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If you want to create tape delay and happen to own your own tape machine, or work in a studio with one, or are simply tape curious, this movie is for you. A tape machine represents a mechanical source of delay. Usually, a tape machine has only a few tape speeds and thus only a few delay times. Sure, it might cost several thousand dollars for those few delay settings, but it is a way to create delay. Tape delay was originally used, because it was one of the only choices at the time. It's still used today so we'd like to know more about it.
Using a two track recorder is a bit clumsy, so manufacturers solved the problem by introducing tape-based delay units. These were tape machines with a loop of tape inside, where the spacing between the record and the playback heads could easily be changed to make the delay time adjustable. Nowadays, studios have more options. Life is good. Today, we can buy a digital delay that is easily adjustable, wonderfully flexible, cheaper than a tape machine, and it either fits in one or two rack spaces, or exist conveniently in a pulldown menu in our digital audio workstation.
Why bother with tape delay? There is one major reason and it's the most important motivator in our field. Sound. Some great sounding, old recordings made effective use of tape delay. That's inspiration enough for some engineers. Retro for retro's sake. Tape delay is such a unique sound, so rich with character and subtleties that plug-in makers continue to try to emulate it to import those sound qualities into our DAW. While these emulations might sound great, there is no way they can exactly match the sound of your tape machine.
You should go to the trouble to use a tape delay when you really want that sound. An analog tape machine introduces it's own complex, but understated coloration to the sound. It adds a slight low-frequency lift to the frequency content of the signal. The exact frequency and gain of this low-frequency emphasis depends on your tape machine. The tape speed, the tape gauge, and how the machine is calibrated. If you push the recording level into the red, that signature sound of analog tape compression is introduced. At hotter levels still, saturation distortion, a sound wholly unique to analog tape results.
So as it turns out when we give it a closer listen, tape offers far more than just delay. It's a delay plus equalizer, plus compressor, plus distortion device. It can be darn difficult to simulate digitally. It sometimes the perfect bit of nuance to make a track special within the mix.
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