Tape Mastering on YouTube.
Hi, welcome to an episode of “Thinking Outside the Box” on Noah’s Ark. In the video, we’re going to learn how to master a stereo mix from the DAW onto a reel-to-reel tape recorder.
There mainly two categories of professional tape machine out there. On one hand, we have what we call multitrack tape machines for recording individual tracks such as the renowned Studer A800, and on the other hand we have mastering two-track tape recorders such as the famous Ampex ATR-102. We will focus on the latter for the purpose of this video.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the process of mastering, it designates the last step of music production where mixes are reevaluated by often another experienced engineer in order to prepare the song or album for distribution on many different types of media.
Rather than working on several seperate instruments tracks as a mixing engineer does, a mastering engineer works on the finished stereo mix and any processing done is applied to the entire soundscape.
A typical standard mastering workflow starts with EQ, Compression whether it being single-band or multi-band followed by any special processing such as stereo imaging or exciting and eventually finishing with a limiter or maximizer. The mastering engineer also commonly applies any possible fades, and dithers the track with noise-shaping if the bit depth is lowered on the output medium.
When working on albums, mastering engineers will check level consistencies between tracks and adjust track order and timing between the tracks as well as encoding track metadata onto the medium.
In the context of mastering, some people like to print the stereo mix on a tape machine in order to give the track an analog feel. In practice, this more precisely means that the tape will color the sound with its inherent EQ curve, NAB, CCIR or AES, apply tape compression depending on the tape speed, tape width as well as tape formula and add non-linearities such as wow and flutter, hum and hiss as well as crosstalk between the channels.
So let’s talk about the different EQ curves and tape speeds. Depending on your machine you can have either the US standard NAB or the EU standard CCIR for a tape speed of 7.5 and 15 ips and occasionally AES for 30 ips. Rarely will you use this but in case you want to master at 3.75 ips, the curve will be NAB. NAB will produce a 60Hz cycle hum whereas CCIR will produce a 50Hz cycle hum.
In general, faster tape speeds will have more fidelity and less coloration compared to lower speeds. The lower the speed the more loss of high frequencies you will have and you will hear a bass bump in the lower frequencies.
So depending on the genre of music different tape speeds, EQ curves and tape formulas are selected in order to better suit the material.
To find out more about mastering using a tape machine, you can watch the video above or on YouTube here.