How to create a custom tape hiss effect

Tape hiss can be a particularly evocative effect. Here’s how to recreate it
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Tape emulation plugins do a whole lot more than simply provide the characteristic ‘hiss’ we all so readily associate with tape. The best of them emulate the delicate balances of a number of a tape machine’s moving parts and some even emulate different tape types too. 

However, if you don’t have access to a tape emulation plugin, or if you want to produce your own approach to a tape hiss effect (perhaps to add a little quasi-authenticity to a loop you’re making), this guide is for you. 

As we’ll see, it’s amazing what you can do with a white noise generator and some sidechained compression...

tape-hiss-1

We start with three drum tracks featuring Kick, Snare and Hats. All three parts are taken from the same Battery 4 kit. To the Snare and Hats we add a reverb, using the Dirty Plate algorithm from Valhalla’s VintageVerb. 

tape-hiss-two

Next we set up Monark in Reaktor 6. We switch off every oscillator except for the Noise Generator. We choose a Band-Pass filter and set Cutoff and Resonance to maximum. We turn off the Filter Envelope. To remove more frequency content, we use SoundToys’ FilterFreak’s high-pass filter. 

tape-hiss-3

To be more convincing we need this “fake hiss’ to respond dynamically to the drums. We send all the drums to a bus and use this as a side-chain trigger to a compressor on the hiss. In the clip you’ll hear this effect first time around, followed by the drums without hiss. Subtle but effective.