"Esoteric" plugins and their effects on perception

I post this because I would really like to hear other peoples opinions.

So I started to use a (subtle) master tape simulation and a (also subtle) console emulation plugin the other day and, after careful - really careful - calibration of the levels I really noticed improvements.

This was astonishing to me, because I always thought that “ok, more distortion, nothing that I can’t do with multiband distortion plugins, if I want more distortion at all” - but a few things I can definitively hear through my K701s (which I use via an HRTF plugin, so they are quite good).

Of course I turned off “noise”, “wow” and “flutter”, because audio engineering worked hard for ages to get rid of those… why add them now deliberately? Noise, wow and flutter don’t appeal to me.

For tape simulation, the effects:

  • Drums and bass are somewhat more “present”, without becoming actually louder
  • A bit of what I would call “fluidity” in the sound of all instruments
  • Slightly more “ergonomy” in the sound, it feels more “human”

This sounds all good to me. I didn’t notice any adverse effects, so for me this is a no-brainer.

The console emulation was more intense for me - being a big fan of 70s records (Pink Floyd et al), I prefer the simulation of an old EMI console here. What I got out of it was:

  • “Three dimensionality”… interestingly on almost every sound in my arrangements, it feels like the instruments are taking up “real space”

This was most obvious on a muted guitar which puts offbeat accents on a track. The difference isn’t actually subtle anymore.

  • Bass drum and bass “melt” more into each other… this was something which often annoyed me… they play at the same time, but still sound “unrelated”… with console emulation this problem disappeared
  • More “presence” of “musical intention” (sorry, I have no better words for that)

Great. Although, please don’t get me wrong: doesn’t solve bad mixes, but adds to already good ones.

(However, I did a nice little experiment just now with patches from a General MIDI box - and even this one sounds better, borderlining on acceptable, with some careful analog treatment.)

Hm… I wonder, besides distortion, what else goes into such plugins. For tape simulation, compression seems obvious.

What do you think?

I use UAD oxide on most tracks and the atr102 plus Pultec EQP-1A (with no boost or attenuation) in the mastering chain, the difference is staggering. Together these plugins glue the mix. They really do work - I’m a convert. I used to use the stock channel tape saturation, but Oxide is so much better it’s not funny!

Could you post a “before” and “after” so we can hear what you’re hearing?

Yes please, most of the time these plugs are just more haze and phase, creating a smeary film, rather than adding “3d”

A little snippet of a very rough mix - however you can hear the gluing effect: (well I think you can!) :smiley:
Funnily enough, doing these mini mixdowns I’ve just spotted the missing bass (piano) note going into the Chorus where I happened to end the mixdown - why didn’t I spot that before!? :laughing:


PS the cracking/breakup at the beginning is intentional!