There’s no shortage of plugins claiming to mimic the nonlinearities, natural compression, and warmth of analog tape - but despite the plethora on offer already, anytime the amazing developers over at Softube release something new, we feel it’s a must-try. In this review we’ll take their their heavily anticipated debut tape plugin, Softube Tape, for a spin.
Setup & First Impressions
Softube Tape can be installed through the Gobbler Desktop client, which is an centralized plugin and subscription management app, or alternatively by downloading the installers directly from the My Account tab of the Softube website. We'd recommend the latter - while our experience with Softube and the other developers who use Gobbler has been excellent, we can't say the same for the Gobbler client.
Once we had the plugin downloaded and authorized via iLok, everything was a breeze. The plugin features a large virtual tape reel, with buttons to choose between the three distinct modeled tape machines; A, which is modeled off a ‘classic Swiss high-end’ tape unit, B, modeled off a transformer based tape machine, and C, a British tape deck with a ‘distinctly vintage vibe’. The front panel of the tape machine keeps controls to a minimum, with the aforementioned buttons, VU/THD meters, and IPS (Tape Speed) controls taking up the entire screen - we were in favor of this design choice, as some alternative tape plugins suffer from convoluted and overly complex interfaces. When you need more advanced controls, simply click the right side panel and a host of options open up: input & output trims, as well as rotary controls for Crosstalk, High Frequency Trim, Speed/Stability, Dry/Wet, as well as a switchable noise control. We found these extra controls to greatly enhance the Softube Tape offering and push this plugin in some genuinely novel directions, which is not easy with so many tape emulations already on the market.
With the sheer number of tape emulation plugins available today (we can count nearly a dozen), it’s easy to forget that many engineers of the analog age were ecstatic when digital consoles and DAW’s arrived and allowed them to leave analog tape behind; many at the time viewed the medium as a noisy, expensive, and cumbersome recording method which had more downsides than advantages. As engineers spent years inside their cold, digital DAW’s, however, many realized that tape - despite all of its disadvantages and inconveniences - added something magical and nonlinear to recordings that the digital domain sorely lacked. Tape does, without question, have numerous downsides, so we’re always on the lookout for plugins that recreate some of the magic of the tape experience while not being needlessly beholden to its limitations and issues, something Softube has accomplished masterfully with their Tape plugin.
So how does it sound? As with everything Softube makes, absolutely brilliant. It’s a common mistake to attribute one singular sound to be the ‘sound of tape’ - there’s a tremendous variety in sounds that tape is capable of given different tape machines, tape stock, and other factors. Consequently, while it’s impossible for one plugin to magically capture the entire range of tape flavors, Softube has captured a handful here in exquisite detail and accuracy. Speaking broadly, analog tape excels at softening up harsh high frequencies, naturally compressing signals (in a different way than a traditional compressor would), enhancing low end, and taming excessive peaks and transients while still maintaining every bit of their punch and smack.
While I’m not familiar with the specific tape machines Softube modeled for this plugin, each model has a unique sound and its own strengths and weaknesses. For drums and percussive stems, Type C was almost always the winner for me; aggressively pushing transient heavy material into this model created a beautiful natural compression character and retained more punch than a typical compressor would, while adding an organic sounding LF boost. Type B seemed to my ears to be the subtlest of the 3 options, and would likely be the best choice for mastering or other more gentle applications of Tape. Thankfully, Softube also added a Noise On/Off switch, enabling us to get the best analog tape has to offer without the hindrance of added noise.
While the tape models were impressive on their own, Softube Tape really separates itself from the competition once you begin to get aggressive with the plugin and tap into some of it’s more advanced features. First, since the Tape models saturate differently dependent on input level, you can get some really aggressive tones just by driving the input with a hot signal, much as you can a real tape machine. And this, to me, was where Tape is unmatched by other plugins; it simply sounds spectacular the more you drive it, compressing sources with a natural sound that I haven’t been able to find anywhere else in the digital realm. Tape is capable of giving your sounds some serious punch, and we found it to be far more capable in this regard than other tape sims we regularly turn to in our DAW.
Second, Softube appears to have taken great care to make Tape a genuinely unique plugin with some very cool advanced features. The HF Trim module - which Softube describes as a ‘mastering grade filter that regulates the amount of high-frequency compensation’ - is outstanding at giving sounds a natural sounding boost or cut, depending on your needs. While other tape sims in our arsenal can produce marked changes in the frequency content of processed material, it’s not always easy to tweak this with one parameter as it is here - and as with everything Softube makes, we found the high frequency adjustments to be top notch quality wise. Likewise, the Crosstalk feature is an ingenious addition which simulates the natural crosstalk of adjacent magnetic tape channels in a stereo signal, allowing for everything from subtle enhancement to aggressive stereo signal manipulation; as an added bonus, Studio One users can use the crosstalk control to allow separate channels of their mix to crosstalk with one another, producing a more analog-like mixing experience. We also got a lot of mileage out of the Speed Stability control, which offers a one-knob tweak for Wow & Flutter settings; while these are usually undesireable in large amounts (except in specific modulation applications), subtle Wow and Flutter are key to nailing the nonlinear sound of analog tape. We found that placing Tape after an algorithmic reverb plugin and cranking the Wow & Flutter to 50% brought the reverb to life and accurately recreated some of the magical modulation you’ll find in famous hardware reverb units with just a few clicks.
Conclusion / Recommended For
In conclusion, we came away highly impressed with Softube Tape, and the plugin lives up to the company’s reputation for developing absolutely stellar analog-modeled processors. Offering a near-perfect blend of outstanding sound quality, flexible but streamlined controls, and some seriously useful advanced functions, Softube Tape sits firmly atop our choices of tape emulations available today; we’d recommend this as the first tape purchase for any producer or engineer looking to add some vintage nonlinear vibes to their digital workstation.
Softube Tape is available for $99 here
- Outstanding, best-in-class sound quality.
- Tape models saturate beautifully as drive is increased.
- 3 distinct tape sounds in one plugin.
- Highly useable Crosstalk, Wow & Flutter, and Hi Freq Trim controls.
- CPU friendly (a rarity for tape plugins!).