This morning I got out a bunch of my old analog tape recordings and listened to them. They were recorded between the late 70’s and late 90’s, on various formats, but mostly 1/4" 8-track and cassette Portastudio-style format. I was completely blown away – not by my “artistry” which is certainly minimal, but by the sound.
In the old tape vs digital debates, I’m something of a neutral observer – they both have their merits, as well as drawbacks. I may be rethinking that now.
These recordings were certainly not “brite” but neither were they “dark” or muffled in any way. I seem to recall the cassette formats usually topped out at 13kHz, not to mention limitations due to tape speed and tape width. But these sounded much better than most if not all of my digital recordings.
Not a matter of limiting/loudness maximizing, either, because for the most part I don’t use those techniques (other than some bus compression on the occasional Rock tune).
Maybe it’s just a psychological effect, from being exposed to something you haven’t heard in quite some time. But I don’t think so… One thing I noticed is that on these old tapes, I can actually hear everything… on a lot of my digital recordings, often I can’t hear certain parts – not because they’re buried in the mix, but more because there’s a lot of masking going on. I don’t know enough about the difference between tape and digital to know why this is so.
So out of curiosity I looked around for prices on used multi-track tape machines. They weren’t as high as I expected, even for such workhorses as an Otari MTR90 or Studer A800 series. What I did find is that biggest problem with an analog tape setup is finding the tape itself.