Studio Experiment #1 – Tape saturation for cheapskates

First of all, a warm welcome to the renewed ! As the little info section there up in the header describes, this little blog-ish kind of site is put up for sharing all things interesting with you. Of course it serves also as the info hub for everything related to recue, but not everything has to have something to do with me does it?!

Let’s kick things off with some “sound-design” (always a nice pretentious term) studio wankery. At the moment there seems to be a craving for that lofi retro sound. Everyone is trying to get rid of the clean digital output of VST’s and digital synths by adding another VST’s to their fx-chains that simulate analog gear.. or by purchasing analog gear that costs an arm and a leg. Here is a trick that costs about 10,- euros and looks way cooler than any VST!

Some time ago we were laughing with my brother as we noticed that a gear manufacturer had released a rack unit that included a tape head and you could route audio through it to “add that analog warmth”. The cost of the unit was thousands of dollars and it didn’t even include an actual tape. I’ve always been under the impression that tape-compression is introduced by the tape itself and not the head.. so of course it had to be tested with a real tape player! The thing is, you don’t actually have to record the audio to a tape and bounce it back or anything like that. Just go and purchase one of those cheap tape-to-CD-adapters used for old car stereos and route the audio through that. It’s as simple as that! Naturally you also need a tape deck… We went and stole the old cool brushed aluminum tape deck with AWESOME VU-METERS lying in our parent’s basement which we played with as kids.

The results are actually surprisingly nice sounding (depends on what you’re after). Of course the character of the sound completely depends on the components of the tape deck you use; the condition of the tape heads, connectors, mic pre’s etc. The sound is far from hi-fi, so if you’re after that, just go purchase a real reel-to-reel unit. In the case of Hitachi D-230 I use, there are a couple of different options for obtaining a different sound. The audio can be just played back through the tape, but it can also be fed through the line-in’s, “recorded” to the tape capturing it’s output. Both of the methods give actually quite a different sound. With the former method you can get a moderate crunch with a rather clean sound. With the latter, you get loads of more noise, but also A LOT more distortion and a nice pumping compression when pushed. A third option is to use the mic pre’s and crank them up for some extreme clipping.. Ok, what am I babbling, let’s hear it in action!

The video uses the “playback” through the deck with the clean crunch, but with the more aggressive settings you can also get some interesting results:

Liking how the VU’s are smashed to max on this one! If someone for some weird reason wants to download the audio in better quality for these. Knock yourself out.

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Oh, the video is titled “vol 1” and that would imply there is more coming… f*ck!

PS. If you are like me and enjoy tapes that actually include some music, you can get one right over here (also a FREE MP3 DOWNLOAD AVAILABLE OMG!)


  1. […] on his blog: Studio Experiment #1: Tape Saturation for Cheapskates […]

  2. Maus says:

    I am heavily impressed. This is pure fckn genius…. Thanx man…

  3. Great video and idea, but surely a regular cassette can be recorded to for this effect? Am I missing an obvious difference, other than this version perhaps having an edge of convinience?

  4. admin says:

    Yes Tom, convenience of this being a real time effect is pretty much the point; saving the hassle of recording to a tape and bouncing it back to DAW for futher editing. Though in this one you won’t be getting an actual tape compression/saturation, but the sound comes from the tape heads and the components of the deck, so actually it’s a slightly different effect soundwise too. Nevertheless, a fun thing to discover and the resulting effect was suprisingly nice sounding, so it just had to be shared. 🙂


  5. […] info here:​?p=219 I’ve always been under the impression that tape-compression is introduced by the tape itself and […]

  6. Marc says:

    Hi Riku,
    This is great, I love it!
    I have a few questions: Do you route both signals, drum machine and noise generator, into the hama tape converter, or only the beat?
    And what device exactly is your noise generator? It looks very interesting.

    best regards, Marc

  7. admin says:

    Hi Marc!
    The noise generator is fed to the drum machine first and its output then to the tape converter, so yes both signals go through it in the end. And the noise generator is this nice little fun DIY thingy:


  8. […] many have been asking what that little noise box thingy in the Tape Deck Saturation post was. Well it was this lovely little DIY synth called WSG by Music From Outer […]

  9. gunnar says:

    Nice idea!

    But as you didn´t let us compare the dry signal with the saturated signal, nobody can really say how the recorder changes the sound 🙁


  10. admin says:

    Hi Gunnar,
    Thanks for the feedback. You can hear the ‘fairly’ dry signal on the bassdrum in the beginning before the input signal is cranked. Maybe a better dry/wet comparison might have been good to add, but as the overall sound is completely depending on the tape recorder you’re using, you will most likely not get the exact same result as I did. The point is merely to introduce the technique and to encourage experimenting with it yourself! 🙂

  11. […] 14,078 This is a pretty cool lo-fi trick related to the above: Studio Experiment #1 – Tape saturation for cheapskates | […]