Shamelessly Gushing over Cockos’ Reaper DAW (Review)

cockos reaper review

decimu labs

It’s not only my subjective opinion – Reaper is definitely the best DAW for music production at home and anywhere else. 

Not only because a lot of digital audio enthusiasts say it, but also because of all the awesome features I’ll cover in this little article.

Let’s start with the most important thing: It’s ridiculously CHEAP.

$65 dollars for personal use (if you make less than 200.000 USD a year, if not it’s 225 bucks) multi-device use, with a 2 month trial period sounds like a real bargain.

reaper logo

But what’s the best part about Cockos‘ Reaper? Their developers trust you. Believe it or not!  So, if you are a greedy person (like many of us), you can try it after the period, only by skipping the “Reaper is not free” screen after five seconds.

So, you can download it now, and it will work in 2030 (after pressing a button that says “You’ve been evaluating REAPER for approximately 3,650 days”).

purchase a reaper licence

Imagine forgetting about I-locks, and copy protection and all that… sounds like a revolution to anyone!

(And with this I prove that I’m just a fanatic of this DAW and I’m not getting paid by the developer – Hey, Cockos send me some money or freebies if you read this!).

But anyway, I’ll convince you to spend the 65 bucks with the rest of this article, considering that any other cutting-edge (but probably inferior) DAW cost at least 300 bucks.

Although this may seem a bit intimidating, my favorite Reaper feature is the ability to program anything.

And when I mean anything, I mean ANYTHING. Let’s imagine that you don’t like the way the zoom or side-scrolling work.

configuration of reaper

You can change it in the ACTIONS menu and make it work exactly the way you need it – and this includes all shortcuts also – if you’re coming from a different DAW, and you’re used to the way it worked, you can mimic everything in the configuration (and even some people have done this before, and uploaded the configuration file to forums, etc).

What’s more, if you’re really a let’s say… Nuendo fan, there are Nuendo skins for this. Configuration and customization are Reaper’s second and last names.

If you even find something missing or wrong in this DAW, you can report it to the developers, and they’ll probably listen to you and fix it in the next update (which are really frequent). If you’re really into scripting, you can create your own scripts, and share them with the world.

reaper can open any plugin

Reaper can open any plugin, and i mean any  (VST, VST3, VST31, AU, AUI), and it categorizes them in a really organized way – especially the FX VST – and if that isn’t enough, they can be searched in a beautiful searchbar – really useful if you are a plugin junkie like me.

Changing plugin order in a rack is a piece of cake (just moving it one over the other does the trick) and you can even copy or cut and paste any plugin, in any track, without losing any configuration, anytime. 

Did I mention search bar? there is an extremely useful one in the configuration menu. So you don’t have to skip pages and pages searching for that configuration thinghy you’re looking for.

As a continuation to the versatility features I mentioned before, I should mention that Reaper is awesome for any music and audio jobs.

From sound design, dialog recording and editing, music recording, mixing and mastering, and the rest of the article will talk about that specifically.

There are three main important features I’ve never seen in any other DAW.

Any snippet of audio in Reaper is considered a Media Item, and any of those, individually, can be subject to any chain of effects, without the need of creating multiple tracks.

Imagine if for example, you don’t like the sound of a particular section of your recording (even one single note), it allows you to apply the needed fx to make it sound as you like.

multiformat tracks

Moreover, the tracks in Reaper are multi-format, which means you can import almost any audio file in any bitrate and sample rate, with any amount of channels in any channel. You can import midi and audio in the same channel.

And even more, you can import JPG or video files, which will display in the video window (I’ll talk more about that later).

Another interesting feature to mention is the audio-rendering flexibility. You can render audio in any know format, but also has a really interesting and versatile tagging system -with wildcards- and a nice region-selecting tool.

Plus, you can render all stem separately with a couple of clicks.

Reaper has some more features of which I’ll mention a couple, but i’m not going to talk much about them, to let you experiment them by yourself.

It has a built-in video editor plugin, a bit like a swiss knife tool for videos (don’t expect it to be awesome, come on 

Reaper is an audio editor at the end) that can help you make some rough videos. It has helped me to create short videos, for example, to create music videos with a still display image to upload to youtube.

batch file converter

Lastly, this has a really nice batch file converter which will allow you to transform an audio file to any other format with some clicks.

If you’re not convinced yet, let your hardware convince you. Minimum requirements for Reaper are not listed on their official site, but that’s not because they’re hiding something, but exactly the opposite.

I’ve known people who could successfully run this software and all the built-in plugins on a 2003, Windows XP, 1.3ghz processor with 512mb ram computer, and by googling a bit, you can see it has been used in even worse conditions.

It even works on Linux OS. If you’re using it on a good computer -less than 5-7 years old-, you can expect it to work fast and flawlessly, and also booting in less than 10 seconds (except those times when it loads all the plugins).

The download size is less than 20 MB (yeah, megabytes, not gigabytes), and 64 MB after installation, with all the base plugins included. You can get the really useful 80 MB extensions packs, which continue to be lightweight. All this make Reaper extremely stable.

sws s&M extension

So guys, try this. I promise you that after the learning curve, this will become your favorite DAW. Most audio editors in my country (Argentina) work with Reaper.

We might have started because of its price, but we continued using it for the rest of the features mentioned above.


About the Author – Marcelo Cataldo (Decimu Labs)
Marcelo Cataldo a musician, audio editor, composer, guitarist and bassist, Musical Education Professor and Licentiate in activity in La Plata, Argentina. Specialized in retro-electronic synth and videogame music. Currently working at DecimuLabs, creators of The Kirlian Frequency (Netflix)
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How To Make A Backing Track At Home From Scratch

Hey this is Young Coconut, and today I am going to discuss how to make a full musical backing track at home from scratch. 

As a reference, I will be referring to a remake I recently did of a song by 70’s punk legends The Soft Boys called “I Wanna Destroy You”. 

Actually, my friend Rob Jones of liquidmuse.co.uk did most of the song, including drums, bass, guitar, and production (the essential backing track), and I just came along and sang it.

By the end of this article, you should know exactly how this was done.

Table of Contents

Let’s get into this!


Here is the final version of the song that Rob exported, and we’ll kind of work backwards from there.  

This was made in a home studio, and was done for relatively little money (not thousands of dollars), so it’s something that can be done and not eat up your whole month’s rent. 

That is, assuming you have the basic equipment to do this, which, to be honest – getting everything you need to do this will cost a month’s rent for sure. That said, once you have all the right stuff, you’re good to go.  

What stuff is that?  More on that in a bit, but basically, it’s a DAW, and some instruments, mics, and an interface of some kind to route any real instruments through. Usual recording gear type stuff, which we’ll get more into…


Why Make Your Own Backing Tracks?

fleetwood_mystf

So, what made us create this track in this way, as in sit down and record a whole bunch of tracks ourselves?

Well, first off, Rob is a music producer by trade, and he specializes in creating these types of fully realized instrumental backing tracks.  So there’s that.  He’s good at it, and he can do it if he feels like it.

Generally speaking, backing tracks have a multitude of purposes, and come in varying degrees of quality, depending on what they’re used for. 

So, before we talk about how it’s done, let’s talk about why you might want to do this.  One thing’s for sure, it’s going to open up a lot of options for you if you can do this.


Reason #1 – Create Karaoke Backing Tracks That Are Actually Decent

One of the uses for backing tracks where the vocal is absent is to use them for karaoke purposes. 

In other words, if you have a popular song without vocals, it can easily be used for karaoke or to sing along with.  Right?  Of course!

we review the best home karaoke systems 2017

The thing is, when you hear a karaoke backing track, quite often the creator of that track did not record everything themselves to achieve the best quality possible, and this is why a lot of karaoke tracks don’t sound very good.  Indeed, some really suck.

By comparison, if our song were to be used as a karaoke track you’d find on Youtube, it would be quality version, because Rob took the time to make it that way. 

Now, we’re not going to get into how karaoke tracks are made (one way is to do it the way we did this track – build it yourself), but if you’re looking to simply remove vocals from a pre-existing song, then you might want to read our article about that very topic.

Again, this is not what we did.  We did not take the original track and simply filter out the vocals. 

Read our article, We Review The Best Home Karaoke Systems

With our Soft Boys track, above, we actually (or Rob, rather) built the track from the ground up until it was a full instrumental of the song which he made according to his ear and how he interpreted the track, while still following the blueprint of the original to come up with what essentially is his “cover” of “I Wanna Destroy You”.


Reason #2 – Create Bespoke Music For People

Before we get into how we went about it, and how you can do it too, let’s talk about a few more reasons why you might want to do this. For instance, have you heard of bespoke songs or bespoke music? 

These are songs which are custom written for a specific purpose, by request, and often compensated for. 

Bespoke songs require someone who has all of the musical skills and resources at their disposal in order to produce a song that is exactly what someone else is after. 

Whether it’s for a loved one, or for a band, or whoever wants it, bespoke songs require someone to custom make it.  Kind of like a contractor, but for songs.  

Read our article, What Is Bespoke Music?


Reason #3 – Make a Unique and Impressive Artist Promo Package

Another cool thing about making your own backing track is that they can be used in a musician’s press kit (your own, or for a musician you know), in order to stand out and be original.

For instance, if you are a musical artist, or know one who needs some promo, and who would sound great singing a particular song, but that song isn’t available to sing where the song is of a certain quality (this goes back to the karaoke problem of inferior backing tracks), that’s when a high quality backing track for a song comes in handy for that artist.


Reason #4 – Customize Any Song Any Number of Ways

To go with my last point of creating some kind of artist promo for you or someone else who needs one, having the ability to customize your track because you made it and you have the power to edit that song however you like can be a great advantage.

For instance, you can alter the key of the song if you have it all programmed in MIDI, so that the singer can sing better to the track.

You can also change some of the instrumentation to make it a little different, which will help the song stand out.  Want to change the type of bass used?  Just try a different bass plugin.

Or pick up a different bass and play it differently live.  You can also even add different parts to a song that weren’t there in the original version of the track.

Say you remake a popular song, but you never liked the guitar solo.  You have the option to play something different for that solo, if you want.


Reason # 5 – Sell Your Services Because You Can

Another big reason to be able to make your own backing track is because people need them, and will buy them.  So, if you know how to make them, you can sell them and make a business out of it, like Rob has.

We won’t get into things like licensing of tracks, or how to sell tracks, or marketing types of things in this article, but this is an obvious option if you are able to create your own tracks, and remake tracks that there is a demand for.

Nothing wrong with making the moolah, especially if you’re talented and can do a great job for someone!


Reason #6 – Create Obscure Tracks No One Else Has Done And Be Way Cooler Than Everyone

If you’re like me and you go looking for karaoke songs to sing that haven’t been made yet, then why not just…do it yourself!

There are, if you look online, lots of different instrumental versions of thousands and thousands of songs that you can get a hold of if you know where to look.  Want to sing My Heart Will Go On in a hurry?  Not hard to find, I assure you.

However, there are way, way more songs that do not exist in any kind of instrumental form.  I know because I’ve looked.  In fact, I could never do karaoke to most of the songs I like because they haven’t been made yet.

Will someone make them?  I don’t know.  Will I make them?  I don’t know.  Maybe YOU will be the one to do the best version of Raw Power by Iggy and The Stooges that has ever been heard.

Again, this isn’t just for karaoke.  There are lots of obscure songs that could use a remake for a variety of purposes, as mentioned.  And, if you know how it’s done, you can be the one to do it.

But seriously, what am I supposed do when I want to sing karaoke to Trippin’ On A Hole In A Paper Heart by Stone Temple Pilots?  Nothing!  Honestly, I usually just cry and go to bed.

Ok, now that I’ve talked about all of the reasons WHY you might want to make your own instrumental backing track, and the options that’ll give you, I finally am going to talk about HOW you do it.

Actually, no, Rob will show you that in the video down at the bottom of this post, but I’m going to explain what you’ll need before you can actually do what we did.


STEP 1 – Open Up The DAW of Your Choice

First off, you need to know how to operate a DAW, or digital audio workstation.  Not only do you need to know how to operate one – you need to actually have one! 

Popular examples of these include: Presonus One, Reason, Cubase, Garageband, Protools, Ableton, Cakewalk, Logic, and of course many others.

For our track, we used Cubase, which is a very popular DAW.  Some are mega expensive, if you didn’t know.  Some are free.  Well, Garageband is “free” if you buy an expensive Macbook.

Audacity is free.. like actually free, so check that out if you have nothing else.  There are probably other free ones, hmm.. what are they?  You tell me!

So, if you don’t have one of these DAWs, you need to get one before you try doing this yourself.


STEP 2 – Assess What VSTI’s You Have

Next, see what VSTI’s you have as part of your DAW.  Or start downloading the ones you might want.  VSTI stands for Virtual Studio Technology Instrument.

You’ve probably heard of them referred to as VST instruments, or VST plugins, but let’s just call them VSTI’s.  VSTI’s have come a long way over the past 20 years, and now, when you purchase almost any DAW, it comes with VSTI’s for you to play around with.

Some VSTI’s sound like real instruments to the point where you might not know the difference.  For instance, we used “fake” instruments for bass and drums on our version of “I Wanna Destroy You”, but the guitar was real.

Now, it’s worth noting that when I say fake these samples that get used in a lot of the higher end VSTI’s are going to be crystal clear, and you’ll have to pay for that crystal clarity as well.

I was particularly impressed by the drum sound that Rob got on the song.  By “fake sounds”, I am generally referring to MIDI, because when notes are virtual as MIDI notes are, they can be changed easily and swapped right out, depending on the VSTI you’re routing to the track.

Change the VSTI, the track will sound totally different.  That’s part of the fun!

Read our article, How To Remove Vocals From A Song – Step By Step


STEP 3 – Grab Your Keyboard Controller

So, in order to use these VSTI’s, a good quality controller or keyboard (or keyboard controller) is usually necessary so that you can play the notes on the keyboard, and it translates into whatever VSTI’s you have handy.

You can, of course, usually access a virtual keyboard on your laptop somewhere, if you’re desperate, but I’d say get a controller.  They’re not too pricy.

midi keyboard

Just to be clear, you’re not getting a controller to play keyboards necessarily.  Through this controller, you play notes that hooks up to your computer somehow (through USB or an interface) and they turn into whatever instrument you tell them to.

I remember thinking at some point in the past, that these keyboards were just normal “keyboards”, and I was going to have to become the next Rick Wakeman. Luckily, don’t have to, so take off that golden robe right now.


STEP 4 – Gather your Real Instruments (Bass, Guitar, Drums, etc)

You might want to use a combination of real instruments and fake AKA MIDI instruments to put your track together, and so if you have any instruments that you want to use, get them ready.

So, if you have a really nice bass guitar sitting nearby that you’d want to use, grab that and your amp and warm them up for the track.  What instruments are real and which ones are not is entirely up to you.

You could use all real drums, and keep the bass and guitars fake.  Up to you.  What if there are wind instruments?  Glockenspiel?  What about strings?  What about an entire orchestra pit just for you??

If you’re doing this track at home like Rob and I did, I might assume you want to use a VST for your orchestra sounds, but who am I to say?

Maybe you’ve got friends that play classical instruments and they’ll be dropping by to lay down their tracks.  Maybe the pit is coming to you.  What about your sax guy or gal?  Don’t forget them!  Let them wail…or just replace them with a VST.


STEP #5 – Other Gear You’ll Need

This list of every single last thing you could use can go on forever potentially, but, if I may, I’d say you’ll most likely need a pre-amp of some kind so you can plug microphones in (oh yeah, you’ll need those too), as well as various cables.

This is starting to sound like a step by step tutorial on how to record anything, not just a backing track.  Well, that’s right, you can record anything, and that’s the point!

Flexibility and options are what we’re after here when it comes to recording.   Just make sure you have all the right gear that you need.  It will probably include most of what I’ve mentioned, plus some various wires to plug it all in.

So, now that you know WHY you might want to create a backing track from scratch, and you also know WHAT you need to make the track, it’s time to make the actual track.  Whew!  About time…

This is where Rob Jones is going to guide you in the video below which will bring us full circle back to the beginning when I first showed you our cover of “I Wanna Destroy You”.

Remember, he does this for a living, so he has all the needed stuff, but hopefully you can follow along and start living the DIY dream along with him, creating amazing tracks that will blow people away because they’re so awesome.

Take it away, Mr. Jones…

Rob Jones rig rundown and favs

For your information, this is some of the stuff Rob uses when making tracks and also getting through life!

DAW: Cubase 9 Pro, running in Windows 10

VST list: Spectrasonics Omnisphere, Trilion, RMX. Native Instruments Komplete Ultimate 11. Toontrack EZdrummer, Addictive Keys, and loads of smaller ones.

Audio Interface: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2. Allen and Heath analogue desk – Z14fx (this gives me that lovely warmth I feel is missing in todays digital only world of recording. But it also gives me the ability to record so many inputs manually)

Guitars: Paul Read Smith (PRS) Custom 24, Kramer American, Yamaha Acoustic, Fender Acoustic.

Guitar effects: Boss GT-8 multi fx

Mics: Sure SM58/57 and Rode NT1 Condenser

Favourite film(s) would be the Alien saga
Favourite food: Spicy curries oh yes!
Favourite colour: sunset
Favourite chair would be a comfy one

Feature Picks

Analog Tape Recorders – An In Depth Look at their History and Evolution

Fritz_Pfleumer tape recorder

Here we will take an in depth look at the history and subsequent development of the device known as the “tape recorder”, starting with its analog roots and moving beyond into the realm of digital. 

Tape recorders, in some ways, have gone out of style, and yet they still persist into the 21st century for their practical uses, simplicity of use, as well as their aesthetic not to mention economically advantageous charms for both consumer and prosumer alike.

This is why they remain an essential part of how we capture sound for archival, and also entertainment, purposes – to this very day!

Old tape recorder

According to Wikipedia, the “Magnetophon” was noted as the first fully functional reel to reel magnetic tape recorder – was originally a trademark registered by AEG in 1930, based on an invention by German engineer Fritz Pfleumer. 

That said, while this may be true, tape recording technology definitely pre-dates Pleumer’s invention by many decades, a journey which we’ll be exploring presently.

Table of Contents:

  • The First Analog Sound Recordings
  • de Martinville’s Phonoautograph
  • Charles Cros’s Paleophone (“Voice of the Past”)
  • Edison’s Phonograph
  • Oberlin Smith and the invention of Magnetic Tape Recorders
  • Valdemar Poulsen’s Telegraphone (Patent Application #661,619)
  • Pfleumer’s Magnetophon
  • Development of Magnetic Tape Recorders
  • Tape Recorders and the Nazis
  • First Classical Concerts Recorded
  • Reaching the General Public
  • History of the VCR
  • Nagra Portable Crank Handle
  • How a Cassette Tape Recorder Works
  • Reel Diameter
  • Adjusting the Magnetic Heads
  • Connection Sockets
  • Record Setting
  • Removing Clocks & Snoring
  • Recording and Playback Times
  • Monophonic or Stereophonic
  • Advantages and Disadvantages of Long Durations
  • Professional Tape Recorders
  • Comparison of Cassettes
  • Maintenance of Magnetic Heads
  • Analog Tape Conservation, Transfer, and Archiving
  • Tape Recording Tricks
  • Superposition in Re-recording Multiplay
  • Echo and Reverb
  • Main Manufacturers
  • Portable Mobile Recording – Nagra Portable Recorder
  • Uher
  • Misc. Manufacturers
  • Evolution Summary
  • Switching from Analog to Digital
  • The Digital Tape Recorder (DAT)
  • Computer Data

The First Analog Sound Recordings

To understand the origins of analog sound, we must first understand what exactly is an analog signal.

In essence, an analog signal doesn’t need to be sound per sé.  It can be any measurable expression of energy, in a variety of forms. 

analog signal

An analog signal is a continuous signal in constant flux which is expressed through a device of some kind, such as a thermostat (temperature), scale (weight), speedometer (speed), or tape recorder (sound signal).  


de Martinville’s Phonoautograph

There are countless analog devices that have appeared through the past several centuries, but in terms of recording devices, the first such device was technically Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s “phonoautograph”, dating back to 1860.

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville

The first recorded sounds, called phonoautograms (after the device), were done by de Martinville himself, singing the French folk song, “Au Clair de la Lune”, and have made their way to Youtube, so you can hear them below.

It is worth noting that while the phonoautograph did technically record sound, it was never meant to play it back. 

The device was created more as a replica of the human ear, where the results of the recording were meant to help visualize sound, in terms of being able to compare the sizes and shapes of waveforms and study musical pitch.


Charles Cros – Paleophone (“Voice of the Past”)

For the first playable groove, we can look to the French poet and inventor Charles Cros, who envisioned a way to play back airborne soundwaves, based on the concepts introduced by the phonoautograph.

charles cros

In 1877, he described the process of playing back sound that he conceived of, thusly to the Academy of Sciences in Paris (translated from French): “A lightweight armature is fixed to the center of the face of a vibrating membrane; it ends with a sharp point, which rests on a lamp-blacked surface.” 

Sound familiar?  This could very well be the idea for the first record, but Charles was picturing more of a cylindrical shape, and suggesting in his letter various ways of inscribing the vibrations of sound onto a surface with a durable but fine-tipped object.

Now, before Charles Cros could create a working model of his Paleophone, the first Phonograph arrived on the scene, courtesy of one Thomas Edison…


Edison’s Phonograph

Edison_and_phonograph_edit1

This device was the first to feature audio recording playback, and it was a “hit”.

But what exactly is a phonograph?  The phonograph was a mechanical device also called a gramophone, invented and trademarked by Edison in 1887 that was able to record sound, and also reproduce it, via a record. 

But first, airborne sound waves needed to go into a horn-shaped receiver, in order to be captured via the recorder.  You may recognize this famous picture below.

Frances_Densmore_recording_Mountain_Chief2

More on the process: “Sound vibration waveforms are recorded as corresponding physical deviations of a spiral groove engraved, etched, incised, or impressed into the surface of a rotating cylinder or disc”. (Wikipedia’s Phonograph entry).

Here is a phonograph in action below…


Oberlin Smith and the invention of magnetic tape recorders

Oberlin Smith

Enter Oberlin Smith, New Jersey machinist.

After meeting Edison at the Centennial World’s Expo in Philadelphia, 1876, Smith and Edison became acquainted and Smith managed to get his hands on an actual phonograph, which Edison gave to him, in April of 1878, which Smith then began using, as one would.

Around September of 1878, Smith came up with ideas for potential improvements to the phonograph, which involved magnetic tape.

According to oberlinsmith.org, Smith “outlines the possibility of magnetic sound recording on a magnetizable medium of tempered steel which is magnetized by a short helix. Playback by means of induction. Advantages: cheap, simple, “delicacy”.”

Oberlin-Smith-1

These improvements were submitted to the Cumberland County Clerk by Smith, and marked the invention of magnetic tape recording as an idea, if not yet fully applied.  

Oberlin Smith also submitted some of his ideas to a magazine called The Electrical World, which saw some of his ideas published in 1888, September, as “Some Possible Forms of Phonograph”.  Here below is a copy of The Electrical World from 1887.

1887-march-electrical-world-magazine_1_830c6c8ea787f6a5f2b00ddc10801d88

Despite his ideas being published in The Electrical World as a reader letter where he explains “the elongatedly drawn coil as an error in illustration and refers to his experiments with a single-pole transducer”, and despite ordering several buttons of “mercury-impregnated carbon” from Edison, Oberlin Smith would not be the man to first actually patent or build an actual magnetic tape recorder.


Valdemar Poulsen’s Telegraphone (Patent Application #661,619)

The first successful filing of patents for the first magnetic tape recording was by Danish engineer Valdemar Poulsen (pictured below) in 1898, who created what would be called the Telegraphone (Patent Application #661,619), the first functional magnetic tape recorder.

This device was then debuted at the 1900 World Fair in Paris, where he recorded the voice of Emperor Franz Josef of Austria, astounding the crowd there.

valdemar poulsen

For years, Oberlin Smith challenged Poulsen’s patents, apparently having met him some time earlier, and not receiving credit from Poulsen, to which he got no response.

Eventually, however, Smith was credited by Emile Berliner at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia as being the first to propose the idea of magnetic tape recording, and publicly brings into question whether Poulsen was dependent on Smith’s ideas, or not. 

Dying in 1926, Smith is credited with the Autofono, an automatic record changer, just weeks before his death.


Pfleumer’s Magnetophon

A collaboration between AEG Berlin an BASF Ludwigshafen, along with the ingenuity of Fritz Pfleumer, sees the emergence of the “Magnetophon” at the Berlin Radio Exhibition, in 1935, which is a huge success and it is at this point where tape recorders, as well as recordings, begin to find their foothold in global recording culture. 

Fritz_Pfleumer tape recorder

Plfeumer, for his part in this story, is the man who was able to bind powder to tape, upon request of BASF, while he was developing a cigarette filter.

This resulted in what is considered the first truly practical tape recorder, although the sound quality was still rather grainy.


Development of Tape Recorders

AEG then embarked on an extensive program of research and development on magnetic heads, tape transport mechanisms, and amplifiers to perfect their new model for the tape recorder.

At the same time, work on the magnetic strips were carried out at the IG Farben plants in Ludwigshafen (now BASF).  The collaboration we mentioned in the last section was beginning to take shape.

At the beginning, the strips were not extremely durable. They are 5 mm wide and run at 1 m / s. The quality, at this point in time, was still mediocre and breakage was common.

In 1932, AEG expanded the band to 6.5 mm and decided to work on a new, stronger support: the first acetate bands were born in 1934.

They were, at this time, covered with carbonyl (carbonyl iron). Still, the size of the particles did not allow for high quality recordings, and the DC pre-magnetization made the medium very linear.

The few musical recordings from this era are of a disastrous quality.  That said, things were on the up and up.

AEG_paper_tape_recorder_1920-30s_212

IG Farben perfected the band in 1936 by replacing the carbonyl with iron oxide Fe3O4 which was black in color.

The scrolling speed is then reduced to 77 cm / s (which the Americans will round off in 1945 at 30 inches per second, or 76.2 cm / s). It was not until 1939 that the brown iron oxide Fe 2 O 3 was used for better sound quality.

High fidelity was only possible in 1941 with the use of high-frequency pre-magnetization (although discovered in the 1920s, it will remain ignored until a recorder produces records of unsurpassed quality: pre-magnetization with direct current had oscillated).


Tape Recorders and the Nazis

hitler

Adolf Hitler and his party go on to make extensive use of the tape recorder for their radio speeches: public speeches like those of the Reichstag were systematically recorded.

Other speeches were pre-recorded and broadcast from studios after Hitler had left the premises, allowing for the proliferation of Nazi propaganda all over Europe.

The quality of the amplitude-modulated radios of the time (4,500 Hz bandwidth) rendered the sound of the tape recorder indistinguishable from that of him speaking directly.

These events just go to show that technology, when it falls into amoral hands, will of course be used for such deeds.  Once the technology exists, the cat is officially out of the bag, as they say.  Anyone can use it – even a misguided and malevolent dictator.


First Classical Concerts Recorded

early classical recordings

As early as 1939, AEG worked on a head with two air gaps to record two tracks on the same band.

Initially, it is only to capable of recording the same signal in push-pull fashion, but this method does not succeed.

The first stereophonic recordings were made in 1942. Most of the concerts were recorded as early as 1941, of which more than 250 were recorded in stereo.

In 1945, the Russians seized about 50,000 bands of all kinds, of which only a little more than a thousand were returned to Germany in 1991.

Among them, there are a number of public concerts directed by Furtwängler, Karajan, Knapertsbuch, and more than 600 bands of lieder (Schubert, Schumann, Mahler) with Michael Raucheisen on piano. 

Here is a very early Beethoven recording, where the quality is surprisingly high.


Tape Recorders Reach The General Public

Tape recording became widespread as early as 1946 in America where Bing Crosby made his shows on tape before pressing them to disc.

Ampex will dominate the market for several decades.

The first tape recorder sold to the public in 1947 is the Brush’s Soundmirror BK-401, which also produces its own tapes, initially made of paper and then made of plastic.

Soundmirror BK-401

Scotch launched in tape in 1948 with tape Type 100 (paper) followed by 101 (plastic).


History of the VCR

As early as 1950, the Americans worked on a method of recording the television image on tape. The VERA system is functional, but too greedy in terms of the amount tape needed.

It is Ampex who will produce the first video tape recorder 2 inches (quadruplex system). The machine will be functional as early as 1956 and will even work in color as early as 1957.

AMPEX_VRX-1000_3

The phonographic industry will also use the tape recorder to replace the wax patches that did not allow for any editing.

The companies Deutsch Grammophon and Telefunken will be the first to use the AEG tape recorders to record their 78-turn discs (and later microphones).

France will start using tape recorders for radio in 1948 and tape recorders will begin to attract audiences in the early 1950’s.


Nagra Portable Crank Handle

In 1951, the Nagra I (miniature lamps and crank winding) was the first very small (1/4 inch) magnetic tape recorder (30 x 18 x 10 cm) and revolutionized the recording of radio reportage.

1_Nagra-1

The Nagra climbs to the highest level (above sea level, that is), accompanying an expedition on Everest and sinks into the depths along with the bathyscaphe of Professor Piccard.

In the early years, amateurs used their tape recorder more to record their family affairs than to record a record or radio (what the novices did sometimes by microphone in front of the loudspeaker with very little sound fidelity, lamps with few connection sockets to a tape recorder).


How A Cassette Tape Recorder Works

A cassette tape recorder had a central device in which the tape was made to pass from the transmitting coil, consisting of a left-hand guide, a head for erasing any previous recordings, a head a recording head, a recording head (or a single recording / playback head), a driving assembly carried out by the capstan on one side, a rubber roller performing the pressure on the other, and a straight guide, before joining the take-up spool.

panasonic rq2101

Each of the two spools was held by a small central spindle with 3 triangular spikes, arranged on a small circular horizontal support plate (unlike a 78-spindle or micro-spindle disk, the central cylindrical spigot and simple adhesion and weight (except soft discs) on the non-smooth surface of the tray was sufficient) to ensure rotation of the take-up spool, the speed of the belt being controlled by that of the capstan, as well as that of the transmitter and receiver for fast winding or rewinding.

tape recorder mechanism

In order to pass the magnetic side of the strip on the side of the heads, and not the other way round, the strips being brown on both sides (color of iron oxide) and then dark brown in the 1970’s, of spotting was the frosted aspect on the magnetism side, and shining on the other side.

In order to maintain sufficient band tension on the left and right transmitting and receiving coils, a motor drives the take-up spool forcefully at a slightly higher speed than the maximum rotational speed, as well as the slightly revolving transmitter.


Reel Diameter

The coils were plastic or metal, and similar to movie projectors 8mm.

The most common diameters were 8 cm (dictaphones and portable mobile equipment), 13 cm (mobile portable equipment), 15  cm and 18  cm (domestic equipment) and 27.5 cm (professional equipment). The typical length of a 13 cm diameter coil was 1 hour .

The amateur recorders were placed horizontally, initially with 13 cm reels, then up to 18 cm from the 1960s, and often vertically from the 1980s, with 26 cm reels, which were much easier to handle.

The first devices were tube, monophonic twice a track, then stereophonic, and gradually “transistorized” on integrated circuit boards.


Adjusting the Magnetic Heads

The positioning of the heads was adjusted and calibrated at the factory so as to be perfectly rectilinear, but it was often the case on the amateur recorders that there was an angular offset between the original recording and the reading giving an “oblique” signal and especially a phase shift between the two stereo signals.

This gave some clipping and distortion, especially if they were subsequently monophonized, appearing first by a loss of treble (but which could be compensated by a tuning screw, which was adjusted to the ear on the sharpness of the treble).


Connection Sockets

The tape and cassette tape recorders had a number of shielded cable connectors (sold in shops, but also in kit that can be welded by the operator):

A microphone plug, 2-pin DIN (signal + ground), then 3-pin (dual stereo microphone), then large format jack since the 1980’s.

tape recorder connector sockets

A connection socket to a HIFI or other compatible device, input / output (recording or playback), DIN 3-pin mono then DIN 5-pin stereo, then 4 American RCA since the 1980’s. A listening jack for control over headphones, large format jack or small format.

The transition from DIN to RCA in the 1980’s introduces a difference in impedance compatibility, with the recording becoming weaker, and an upgrading of the devices was required by the operator.


Record Setting

The recording volume was adjusted by a button, then for some tape recorders a slider or rotary potentiometer, associated with a control galvanometer called “vu-meter”:

Recorded above a certain volume, the magnetic oxide particles could no longer deviate further, and saturated. This saturation can also exist on a microphone, the width of the groove being limited, as well as on a CDR or mini-disc.

MITSUBISHI DT-30 3Motor:3Head

Recorded at too low a volume, it required “pushing” the playback volume, which also amplified the band blast.

The first amateur tape recorders indicated the volume recorded on the tape using, until about 1965, as in lamps, a “magic eye”, which retracted more or less, until disappearing completely at saturation with the optimum volume being at the retraction limit).

Both the left and right channels, 2 needle galvanometers, using a green zone, used a yellow “best efficiency zone” (better signal-to-noise ratio) and a red zone indicating the saturation of the recording of the magnetism of the bands.

magnetic tape recording mechanism

Until the 1970’s, only the volume of recording was indicated by the galvanometers, then in the 1980s they also displayed the volume recorded at the time of reading.

A few appliances used “LED” indicators from the 1990s.


Removing Clocks and Snoring

Other improvements include the switching noise known as “clocks”, which is spurious in a fraction of a second, caused by the lighting and extinguishing of the red lights signalling the opening and shutting of the microphones. 

This happened particularly in the studios broadcasting (and on their doorstep the prohibition to enter), very clear on the direct but attenuated by the addition of capacitors, or on the first magnets to reels (and cassettes) until the beginning of the Sixties.

At the start and stop of the recording, audible in reading, by the sudden pressing of the magnetic head and the reaction of the electronic circuits, and then possibly the same sudden stop (unless using the “pause” , rather than “stop”), which the manufacturers succeeded in mitigating, and then disappearing completely over the years on all tape recorders.

The possible slight “snoring” of the sector in the background at 50 Hz, in recording and / or reading, due to the lamps of the tape recorders of the 1950s (as on tube stations) disappeared with transistorization and progress low frequency “filters”.


Recording and Playback Times

From the “standard” thickness of the strips, the quality of the supports made it possible to progressively reduce this thickness, so as to propose, from the 1960s, durations up to 4 times greater than those of origin for the same speed (which was also the case of cassettes, ranging from C30 (2 times 15 min) to C180 (2 times 90 min)).

At a speed of 19 cm / s (7.5 “/ s), called” fast “at the time by the” amateurs “, on a reel of 18 cm , on the total of the two recording directions and in stereophony , the durations (as indicated on the housing boxes) were approximately:

  • Standard time (360 m): 1 hour
  • “Long” duration (540 m): 1 hour 30
  • “Double” duration (720 m): 2 hours
  • “Triple” duration (1080 m): 3 hours
  • “Quadruple” duration (1440 m): 4 hours

The above durations are depending on the scrolling speed.

sound tapes

These times also being inversely proportional to the speed of travel, and proportional to the length of the belt, and therefore to the square of the diameter of the coil (less the approximately proportional diameter of the central hub) , with respect to 19 cm / s (7.5 “/ s) (fast speed) :

  • Multiplied by 2 to 9.5 cm / s (3.75 “/ s) (average speed)
  • Multiplied by 4 to 4.75 cm / s (1.87 “/ s) (slow speed)
  • Divided by 2 to 38 cm / s (15 “/ s) (” Professional “speed)
  • Multiplied by 8 to 2.37 cm / s (0.94 “/ s) (adopted on Uher laptops for conferences)

These speeds are depending on the diameter of the coils.

In the same way, these durations could be compared to a coil of 18 cm:

  • Multiplied by 2 for a 26 cm reel
  • Divided by 1.5 for a 15 cm reel
  • Divided by 2 for a 13 cm reel

Monophonic or Stereophonic

Of course, on 4-track stereo tape recorders (2-way playback), recordings made in single monophony could, by being recorded on each track, multiply by 2 the duration.

The tapes could be returned at the end of recording to ensure a second session (some tape recorders were even self-reversing at the end of tape).

The same bands were used for full track recordings, 2 tracks and 4 tracks , but the recordings were obviously not compatible. One of the tracks recorded on a 2-track recorder was played lower on a 4-track.

SONY TC-U5 Stereo Cassette Deck

Conversely, a 2-track tape recorder playing a 4-track recording gave an inaudible result, consisting of the mix of the two tracks at the location and the other two tracks of the adjacent piece in reverse, unless only 2 of 4 tracks were initially recorded.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Long Durations

Note that when the durations are increased, they have certain advantages:

  • Saving the recording time on the same medium, combined with space saving
  • Obligation to change face or coil less frequent,
  • Reduced rewind time to search for recording at lower speed,
  • Magnetic smearing and less rapid friction wear of heads at low speed

But in return have several disadvantages:

The finer the band, the more fragile it is, increasing the risk of fracture, twisting and tangling, especially during fast winding or rewinding.

broken cassette tape

Below a certain thickness, the reduction of the “deep” bass spectrum (20 to 60 Hz) is required to reduce the magnetic layer a little to manufacture.

Proportionally larger purchase price, as these bands are more difficult to manufacture.

A crying on certain magnets at the end of the band at “fast” speed, due to a “skating” between the capstan and the roller on a band that is too fine polyester, no longer being able to compensate for the inertia of a transmitting coil with a small central hub, almost empty and having to turn all the more quickly.

For slower recording (especially at 4.75 cm / s ):

Loss of fidelity in the sharpest treble (10 to 16 kHz), leaving better place for the blast or “white” noise of the band, due to the “sliding” of the strip between the roller and the end of the capstan.

In case of non-rectilinear azimuthing of the recording / playback head, multiplication by 2 or 4 of the clipping or even the distortion in the treble, from one magneto to the other.


Professional Tape Recorders

It goes without saying that professional tape recorders, especially for recordings recorded on discs or for broadcasting in public concerts, were of optimal quality:

“Full Track” for a monophonic or “2-track” recording for stereo recording, and even using much wider bands to perform the muti-track mounts before switching “Stereo” over the entire width of the band (not returnable, it has given in this case the music or the lyrics backwards …), are, of course “standard” thickness.

TC-D5M-negativland-com

High speed recording: 15 “/ s (38 cm / s), or even 76 cm / sec (30” “/ sec)

“Open” coils on the upper side (not needing to be turned upside down), to minimize possible noise and static friction.

Azimutage perfectly adjusted in phase with 3 separate heads : Recording, reading, erasing.

The quality of the tapes and appliances improved over the years, and a “correct” recording at 9.5 cm / s and mediocre at 4.75 cm / s in the 1960s became almost 9.5 cm / s as good as 19 cm / s and correct at 4.75 cm / s in the 1980s.

Amateur recordings, especially made with “inexpensive” (and without dolby) tapes or cassettes, were accompanied by a slight loss of treble, this loss added to each possible postponement, which was compensated by accentuating the treble to the listening, but also the breath.

Magnetic tapes have historically had two supports:

Acetate: This tape was inexpensive to manufacture, but withstood very poor mechanical stresses (sudden stop, for example), and forced to introduce delicate tape tension control mechanisms into the tape recorders.

The risk of breaking bands remained high if different transmitter and receiver coils were used (due to the different inertia of the coils);

Polyester: More expensive to buy, it had a much better mechanical strength and finished in the 1970s by completely dethroning the acetate, relegated to the establishment of only “disposable” recordings.

maxell SA-X90 super avinlyn high res

In 1985, Maxell produced some 26 cm “chrome” magnetic tapes for a better quality of treble, but much more expensive than iron, and tape recorders with this setting were unlike cassette recorders, which were very rare and not compatible.


Comparison of Cassettes

It should be noted that cassette recorders adopted from the outset the standardized speed of 4.75 cm / s , using, moreover, bands about twice as narrow and twice as fine, and, therefore, even less theoretically faithful in quality, to succeed to be incorporated in these “mini-boxes”

That said, the technique had already progressed since, and continued to progress with the improvement of the acute by the strips called “Chrome” then “Metal”, and the reduction of the breath by the “Dolby” systems B, C then S.

Some larger cassettes were also manufactured for a few years, with the width and thickness of a band of coils and a speed of 9.5 cm / s for better sound fidelity (speed also used for convenience on some magneto- cassettes).

The “standard” cassette format, which is more practical, less cumbersome and has more recording capacity, has been constantly improving and has therefore become too busy for too many years commercially so that these cassettes are sufficiently interesting, moreover, they were in quality and duration, that the equivalent, more practical of use, but more bulky, of a reel of 8 cm.

TDK_D_C180_cassette

The “quadruple durations” (as well as the C180 cassettes), which were too fragile, were only manufactured for a few years, and even triple durations (as well as C120 cassettes) were not recommended unless necessary for broadcasting purposes. example.


Maintenance of Magnetic Heads

The magnetic tapes always wear a little bit when passing the heads, depositing a thin layer of oxide on them, requiring regular periodic cleaning of the heads with a cloth or cotton swab impregnated with alcohol or a suitable solvent harmless, failing which the oxide was a screen leading to a progressive loss of acute.

It was sometimes necessary to also clean the main mechanical parts such as the capstan and the roller which could also be covered with oxide disturbing the speed.

Another small common defect is a sharp “grinding” caused by the rubbing of the old bands coming in “resonance” on the metallic guides, the latter appearing less on plastic guides of the cassettes, some of which cheap sometimes creaked at the winding.

When the heads were somewhat shifted in “depth” adjustment, or even the band deformed slightly over time, this slight offset could occur when listening between tracks, with the overflowing rear center track being added as a “Fading” where you could hear the basses slightly upside down superimposed on the desired tracks which they became a little weaker when listening.

Over time, old or even reused tapes, even if stored in good conditions of temperature and hygrometry, and protected from light, have become brittle, the oxide ending in decreasing, becoming sticky when winding to the next (even polluting and poison), sometimes resulting in an irregular volume of sound, then a permanent loss of the treble.


Analog Tape Conservation, Transfer, and Archiving

The INA, anxious to preserve valuable archives testifying to the preceding epochs, preserved for this reason (as it did for films, especially those called “flame” in celluloid!), by transferring them to more and more modern supports.

Reprints on CD of old recordings since the 1950s take back where possible the bands of origin (if not more and more, the microphones), by remastering them, fortunately these professional bands were originally an excellent quality, then carefully preserved.

storing magnetic tapes

As early as the 1960s, the strips were preceded and followed at each end by a frosted plastic stripe of about 60 cm (often green and red to identify the faces without inverting them), followed by a small band bonded to this leader tape preceding the magnetic tape.

Besides the advantage of being thicker to insert it in the receiver coil, it allowed to start the first piece and to finish the last one more precisely.

The tape recorders were then equipped with an automatic “stop” device, which, when passing through the metal band, stopped the assembly, avoiding that once the tape was completely terminated, the take-up reel and possibly the transmitting reel to rotate in a vacuum at high speed, which frequently happened before in the event of the operator not being monitored.

As with cassettes, when there was no longer enough tape on the transmitter coil to record a final new song, the operator would either let it cut “net” or “shunted progressively to” fading decrescendo “Or prefer to leave a” blank ” if he did not want a cut piece (the” cleanest “choice). Subsequently, the auto-reverse allowed the continuation of the entire piece, but with a mini-cut of a fraction of a second.

cutting magnetic tape

Mounting kits, with 2 rolls of green and red leader strips, a roll of metal strip, a roll of adhesive tape, a plastic guide and a cutter were sold frequently for amateurs.

It was common to perform entirely “manual” assemblies (similar to those performed for film films), by “marking” a mark on the bold pencil strip at the precise location of the connection, ( the support being clearly thinner and more flexible than a film film which used a special heat-dried adhesive ), is carried out by means of a longitudinal adhesive of 4 cm approximately.

This bonding was of course also used in the event of breakage of the strip, frequent on those in “acetate”, breaking much more easily, especially over time with heat.

On the other hand, editing has become practically impossible on the cassettes, too thin and small, editing by “carry” recording with very little loss of quality becoming preferable from the 1980’s.

The dissociation of the 2 tracks (4 with each side of tape) in separate mono, and so the Multiplay process, although feasible, did not exist on cassette tape recorders either.

All these assemblies have become extremely easy in recent years, with the emergence of digital and computing, by means of the most complete and practical editing software, many of which are accessible to amateurs.


Tape Recording Tricks

Tracking high-speed tracks – It was common to spot a sequence or piece of music at high speed on the tape recorders remaining in playback (certainly very sharp) when rewinding front or back (this option was also offered in the “Cue” mode on cassette tape recorders ) .

Octave higher than double speed – It was also possible to “juggle” with the speeds, a recording performed at double speed taking a double frequency, thus located musically one octave above, and vice versa at half speed, thus allowing certain “tricks” in the sounds of a ” (which was also possible by changing the speeds of record players, but these did not have this ratio of “2”, except between 33 t 1/3 and 16 t 2/3 (1 octave), and close to 4/3 between 45 t and 33 t 1/3 (1 quarte) 6 ).

Many amateurs thus enjoyed themselves talking or singing in the family, having as a quick voice a “mouse” at double speed, or slow “bear” at half speed.

Repetitive announcements (made today by computer or CD) could also be done mechanically by running a very short loop around the reading set (special cassettes of this type were also made).


Superposition in “Re-recording Multiplay”

The “Multiplay” technique, available on some “modern” tape recorders on the Grundig tape recorder since 1967, also allowed: to record in mono with an instrument or a voice on track 1, then to carry it on track 2 by adding an instrument, then do the same with another instrument or voice on track 1, and so on, up to the equivalent of a major orchestra or choir performed by only one or a few people (which is also currently available on synthesizers).


Echo and Reverb

In the 1980’s, if the reading head was “downstream” of the recording head, the almost simultaneous reading (known as “Cue”) was possible during recording, allowing the result to be verified directly.

The “Echo / Reverb” mode was added, with a greater or lesser offset depending on the distance between the 2 recording and playback heads and the speed.

pathe

Some reissues of old monophonic recordings, even 78 laps, as in Pathé, used this method in the 1970’s, thus recreating a relief of “false stereo”, but this one too artificial and degrading a little the sound “Natural”, a real good “mono” was re-adopted later.


Main Manufacturers

In the 1950s, many individuals and teachers discovered the thousand and one possibilities of magnetic recorders:

Specific in the pedagogical use of language learning, dictation, dance and music, private amateur, to record radio, records, family or sound editing their slides or amateur movies.

The market is then dominated by the following brands:

  • Netherlands: Philips (which also manufactures tape recorders in France and Austria);
  • Japan: the inescapable Sony , but also Akai and TEAC . The fleeting appearance of Dokorder in the 1970’s. More discreet manufacturers like Crown, Nivico (JVC), National are trying to establish themselves in the portable recorder market;
  • Belgium: Acec, which launched Sonofil in the 1940s, launches the Lugavox range and the very original Carad R62, R53, R66 and R59 series;
  • Norway: In 1970, Tandberg Audio, also a specialist in language laboratories, took over the cross-headed heads device, which contributed to the renown of Akai, recording synchronization beeps by a polarized ultrasonic signal in a magnetic head slightly offset from the recording head;
  • Switzerland: Studer ( Revox ), Stellavox, Nagra  ;
  • West Germany: Braun , SABA , Saja (Sander & Janzen), Maihak, Grundig , Telefunken , AEG , Uher
  • Germany (East): VEB Messgerätewerk Zwönitz;
  • Czechoslovakia: Tesla;
  • Poland: Unitra.

Portable Mobile Recording – Nagra Portable Recorder

Invented by Stephan Kudelski, Polish-Swiss of about twenty years, it quickly becomes synonymous with portable tape recorder for all professionals of the information. The Nagra mark comes from the Polish word, which means “it will record”.

Robust and quality-minded, Nagra will be the basic tool for journalists and the majority of film sound engineers.

Nagra_LINO_Professional_Handheld_901495

It will also be the machine of choice of explorers of extreme and instrumentation embarked, in particular for aeronautical research.

The Nagra are standardized to the standards of the studio machines and have many modules and accessories for specific needs, such as special inputs or cinema synchronization devices.


Uher

In the 4000, 4200 and 4400 series, without looking for the robustness of the Nagra, these 13 cm reels were very popular among amateurs. A Uher 4200 tape recorder is shown at the beginning of James Bond’s Thunderball movie .

thunderball uher 4000

The CR124 will be the first cassette recorder standards HiFi DIN 45500 at the time. His successor, the CR210, will accept chrome cassettes.


Miscellaneous Manufacturers

  • Stellavox  (en)  : Swiss manufacturer, specially oriented to the film industry.
  • Nakamichi  (in)  : Japanese manufacturer.
  • Studio recording [ edit | change the code ]
  • France: Tolana, Bourdereau, Schlumberger / Digitec
  • Germany: Telefunken / AEG
  • Switzerland: Studer / Revox
  • Japan: Sony , Otari , Fostex , Tascam
  • US: 3M , Ampex , MCI  (in) , Scully, Soundcraft
  • Great Britain: Ferrograph, Brenell, Leevers-Rich

Evolution of Cassette Tape Players

In 1963 , the cassette launched by Philips more convenient to handle, will gradually replace the strips in the coils during the 1970’s, although the tape parallel magnetos continued throughout the time of the magneto-cassettes, as always remaining higher technically in quality, especially for professionals.

This miniaturization due to the cassettes with respect to the reels will allow to develop new devices of all sizes ranging from the compact walkman to sophisticated cassette recorders with 3 motors and 3 heads. Larger, the DC system supported by Grundig and Telefunken, will not impose itself despite its sound quality at the top start.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Philips cassette became able to reproduce recordings of high fidelity, thanks to the appearance of bands with magnetic properties superior to iron, such as chromium in 1973, then metal in 1979; of the bottom pink noise reducers of the band, mainly the Dolby B in 1968, then Dolby C in 1980, the Dolby HX Pro in 1982 and Dolby SR in 1986.

Other types of tapes were quite ephemeral, such as the 8- track car radio cartridge in the United States, 4 x 2 tracks on endless but often jammed, and Sony’s Elcaset faithful, with a strip of 1/4 “to 9,5  cm / s , but arrived too late in 1976 and very expensive.

Elcaset_Deck


Switching from Analog to Digital

The arrival of digital in the 1980’s of greater flexibility, with the compact disc then the internal electronic memory players put the analog tape recorder back, although the listening and recording qualities of it remain superior.

billy joel cd 1982

Indeed, the bandwidth of the analog band can reach 50 000 Hz while the current digital formats are limited to 20 000 Hz.

However, according to Shannon’s theory, the sampling frequency must be at least twice the highest frequency to be sampled.

The end of the 1990s will see flourish ads for cheap sale of high-end Studer Revox tape recorders , their owners discovering that their PC equipped with a good sound card is even more convenient.

The tape recorders were used extensively by sound professionals, the best performers to deal with multiple tracks at the same time, making it possible to modify the sound balance during the mixing phase ), and in general fashion in the 1960s to 1990s for their portability.

Manufacturers have even extrapolated video recorders or video recorders and later camcorders.


The Digital Tape Recorder (DAT)

The tape recorder has also evolved and in the early 1990s it became the Digital Audio Tape (DAT) tape recorder and the ADAT multitrack recorder.

Studio Recordings – The digital tape recorder was used extensively by professionals to record commercial discs from the 1980s on:

The recordings were more and more recorded from digital tape recorders and sometimes engraved at half-speed for better fidelity, especially for classical music, bearing the label “DAA” or “DDA” (Digital- Digital-Analog (the analogue being the engraving on micro-chip)), then

For recording on compact discs , the label indicating on the disc and / or the booklet of the CD:

ADD (Analog-Digital-Digital): use of an analog recorder during recording sessions, then digital for mixing and / or editing and burning, or

DDD (Digital-Digital-Digital, the best of high fidelity): use of a digital tape recorder during recording sessions, mixing and / or editing and burning.


Computer Data

The same principle has been widely used for the recording of computer data by bit and byte, but with very different bands: those used for audio quality had to have as little hysteresis as possible.

Those used for the digital recordings had to have a high hysteresis, in order to differentiate as clearly as possible the states 0 of the states 1, the intermediate values ​​being of no interest.

Replacement by hard disks and then computer memories – Since the generalization, from the years 2000, digital recording on hard disk , then on memory card, SSD ( solid-state drive ) or others, the tape recorder and the recording of digital data on magnetic tape have become obsolete.

How to Record an Acoustic Guitar with a Condenser Mic

how to record acoustic guitar with a condensor mic

The way you record your acoustic guitar with a condenser microphone will depend on a few factors, which I’ll talk about first, and then I’ll get more into the mic’ing techniques themselves.

Let’s begin!


First – Does Your Acoustic Guitar Actually Sound Any Good To Begin With?

Be honest, do you think your guitar actually sounds any good as it is?  If you think it does, great, but if you’re not sure, you need to assess this pronto prior to recording.  

If you know someone who has experience with recording who can honestly say that your guitar sounds good without you having to do anything, that’s helpful.  

You’d be amazed how many people think they have a decent sounding guitar but it actually isn’t until they record it that they realize that it sounds terrible, because something is wrong with it.

destroyed acoustic guitar

Having a naturally great-sounding guitar is the first step to having a great sounding recording.


Consider What Kind of Music Are You Recording

Another factor is the kind of music and why you’re capturing that sound for a recording.

If you are hoping to capture a single track of acoustic guitar that will be added to a recording including other instruments, such as electric instruments, you might want a close microphone that picks up the sound without ambience from the room.

Here’s an example of a song I like that incorporates acoustic guitar. You can hear that it fits nicely into the overall sound of the song, which has a string section, and basically a full on rock band rocking out towards the latter half.  

This was all probably done with a condenser mic, I’m guessing, due to the amount of detail and clarity you get out of the guitar.  

Sometimes, you want that close mic’ed sound.  Other times, you might want the ambience and reverb from the room to inform the music.  

The above recording I’d say is somewhere in between.  Capturing all the elements you want might even require – yes, that’s right – TWO mics.  Maybe one condenser, one not.  That’s all well and good, and you can do that too.

Quite often, an acoustic guitar is used as a song’s main rhythm instrument, but not always.

Consider the end product. Are you going to add flute, organ… maybe some stand up bass? Is this song going to have a sitar in it?  What if the sitar and the acoustic guitar are right in the exact same frequency range.  

WHAT THEN??  You can’t always neglect thinking about these things, and expect the producer to fix everything later.  That’s just not sensible.

Keep in mind that condenser mics are going to bring out more details in the sound, so that could mean that the frequency ranges in various instruments might clash more, the more detailed the sound is.

I always ask myself, what would Jimmy Page do?

jimmy page recording acoustic guitar at stargroves


Sound Dispersion

Now you might be wondering why I haven’t specifically talked about placing the mics yet?

Well, there are a number of other considerations I think you need to be aware of first, with another such consideration being sound dispersion through the instrument.

how sound travels through a guitar

In other words, you should understand how the sound gets dispersed.  

The type of acoustic guitar, and the way you play the guitar, will influence the sound as much as how you place the microphone.

What if you’re the producer and this is the guy you’re recording!

The style of the player and the way the sound travels are two things an experienced producer will anticipate, but if you are new to all of this, you might need to think about these things before getting started.  

I mean, if you’re a punk and you don’t care how your recording is going to sound when you’re done, feel free to skim ahead. These days, even punk rockers don’t want to have bad-sounding acoustic-based recordings!  

Right, Tim Armstrong?


Lots to Consider

It helps to put your instrument’s unique characteristics into perspective when thinking about the recording.  

The wood, of course, resonates when you play, your strings are going to vibrate and produce sound, and even the air inside the instrument works in complex ways that can influence the sound out of the sound hole.  

Meanwhile, I must emphasize again that condenser mics are more sensitive to everything.

Ask yourself questions like this:  What kind of wood is it?  How big is the guitar?  The soundboard and bridge of the guitar can influence the vibrations, too.  

Even the freakin’ pick guard is going to affect the overall sound.  Holy dino-balls.  Ultimately, these things will affect microphone placement and it is worth considering before you start.

Take a look at this weird looking acoustic guitar.

weird shaped guitars

The variance in shape and acoustics of different acoustic instruments means you should take a good look at your own guitar and really listen to where the sound is coming from, in relation to how you play.  

Are you a finger picker or do you use a pick?  Is the pick metal or is it plastic?  Is the pick hard or soft?  When you strum, is your hand close to the sound hole or somewhere else?  Overwhelmed yet?  Don’t be.  Just take it slow and be thoughtful.

The sound hole is usually where most people will mic an acoustic guitar, but you might want to capture more than just the sound coming out of that hole – eg. fingers picking, certain sweet spots found elsewhere on the guitar, etc.  

Did I mention condenser mics are sensitive yet?


What Mic(s) to Use?

After making sure you have a tuned instrument as well as a solid understanding of the way your acoustic guitar produces sound, you’re ready to think about your condenser microphone placement situation.

how to record acoustic guitar with a condenser mic

If you choose to go with a close condenser microphone type of set-up, it’s best to find a microphone that can really handle the transients that tend to be fast and the frequencies that tend to be high.  

Awesome brands I recommend include Rode, Neumann, and Audio-Technica.

rode miking acoustic guitarOne of the things to look out for with condenser mics is that they capture such a wide range of frequencies, that it is easy to have too much of one thing.  

Moving the mic an inch one way can mean too much bass, and an inch that way can mean too much treble.

That said, there are many great brands of condenser mic out there which can really do what you want and get you the sound you’re after.

condenser mic acoustic guitar


Watch out for Feedback!

Because condenser mics are so sensitive, you need to be aware of all your levels, if you are the one recording yourself, and you don’t want your input on your mic to be too high.

Feedback and distortion are not your friends in acoustic recordings, and when you record an acoustic with a condenser mic, it is easy to run into both these things very easily.  

With electric guitar, feedback can sound fucking great.  I’m not talking about that kind of feedback.  I’m talking about the kind that will make you go deaf if you’re wearing headphone and potentially ruin your recording.  

See these peaks below?  Not good, not good at all!

bad audio waveform

If you aren’t vigilant (or your producer isn’t), you’ll end up with some gnarly sounds that might require you do a track all over again, or, at least, calls for some editing.

Sometimes, if the inputs are too high, or the guitar is too close to the mic (or both), just touching your guitar can create some crazy-ass feedback, so watch your levels closely.

Check out the mic placement on the image below.  Depending on how the levels are set on the pre-amp, this mic might be too close.  

Alternately, it could sound just fine.  Once you’re in the situation below, you’ll find out soon enough what “too close” means.

best-microphone-for-acoustic-guitars


Microphone Vs. Direct In

Because recording with a mic can be super finicky at times, some producers opt to go with a direct-in approach, since some acoustic guitars have jacks to support feeding into an audio interface directly.  

This is really only an option with certain guitars that are designed to do this.  Normal acoustic guitars can’t do this.  Going direct in, we feel, isn’t necessary if you learn how to mic your instrument properly.

That said, here is a video that demonstrates the difference between using a mic to record your acoustic guitar, versus going direct in.  We’ll preface this video by saying that you will lose valuable audio and warmth if you go direct in.


Back to Close Mic’ing

Right, so you can go direct in if your guitar allows for it, but it’s probably better if you don’t, because you get better sound with a mic anyways.

You may well have to do some experimenting with close mic’ing, which entails finding the right microphone as well as the right positioning.

Start by placing the microphone between the fretboard and the sound hole.  Move the mic about a foot away from the guitar.  This is a good place to start.  

It’ll capture the vibration of the strings being strummed and when they’re picked, and it’s not going to be too close, while being close enough to test your levels.

micing acoustic guitar

In some cases, you’ll want to put the microphone closer – as in just inches away from the sound hole for more bass.

This might call for a mic with a gooseneck, so it can be mounted and moved as needed.

gooseneck condenser mic acoustic guitar


Distance Mic’ing

The further away you get from the guitar, the more the mic is going to pick up the room sound and the guitar sound together.  

Sometimes this is preferable, depending on the sound you’re after.  In this case, you can test to see exactly how much distance you want to hear in your sound.

If you are in a room with crappy acoustics and zero ambience, distance mic’ing is going to sound bad.  If you’re in a room with a cool natural reverb, you might want a bit of that in your recording.  

Like, say, you recorded a song at St. Paul’s Cathedral.  You might want some of that spiritual reverb on your track, right?

st. paul's cathedral


Bass without Boom

As mentioned previously, if you wanted to close mike the guitar, you could place the microphone between the fretboard and the sound hole to capture the bass sounds.

In the video below, you’ll find a demo which is done with a Neumann TLM 102 and 103 to capture the bass without all the deep boominess that will totally mess with your recording.

In this video, the microphone is placed above the sound hole but close to the guitar. It should be angled towards the player’s hand near the hole. That will give you a taste of the bass power without overwhelming the recording with the boom.


Multiple Microphones

As we said near the beginning, there’s nothing wrong with strategically placing a couple different mics to get different sounds. Maybe one at a distance and one close up.  

Try a few different configurations.


Unidirectional Vs. Omnidirectional (Cardioid) Mics

Condenser mics can often be set to pick up just one direction (unidirectional) or multiple (omnidirectional, cardioid), and so this is another consideration you’ll want to think about when mic’ing your acoustic guitar.

It’s hard to say which setting is best, because it depends where your mic is placed, along with distance, etc.  My advice is to play around with the directionality of your mic to see what sounds best.

rode nt2a close up


Conclusion

I hope that this article on how to mic an acoustic guitar with a condenser microphone gives you enough things to think about when you’re about to record.  

There is definitely a lot to consider, and we wish you luck with your recording!  If you want, drop me a comment and let us know if this article helped you in some way.  

Also, feel free to link to your recording. I’d love to hear it!

Mixing for Loudness – A Few Helpful Tips

loudest instrument in a mix

To fight or not to fight? 

That’s the question when it comes to the popular “Loudness Wars” that all music producers are familiar with.

If you have no clue what I’m referring to,  it’s the constant dilemma during mixing as whether to push your song’s loudness so high that it losses some of its quality or do you keep it quiet but maintain the track’s distinctive quality?

the loudness wars

Now, whatever horse you’re betting on in this race, you have to agree that some level of loudness is required if your song is ever going to be heard on radio or in the club, especially for contemporary genres such as rock, pop and house.

If you’re a mastering engineer, perhaps you wouldn’t want to mix loud but the client expects it. So how do you achieve those high levels without compromising your great project? Ride along!


How Loud Should Music Be in the Final Mix?

First of all, why is it even important to make your song loud? For starters, while most music players automatically balance the loudness level of all tracks, some don’t.

So if your song is played on such a player, it will seem quieter relative to other commercial tracks.

Secondly, your song may become less popular as most DJs won’t play it in clubs and festivals, owing to its quiet nature. No one wants to play a record that lacks ‘dance-floor energy’.

mixing for loudness

Mixing a Song Properly

In pursuit of a loud but great-sounding mix, this goal must be achieved at the mixing stage during production.

Trying to get the mix louder at the mastering stage often leads to distortion and clipping. Speaking from personal experience, here are some things to pay attention to during the mixing stage of a song:

Leave some headroom during mixing – From what I’ve observed, mixing at high loudness levels usually leads to a mix that has very little room for improvement.

I would recommend somewhere in the neighborhood of -4db. Increasing the loudness will then be easier.

music mix with headroom

Compression – I know this sounds cliché but bear with me for a moment.  Generally when you leave a track with a lot of huge transients, (and the main body of the track is quieter), turning up the volume will almost certainly lead to clipping.

This is especially true for kicks. If you compress the kick first, then turn up the loudness, you lose some punch but your kick sounds louder without clipping.

compressing a kick drum

Pay attention to your loudest instrument – Depending on the genre of your song, some instruments will be louder than others.

In drum and bass for example, the drums take priority. The temptation, especially for new producers, is usually to turn this ‘preferred instrument’s’ loudness up.

Don’t! What you need to do is reduce the loudness of the other instruments, thereby making room for the important stuff.

Every time you push up the loudness of one track, you lose some headroom that you will need later.

Do remember that for an instrument to stand out, everything else has to make room, i.e. be quieter.

loudest instrument in a mix

EQ is your best friend – Most people think that equalization is only use to clean up tracks and stir things up a little.

Most people are wrong! The low end of a mix can rob your track of valuable headroom. This works indirectly.

Most instruments contain low frequencies that aren’t necessary but play a huge part in reducing the loudness. 

But it’s not as simple as cutting off all the low frequencies. Every sound is different and you need to pay very close attention to see what frequency range is the real culprit.

In my experience, 9 out of 10 times the low-mids are usually to blame for lost headroom. I’ll give you an example: You could have a vocal that is most audible at 3 kHz but your lead piano is also getting in the way at this frequency.

EQ-ing the piano by slightly reducing the frequencies at this area will make your vocals sound clearer and louder.

While you have not touched the vocal, this psychoacoustics trick deceives your ears into thinking that your vocal track is now louder.

eqing a vocal mix

Achieving the Final Mix

Okay, now you’ve created a sweet mix that sounds clean and has quite enough headroom. What next?

It becomes a matter of preference. You slowly increase the loudness using compression and then limiting.

NOTE: Always make sure the limiter comes after the compressor in the master chain, for obvious reasons.

For those who don’t know what a compressor does, it simply reduces the loudness of some instruments, while enhancing that of the quieter ones.

The end result is a mix with a smaller dynamic range. Again, compression is a matter of taste.

You, as the producer know how you want your song to sound in the end so play with the compressor until you’re happy with what you hear.

mixing with a limiter

Next comes the limiting. The limiter will then get your mix to the loudness you desire by allowing the peaks you want to cut through (based on your settings) and then cutting off everything else.

Final Thoughts

The ideas we just discussed are not set in stone. Every mix is different as is every producer. My goal is just to give you some ideas and hacks that might come in handy when you hit the studio next.

The loudness war doesn’t seem to be coming to an end soon and I hope you find these tips helpful on your next project.

Also, I’m not really a fan of fancy plug-ins so feel free to explore that if that’s your cup of tea, in your pursuit of a quality yet loud mix.

I’m a minimalist by nature so I don’t believe you need Ozone in your DAW, to create a great track. Nevertheless, apply those tips and see what you can do. Happy producing

DAWs For Home Studios On A Budget – Magix Music Maker Premium Review

magix-music-maker-premium

For the modern musician, the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is the hub of any recording setup.

Whatever genre of music you put out, you require a software program that brings together the processes of composing, recording, mixing and mastering your tracks.

There are many who shell out on studio time to have this step taken care of for them, and there are even some who rely on old-school recording techniques – whether for effect or for money-saving – that sometimes even includes analogue equipment.

The rest of us examine our options regarding a DAW to install on our computers so that we can get to grips with these step ourselves.

fl-11-workflow1

Our options are quite varied; typically, we look to Logic if we are Mac users, or we look to Fruity Loops, Pro Tools, Cubase, Reason or Ableton to learn and work in the music making process.

This is fine, as these are the most widely used industry standard programs in the majority of professional studios.

The problem is, Avid’s Pro Tools will cost in the region of $600, while FL Studio, with all the plugins, will cost upwards of $1000.

What bedroom producer, still learning the craft of music production and recording, would risk such a hefty up-front investment in something that might never really take?


Magix Music Maker Premium

To sidestep this problem, I would like to posit an alternative DAW for your consideration: Magix Music Maker Premium.

magix-music-maker-premium

This software comes out swinging in its competition with the heavy hitters, and offers enough features to produce songs that many might find difficult to differentiate from hits made on the more expensive alternatives.

With the inclusion of 12 Soundpools (comprising 8,000 sounds and loops in various musical styles) plus numerous VSTi synths, VST plugins and the capability of running any other VSIs and VSTs you want to install, there is really no limit to what you this program can do.

Feature Pick

Magix Music Maker 2016 Premium

Buy On Amazon

The User Interface

The UI of Magix Music Maker Premium is simplistic and similar in its functionality to that of Logic.

You can place, or draw, blocks of prerecorded sounds or MIDI loops into the on-screen grid, with a summary of basic channel effects and dynamics on the left, and the option of bringing up a more advanced mixing station at the bottom of the screen.

There are a number of built-in channel effects for you to use, including EQ, Compressor, Reverb, Delay, Stereo Enhancement and Filter, with the option of adding up to 2 VST effects to a block, and a further 2 to a channel.

While this limits you to a maximum of 4 plugins to use per channel on the grid, in most cases you will find that this, plus the built-in effects at your disposal, is sufficient for your mixing needs.

Here’s the official Magix video tutorial for the software.  This should give you a pretty good idea of what you’re in for with this software, if you have 15 minutes to spare.

More Features Of Magix Music Maker

The mixing board can feature up to 99 channels running simultaneously, and includes a master controller with its own dB limiter and built-in mastering suite that has some genuinely strong features.

MIDI composition screens and synth controllers open in mini windows as you activate them, so you can tweak and experiment with the individual controls for them.

The footer window on-screen has a range of tabs to move between virtual instruments, mixer, file browser and Soundpool library.

Everything is intuitive and easy to find, and the features are surprisingly rich.

magix-music-maker-vita-solo-instruments


Upgrading and Longevity

Once you have purchased your software, there is really no reason to ever buy something different. All downloadable VSTs can be run in Magix Music Maker, and there is no limit to how many you can add to the library.

Put it this way: I started out with Magix Music Maker 2013 Premium, and I still use it now as one of my main avenues for recording. With a suitable USB audio interface, you can record through microphone or any electronic instrument, and MIDI controllers are supported as well.

The software runs well, as long as your computer has the necessary processing power to keep up with everything.

Any latency problems that arise can be fixed by tweaking the settings, and the occasional glitch can be fixed by restarting the program (these are very rare).

It is advisable to regularly backup your projects as you work on them, to ensure you don’t lose anything. There is a built-in feature that usually does this anyway, but there is the occasional inexplicable failure of this feature, so it’s best to stay on top of it yourself.

Here’s a sample of what you can do with Magix musically…

Limitations

Earlier I mentioned the restriction to a maximum of 4 external plugins that can be assigned to a single channel. Another glaring limitation of Magix Music Maker is its lack of a buss channel assignment capability – buss channels are completely absent from Magix Music Maker, and this can be problematic for more advanced mixing procedures.

It is possible to improvise your way around this, for example by bouncing 2 or more channels into a single wave file, then applying further effects to that wavs file on a separate channel.

This isn’t ideal, but can be sufficient during mixing. Alternatively, you could look into purchasing the professional Magix program Samplitude, which is a more advanced and rather more costly piece of software that truly does stand alongside the heavy hitters mentioned at the start of this review.


Conclusion

Magix Music Maker Premium, for its price and relatively low profile, is a superb piece of software for beginners to middleweight producers/recording artists.

It is an excellent starting point to learn the craft of music production, and its beautifully simple UI is matched in brilliance only by its impressive upgrading capabilities.

In the long term, its limitations will probably push the most dedicated of musicians to go for its big brother Samplitude, or else one of the other mainstream programs, but with enough dedication you will be able to make professional quality tracks with the low upfront investment Magix requires.

If you are taking your first steps into the music recording world, I highly recommend Magix Music Maker Premium as the perfect DAW to get your feet wet and keep using right up to the point of becoming an advanced music producer and sound engineer.