|Fig. 1. Virtual Tape Machines emulates two tape decks, each using alternate tape formulations and operating at different speeds.|
THERE ARE quite a few tape-emulation plug-ins
for DAWs, but most fall short of glory. The new
Slate Digital Virtual Tape Machines (VTM; see
Figure 1) sounds like the real thing.
VTM alternately emulates a 2-inch, 16-track
Studer A827 and 1/2-inch, 2-track Studer A80
RC tape recorder operating at either 30 or 15
ips (inches per second), using either Ampex
456 or Quantegy GP9 tape. The cross-platform
plug-in is available in AU, RTAS, and VST
formats and requires an iLok 2 dongle.
Non-linear Response Like analog tape, VTM
produces a more saturated and compressed
sound the harder you drive the plug-in. The 30
ips setting extends the high-frequency response,
and moves the head bump (bass-frequency
boost) to a higher center frequency compared to
the 15 ips setting. 456 tape sounds more colorful
but less detailed than GP9 when driven equally
hard. Choosing VTM’s low bias setting better
preserves a track’s dynamics; high bias saturates
high frequencies more readily and rounds off
I generally preferred the 16-track machine
on individual tracks and the 2-track deck on
the master bus. For mastering, the 2-track deck
and 30 ips setting provided the airy detail I
usually wanted, with the tape type based on whether I desired more color (456) or punch
and detail (GP9).
On snare, the 16-track machine, GP9
tape, 30 ips tape speed, and low bias setting
enhanced the attack and compressed the
instrument’s body beautifully. The 2-track
machine also sounded flattering, but made
the snare sound a hair less compact. On drum
room mics, over-biasing the 16-track machine,
slamming the input, and using 456 tape
created a highly colored, compressed sound
that was awesome.
On DI’d electric bass, I loved running the
16-track machine at 15 ips, set to high bias. Using
456 tape and lightly pinning the input meter
boosted the bottom end, broadened the mids,
and rounded the transients beautifully, creating
a lush, fat, and burpy sound. The same general
treatment sounded fantastically lush on double-
tracked electric guitars; however, changing the
tape speed to 30 ips moved the head bump and
created better separation in the mix.
Beware the Pitfalls VTM robbed Digital
Performer 7.21 (DP) of its keyboard shortcuts.
(This is also an ongoing problem with Slate’s
long-established FG-X mastering plug-in.)
Regaining control of DP’s transport requires
clicking outside the plug-in’s GUI. Slate reported a similar issue in Pro Tools, although
I didn’t notice it in Pro Tools 9.0.6. The
company expects a future update to fix the
Even with its input and output controls set
to 0dB, VTM often added a bit of gain to the
processed signal. VTM lets you link the I/O
controls so that boosting the input causes the
output to dip by the same amount, which is
intended to preserve unity gain; unfortunately,
any existing offset between the controls isn’t
preserved when you click the link button.
You can group multiple VTM instances so
that adjusting a control in one instance similarly
changes the others. When you assign VTM to
a new group, all of its controls return to their
default settings, so make sure you assign it
to the group before making any adjustments.
(Assigning additional instances of VTM to an
existing group makes their controls mirror the
settings common to the group’s other instances.)
Bypassing any grouped instance of VTM—using
the plug-in’s bypass switch, not your DAW’s—
bypasses all other instances in the group. This is
a great way to compare the effect VTM has on
multiple tracks to their unprocessed sound.
Roll Tape! VTM is the most authentic and
best-sounding tape-emulation plug-in I’ve
heard. The GUI strikes the perfect balance
between flexibility and speedy operation—
there are enough options to shape the sound
of the tracks without encumbering your
workflow by offering too many variables.
Just be forewarned: VTM is a CPU hog.
Each instance consumed around 5% of my
8-core Mac Pro’s CPU resources. A good conservation strategy is to add VTM to auxes
for subgrouped tracks.
If Slate Digital can’t fix the aforementioned
keyboard-shortcuts problem, I suspect some
users will find it an unacceptable workflow
tradeoff. Not me. VTM sounds so awesome,
I’m willing to put up with the handicap—I’ve
gotta have that sound!
Sounds fantastic and authentic. Offers calibration controls and grouping.
CPU hog. Robs DP’s (and possibly Pro Tools’) keyboard shortcuts. Linking I/O controls eliminates their offset. Assignment to a new group nulls controls.
Michael Cooper (myspace.com/michaelcooperrecording) is the owner
of Michael Cooper Recording and a
contributing editor for Mix magazine.