Adding analog warmth through hardware

Some time ago, Jet humored me and rendered a few 10 second samples through his tape deck so that I could A/B the difference between the tape deck and the original. I was quite impressed with the result, and have kept in the back of my mind the thought of one day adding analog to my signal chain post-mixing to get a similar result. Granted, my skills as an engineer have increased significantly in the 5 years or so since then (thanks in a large part to everyone in this forum) so perhaps the effect won’t be as great. But I’m still convinced that it would add something to my mixes.

I currently own a Mindprint EnVoice MK-II that I used for all of my instrument / vocal recording. When I bought it, I got the single channel version since I couldn’t imagine ever needed two channels and didn’t want to spend nearly double for a channel I wouldn’t use. Now I’m starting to wonder if my lack of foresight is coming back to haunt me because I really like this piece of equipment.

That’s the reason for this thread. That outboard gear is no longer sold new (as far as I know) so I’m asking for recommendations for a stereo piece of hardware that I can use to send my master buss through. When I’m ready to make the purchase, I’m guessing my budget will be $1,000-1,200. Any recommendations? I want to avoid tape decks if possible since I don’t want to have to worry about mechanical breakdowns.

When I do purchase it then I’ll ask about the best way to integrate it into Cubase since I’ve never used hardware in the middle of processing - only in the signal chain leading up to the audio interface.

I know it’s not really the answer you’re looking for, but there are in my opinion very good plugin alternatives to going analog. So, as an example - and I’m not saying this is what you should get btw - I own three stereo Neve 33609 compressors as well as Universal Audio’s UAD-2 (quad). I level matched as well as I could, then ran a drumkit through both analog and digital and set it up as a blind test for other engineers and musicians. People couldn’t consistently tell which was which. Not even close.

So, my recommendation would be to either look for an analog device that has a very characteristic and unique sound that you simply can’t get in plugins, or just get plugins that get you close enough. The latter might not sound appealing, but from a practical standpoint it’s far better. Of course, if you like the feel of operating analog gear then that doesn’t matter, and “feel” is important to creativity I think.

The above sell several boxes aimed exactly at this market. But I do agree with the previous poster - you can get great results without real analogue gear.

I do use an old 1950s valve tape deck to bounce vocals and guitar to (sometimes) and use a cheapo (£250) ART VLAII compressor (with almost 0 gain reduction) when mixing - it definitely adds a certain warmth and polish as long as you don’t overdo it.

I’ve heard good things about the D-Box analog summing box–>

I notice the OP has plugs by Slate and SoundToys… if you have VCC that’s designed to emulate console hardware and Decapitator and Radiator from ST both add some serious vibe to sterile sounding soft synths and drum machines… when i originally got the ST bundle i completely over looked those two plugins… they’re now two of my favourite… just don’t over do it with them as a little goes a looooooooooooong way.

I only have the freebie(s) from Slate that they’ve offered recently, so unfortunately I don’t have VCC. I have managed to collect most of the freebies from ST as well (including Little Radiator but not Decapitator).

Everyone’s point is well taken, and it fits with my statement that my engineering skills have improved dramatically over the past 5 years. Perhaps I should ask someone to take a pre-mastered stereo mix and run it through their analog gear while I master it ITB and do an A/B between the two.

Any takers? :smiley:

On another note, someone is selling the HHB Radius 3 Fat Man stereo tube compressor for $200 used. The first stage is solid state, but it has a 12AX7A for the second stage. :smiley:

First thing I don’t like about it is that it has 1/4" jack outputs only. No XLRs. :open_mouth:

From a compression VST standpoint, I own a few: the set that comes with NI Komplete 9 (not Ultimate so I don’t get the Softube collection); NI Supercharger GT; FabFilter Pro-C and Pro-C2; TDR Kotelnikov (not GE); VoS ThrillseekerLA; and in the saturation type of plugs I have VoS TesslaPro and FerricTDS. Plus, I have Cubase 8.5 Pro so I get the stock plugs that come with the product.

You should really check out magneto 2, quadrafuzz and the new tube compressor then… personally i do prefer certain 3rd party ones but quadrafuzz is superb, i’ve used it instead of decapitator on a couple of tracks and it’s seriously versatile… you can do some really subtle warming on specific frequency bands or go totally nuts with it… it’s a VERY cool plugin that you already own geezer :wink:

I don’t think analog summing is the answer here. In my opinion it’ll probably be far too subtle to satisfy the stated goal. I could be wrong of course.

I probably won’t have time this week, otherwise I’d do it.

One thing I’d say though is that if you’re looking for an overall “more analog sound” then it probably makes sense to add a little warmth to a lot of places, rather than push a final stereo mix through one stage of analog processing. Mind you, I’m not saying that the latter doesn’t have a benefit, just that the result is different.

So the last time I did a music mix and decided to “warm up” the sound I ran several of the sources through a tape emulation by UA. In other words, all of the following got offline-processing (tape) applied:

Kick / snare / toms / overheads
Drum kit bus
lead vocals

I think that was it. Other sources were sufficiently warm. But at any rate the point is that having done it that way you don’t have to push the analog emulations to the limit to get a good effect out of it.

Just some food for thought. Especially if you’re thinking about trying some of the “lesser brands” out there.

Old geezer. I resemble that remark. :mrgreen:

And, Lydiot, I get the “use liberally on individual tracks” concept. I guess my concern is that I often have trouble hearing the differences when subtle effects like this are applied. And with something like this where you will use the same effect in several places, subtlety is the way to go since the sum of the VST on individual tracks yields the actual result I am looking for.

Going along this train of thought, then, there are a few avenues that I can try: saturation, compression, or tape emulation. While I know what each of these types of effects do, what I don’t know is the differences between them when trying to achieve the same result, which is adding analog warmth. Also, let’s add a fourth category to the list: harmonic distortion, e.g. UAD Vertigo VSM-3.

Any enlightenment would be greatly appreciated!

My understanding is that harmonic distortion is what you’re getting regardless, or in other words: they all distort the signal and what you’re liking is the resulting harmonic content.

If you’re trying to decide which route to go then I’d say either pick something that simply sounds pleasing to your ear, or pick something that performs a task while also sounding pleasing. In my case I used a tape emulation because in a traditional process the band would have recorded to tape, and while doing so the engineer would have hit that tape in a way where the tape distortion would have sounded nice - before mixing. Then, after that step in the process, one obviously uses other processing like EQ, compression etc. And in my case, since I have the UAD plugins those plugins were used and they are also modeled after analog processing. So my point is that I would have used the latter plugins no matter what, because I like how they sound, but I thought when thinking about the process that for warmth the missing link in the chain was tape saturation.

In addition there’s also a bit of compression happening when hitting tape, although that depends on how hard you hit it.

In any case I would just experiment if I were you.

Here’s an ignorant question from the ignorant …

Does just any hardware do the trick, or does it have to be specially constructed to impart “analog warmth”?

I have one piece of hardware, an FMR RNC, which I break out and use now and then. Since I barely hear much of an effect added by running through Magneto II, I figure my ears are just a bit too tin-like still to appreciate these kinds of things (I sure hope to get better at this stuff, though). But, I have to say, running through the RNC on bypass doesn’t add anything to the sound that I can hear.

So I’ve always wondered … when my listening skills improve should I expect to hear “analogue warmth” through the RNC, or is a specialized sort of hardware unit (real tape machine, or others) needed for this effect?

Thanks for the eddy-cation!

I think a lot of electrical and mechanical engineers did their best to create devices that behaved as linearly as possible with the tools and budgets they had at their disposal. So I’d say you’ll just have to try the gear out. If you can’t hear a difference using your RNC, then it’s entirely possible it’s just very clean. It’ll still color the signal, just very nicely so :slight_smile: ('cause it’s, you know, a really nice compressor). Perhaps you just have to drive the crap out of it!? Push the input waaaaay up and listen to what it sounds like. Perhaps it has a pleasant distortion…?

The other thing is that analog doesn’t equal “warm”. My Neve 33609 stereo compressor definitely gives more color than a Focusrite Red whatever stereo compressor. The latter, to me, is way smoother. On the other hand, the 33609, while sounding like vintage Neve class-A analog, is hardly “warm”. The Focusrite is arguably “warmer”.

I’d just get on a mission to borrow and try out as much gear as possible until you find what works for you. Compressors, EQs, Delays etc…

I very nearly got an RNC, they’re very nice! its output is a bit low for my alpha channel and it has a wall wart psu which i struggle with because of arthritis, so i went for a dbx 160a in the end, i did like the sound of the rnc though… nice bit of kit at a very attractive price!

When i started using slate vcc about 3 or 4 years ago now i could hear what was to me then, a very subtle difference between some of the models, i could tell the neve was bass heavy and the 4k was mid forward but very little else… wind forward a few years and although i haven’t fully got to grips with the api or the tube channel (i think most of the stuff i listen to was probably done on neve/ssl) the difference between the two ssl models and the neve couldn’t be any more obvious to my ears… the 4ke is MUCH more aggressive than the other two, quite ‘pinched’ sounding but VERY musical whereas the 4k is much more ‘polite’ sounding and neutral by comparison, the neve is quite ‘wooly’ and slightly smeared with a huge bottom end again by comparison… it’s taken time and lots of usage to become this familiar with them, i dare say given more time i’ll hear yet more subtle differences but if i flick between models now BANG, the difference is night and day… it’s the same with pretty much any bit of kit. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed, particularly with plugins as every daw has a whole bunch of different plugins which add ‘character’, and not get to REALLY know the sound of each device so you never really get to the subtleties they’re known for… i decided a couple of years back to just stick with ONE ‘character’ eq and just use the cubase channel eq for surgical tasks until i could reliably predict what was going to happen, then i moved onto another and then another and it’s really helped my mixes as my ears have become much more experienced at listening in different critical ways… i’m still no expert but my stuff has improved and still is improving exponentially because of it… that’s just my own personal experience though.

It equals my experience that the longer you use analog or digital gear the more you’ll learn about its subtle, pleasant (or unpleasant) character. When I bought myself into UAD many years ago (not really the chepest stuff) I started listening and testing much more than ever before with onboard or free/cheap plugins. That started me to get a lot out of them instead of just trying the myriades of options = got myself to become a more aware listener, starting to get the more subtle stuff that shines by adding up instead of presenting an overdone (immediately audible) effect.

Stuff like VCC develops its beauty over time too. You have to have used it in lots of mixes to get the feeling for what it does and what it doesn’t.

A lot of good replies here. Thank you to everyone who contributed!

Been meaning to post this for a couple of days now but kept forgetting lol… you might find these useful, and

They’re all done using some SERIOUSLY nice gear… check out The Alan Evans Trio… wow! how can a 3 piece sound THAT good! three of the most talented guys i’ve ever heard all in the same place at the same time!

I’ve found them massively useful in my own personal journey, and gained a serious addiction to their mics in the process :blush: :imp: :unamused: just the one for now but i want a matched pair of C12s!!! :unamused: :laughing: :laughing:

I always played with the idea, but for summing you need expensive stuff in my opinion (summing into a Mackie 8 buss doesn’t do it I think).
A bit later I could get a analog 2track tape deck, but didn’t get it after listening to it. The seller said it sounded great in the earlier days but maintenance was needed and he knows a guy who’s really good in these restoration of magnetic decks, however the amount of work was huge and also the $ investments.

Just my 2 cents.