There’s a lot of confusion around tape saturation, much of which arises from word of mouth and miscommunication, producers that advocate being HUGE lovers of the ‘warmth’ that analogue brings often are the ones that dive in head first with tape saturation, without ever really understanding the specifics of what it is.
I’ve had plenty of hands-on experience with producers that hold their hands up and admit being guilty of doing exactly that (myself included). And that’s ok!
I understand the feeling of excitement, when you buy a new plugin and think it’s going to transform the game you’re playing, only after a few minutes of twisting knobs, you find out that it’s not as easy as plug and play.
Coming prepared with nothing but a keen interest to learn can make all the difference before using these kinds of plugins, and in result completely transform your sound and bring you closer to your desired outcome.
So before we get into the reason you’re here (Finding out the best tape saturation plugins EVER DEVELOPED! cheesy title but I had to rope you in somehow)
Let’s walk through what tape saturation is in its simplest form so that if you follow through and buy any of these plugins you’re armed to use them to their maximum potential.
What is Tape Saturation?
Historically, the magnetic recording had a tough row to hoe. After a period of 50 years, magnetic recording eventually arrived at what we call high fidelity. Iron compounds don’t want to magnetize smoothly and linearly on their own, but they can be forced to behave like a misbehaved child for a good first-generation recording.
The problems come when you try to make the signal loud enough to overcome the ever-present tape hiss, which builds up every time you make a copy, which is what happens in a modern multitrack studio recording. Every generation (a mixdown master for making LPs, for example– it’s another copy) gets noisier and the distortion that was lurking below audibility in the first generation starts to become audible.
Add in carelessness and you have a new distortion to add to the inherent distortion and the copy distortion: tape saturation is when the tape runs out of little magnetic particles to be magnetized!
You’ve run them dry!
You’ll get a sound that’s like hard amplifier clipping: lots of odd-order harmonics mitigated somewhat by a roll-off of the high frequencies plus some compression. Used carefully by a savvy engineer/producer, it adds funk/dirt/grit to the sound. Used carelessly, it sounds like dog shit.
Below is a great video from the Youtube channel Ledger Note giving excellent before and after examples of using tape saturation:
So here are 4 problems I hope you love!
1. FabFilter Saturn
Saturn is both a distortion and tape saturation plugin (including multiband capabilities if required) that can produce effects ranging from warm and subtle analogue saturation to full-on crunchy bit-crushed digital distortion.
Really, this plugin is a potential one-stop shop for saturation as it’s so flexible – the modulation, panning and even compression options are excellent (as always), the clickable spectrum analyzer field at the back is where you can visually set up the crossover points for your different frequency bands, that can then all be treated independently. Between this feature and the simple mix knob, you have so many options for how, and to what degree, you process your sounds.
Available for: Mac all formats; Windows VST, VST3, AAX and RTAS
2. PSP Vintage Warmer2
The PSP Vintage Warmer2 has a large drive knob it’s simple to set up and adds real sonic character to anything you apply it to. When you buy VintageWarmer2, you actually get 3 versions:
- MicroWarmer, a single-band, streamlined version; for using on individual parts;
- Vintage Warmer (LE), based on the CPU-friendly original;
- and VintageWarmer2, which uses double sampling for extra analogue fatness.
3. D16 Group Redopter
The D16 team have been getting a lot of grassroots praise from EDM producers for their range of awesome effects plugins, not to mention probably the best 808 and 909 classic drum machine emulations yet created. Redopter is a Vintage Tube Distortion unit, and just brilliant.
4. Helper Saturator
Helper Saturator is the cheapest on the list which you can buy from Plugin Boutique here.
Helper Saturator is not just a simple saturation plugin, equipped with 2 filter features, 2 different saturation modules and the ability to be able to process 5 different types of audio signal.