“Fitted with custom tube electronics built by Esoteric Audio Research”
Originally built in the 1970s
This unit was originally built by Ampex – they were known as some of the best 2-track recorders and the best sounding machines. The specific ATR-102 that I used belongs to Paul Stubblebine – a colleague and great mastering engineer located in San Francisco.
In general, this particular type of tape machine was used for mixing down to stereo mixes. Nowadays, there are people that still exclusively use tape in their recording projects, but they’re also used as an effect – almost like a plug-in. You can loop material through it just to impart the quality of sound that you get from tape. Tape is basically a kind of compression. It deals with transients like drums and percussion and smooths it out in a very musical way. So using [this machine] is a way to get back to this sound that many agree is the most musical way of dealing with compression. It’s much nicer than listening to a Waves L3 ultramaximizer.
HOW IT’S USED
I used the ATR on the latest Sistema Bomb record, which I mastered up in San Francisco and which was nominated for a Grammy this year. The thing about the 1″ 2-track format is that it has this big fat bottom end, especially at 15 ips. The ATR helps it to knock a bit better and gives it a thicker, low-end texture.
The other aspect to it is that the tube electronics in this machine have this nice 3-D thing that they do – giving material some depth. The tube electronics are producing an interesting texture on the higher frequencies, as well. In fact, you can just run stuff through the tube electronics and not even touch the tape and you get a nice effect from that, too.
There really is no modern equivalent, but the Universal Audio ATR-102 plug-in was modeled after this machine. They took a picture of the exact unit and even copied its quirks – like the razor marks where I’d cut tape.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Greenham is a Grammy Award-winning mastering engineer. He currently works out of Infrasonic Mastering in Echo Park, California.
FOR MORE INFO VISIT www.johngreenham.com