Urs Heckmann, the founder of U-he plugins, is doing a great job. With his plugins admired and endorsed by heavyweight artists, the U-he sound has found it’s way onto blockbuster films, and tech award badges are filling up the pages on the website. Lately, Urs has hired on new faces to help drive the company in new directions. With the addition of Sascha Eversmeier, formally of the freeware digitalfishphones plugins, U-he have been able to create and release the Satin tape machine emulation, and the forthcoming Presswork compressor. With the great sounding DIVA synth under the belt, U-he have jumped further along the current path for providing plugins that will get you the ‘sound’ that only analog hardware can provide. With Satin, it’s by developing a plug that emulates the warmth and non-linearity of tape. There are plenty of fantastic specific tape machine emulations out at the moment (UAD, Slate), but U-he have gone a slightly different route, by providing more of an all-rounder type, in the same way that DIVA has for analog synth. With Satin, the user can manipulate the elements of recording to tape to their own specifications.
The team have taken much from the successes of Diva, with adjustable size window, coarse and detailed knob adjustments, laid out neatly and clearly. There are 2 main panels.
Most of the magic happens here, with two oversize knobs – input and output levels. The more you turn the input level, the more analoguey tapey gluey compression, saturation, and harmonic distortion happen. There’s a switch to change between vintage and modern tape styles, with the modern being slightly more subtle and cleaner. There’s a MakeUp button, which I really liked. As you increase the input level, the makeup adjusts the output accordingly. You can still override it using the output gain.
If you remained using only this panel, you wouldn’t lose out. The ‘sound’ of analog tape, especially spread across many tracks, really has a pleasing effect on the earholes. You can add it in subtly as to not notice, until you bypass, when you hear all the thickness of the sound disappear, and the highs suddenly sound a lot more clinical and bright. The lovely vintage VU meters add a nice touch, and show both input and output metering, showing you the rough difference in sound level.
The lower panel contains a neatly laid out selection of parameters that take you deep into the digital innards of Satin, and it doesn’t disappoint in its choice of options.
Modes – you can change the mode of the tape machine. In the regular studio mode, it acts as a multitrack tape machine. You can place satin on every track in your DAW, and group them together just by selecting one of 8 groups from the group window in studio mode. Once you assign an instance to a group, the parameters of every instance in that group will change as you change one. Very very useful. With a moderately powerful computer you can have tape emulation on every track, and print to a 2buss with tape. You can compand the sound using emulations of classic noise reduction encoding, and you can change the speed of the tape, from just under 2 to 30 ips.
But not only is this beast emulating a multitrack tape studio, it also doubles as a creative fx machine, as a tape delay, and flange. Change the mode to delay, and you’re presented with two (switchable to 4) repro heads, that reproduce the source material after a certain time. This time can be tempo synced, and there are modulation, feedback, limiting and hi and lo cut options to sculpt the sound. And it’s an excellent creative tool too – think of the Space echo here. Great quality.
As an aside, in terms of creative inspiration, it’s great to see that pretty much everything on Satin is automatable. Endless tape manipulation possibilities!!
At the bottom of the panel is the service section. This is where you get your digital screwdriver out and start playing with various elements of the machine. I won’t even pretend to know much about the physics of sound affected by tape, but if you want, you can change the bias, wow and flutter, asperity, hiss and crosstalk. Essentially, you can decide the condition the tape machine is in. There are also different emulations of machine EQs, to give a certain frequency emphasis depending on the make of machine. You can also choose what type of classic noise reduction algorithm you want to use – Thankfully, U-he have provided an excellent manual that goes to lengths to explain just what is going on with the sound by tweaking these parameters.
Conclusion The sound of Satin is really really pleasing to the ear. Urs recommends that you use Satin subtly, but layered – so instead of putting it on the 2buss and slamming it; add it to every track, in small increments, and let the subtleties add up to a really pleasing result. Comparative to the other tape emulation plugins I own, I guess it’s a personal preference in terms of sound qualities – they all have slightly different emphases and character, and are all definite weapons in the sonic arsenal. What sets Satin apart is the flexibility and versatility of the plugin. I enjoyed using it both as a multitrack tape machine, and as an analog creative engine. I really enjoyed the delay mode, and I think it will find equal use there as it will a tape emulation. As with all U-He plugins, you can choose whether to use it on a fairly surface basis – there is an excellent selection of presets for the studio mode, and for the delay and flanger modes. They cover all the bases, from specific machine emulations, to space echo presets. But you can also spend time with it to fully understand what it’s capable of. There’s a LOT going on under the surface.
…What sets Satin apart from other emulations is the flexibility and versatility of the plugin. I enjoyed using it both as a multitrack tape machine, and as an analog creative engine…
Loads of brilliant presets – effects AND hardware emulation
It may look too complex, compared to other tape simulations (but, at the same time, that can be its strength)
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About The Author
Composer/Producer, and keyboard player. He has written and recorded soundtracks for a wide variety of media and co-owns DOsounds.com with Jake Owen, a music production company that gives him an excuse to buy more analog gear.