REVIEW: Digidesign Reel Tape Suite

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Conclusion

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.

Digidesign

17 responses to REVIEW: Digidesign Reel Tape Suite

  1. tommymakestapes says:

    I’m not one usually one to bring it up, but when digi is making an rtas that LE/MP can’t handle latency wise, it makes me feel as if a somewhat more robust adc will come our way. Maybe not full enough to support proccessing cards etc, but to at least handle their own future plugins. It sounds like they made that flanger sound as best as they could with no punches pulled. Perhaps more plugins they release will have this kind of latency too. I certainly don’t want to deal with latency issues like this and I hope digi won’t impose it on me.

  2. stiff says:

    You bring up a very good point. My guess is that we will see ADC in the next upgrade. I haven’t heard anything solid or anything like that, just a guess.

  3. snider says:

    i tried the suite for 3 days on tdm now and what can i say? the saturation seems to be very subtle, somehow sounding good on busses and master. didn´t try it on single tracks. first, we couldn´t hear nearly anything except subtle distortion when input was driven. our impression: the digi saturation smoothes somehow and gives the impression of a “record”.somehow a “tighter” sound.- the flanger is exactly what i was looking for years! remember the songs where in the middlepart of the song the two four-track tapes started to run out of sync (beatles etc.)? to me exactly this sound. or on drums in the end of the solo? to me perfect with this plug.- first impression on the delay: sounds like oldschool tape delay, could be a perfect companion for those, who are into old rolands, dynacords etc. the plug seems to do what it is design for, but for me i prefer other solutions. let´s see, how other opinions on this nice ( a bit overpriced) are.

  4. stiff says:

    I agree on pretty much every point. The tape saturator ends up on some busses but for individual channels I still stick with Analog Channel. I used the Delay in a session after I had written this review and noticed the cpu meter go through the roof! Strange thing, I used it this morning in another (heavier) session, and while it’s more of a hog than other delays it’s no way near the hog I discovered in the previous session. Strange behaviour… Anyway, I really like the sound of it, the speed knob is the huge bonus.

    And the flanger… Oh baby!

  5. Anthony PIttarelli says:

    thanks for the review, very excited about this one. the flanger especially, but is it worth $500 for home use?

  6. stiff says:

    Well, it depends ;)
    It was a while ago I reviewed it and this is the situation today:

    Reel Tape Delay, at least one in every session. Sometimes more. I like it on lead vocals, but my vocal treatments might be a little different than others.

    Reel Tape Saturation, killer on busses. Often on the master, sometimes I use Analog Channel instead. It works good on individuals as well of course but I’ve gotten used to Analog Channel for that.

    Reel Tape Flanger. Don’t use flangers much, but it sounds really, really good. I’ve used it for FX a couple of times and don’t even try other flangers for that.

    With that said, great bundle! If you can afford it then I’d go for it. But hey, don’t take my word for it, download the demo!

  7. snider says:

    hahaha, like stiff said-a while ago since first impressions.
    todays situation here: no use of bundle until first preview. i´m´sorry to say that.
    the latest rediscovery in our studios is the soundtoys bundle with pitchblender, echoboy, crystallizer. nearly in every music-session 2 pitchblenders and 2 echoboys and a crystallizer with wings..

  8. Anthony Pittarelli says:

    are you using it on effects aux busses or like track summing aux busses?

  9. stiff says:

    Track summings, like an entire drumkit…

  10. anthony pittarelli says:

    ah i see thank you

  11. Isaac Isaiah says:

    I’d love to get this set of plug-ins but it’s just way out of my budget. I just want the stand alone version for use with cubase or to master my tracks. Do you have to have ProTools intalled to run it even with the stand alone version?

    I’ve been using shagged-out reel-to-reels and a four-track cassette recorders for years. I’d probably continue to do so anyway (because I like the ‘hands on’ technique of cutting up tape and so on), but this would be a great addition.

  12. stiff says:

    Isaac, they are not available in standalone versions so you’d need Pro Tools to run them. For a tape saturator to use with Cubase I’d look at DUY DaD Tape, which I believe is available in VST format these days.

  13. Dwight Larks says:

    Although I can’t afford it currently, I think I am going to rent it tonight.

  14. terminal3 says:

    hmmm.

    http://www.virsyn.de/en/E_Products/E_VTAPE/e_vtape.html

    got time to do a shootout for us, Stiff?

  15. stiff says:

    I most certainly will get back to you on that :)

  16. Rodrigo Batista says:

    Reel Tape Saturation or McDSP Analog Channel?

  17. stiff says:

    At the moment Analog Channel, but they are very different flavors IMO. I also like VirSyn VTAPE, it’s a little more like Reel Tape.

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