If you’re going to emulate some legendary hardware, working with the original manufacturer is an excellent place to start. IK Multimedia put this collection together in collaboration with TASCAM for their 50th anniversary.
Read more in our IK Multimedia T-RackS TASCAM Tape Collection review and enter the giveaway to win a FREE copy of the software.
Recreating the sound of vintage hardware in plugin form can be a thankless task at times. Some purists will tell you it sounds awful before they even hear it. Personally, I like to take each on individual merit; some are terrible, some are good, and now and then, some are remarkably good.
The TASCAM Tape Collection got my attention when it was announced, so I’m delighted to have the chance to check it out.
T-RackS TASCAM Tape Collection – What’s in the Collection?
The collection features four vintage tape machines and has an introductory price of €129.99 (usually €199.99).
TEAC A-6100 MKII
The TEAC A-6100 MKII arrived on the scene in 1973 as one of the first tape machines made specifically for mastering.
It’s the most subtle of the four, and you have to make more significant adjustments to get more noticeable changes. It adds instant authenticity with the right amount of tape saturation and compression.
The 1972 A-3340S was the first four-track recorder that featured synchronized overdubbing.
When used with the 911 tape formulation, it delivers the definitive tape sound with saturation that can be warm or more aggressive when pushed.
The TASCAM 388 eight-track recorder came around in 1985.
Of the four, the 388 provides the most comprehensive scope for creative tweaking, thanks largely to the three-band EQ.
TASCAM Porta One
The four-track TASCAM Porta One MiniStudio looks and sounds like the 80s/90s.
I’m not just bundling two decades of sound together, but I’m talking about that boombox image. It makes me think of movies like Do the Right Thing, and it’s great on Hip Hop, New Jack Swing, etc.
IK Multimedia says TEAC and TASCAM selected the most sought-after models from their history, which is no surprise. They then sourced the most pristine example of each unit available and fully restored them to factory specification.
Spectrasonics did a similar thing on a larger scale with 36 vintage keyboard instruments for Keyscape.
The behavior and performance of vintage gear aren’t always consistent from one unit to another, so multiple hardware owners could have slightly different expectations of how something should sound. What I like most about this collection is that it starts with the sound and performance that the manufacturer intended all those years ago.
Having the original manufacturer’s seal of approval doesn’t guarantee success, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
Using T-RackS TASCAM Tape Collection
The first thing to note is that you can open these plugins inside the T-Racks 5 shell or individually in your DAW.
As far as image goes, I think these plugins look great, and that’s pretty common with IK Multimedia. Good looks aren’t essential, but when a plugin looks clunky or has a strange/tedious layout, it becomes less appealing to use; these GUIs are fully resizable too, which is always nice.
The layout of each plugin follows the design of the original tape machines pretty closely, minus a few adjustments for plugin form. Each plugin also shares the same set of controls, with just a few slight differences.
The shared controls allow you to quickly become more confident with all four plugins, especially for users new to tape machine plugins. Instead of struggling with too many controls, you can focus on how each plugin sounds and reacts.
The TEAC machines have Record and Play sections, the TASCAM machines have Record and EQ sections, including some of the most important controls.
In the Record sections, you’ll find Bias, Level, and HF EQ. In conjunction with the main Input, these three controls let you bring out varied effects of the recording head. Pushing the Record Level will result in more obvious saturation, and the HF EQ can either highlight or compensate for the loss of high-frequency content with magnetic tape recorders.
The Bias is a bit more interesting; generally, Bias on a tape machine provides optimal fidelity through a more linear magnetic transfer. Increasing the Bias will typically produce a warmer sound with more saturation; reducing it will typically enhance any non-linear effects like distortion.
You don’t have to adjust the Bias, but it’s something that is often used exaggeratedly.
There is an Input/Repro switch that determines whether your signal goes through the whole analog recording system or just the electronic input/output stages. I can see why people might like both options, with Input being more transparent.
But, for me, I doubt I’d stray from Repro because you can still be subtle without losing any of the tape machine processes.
I love the EQ in the Record and Play stages; even if they are subtle, you can do a lot of fine-tuning, avoiding the need for another plugin.
The TASCAM Porta One has the same EQ as the TEAC models (Play), but the 388 has a three-band EQ with a wide frequency range.
True Stereo recreates the subtle variation between left and right channels that you’d expect from a tape machine. The variation isn’t overwhelmingly noticeable, but it’s part of the analog charm. You can disable it if you prefer to keep both channels identical.
Transport Modeling mimics the behavior of the mechanical transport, which increases the likelihood of very slight irregularities.
Features like True Stereo and Transport Modeling are amongst my favorite things about this collection.
I say that for a couple of reasons; firstly, it’s an example of how IK Multimedia modeled each part of these tape machines in great detail. It’s about recreating the interaction between those different parts that play a role in the final sound.
Secondly, when developers add such features, they sometimes exaggerate them as if that validates their inclusion more. When that happens, you end up with something that sounds false and gimmicky; that’s not the case here.
The Tape Speed is shown on each machine as Low and High, representing 7.5 and 15 inches per second (IPS), respectively. Setting the Tape Speed has a lot to do with the desired sound and the style of music in question. I prefer the Slow speed because it sounds warmer and less clinical, but the increased fidelity of the High speed works well, too, particularly with a more modern sound.
The TASCAM 388 has no Tape Speed controls.
There are five tape formulations in total. Each machine offers four of those formulations, with the selection varying from one machine to another. The TASCAM Porta One is the exception, which offers two cassette tape formulations (Type I and Type II). As a nice little aesthetically pleasing feature, you’ll see the tape change on the GUI when you select different formulations.
Here are the formulations and their defining characteristics:
- 35 – Balance between precision and warmth of the TASCAM 388.
- 911 – Balance between precision and warmth on the TEAC machines.
- 456 – The most commonly used and definitive tape sound.
- GP9 – Punchy and modern.
- 499 – Analog sound with minimal distortion/compression and enhanced HF definition.
The impact of changing formulation depends on the machine you are using and how you have it set up. With default settings, the effect of changes is fairly minimal; you’ll hear it, but it’s not a drastic change. You notice a subtle but steady transition from a warmer or darker sound to a more open and modern sound as you cycle through the selections.
The two cassette tape types of the Porta One have more distinct characteristics. Type I (normal bias) has an apparent Lo-Fi sound, and Type II has a cleaner sound.
I want to touch on this briefly because it’s to be expected. With many moving parts (processing), the trade-off is higher CPU usage; this is true of these plugins. It’s not going to cripple your project in any way, but you wouldn’t want to have too many instances running. Even if the CPU usage was far less, these plugins aren’t ones that you’d want all over everything in your mix anyway.
T-RackS TASCAM Tape Collection – Final Thoughts
I don’t own any of these tape machines in hardware form, so I’m not making direct comparisons. I’ve heard people saying bluntly, it’s not as good as the real thing, and I’ll agree, that’s fine.
Without ever using a real TEAC A-6100 MkII, if offered the machine or the plugin, I’ll take the machine. However, I find it ridiculous that people who make it clear they are hardware-only purists take the time to comment so passionately on plugins; just don’t buy it.
Anyone who is open to software will know that emulations are getting better and better. The trouble isn’t so much creating a good sound; it’s mimicking the inconsistencies of an analog machine, and the relationship between each stage; that’s where I think IK has done a fantastic job.
I love how they sound, and I love that they aren’t as obvious/intrusive as many other tape emulations. I think they sound very close to the original units (as far as I can without owning one), and it’s fantastic when you add the convenience of a plugin (no maintenance, no flight case).
Even beyond the introductory price, the full price of €199.99 seems reasonable value for money to me for the collection. I mean, I wouldn’t mind if they reduced the price to, say, around FREE, but that’s stretching wishful thinking.
Plugins come in 64-bit AU, VST2, VST3, and AAX formats for macOS and Windows.
More info: T-RackS TASCAM Tape Collection
We are giving away a FREE copy of the T-RackS TASCAM Tape Collection to one lucky BPB reader (thanks, IK Multimedia! ❤️).
To enter the giveaway, answer this question in the comments section: Would you ever substitute your digital studio for an entirely analog one?
We will pick the winners using a random comment picker on Monday, November 29th.
Good luck, and thanks for reading BPB!
T-RackS TASCAM Tape Collection Review
We loved how T-RackS TASCAM Tape Collection sounds, and we loved that the plugins aren’t as obvious/intrusive as many other tape emulations.