Dubspot Plug-In Spotlight: Warm Your Mix w/ Slate Digital Virtual Tape (AU / VST) Analog Emulation

Slate Digital’s Virtual Tape Machines (VST / AU) plug-in aims to recreate tape saturation and compression using complex algorithms, capturing the warmth and nuanced sound of analog tape in the digital realm.

Over the past 20 years, the audio industry has followed a steady path into the realm of digital production as computers are providing more power and capability per dollar than most analog gear on the market. This movement is empowering new musicians to create, but it’s also changing the sound of contemporary music. Many of today’s producers are creating music entirely “in the box,” a technique that can be efficient and powerful but sometimes leaves the end musical product with a distinct digital sound. To remedy this, many producers have recently turned to analog tape to achieve a warmer, thicker sound before publishing. But the dilemma here is that tape is expensive, hard to come by, and the process of recording to tape can be time-consuming. Wouldn’t it be easier if someone could emulate the sound of analog tape in the digital realm as well?

To remedy this situation, Slate Digital, creators of high-end boutique mastering tools, have created a new plug-in called Virtual Tape Machines (VST / AU) that aims to replace the reel-to-reel tape deck and give classic analog warmth and compression to digital recordings. To create this new plug-in, Steven Slate (an accomplished professional producer and engineer) tapped into his community of professional engineers to find the best possible reel-to-reel decks to emulate. He then worked with Slate Digital Chief Technology Officer Fabrice Gabriel to create a “comprehensive study of the physical processes that occur when recording to analog tape through a tape machine.” The end result is a program that employs advanced algorithms to recreate the warmth, presence and nuances of a 2 inch 16 track from NRG Recording, and a ½ inch 2 track machine from Howie Weinberg Mastering.

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“When we created the Virtual Console Collection it was the first time that I could mix inside the box and really enjoy what I was hearing, and feel that there was no sacrifice. But once we added the virtual tape machine, that just took it to a whole new level. Printing a mix to the virtual half-inch alone just makes the music come out of the speakers in a way that I’ve never heard before in the digital domain.” - Steven Slate

In practice, VTM delivers a warm, rich, and smooth sound that gives analog tape a run for its money. While the program isn’t cheap ($199 retail), it delivers pro quality sound at a price far under that of an actual reel-to-reel, with results that are so similar that you probably wouldn’t be able to hear the difference. The plug-in can be used on individual tracks to bring presence to parts of your mix, or it can be used for your mixdown, giving the entire mix a richer sound. VTM offers two tape machine types (2″ and 1/2″) and two speeds (15 ips and 30 ips), with both virtual machines offering control of noise reduction, wow & flutter, bass alignment, bias settings, level calibration, and grouping control.

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“We take modeling very seriously. It’s a no-frills approach, it’s a no-compromise approach. Either we recreate the exact sound of what these tape machines are doing, or we don’t release the plug-in. These are famous tape machines that thousands of major pro engineers have heard, and I’m not gonna insult them by trying to add extra stuff. We want to recreate the sound of these machines and what they do. Because what they do is perfect.” - Steven Slate