Tape Saturation is basically about bring some warmth and authenticity back into your mix. These days everything is obviously normally digital and sometimes in this we can lose the perfect imperfection of analogue. Some sort of harmonic distortion occurs on pretty much all analogue tape recorders, because they change the shape of the waveform and therefore normally added in extra harmonics. Harmonics are “harmonics are multiples of the source (‘fundamental’) frequency that make the sound more complex, which might or might not be pleasing to the ear (Robjohns, 2010).” There are odd and even harmonics, and the ratio of odd to even within a signal will change how it sounds significantly (If you want to look up more on this, research white noise or pink noise).
These days, there are many plug-ins and outboard gear that attempt to emulate the sound of the tape recorders of analogue days, because many producers desire the warm sound that they bring. Other than this, sometimes tape saturation as a type of EQ, such as in Paramore’s Still Into You (read further for more info), alternatively, it can be simply used as distortion (usually on guitars) in spin-off rock genres such as grunge, punk, garage rock, indie rock…the list goes on. But how do we make it? That’s the fun part. In this blog I’m going to be specifically talking about the Phoenix II tape emulation plug-in by Crane Song.
“It was designed to give us the character of magnetic tape, to give us access to the colour, but not the noise or generally unwanted side-effects. It provides the sort of saturation, frequency response and compression that we normally associate with magnetic tape recording (Ruston, 2014).”
The Phoenix II is different because it is not a remake of a specific tape, but rather you can make a few different types of saturation sounds. As you can see in the picture above, on the far right knob there is Luminescent, Iridescent, Radiant, Luster and Dark Essence. These are all separate types of tape emulation, and are explained below by the creators:
“Luminescent is the most neutral-sounding process of the five. Iridescent has a similar magnetic character, but with a fatter bottom and mid-range. This [process] is the most similar to the Tape knob on the HEDD-192. Radiant is characterised by a more aggressive compression curve. Dark Essence is even more aggressive — the effect is a colour with a wider frequency range. When used on a vocal Dark Essence can reduce sibilance problems by increasing the apparent loudness of the rest of the signal. Luster starts more gently than the other four processes, but becomes as aggressive as Dark Essence when the process is at full scale.”
As you might suspect, there was an earlier version of the Phoenix II, (aptly named ‘Phoenix.’) it was used on countless hits such as Get Your Boots On by U2, Still Into You by Paramore (listen to this one below, mostly because I love Paramore, but also because they used Phoenix as a type of EQ on the vocals. For more information look here, under ‘Synths Versus Guitars,’ or just Ctrl+F Phoenix.) and Somebody That I Used to Know by Gotye (Pulsating Waves, 2015). The Phoenix II is an updated version of the original release, with a slightly nicer (but not that nice) aesthetic.
I hope you guys got something out this short intro to tape saturation, there are so many more plug-ins and hardware out there as well so if you want to, go crazy with it! Thanks for reading.
Pulsating Waves,. (2015). Crane Song Phoenix II Tape Emulation. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g52vTesnrTc
Ruston, J. (2014). Crane Song & Dave Hill Plug-ins |. Soundonsound.com. Retrieved 4 March 2017, from http://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/crane-song-dave-hill-plug-ins
Robjohns, H. (2010). Analogue Warmth. Soundonsound.com. Retrieved 3 March 2017, from http://www.soundonsound.com/techniques/analogue-warmth