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Waves: Abbey Road J37 Tape


Stephen Bennett takes a look at Waves’ recent offering to see how close it comes to recreating the vibe of Abbey Road in the 60s, and what it can offer to today’s productions.

I SPENT most of my early recording life wrestling with tape and tape machines, whether it was expensive reels of 2in Ampex tape – often erasing another band’s precious recordings in the process – or trying to come to terms with the black art of alignment on Fostex’s range of low-cost multi-track recorders. Even when I worked in professional studios, the personal peccadillos of engineers often meant that different set-up procedures or noise reduction systems made moving from studio to studio a sonic nightmare. But when it worked, how it worked! The sound created by the distortion and non-linearities generated when pushing the input levels onto the right kind of tape running through a high-quality machine has been, until recently, unmatched in the digital world. As computer-processing

power has increased though, the eye of audio programmers has swung mercilessly round to shine on that holy of holies – the analogue tape machine. Israeli company Waves Inc already has a tape emulator on its roster of plug-ins – the excellent Kramer Master Tap. So what does the new boy on the (editing) block, the Abbey Road Studios J37, bring to the world of virtual tape machines? Anything with the words

‘Abbey Road’ in its name is bound to bring up an image of The Beatles (a quite well known pop combo from the

40 April 2014

60s and 70s) to mind and the J37 under review is based on the Studer multi-track machine of the same model number which was used in the recording of their influential Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, among others. As you can imagine, the J37 was heavily modified by the engineers at Abbey Road to extend its range of experimental possibilities – it could be made to run at non-standard speeds, in reverse, and could utilise a range of EQ curves. Waves’ emulation of the J37 features many of these innovations, though it sadly lacks the wheels that made the original tape machine effectively portable! Installation and

authorisation via the Waves licence centre was simple and painless and creates a stereo and mono version – Waves calls them ‘components’ – of the plug-in. The J37 is available in Native versions (AU, VST, and RTAS) and AAX for Avid’s Pro Tools for Windows and OSX.

IN USE If you’re a long-time Waves user, you’ll be familiar with the strip of controls that lie at the top of the plug-in screen. These consist of undo and redo, a button to allow you to swap between two loaded presets (setup A and B,) next and previous preset arrows, a button for copying from slots A to B, a load and save area, and a useful help section. Below this, you’re presented with a visual representation of

the tape machine itself that I feel takes up rather too much of the plug-in’s user interface – though thankfully you can stop the virtual spools spinning with a click of the mouse. The input and output levels are optimised for the digital recording environment and the manual contains some useful tips on how to use the various parameters in real-world situations. Emulations of each of the

three classic tape formulations that were commonly used with the J37 are available, namely the EMI TAPE 888 from the early 60s, the 811 from the mid- to late-60s, and the 815 from the early 70s. These three choices give you quite a range of tonal colours in themselves and

they all respond differently to the settings of the input level control (you can set the output level to keep the overall gain constant, which is essential for auditioning the effect of overloading the virtual tape machine’s input). Two virtual tape speeds are available, 7 and 15ips, with the latter setting offering a wider frequency response and lower distortion. The Bias can be set to Nominal or +3dB and +5dB Over Bias – each setting changes the overall tonality and clarity of the processed signal. The modelled track’s settings are used to modify the stereo image of the processed audio and there are informative VU-type meters that provide input and output level

information. So far, so interesting, but the J37 has another trick up its sleeve – it can act as a virtual tape delay. While I was working

recently with guitarist Adrian Lee on a composition by Goldfrapp’s Will Gregory using two valve tape machines, I was reminded how lovely ‘proper’ valve- based tape delay can sound. The J37 doesn’t disappoint in this respect as it nicely recreates that ‘feedback into noise’ effect that tape is so good at.

It may seem strange to first

create an emulation of a high- quality tape machine and then add controls to mess up the sound, but when it comes to using the J37 as a tape delay, the Wow and Flutter

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