Dance, Hit The Deck

June 30, 2011


By Francis Preve
All too often, we hear artists and producers bemoaning the loss of tape in modern recording rigs. The compression, saturation, and warmth of tape still haven’t been properly duplicated by software. So, if you want the sound of real analog tape, where do you go? To your garage, of course! I’m betting that the majority of Keyboard readers still have a cassette deck lying around. I’m also betting that the deck has some life in it. Oh, sure, some of those decks (like mine) may be well worn aft er a decade of disuse, but they can still add true analog grit to even the most digital of synths. All you have to do is route one of your DAW’s audio tracks out of your audio interface and into the cassette deck (for mono tracks, just use one channel of the deck), then record it onto a cassette. After that, re-record the cassette back into your DAW, and align the beginning of the taped audio with the original audio track. Here are a few tips on how to use this archaic technology in a modern context. Instructions continue after the SoundCloud player!

07-2011 Dance: Hit the Deck by KeyboardMag

1. Cassettes are hard to find these days. I went to my neighborhood Radio Shack and asked if they had blank cassettes in stock. The staff looked at me like I’d grown a third eye. If you can find a shop that sells cassettes of any kind, stock up.

2. If you can’t find a brand new cassette, consider taping over an old one. Chances are, that high school mix tape you made about a distressed romance will have unusual audio characteristics that make it perfect for distressing your signal.

3. Tape versus digital isn’t an either-or proposition. In fact, you can get some really unique results by blending the two in various ways, so experiment with mixing the original and taped tracks to taste.

img4. If you use sensible gain structure, you can get a solid recording. If you hammer your input levels into the red, you can get wonderfully warm compression and distortion that sounds nothing like a guitar pedal or a plug-in.

5. Dolby or dbx noise reduction, tape type switches (remember metal tape and CrO2?), and bias knobs can all do cool things to the signal. For example, if you record with noise reduction and play back without it, you can brighten (and add hiss to) the signal. Doing the opposite will soften the high end. CrO2 and/ or metal switches will function a bit like preset EQs. Experiment!

6. If you just want to run your signal through the deck’s analog circuitry (and/or can’t find cassettes), pick up a cassette-shaped adapter for old car stereos—big-box stores still sell these. Put the adapter in the deck, and run your DAW track into the adaptor’s input. Since that input is a 1/8" male plug intended for the headphone jack of your MP3 player, get a 1/8"-to-1/4" adaptor and tap into the headphone jack of your audio interface. Press Play on the deck, and run the output of the deck back into your DAW. You won’t get tape saturation, but your audio will still pass through enough transistors and capacitors to heat up the signal in strange and wonderful ways. (Thanks to Keyboard regular Peter Kirn’s site,, for this tip.)

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