pres, perfect gain staging, all that - and it's clear that even so, the drums are going to have to go to tape next to get them sounding right. "Right" being defined in a rock sense, big and lush, fat, etc. They are very well recorded but too slicey, too clean.

When tape is the right tool for the job, there's nothing better than tape.

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Post by mr. nick » Wed May 25, 2011 8:50 pm

This is what I have found:
A properly set up tape machine, let's say 2" 16 track MCI JH-16 (I own this and base my reply off this as a multi-track tape machine I've restored and used for 7 years).

I also have an 1/4" Otari MTR 10 that i mix to and transfer digital masters to weekly.

My digital setup is a PT 002 BLA tweak head with Steinberg and Lucid conversion both ways.

When I record to tape, I don't really like the sound of tape getting hit hard. I feel like hitting tape hard, the transients get smeared, and there get's to be a build up of the same harmonic distortion, especially in multi-tracking, the old days... drums especially hold their place in the mix once you've figured that sound out!

In the old days, when I would hit the tape hard, and monitor back through a console. The input and repro playback difference was striking, a total guessing game. I was getting tape distortion, input clipping on the console, channels of distortion consisting of the same/simular kind. Each source usually sounded cool on it's own, but mixing sucked. that took forever to figure out.

These days, I sometimes get to track to tape while monitoring through my convertors and recording into my ProTools rig through the input section of the tape machine. I am lucky enough to have dozens of mics and signal path options, and years of experience, with many of the same tools. Sounds pretty close on the way in...

Comparing an analog and digital recording of the same take through the exact same signal path and monitoring situation. My digital system is more accurate, I can't believe I'd ever write this. I get that the analog format can have some glue to it when used right, but, the stereo image and depth of field, and character of the digital recording sounds more accurate to the intent of the recording session I setup. I expect the playback to mirror the recording.

Analog multi-track recording requires a mixer to mix down the tracks to, that's when more components add in to the outcome. Think about all of the parts in an analog mixer/tape machine. Many of the tolerances are +/- 20%. That adds up. Gain staging I will not go into right now.

Mixing to tape, there is a small tolerance of tape path drift over each head, causing the stereo image to shift ever so slightly as the source is recorded and then played back. Some folks think this is part of the organic nature of tape (multi-tracking recorders apply as well).

I have spent an equal amount of time with analog recording and digital recording. What I've learned: trust your ears and preform to the equipment. happy accidents happen, but learn from them. Gear lust should be an interest, not an obsession or crutch.

I think a big misconception of analog gear comes from the fact: Tubes! Tape! Those are really misunderstood words that are fun to say. They are tools.

I prefer to mix to tape than to track to tape. That is how my setup works best to me, though I do both because I never am always right.


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