Integrating Analog Recording Gear with DAWS

While the digital audio workstation has taken over as the de facto hub for any working studio, analog gear still has a home and a place. As many engineers embrace the “hybrid” setup, the question is not one of analog’s relevance, but rather how we bridge the gap between these two camps that seems so diametrically opposed to one another.

In the last five years in particular, the gear industry has made some major strides as far as incorporating analog in the digital workflow in a meaningful way. Even better yet, some have devised ways to repurpose vintage gear for the modern studio.

USB Controlled Outboard Gear

Anyone who spends any time recording for a living knows the trouble presented by recalling mixes you’ve already sent to the client. Recently Bettermaker and WesAudio have brought forth some hardware that embraces the analog world with a number of DAW conveniences, including digital recall.

Wes Audio _MimasWes Audio _Mimas

The Wes Audio _Mimas and Bettermaker C502V both come in a 500 series format, which in itself has been a savior for many in bringing analog outboard gear to the home and project-studio environment. The 500 series has allowed a number of small studios to amass outboard gear that may otherwise have been well out of their reach due to cost or logistics. These pieces, however, are far more than miniature versions of their larger brethren.

The Wes Audio _Mimas is a fully transformer-balanced mono compressor that shoots to recreate the 1176, a FET compressor that needs no introduction, and does so in mind-boggling style and with digital recall.

Bettermaker C502VBettermaker C502V

The Bettermaker C502V is a stereo unit that, while emulating a few well-known compressor characteristics, is really its own animal and offers a proprietary mastering-style compression alongside a take on the SSL bus compressor and the DBX 160. Where these two really shine, though, is in how they do their jobs.

Both units are pioneering the move to commingle the analog and digital worlds, offering seamless integration into the DAW universe. These units use USB/Ethernet protocol to “talk” to their own VST/AAX-based plugins, which allows full control over parameters, saving settings and even recallable automation, without having to take a hand away from the mouse.

They also boast a side-chain loop over USB that can be utilized just like any other compressor plugin, negating the need to patch in analog audio to use as a control signal. While these are not true vintage pieces, the implications are far reaching, as it may only be a matter of time before the modification market can effectively harness these concepts and change the way we envision studio workflow.


CLASP and Repurposing Analog Tape

The romance of analog tape has always been a hot-button topic among musicians and engineers. Many lust after spinning reels and cite their love of “hitting tape” as a major motivating factor for their creative endeavors, despite the myriad of headaches, limitations and lamentations that come with the format.

Regardless of your stance, Endless Analog has devised a remarkable solution to bring these tape machines back, from what was effectively a $30,000 bar cart in the control room, to the commercial studio core they once were.

Endless Analog’s Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor (CLASP) is a rackmount unit that offers a way to bring all of the benefits that keep people coming back to tape, but in the context of modern DAW workflow. CLASP acts as the “middle man” in your traditional recording workflow, bridging the gap between DAW and tape, giving you sample accurate, zero latency and “tape” recordings that are spotted perfectly into your DAW session. Now you have all of your tracked material ready to edit and mix as you normally would, with all of the mojo of having gone to actual tangible tape — only better.

Digital may be the future and is certainly here to stay, but analog is not going anywhere anytime soon.”

Why better? CLASP also offers some interesting perks previously unavailable in a purely analog workflow. The unit is setup to monitor and compensate for wow and flutter within the tape machine itself, and while this is a characteristic of all tape machines to some degree, it is normally regarded as an undesirable one. Debatably, this is one of the most revolutionary advances in tape technology since SMPTE time code and Sony’s digital advances in reel-to-reel in the early 1980s. CLASP also conserves tape itself by giving you the option to use the tape as part of the process and not the final medium. No longer does an album need to be stored on thousands of dollars of tape stock, thus cutting cost and adding convenience.

Beyond these updates to the format, CLASP offers some unique creative options that would have been unimaginable while using tape in its classic form. The ability to change tape speeds on a per-recording-pass basis is now an option available to you, a feature that until now could only be executed in digital plugin form. Traditionally in the analog recording process, you would have to select a tape speed before the start of a session. While this decision can often come from the trade-off between fidelity and usage of the tape stock itself, certain tape speeds also tend to impart characteristic sonic signatures on the material recorded. The ability to mix and match tape speeds offered by the CLASP system allows you to use those various tape characteristics as an artistic choice, instead of a technical one. You can record drums and bass at 15 inches per second, decide that vocals and the guitar overdubs sound better at 7.5ips, and then go back to 15ips for backgrounds if you should see fit, all perfectly aligned and matched within the session thanks to CLASP.

CLASP goes beyond simply integrating tape in the digital realm. It makes tape a new tool altogether, and that’s what is so exciting about it. While digital audio continues to improve and develop and expand at an astounding rate, it is equally interesting to see the ability to use analog equipment, and in some cases classic vintage pieces, develop and expand in parallel. Digital may be the future and is certainly here to stay, but analog is not going anywhere anytime soon.