Analogue Tape

Your Home Studio - a basic tutorial on home recording studio setup, including building a home recording studio, digital recording techniques, computer recording information, recording software information, how to buy equipment for a home recording studio and operating an audio recording studio at home

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      As we were all told in elementary school, Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, which was the first recording device as well. In early recording studios, a single microphone was used to capture an entire band and was cut into a wax disc. In order to do multiple takes, you would have to discard the original wax disc and use a fresh one for each take. As a result, musicians were rehearsed exhaustively prior to recording and as a result were probably better musicians than current musicians (excepting orchestra and symphony musicians). Single track recording persisted as the standard until guitarist (and father of the solid body electric guitar) Les Paul invented multi-track recording as a result of being gifted one of the first commercially available reel-to-reel tape recorders by Bing Crosby in 1948. Having experimented with overdubbing by recording himself playing along with previously recorded tracks, he immediately saw the potential and devised a system of using additional playback and recording heads to record and playback multiple tracks. He personally commissioned Ampex to produce an 8-track recorder to his specifications in 1953 but it took about 2 years for 2 and 3 track machines to become commercially available and about 10 years for multi-tracking to be fully integrated into professional studios.


      The industry standard for tape multi-tracking is reel to reel, 24 track tape. It consists of a long  piece of 2 inch plastic that is coated with a magnetic medium on one side (audio cassettes are coated on both sides). As the recording head moves over the tape, it aligns the magnetic particles in such a fashion that the playback head can read them and reproduce what was recorded. Many artists prefer to track to 2 inch, 24 track tape and then transfer the tracks to their DAW of choice. The reason for this is that you can track hotter (over 0db)on analogue tape without getting distortion and also introduce what is known as “tape warmth” (similar to tube warmth) and compression to the recorded tracks.


In addition to the inadvertent advantages of tape warmth and compression, tape has a couple of  inherent disadvantages versus digital recording  because 1) every time the recording or playback head moves over the surface of the tape, it scrubs off a little of the magnetic medium used to record on and 2) tape hiss. Any of you that have cassette tapes will be familiar with tapes that are worn out or that you can hear bleed through from the other side of the tape. As a direct result of this, The Beatles very nearly lost their original takes from “Sgt. Pepper’s” because they were played back so much. Have you ever turned off the Dolby noise reduction on a tape player? That’s tape hiss. Just imagine that multiplied by 24 and you’ll get an idea of how much of a problem tape hiss is.