Review of Type A vintage tape encoder VST by AudioThing

Review of Type A vintage tape encoder VST by AudioThing

Introduction

AudioThing have introduced Type A, a plugin inspired by a vintage tape encoder in VST / AU / AAX formats in both 32 and 64 bit versions typically priced at 49 Euros. A demo version is also available.

I’ve said in previous reviews that I’m a big fan of AudioThing because they produce a range of different and interesting effects with a great sound quality that are very reasonably priced. This review follows previous reviews of Wave Box (dynamic dual waveshaper); Fog Convolver (Convolution Reverb); Outer Space (Vintage Tape Echo); Space Strip (Multi-Effect plugin); The Orb (Formant filter effect) and Frostbite (Ring mod / feedback / freeze effect).

Type A is a plugin that emulates the encode stage of a famous vintage tape encoder designed to be a noise reduction system for tape recording (encode stage) and playback (decode stage).

This was was often misused as an enhancer, dynamically increasing the top end of a signal without introducing artefacts or altering the harmonic content. The results are similar to a dynamic EQ which adds presence and air to any track in a natural way.

Verdict

Type A has a cool retro look, is very easy to use and most importantly it sounds superb. It’s a versatile effect and can add warmth, presence, depth and air as well as subtle or more extreme compression. There’s also a very handy randomise option which can provide some inspiration for some unusual effects. It can easy handle being used on individual tracks or equally can be used on the master.

For a long time I’ve used Ferric TDS (tape saturation) and Density MkIII (bus compressor) on the master channel as a ‘pre-master’ because they vastly improve dynamics and add great depth. I’ve not found anything that sounds as good, until now. Type A operates in a very similar way and from testing so far I think it sounds better and is far more versatile. Density MkIII does have a mid/side mode which can be useful but this isn’t a feature you’d expect to see on vintage gear.

To highlight the versatility and excellent sound of Type A, I’ve created a 3 track EP recorded live in Usine Sensomusic Hollyhock 3. I’ve used Carbon Electra (PluginBoutique) as the synth, Ephemere (Inear Display) for percussion and sounds from my ‘Kalipheno’ sample pack with various Hollyhock Samplers – Joggle Player, Grain Cloud Player and UDrone. I’ve kept effects to a minimum, only using Blackhole (Eventide) with UDrone and H949 Dual Harmoniser (Eventide) on vocals on almost lost in the twilight.

I’ve deliberately kept effects to a minimum to use Type A as an insert effect on each of these and also on the master. Only uploading the finalised tracks wouldn’t let you hear what Type A is doing so I’ve uploaded an excerpt of out of the darkness with all instances of Type A bypassed and the pre-finalised version with Type A enabled so you can hear the effects that Type A can produce.

The songs were finished in MuLab using bx_console E (Brainworx) and Stage (Fiedler Audio). This also highlights the sound quality of Type A because the finalisation is quite subtle.

How does it work?

To limit the amount of noise generated by tape recording, early noise reduction systems used what’s called a multi-band compander (compressor/expander). The unit dynamically emphasises the high frequencies during the encoding stage (recording to tape), so that during the decoding stage (playback from tape) the signal is attenuated, along with the typical tape noise. Type A emulates the encode stage only.

The input signal is split into 4 bands (with the highest bands overlapping), dynamically compressed and then summed back with the direct signal. The amount of compression on each band is inversely proportional to the volume of the band. Quieter sounds get brighter while louder sounds remain almost unchanged. This adds brightness and air without generating any new harmonic content or distortion, resulting in a more pleasant and natural enhancer compared to a typical exciter.

Bands were chosen for level content and effectiveness in eliminating tape hiss in the record / playback process as follows:

Band 1 – low pass filter around 80Hz

Band 2 – Input signal minus bands 1 and 2, effectively a band pass filter from 80Hz to 3kHz

Band 3 – high pass filter around 3kHz

Band 4 – high pass filter around 9kHz

GUI and controls

As with other AudioThing plugins, the GUI is well designed and clearly laid out. There are two panels which you switch between using the cog in the top right corner next to the bypass button.

There’s a cool retro feel to the look and use of Type A, including the detail of the buttons which emulate the use of bulbs in the days before LEDs and the aged look to the text simulating how it can rub off in places through age and frequent use.

The top section has presets, save, delete and randomise options. The more button opens a menu where you can specify window size, copy/paste presets, enable limiter and enable oversampling.

On the left of the display is the VU meter, the buttons comprise ‘NR in-out’ which enables or disables the plugin and is the same as bypass. The ‘direct’ button enables or disables the direct ‘dry’ signal that is summed with the four bands. As outlined above, a portion of the input is passed direct to the output so the wet signal contains the dry ‘direct’ signal regardless of the mix control. This button enables or disables the direct signal. The difference between the Direct signal and the Dry signal (which you can dial in with the Mix control) is that Direct is also affected by the Input control, while the Dry signal is passed unchanged.

The next four buttons enable or disable each band.

On the right of the display are the input, mix and output controls.

The second panel is displayed by clicking on the cog in the top right corner.

This allows you to switch between displaying the input or output on the VU meter, a noise control, attack and release settings for all band compressors and volume controls for each band.

Loopcloud Sounds