Plugin Review: Airwindows ToTape
Airwindows is an eccentric company. It’s basically one guy (Chris Johnson) doing one thing (making specialized AudioUnit plugins) in one esoteric way (he uses a default GUI and never adds any fancy graphics). The way he does things allows him to write plugins that are absurdly cheap, very stable, and well-supported. Of course it also means they don’t look as nice, and if you’re not using a Mac program that support AU, you can’t use any of his stuff. While he does spend time doing things that model vintage gear, somewhat, his focus primarily seems to be on taking the ideas out of the gear, modeling just the parts he wants, then selling the results.
This has led to plugins that do nothing more than model the slew rate behavior of a console, or plugins that emulate certain analog summing functions, or plugins that do nothing but digital signal dithering. It can tend to be esoteric, but it can also tend to be kind of stunningly useful.
ToTape (and the free companion “FromTape”) is one in a line of his tape saturation modeling plugins – previously including the popular “IronOxide” saturator. What’s particularly interesting about ToTape is that, rather than actually modeling tape itself, it models the behavior of the tape. Consequently you get the saturation and “glue” of the tape without the coloration. This makes it very flexible, although definitely not an all-purpose plugin – sometimes the coloration is exactly what you’re seeking to emulate.
The FromTape companion plugin is a subset of the ToTape controlset, intended for use on tracks and busses. It models just the “compression” part of tape saturation, without any of the equalization or leveling.
The aforementioned EQ and leveling parts are the more interesting parts of ToTape. While some tape emulators, like McDSP’s AC202 and The UAD A800, allow you to vary tape speed, bias, and all those actual tape parameters to achieve certain sounds, ToTape merely gives you “bump” and “treble soften.” Whereas most tape emulators give you a fixed bump and rolloff to emulate a certain type of tape head, and treble effects are achieved using bias, tape speed, EQ type, etc, here you’re given a pair of sliders. This gives you very fine control over the output effect – you can pair a low bump with a high “treble soften” in a way you couldn’t achieve with tape. Of course, the output then doesn’t really sound like a tape, but it may still give you the sort of saturation and punch you’re seeking to achieve. The actual “tape slam” is akin to a combination of input drive and variable tape compression, which again can be driven in a decidedly non-tape-y way, and it even has the capacity to overdrive the output signal, which tape can’t physically do (there is, however, an output trim slider for such an occasion).
It’s not an all-purpose plugin, and is probably best used judiciously, but it can do some wonders to a track in need of a little warmth or saturation.