REVIEW: Digidesign Reel Tape Suite
The Reel Tape Suite have been discussed a lot since they were announced. Anyone could’ve guessed they would sound good, the big question would rather be “is it good enough to be priced at $495?”. Let’s find out.
The GUI and Common controls
You know what it is, a tape emulator, a flanger and a delay. They are separate plug-ins but share some common controls. These are available in all of the plug-ins:
* The machine types: ‘US’ (emulation of 3M M79), ‘Swiss’ (Studer A800) and’ Lo-Fi’ (simulates the effect of a limited-bandwidth analog tape device). Lo-Fi is more of an effect thing, but a very cool one non the less. I find it to be a welcomed addition.
* Tape Formula: let’s you choose between two magnetic tape formulations, either ‘classic’ or ‘hi output’ with the classic sounding more saturated.
* And of course ‘drive’ and ‘output’…
I got to give Digidesign kudos for the knobs. They are very easy to turn and you don’t have to drag the mouse over the entire screen just to get the knob half-way where you want it. Thanks Digidesign for not giving us more RSI than necessary. Now let’s see what the individual plug-ins are like.
Reel Tape Saturation
Other than the common control, Reel Tape Saturation also features controls you’d expect such as ‘speed’, ‘noise’, ‘cal adjust’ and ‘bias’.
To my ears Reel Tape Saturation sounds perhaps more close to real tape than any other emulation out there and with all the parameter to choose from you’ll surely find a way to come up with the sound you prefer. While it’s highly tweakable I’d say the sound could be described as generally bright. It can be used very subtle, and while I’m sure most people use their tape emulators in this fashion, it can be tweaked to be a bit noisier and still work sound wise. Talking about noise, since it features a noise knob you can adjust just how much of the white horror you want. It seems so logical to have it there and when I try it I don’t understand why most of the competition don’t use this approach.
It smoothes everything out in a nice way and I can easily see it being applied on several different independent tracks and perhaps even more so on the master fader and auxes. While I haven’t tried it on a big session, it seems to me to be a bit heavier on the CPU than the other tape emulators out there which could cause complications if you’re one of those guys that wants one instance of your tape emulator on every track. I’m not one of those people though.
Reel Tape Delay
The Delay specific controls are as follows: ‘speed’, ‘feedback’, ‘wow/flutter’, ‘wow speed’, ‘bass’, ‘treble’, ‘noise’ and ‘mix’. These should be pretty self-explanationary, the wow and flutter controls changes the width in the fluctuations. It also has the important sync button that in addition to the standard note values let’s you choose dotted and tripled notes.
If you’ve been a long time reader, bumped into me on forums or in real life then you know I’m a sucker for delays. Of course my expectations on Reel Tape Delay was big. Browsing through the presets I find two Rockabilly presets, gotta love that. Starting with these I remove my old delay and try it on a bussed vocal track. Not bad. Again, like the Saturator it seems a bit heavier on the CPU than the competition.
Enough with the presets and time for some fiddling on my own (insert your favorite dirty joke here). I stumble across a very cool feature when playing with the speed knob, it acts like this type of knob should! Turning it fast forwards gives you the chipmunk effect and fast backwards the slowed down monster before going to the speed it should. Very cool! Can’t wait to automate this one.
This is a very analogue type delay and it sounds like it should, very round and smooth, definitely my kind of delay. Thanks to all the different tape parameters you can use it as a regular delay or for FX, whether it be by playing with the speed knob or applying lo-fi settings to the delay. It’s gonna be fun to see how the Massey Tape Delay holds up against this when it’s released.
Reel Tape Flanger
Additional controls for Reel Tape Flanger is ‘range’, ‘feedback’, ‘wow/flutter’, ‘rate’, ‘depth’ and ‘mix’. If you know how a flanger works I’m sure you understand these parameters.
The tape flanger is in my opinion perhaps the coolest plug-in in the suite. I immediately slapped it on a doubled lead vocal track and mixed it with the original. Very dirty, very old school, very nice. I tried to use it on the master for emulating some really old crappy recording, I didn’t have much luck with that though and I found it much better suited for individual tracks, whether it be relatively clean electric guitars or vocals. Actually I can’t remember coming across a plug-in in any format doing what this does with the same conviction, this is really gold. Simply put – it sounds amazing
One serious downside is the delay caused by it though, it’s pretty huge, or how about 2000+? A possible bug? I checked with the DUC and the manual… No, no bug, just a horrible latency. This is very annoying because I could really see myself using this plug-in much, having to manually shift around everything makes it much less tempting. Sure, we can still use it as audiosuite but it’s a drag anyway. Of course it will be used much whenever I’m on a TDM system but I really think the native consumers where somewhat ripped off here.
When I first heard about this suite I thought nothing special about it other than it probably will be pretty good sounding as Digidesigns latest plug-ins are. I have to admit I was somewhat wrong, not about them being good sounding but while there are other tape simulators out there and other delays or flangers out there, this is a unique package. To me it hasn’t replaced Analogue Channel, Massey or the others, it has sort of completed my collection of good sounding warming plug-ins. While they’re heavier on the CPU than other, the only real drag is the insane latency on the Flanger. With that said, some of the most true tape sounds will probably come from this collection for years to come and if you were thinking about getting only the Tape Saturator – think again my friend, you’ll want them all.