Waves Kramer Master Tape Review

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Waves Kramer Master Tape models a rare ''50s-era analog tape recorder with tube electronics.

Although they may produce interesting and useful sounds, few tape simulator plug-ins successfully mimic an analog tape recorder''s ability to “broaden” a vocal or instrument''s midrange frequencies—an effect you can''t achieve with EQ. This “fattening” capacity is the much sought-after remedy for thin-sounding digital tracks, and difficult to emulate in a digital context; yet Waves'' new Kramer Master Tape plug-in succeeds in capturing this elusive essence—and more (including the option to add wow, flutter, and hiss).

Kramer Master Tape, available for TDM, RTAS, Audio Suite, VST, and AU, models the characteristics of a rare 2-track tape recorder that combines an Ampex Model 350''s 1/4" transport with Model 351 tube electronics (Figure 1). 3M Scotch 207 tape was used with the hybrid recorder during plug-in development.

The plug-in''s input level makes a huge sonic difference. If it''s too low, you don''t get the magical imprint of tube saturation. (The flux control, and not the input level, determines the degree of tape saturation.) If it''s too hot (input meters pinned), the sound is smeared and phasey. When the virtual VU meters read roughly –5 to 0 VU on peaks, you''re in the sweet spot.

You can get a wide range of tape-saturation effects—from ultra-clear and punchy to very squashed and distorted—by setting the plug-in''s flux control low or high, respectively. For vocals, clean electric guitars, and mastering, I didn''t stray out of the nominal (low) flux range of 185 to 250 nWb/m (nanowebers per meter) for Scotch 207 tape. But for burpy bass, bombastic drum subgroups, and 2-bus compression on aggressive rock productions, I pushed the flux control as high as 520 nWb/m (+9dB over Ampex Standard Operating Level) to increase sonic girth. Extremists can set the flux control as high as 1020 nWb/m.

I much preferred using the plug-in on a drum subgroup instead of on individual tracks for traps; that way, I could blend the original tracks with the processed sound to preserve transients. Used on the insert for a kick drum track, Kramer Master Tape made the kick sound too tappy and midrange-y. On snare drum, it softened the stick strike too much. But while a high flux setting made a drum subgroup sound mushy, it also made it bigger and thicker. Blending the subgroup with the percussive original tracks sounded genuinely analog and fantastic.

As to tape speed, I loved how the 7.5ips setting gave bass tracks a pillowy sound, but on most other tracks I preferred the 15ips setting for its relatively extended high-frequency response. I usually preferred the over-bias setting for its greater clarity and detail—but nominal bias sounded great on drum subgroups, and warmed up a strident lead vocal.

On all tracks, Kramer Master Tape broadened the midrange and made high frequencies sound softer. Tracks became more colorful and less clinical. Best of all, I never had to demagnetize the heads, clean the tape path, or run out of tape!

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Click on the Product Summary box above to view the Waves Kramer Master Tape product page.