How to add tape saturation to your mastering chain with Ozone 7 Advanced

Inspired by the Studer A810, Vintage Tape in iZotope's Ozone 7 Advanced can add analog color and tape saturation to your digital recordings.

Tips & Tutorials  |  October 29, 2015

The Vintage Tape module in Ozone 7 Advanced brings the distinctive sound of analog tape saturation to your digital recordings.

Vintage Tape is inspired by sought-after ½” mastering decks like the Studer A810. The module faithfully replicates the frequency coloration, saturation, and phase response of a classic tape machine and half-track head stack, and the top-quality tape formulations that would be used in a modern mastering environment.

With Vintage Tape you can apply the subtle, nuanced character of a great mastering recorder without the less-desirable artifacts of tape — like crosstalk, hiss or wow and flutter. In an authentic mastering studio signal chain, the Vintage Tape module would most often come first. This would mimic the effect of tape in classic mastering studios. Analog tape would have been used to transfer mixes from the mix engineer to the mastering engineer before being run through the rest of the mastering processing chain.

The controls for the Vintage Tape module are straightforward with carefully set ranges designed for critical mastering tasks, but still afford you the ability to get radical results at the extremes of each slider.

By default, the Vintage Tape Module loads with settings that replicate the sound of an optimized mastering deck. This will add the signature saturation and harmonics of tape, as well as the slight low-frequency head bump of a half-track repro head. These settings may be just what you need to bring a subtle sheen to your mixes and masters.

The controls in this module let you adjust the most important variables for tailoring your sound, so that you can quickly get the right results for you track.

Input Drive

The Input Drive slider gives you control over the amount of saturation that is applied. At the zero point, you’re hearing the authentic sound of a calibrated machine into a high-quality tape formulation. Raising or lowering this control can affect how hard the mix hits the tape, so that a lower Input Drive setting offers less saturation, and a higher setting will incorporate more of the smooth, gentle distortion that magnetic tape is treasured for.

Because the Vintage Tape module doesn’t introduce any of the hiss associated with magnetic tape, you don’t need higher input levels to improve the signal to noise ratio. Use the input setting that provides the best saturation characteristics for your material.

The Input Drive control has a range of 60 dB and we’ve designed it to apply makeup gain so that a major adjustment to the Input Drive doesn’t throw off the rest of your gain staging. Make slow adjustments to this control to hear the subtleties of the saturation, but feel free to push it to its extremes for intense treatments of a drum bus or to invoke a thick, rich analog warmth on synth tracks.

Bias and Speed Controls

The Bias control gives you the option of customizing the distortion curve and high-frequency response of the machine. Adjusting the slider in either direction will reveal more distortion. A negative bias value will push more energy at the higher frequencies, just like an under-biased tape machine, while a positive bias value will attenuate some of the higher frequencies.

Top-shelf studios work hard to bias their machines carefully for minimal distortion and even frequency response, so the default setting is a great place to start. But if you want to add some serious crunch to stems and mixes, move the bias control towards its extremes and conjure the vibe of an old workhorse tape machine.

With the high cost of tape, there has always been a trade off between tape speed and the number of songs you could record on a reel. Thousands of records have been recorded and mixed at 15 inches per second (IPS), but as producers and musicians sought higher-fidelity and lower-noise for pristine acoustic recordings, 30 IPS provided a solution.

Switching between these two options inside the Vintage Tape module can help tailor the frequency response, as well as the levels where different frequency areas begin to distort. Try 15 IPS for adding a distinct warmth and thickness to your masters, or 30 IPS for a more subtle, refined polish.

On a real tape machine, any adjustments to bias or speed mean that all the other variables then need to be recalibrated — you can imagine how time consuming adjustments can get!  However, the Vintage Tape module intelligently shifts to every adjustment. Hit things hard with extreme bias settings and the dynamic range will crunch into extreme territories, but shift things back to the default settings and you’ll quickly be back to a carefully optimized mastering tool.

Odd and Even Harmonics

Much of the sound associated with magnetic tape is the distortion from odd harmonics. The electronics and calibration of each individual machine can also introduce a certain amount of even harmonics that give each recorder a distinctive, characteristic timbre. With the Harmonic slider set to 0, you’re getting the authentic odd harmonic saturation of a carefully calibrated mastering deck. However, you can tailor this sound by bringing in even harmonics to taste. This can add complexity and richness to a synth or background vocal stem, or glue a sparse mix together with extra energy and resonance in the mid frequencies that adjusts dynamically to the tonal content of the music.

Emphasis Controls

The Low Emphasis slider gives you control over the shape of the resonant peak —  or “Head Bump” — that adds a gentle peak in the rich areas for bass and kick drum before rolling off steeply below that frequency.

A lower value will remove this peak, flattening out the frequency response while maintaining the low-end rolloff. This can help ensure you get the warmth of analog without adding mud or too much bass.

Conversely, a higher value will boost that resonant peak by up to 10 dB to add low end punch and emphasis. Just like a traditional tape machine, this resonant frequency is affected by the tape speed you select. At 30 IPS the head bump sits right around 50 Hz, and at 15 IPS, it will sit an octave below that. Keeping this control at 2.0 will add a very subtle amount of head bump, but pushing the higher limits of this slider can give you low-end power.

Finally, analog tape’s combination of very soft limiting and a slight roll-off at very high frequencies can help round off transients to soften attacks and emphasize the tone of a mix. The High Emphasis control can give you an authentic, close-to-flat high frequency response at the default setting of 4.0, but you can add a high-end shimmer by raising the value, or a gentle roll-off by lowering it. This can be just the thing to give your masters an extra liveliness and energy, without getting overly harsh or bright.

The authentic sound of tape

With default settings, the Vintage Tape module is designed to instantly provide just the right amount of vibe and character of the very best tape machines used in mastering studios. By adjusting the simple, intelligent controls, you also have the flexibility to go far beyond what is possible with hardware.

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