Warren Huart on Steven’s vocals: Most of Steven Tyler’s keeper vocals were cut at Swing House with a Neumann U 48 that Huart had used previously on The Fray, James Blunt, Adele and others. Other pieces of the chain included a Brent Averill Enterprises 1073, “and then I mult to two sets of compression and I parallel compress. I have two [dbx] 160 VU’s, which I set pretty lightly, like 2-to-1 or 3-to-1. I split those out of a mult and then each of those goes to an 1176 set to limit on 20:1 and they just catch the peaks. I’ve got one for verses and softer vocals, attacking it lightly, and then when he goes into that louder, crazier Steven thing I have another set of compression set at half that. They’re multed back together and that’s the vocal sound. What it does is give you huge, fat vocals all the time. I ride the 1073—I’ll click the gain settings up and down depending on where he is on the vocal. It’s pretty old school. As an engineer, you’re blessed to work with a singer of that quality, because he makes your life very easy.”
Photo by Michael Coleman.
On Tape and CLASP: Douglas and Huart joined the growing ranks of producers and engineers to embrace the Endless Analog CLASP system, which Huart says “gives you a sound only tape can give you. You can’t fault it on drums—it gives you a nice little low that’s never going to be the same if you just EQ. You can also boost the top end on your overhead in the mix without it sounding brittle.” For this project, the recording team used CLASP in conjunction with three Studer A800 two-inch analog recorders—a 16-track (for drums) and a 24-track at Pandora’s Box, and another A800 24-track at Joe Perry’s Boneyard.
Photo by Michael Coleman.
Douglas on Swing House: “The vibe [at Swing House] was totally relaxed. It’s like a clubhouse. Crystal Method was in there awhile, Marilyn Manson. And we had visitors, too—Richard Lewis, Rick Nielson, Jack Black, Johnny Depp, so it was a lot of fun.” Depp and Julian Lennon are among those who helped on backing vocals.
Douglas has done so much work at Swing House over the past five years that he has merged much of his personal equipment with the studio’s, including his (now-rare) SPL Charisma dual-channel processors and some Retro gear, such as the 176 (the modern version of the 1176), which he lauds for its highpass filter. “Also, their version of a [1950s-era] Gates Sta-level [compressor] and passive EQ are very good.”
Photo by Michael Coleman.
Other favored pieces of gear included Pulse-Tec’s modern versions of the classic Pultec PQ-1 and PQ-2; and the Vertigo Sound Quad Discrete VCA Compressor, which Huart likens to the “the classic dbx 202 VCAs that are in the original [SSL] 4000 bus compressor, though the control over it is much better. What I like about it is the highpass filter, which is very modern. It’s set at 60 and 90 and it really allows the bottom end to breathe.”
Both of Swing House’s two main rooms were used for the Aerosmith project. The control room of Studio A includes a vintage 20-channel API console, a Cadac sidecar and an assortment of Calrec and Neve mic pre’s. Studio B features a gorgeous vintage 24-channel, 8-bus Neve 8058.
How does an audio offering come to life? Welcome to the new SonicScoop series “Research & Development” where we’ll be exploring the genesis of hardware, software and services that catch our eye.
What's the story behind Endless Analog's new Machine Matrix? (Photo Credit: Jake Harsh)
First up: When Endless Analog first launched the CLASP (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor) in 2010, there was no guarantee that the world would warm up to their system.
Patented by Chris Estes, the CLASP design bridged analog and digital recording techniques by seamlessly integrating tape machines into Pro Tools. The result was the ability to record to tape while maintaining the speed and flexibility of a DAW, delivering real-time analog monitoring with zero-latency through a mastering grade audio signal path.
As Estes spent time in the field with CLASP, however, he discovered that something more was needed for the line — CLASP users with multiple tape machines needed an additional level of control. For that, Endless Analog has just introduced a powerful complement to the CLASP line: the Machine Matrix ($3,750). Here, Estes explains how and why his new made-to-order system came into being.
(l-r) Chris Estes and Lenny Kravitz. (photo credit: Mathieu Bitton)
What’s the principle behind the Machine Matrix?
With the Machine Matrix and a CLASP system you can switch back and forth between tape machines in the middle of the song without any patching or re-syncing all with a single mouse click. Machine Matrix is software/hardware controlled analog tape with mastering grade auto signal routing.
What sparked the original idea for this addition to the Endless Analog line?
The original idea for the Machine Matrix came from Lenny Kravitz’ studio. I spent a good amount of time with Lenny at his studio in the Bahamas and he was one of first customers to utilize CLASP with the Studer J37 one inch four track. His J37 was actually used by The Beatles to record Sgt. Pepper.
He has several different tape machines, and and he wants to use them all. So that was the inspiration for creating the Matrix — a seamless way to switch between tape decks during a session that doesn’t disrupt the creative flow. With our old CLASP software you needed a separate template for each machine, but with the Machine Matrix and our version 3.5 software and hardware there is only one master template for all your tape machines, so you never have to stop the creative flow of the session, break down, and connect your Pro Tools and patchbay to the new machine.
With the Machine Matrix it’s just literally as easy as one mouse click, and within the time it takes to click the mouse your CLASP is switched over to a new tape machine, and everything is patched and synchronized instantly.
For example, let’s say your studio has an Ampex ATR ½-inch machine at 30 ips, but you also have a Studer A80 1-inch that’s running at 15 IPS. You could have 20:32 of tape left on the Studer machine, while the Ampex ATR is running at 30 IPS with 07:31 minutes left — it doesn’t matter. The Machine Matrix keeps track of it all. When you switch to the new machine, the CLASP hardware is automatically updated to the newly selected tape deck.
What did you learn from the rollout of the original CLASP – what was surprising/unexpected for you in terms of how studios were integrating them into their workflow, and using some of the features of the system?
(click to enlarge) This diagram depicts a CLASP system installation using pre existing D-Sub patch bays and pre existing wiring. There are 3 patch modes; (1) CLASP mode which requires no patching. (2) Pro Tools Only mode which requires only one patch from the mic pre outputs to the Pro Tools inputs. (3) Analog Tape Only mode which requires one patch from the analog tape deck outputs to the console line inputs. All of the patchbays are half normaled except for bays 1 & 2 (microphone lines to mic pre amps).
One of the things we learned was how to efficiently and economically integrate CLASP into a studio with minimal wiring. We now have a patchbay configuration diagram that uses mostly your pre-existing wiring. And if you already have a DSUB patchbay then it’s even easier. (see diagram) CLASP is designed to be plug-and-play, you take it out of the box, plug it in and go. It only takes literally one minute to install the software in your Pro Tools.
Another thing we learned was how to improve the software interface and its functionality. We had great suggestions from a few engineers at Abbey Road.
So with those in mind I reworked the interface, and in this new version 3.5 you see the culmination of suggestions from our users — a much better GUI where you can see the track arming status of all 24 tracks of the CLASP hardware simultaneously, better functionality such as Input Monitor and Repro monitor controls on the plugin. An auto update feature that scans for track arming eliminating the need to bank through channels manually with HUI. And we’ve put more controls on the plugin to control the hardware, because that’s mostly what the software is doing — controlling our hardware.
In addition to Lenny Kravitz’ studio, can you give us another example of how the Machine Matrix can optimize the CLASP workflow?
The Machine Matrix makes it extremely convenient to work with all of the machines in your arsenal for overdubbing, mix down — you name it. For example; you might decide to track with your 2-inch machine, but then overdub with your half-inch 2-track and then mix. Or you might be in a tracking session and you have two totally different 2 inch machines you want to A/B for a song. Well, now you can A/B without stopping the session.
You’re one mouse click away from any machine you have in your room. It’s possible to have three completely different 2-inch machines, 1-inch machines, half-inch, quarter-inch or any combination all connected to the Matrix at the same time. It takes as long to switch between decks as it does for you to click the mouse.
One of the best examples I have seen is a CLASP studio with two different 24-track machines (Studer A80, MCI JH24) and an ATR 102 that used a different 2-inch for each song at different tape speeds that best suited the vibe of each song while tracking, then switched into the ATR for vocal overdubbing and the final mix processing.
It’s really exciting to see how people use CLASP. A lot of guys are using it in the mix stage now. They insert the half-inch two-track into the mix chain after their bus compressor and set it on “input” using the VU meters on the two-track to keep an eye on the mix buss gain structure. After the mix is about 80% dialed in, they set the two-track into “repro” and take its transport online with the CLASP.
So now Pro Tools is driving the tape transport (automatic) and they are listening “through the tape” and making final mix and buss compression tweaks, letting the tape react to the fast transients instead of their buss compressor. They fold the output of the two track back into Pro Tools on a fresh channel and use a make up gain plugin like the Slate Mastering Plugin to offset the gain difference going from 0db @ -18VU. The results from this are amazing.
Back view of the Machine Matrix. (Photo credit: Jake Harsh)
What’s the most challenging aspect of designing an entirely new product, as you’ve done with the Machine Matrix?
I think the most challenging thing is to do it so it integrates with our pre-existing lines — that’s what I set out to do. Seamless integration was the goal: When you have a Machine Matrix and want to plug into a CLASP 8, 16, or 24, you’re there. It just plugs in and sees it.
The form factor also takes a lot of careful consideration. Originally we were going to make the audio routing and machine control routing of the Matrix as a separate pieces of gear, but in the end we decided it made more sense to put everything together — that this would give the customer more value. Fortunately it wasn’t difficult to integrate! I just had to re-work the circuit board designs.
Lastly, why is product evolution an essential part of what you do – what are the market forces that make new product features and models a necessity for manufacturers like Endless Analog?
As a music artist it is necessary to keep writing, performing and inventing. I used to write songs and make records — that’s what I did for a living, and then I had the idea for CLASP because I was feeling frustrated about how my digital recordings were sounding. So this is just me being an artist, just like when an artist writes a new song: You have the song in you, you want to get it out and make it happen you want to see it materialize. These are my songs in the form of gear.
Eventually CLASP will be a lot more than what you see right now. It took about five years for us to get the first patent issued for CLASP, which is kind of like getting your songs copy-written. So these first pieces of Endless Analog CLASP gear are like the first few tracks on an album that has been written. Now we’re recording the rest of the album for release a few tracks at a time and hopefully people will continue to like our music.
Just like we each like different genres of music, some engineers like plugins, and that’s fine. But when it comes down to it, we like the sound of using the real thing any day over a simulation. And why not use the real thing if you can? A real tape machine running in the studio is always way more inspiring than a plugin any day.
By Joe Bosso
When Aerosmith release a new album this year – their first since 2004′s Honkin’ On Bobo, and their first collection of fresh material since 2001′s Just Push Play – longtime fans are hoping that it will mark a return to the mean, raunchy, riff-oriented, blues-rock sound the group mined on the ’70s classics Get Your Wings, Toys In The Attic and Rocks. Joe Perry lays down a guitar track at Swing House Studios while producer Jack Douglas (center) and engineer Warren Huart (right) look on.
In that regard, producer Jack Douglas says the upcoming record won’t disappoint. He’s in a uniquely qualified position to make such a claim: not only is he helming the new set, but he also manned the board for most of the group’s best-loved discs. “We’re going back to the rawness,” says Douglas. “There’s something special about the vintage Aerosmith vibe, and that’s what we have here.”
For Douglas, capturing the group’s untamed spirit on tape means just that – using tape. To that end, the veteran producer, whose resume also includes work with John Lennon, Cheap Trick and Patti Smith, is utilizing CLASP (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor), a unit which allows him to integrate real two-inch tape technology into a DAW signal and workflow.
Joining Douglas behind the glass is fellow tape and CLASP enthusiast, Warren Huart. Huart serves as engineer on the Aerosmith project, but in recent years he’s produced The Fray, James Blunt, Howie Day and Augustana, among others. What’s more, he’s also the proud owner of Swing House Studios in Hollywood, where the Aerosmith team have called home for the past few months as they lay down vocals and overdubs on one of 2012′s most-anticipated releases.
MusicRadar caught up with Douglas and Huart recently to talk about the sonic wonders of CLASP, their approach to working with Aerosmith, the band’s indefatigable energy and how the director of Desperado and Spy Kids somehow fits into the picture. How did you two start working together?
Jack Douglas: “I was working at Swing House on other projects, a few film things, and I did a Michael Monroe record there. I really liked Swing House, and it kind of became my place to park myself on the West Coast. The rooms are comfortable, the equipment is great – I keep a lot of my gear there, actually.
Warren Huart: “Probably 50 percent of the equipment at Swing House is my gear and 50 percent is Jack’s. We share a lot of tube equipment. Jack’s Pulse Technologies stuff is fantastic – they’re replicas of Pultecs.”
Douglas: “Warren and I would trade rooms on and off for about two years, and we became friendly. I knew he was knowledgeable and extremely capable. Plus, he’s a guitarist, which is good – knowing guitars is very important when it comes to working with a band like Aerosmith. When the new project came up, I gave him a call.
“The person I usually work with on Aerosmith, Jay Messina, he has boundaries – he won’t go crazy with his hours. With Aerosmith, you have to be ready to work when they’re ready, and on a long-term basis. You can’t do five days a week, eight hours a day with these guys. The other night, we were working till one in the morning – that’s just what it takes. Warren was up for that, so I brought him out to Boston. The boys liked him, and that was that.”
Douglas and Huart flank CLASP inventor Chris Estes.So Warren, what’s it like working with Jack?
Huart: “It’s great. What can I say? You know, I produce 90 percent of the stuff I work on. Even when I engineer something for a major label – whether it’s Howie Day or James Blunt or whomever – a lot of the time I’m the co-producer, and I even play on the stuff, too.
“In this role, as an engineer, you have to be with somebody you can respect. Jack’s worked with Aerosmith and John Lennon and incredible artists. But Jack is in the handful of guys, he’s like a Phil Ramone or a George Martin. He has a real vision, but he’s able to make everybody feel comfortable, which allows people to do their best. And that lets me be creative, too. You don’t have to be afraid to bring up an idea.”
How did you guys first become aware of CLASP?
Huart: “I got in very early in the development stage. I had an assistant who knew Chris Estes, who invented it, and when I first heard about it, I knew it could be phenomenal. I grew up with tape, I loved working with tape. Who doesn’t? You can do so much with it. So, to me, CLASP offered the best of both worlds. You can use and abuse tape on the way in, and then you can have it instantly in a digital stage to edit it.”
Douglas: “I think it was my son, Blake Douglas, that first turned me onto it. He owns some studios in LA. He has Record One, which used to be Ocean Way; he has Stage & Sound; and he has a room on a yearly lease at EastWest. He’s in the hip-hop business. But he’s an equipment dealer, too, and he was the one to tell me about CLASP.
“The whole idea of CLASP got me really buzzed. I went out and bought a beautiful old A80, anticipating that I was going to buy a CLASP unit. I met with Chris Estes, and we talked about the technology. I thought, This could really work for Aerosmith; this will sound pretty good.
“We got a couple of units on loan for the band’s studio, Pandora’s Box, and they fell in love with them, so they purchased the CLASPs. Then Joe bought one for his A80 for his room, the Boneyard. Everybody embraced the whole philosophy of CLASP.”
Huart: “I was very excited to make the Aerosmith record my first CLASP project. The other way to do it would be to record everything to tape and then put it to Pro Tools. Working with CLASP seemed like a far better way to go.”
What are the advantages of CLASP?
Douglas: “Well, you can keep the warmth of the tape, which, to me, is the big, big plus. There are no advantages to working all-digital. I moved over to digital in 1979. I was curious, so I started using the first 3M machines. Then I went to Mitsubishis and Sonys, but I would go back to tape. I always preferred tape. And I love mixing to tape – the sound is better.
“I do like the convenience of Pro Tools, however. CLASP is the real answer, one which allows me to work with the sound of tape and have the convenience of digital. To record Aerosmith, CLASP has been great. The band totally loves it.”
Huart: “The band cut their teeth on tape. The sound of those records, the ones everybody knows and loves, comes from tape. Plus, they have the know-how and the experience… They know the difference sonically. They know what translates for their music. I don’t think, with this record, to do it all-digital, would have been a great way to go.”
Douglas is Shure of his choice of headphones.Has the band worked with any outside songwriters?
Douglas: “Marti Frederiksen. Marti’s contributed some. On the lyrical side, I wanted Steven to really have somebody to bounce his lyrics off of, so I said to Sony that we should bring in Stephen King.”
Stephen King, the novelist?
Douglas: “That’s right. They thought I was crazy, but I thought he’d be into it. Here’s who I had on my list: Stephen King; Robert Rodriguez, the director; and Tim Burton. They thought I was nuts, but I said, ‘Let’s try.’ As it turned out, Stephen King said, ‘I wish you had contacted me a month earlier – I’m writing with John Mellencamp!’ [laughs] How funny is that? People thought I lost my mind, and there he is, working with Mellencamp.”
These are amazing ideas!
Douglas: “I think you have to be creative. So what’s happened was, Robert Rodriguez has come in, and he and Steven have gotten together. Robert’s got great ideas – he’s a brilliant director, but he’s a musician, too. We’re waiting to hear from Tim Burton, but in the meantime, we’re doing fine.”
What new pieces of gear do Joe Perry and the rest of the band have?
Douglas: “The thing with Aerosmith is, you don’t find a lot of new pieces, but you find some incredible old pieces. Joe has a connection to these amazing RCA and Bogen PA amps, and they’re being converted to 30-watt guitar amps, so we’ve been using a lot of them. We’ve been using my Producer Model Morris amp – they’re a boutique company out of St. Catherine’s, Ontario.
“The only new thing that I think is new is an Epiphone Casino, which has been reissued. Brad fell in love with that – it’s got a great, woody tone. The band collects a lot of incredible pieces that sound wonderful. They’re a part of history, but we do use them.”
Huart: “You go into Joe Perry’s place, and it’s like a wish-list of stuff. You stand there and say, ‘I wish we could use a…’ and there it is. ‘Oh, I’d like to try a preamp like…’ and he’s got it. His console is full of 1073s. He’s got a tape machine. You name it, it’s there. I’ve gone into professional studios, and they can’t match what Joe Perry has.
“But he’s still into trying out new pedals and things. The whole band is. They have a thirst for sound, a quest for tone, that you wouldn’t believe.”
Jack, you’ve worked with the band for so long, but what impresses you about them these days?
“First, you have to consider that these guys are all over 50 years old and still have the ability to just rock really hard. There’s so much edge going on, and they still have the vitality they had when we started 40 years ago.
“Also, Steven has an incredible ear. He and I share an interest in classical music and American standards and jazz. We’ll talk about music and Gershwin will come up – we’re not afraid to talk in those terms. So that’s great that we have that catalogue thing going on. Plus, Brad is such a fan of blues, and the whole band loves ’60s British rock. There’s deep musical roots to these guys.”
And Warren, what impresses you about Aerosmith?
Huart: “That they play like a band in their 20s. We’re not putting a lot of things together, at least not what you’d think. Most of these tracks have been flat-out, off-the-floor performances. Their enthusiasm and commitment is not what you’d expect for a band over the age of 25. They feel the same way about playing music as they did when they were making their first album.
“Take Joe Perry: He ‘s in here, on time if not early, to do overdubs. Steven’s in here at all hours working on vocals. He does American Idol and then he comes in here. We’re talking about amazing talents, and they work hard. What they do is beyond human, but it comes from work and commitment.”
Douglas gets hands on in the studio, adjusting mics on Joey Kramer’s drums.Aside from using CLASP, what kinds of discussions went down as far as the sound for album?
Douglas: “We’re going back to the rawness. There’s something special about the vintage Aerosmith vibe, and that’s what we have here. It’s got that ’70s feel and sense of humor. It’s a bit of a concept album – there’s a theme running through it, but I can’t really talk about that right now. But to get that edge and spirit, it made sense to capture tracks live with the band playing all out.
“The way Pandora’s Box is set up, we can get that. It’s a gorgeous room that was designed by John Storyk, and the board was designed by Jay Messina and myself. It’s 24 tracks of Neve broadcast modules, eight tracks of API, eight tracks of old Focusrite, and then PAD built a custom eight-buss for us. So they all speak to one another. It’s just like having one board – we call it ‘Frankenstein.’ I had a lot of my gear and my mics sent over to the place.
“Pandora’s Box really allowed me to record the band like I did in the ’70s. We’d sit in the production office and start with the germ of a song – just acoustic guitars and some basic ideas – and then we’d take that and go into a rehearsal room. In that room, we have small amps and keyboards, and we’ll record everything we do there into my laptop. After that, once it’s right, we’ll take it into the big room and record it. If we need to make changes, we’ll make them later.
“We recorded everything at Pandora’s Box except for two songs, which we did at Swing House. One song was something we decided we could do a little better, and the other one was brand new – that’s the one that Sony likes and is convinced is a big hit single.”
But you are doing some overdubs at Swing House.
Douglas: “Well, yeah, we’re doing a lot of the guitars, the leads. When Steven gets done with American Idol and comes in to do vocals, we’re figure out what has to go around them.”
Throughout the process, have there been any demos at all?
Douglas: “Yeah, sure. Very often, if a song didn’t begin with a germ of an idea in the studio, it was from a demo. But again, we’d sit and listen to that and get a lot of the band’s input, and then we’d knock out some changes. I think it’s fun to track right away because everything is fresh. For me, the demo stage is when we’re in that rehearsal room. We’ll spend days in there listening to what we have.”
And when the band tracks, it’s off-the-floor live performances?
Huart: “A large portion is just that: off-the-floor takes. It’s the band playing together. That’s the beauty of this band – they can play. Joey Kramer hits those drums. He’s an animal.”
Douglas: “Right. Steven’s in the middle with a vocal mic – he knows where the verses and choruses are. It’s live.”
Jack, what do you think the band looks to you for? Do you give them “brutal truth”?
Douglas: “It’s brutal truth, sure, but we’re like brothers, really. There’s never any pretense. I’m willing to listen to any idea the band has. It’s very communal. We always support each other. Even when I wasn’t producing their records, whether it was during the ’90s, there was a lot of hanging out. We know what each other can do. There’s no bullshit.”
SONY / ARISTA Records Country Music Artist Jarrod Niemann with Engineer Brian Kolb and Producer Dave Brainard use the new CLASP technology to record Neimann’s new album release.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Recording engineer Pat McMakin approaches his work with an almost obsessive pursuit of the perfect sound.
The difference between CD, MP3 via The Tennessean
By the time a recording makes its way to fans via iTunes or over Internet radio, it possesses a fraction of the total sound information captured in the studio — as little as 3% of the original, live sound waves. Even CD formats are stripped of up to 90% of the live recording to fit onto a 4 3/4-inch disc.
Often gone are the last lingering notes of a bass guitar, the echo of a drumbeat, the very high and very low notes.
But now, in Nashville, a handful of Music Row businesses are beginning to invest in new products and technologies to increase the fidelity of music at every stage of the recording and listening process, from new in-studio recording technologies to new music formats to home stereo equipment.
Whether consumers who have grown accustomed to listening to tunes over $10 ear buds will be willing to pay for better sounds, however, remains a big question mark.
“I already invest a lot in my music, in my laptop and my iPhone and my Wi-Fi at home,” said Corey First, 28, a marketing assistant from Franklin, Tenn. “I don’t have the bucks to spend more. I have no complaints about my music.
Still, the steep drop in sound quality as digital music has taken hold remains a source of aggravation for artists and music professionals — and audiophiles among consumers — who argue that music is losing many of the subtle qualities that gave it emotion, spaciousness and depth in order to make songs Internet ready.
“The irony is that we’ve been making better- and better-sounding records in the studio, but the technology has been dumbing them down for years,” said McMakin, director of operations at Ocean Way Studios on Music Row.
Last week, singer Neil Young took his campaign for higher-fidelity digital music to a technology conference, revealing that Apple’s Steve Jobs, before his death, had been working on creating bigger digital files to capture a wider range of sound. (Jobs, Young noted, preferred listening to his music on vinyl records.)
Last month, at the former historic RCA Studio A on Music Row — now known as Ben’s Studio — country artist Jerrod Niemann recorded tracks for his latest album with a new invention he hopes will increase the audio quality of even the digital versions of his album.
The recording studio is the same Music Row space where stars such as Elvis Presley, Chet Atkins and Joe Cocker made albums during an era in which bulky analog tape decks faithfully captured the sound in a studio and music was sold on vinyl records. Analog captures the entire spectrum of sound, as does vinyl, because the music isn’t compressed or squeezed to fit.
Digital recordings, on the other hand, are captured by computers, which record only certain slices of sound at split-second intervals that are then encoded into computer language. All those 1′s and 0′s end up representing a numeric interpretation of sound.
But Niemann’s recording session relied on a new piece of recording machinery known as CLASP, which takes a hybrid approach.
It records on analog tape and feeds it into a digital machine, giving producers the ease of editing digital with a better-recorded sound, said CLASP’s inventor, local music business entrepreneur Chris Estes.
Estes is marketing the equipment to artists, producers, studios and record companies after spending six years tinkering with the invention in his Bellevue home.
Thus far, its $3,000 to $7,000 price tag has attracted established record labels rather than new independent artists.
Taylor Swift, Adele and the rock band KISS are among the artists who have hired Estes to record with CLASP to capture what Estes calls that “warm, detailed, musical sound.”
“It’s way clearer to listen to,” said Niemann, 32, who is signed with the Sony-owned label Arista Nashville. “I want the fans to hear the music the way it’s supposed to be, the way that I hear it. It’s way better than digital.”
Vinyl is most faithful medium
Although no medium is capable of duplicating exactly the quality of a live performance, the best audio recordings and playback equipment capture the entire range of sound in the studio.
Vinyl is the most faithful medium, with no compression or translation of music.
Among digital recordings, Blu-ray offers one of the highest resolutions possible — the biggest digital space to capture and then rebroadcast a much higher portion of the recorded sound.
But CDs subtract portions of the sound to fit on discs. And MP3s subtract even more.
In mathematical terms, a typical Blu-ray song contains 2,304,000 bits of information. A CD contains a third of that — about 705,600 bits.
But a digital version — an MP3 downloaded from iTunes or the Internet — captures just 70,000 bits.
For all of the hundreds or thousands of minute human-driven adjustments of microphones, sound boards, mixing and mastering that go into constructing a professional album, it’s a computer software program that uses a standard algorithm that decides which of the millions of bits of information aren’t necessary for the human ear — in effect, which parts of a song a listener can do without.
Dynamic ranges (louds and softs) and frequency responses (high and low notes) are often casualties of the compression process.
“The computer program has to take all this information and make it so it can cram down a little pipe and then make it sound good on the other end,” McMakin said. “But it’s like a computer program you put a short story into and it decides all the letter v’s are unnecessary.”
Sound quality then further depends on the consumer’s playback equipment — ear buds and laptop speakers, for example, versus higher-quality stereo systems.
“It’s very frustrating, but when the computer came in people plugged in those little speakers and they seem satisfied with that,” said John Corigliano, 73, a New York composer in contemporary classical American music circles who records with the Franklin-based Naxos label, the biggest classical music label in the world.
“I work long hours getting the sound quality just right,” he said.
To increase the quality available to fans, Corigliano is working with Naxos to produce audio Blu-ray versions of his orchestral compositions. But higher-quality sound isn’t cheap.
At about $19, Corigliano’s Blu-ray Circus Maximus is twice the price of the CD version of his work. No other major label is issuing sound-only Blu-rays, although the format has been used for concert films.
Klaus Heymann, Naxos president and founder, said the company has had to roll back its original plans to issue all new recordings on Blu-ray because it hasn’t yet caught on among consumers.
“We are trying very hard to get other labels on board,” Heymann said. “Some who are not as financially strong as us don’t want to spend money on something that’s not yet a sure thing. But we think it will be because we’re seeing more people buy surround-sound TV systems, and we think consumers are going to understand that equipment is not only good for their video, it’s good for audio.
“The Hong Kong-based Heymann predicts that a proliferation of Internet-ready televisions in the near future probably will make listening to music on computers a short-lived phenomenon. Increasing Internet bandwidth to allow for bigger files that capture more sound information to stream or download also is critical, he said. That would allow for bigger digital files — a step that a handful of recording label executives also want to see.
Gibson jumps in
Nashville’s Gibson Guitar is counting on a resurgence of consumer interest in listening to music at home.
Recently, the longtime guitar maker announced it had created the Gibson Pro Audio division, which includes a partnership with Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer Onkyo to make and market stereo systems, speakers and home theater systems to consumers who, Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz believes, want better-sounding music.
“With Onkyo, our goal is to bring the same exceptional experience artists demand in the studio to a larger consumer base,” the Gibson boss said.
Gibson’s Onkyo partnership includes high-end home system equipment that runs to the thousands of dollars, as well as receivers that run only a few hundred dollars.
That may be a big leap for many consumers, but others seem to be inching in that direction after years of eschewing bulky home systems.
In 2011, sales of such audio systems reached $4.4 billion, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. This year they’re projected to reach $4.53 billion. That’s still down from the $5 billion in sales in 2007.
“I don’t think we’ll ever go back to full-content audio and CD players in the home,” said Sean Murphy, senior analyst with the Consumer Electronics Association.
“But we’re seeing home receivers equipped with digital playing abilities running through a receiver that are 100 times better in terms of sound quality than listening to an iPod on a speaker dock.”
There are a few other factors giving some Nashville music makers optimism that consumers are ready to return to better-quality sound products. Gamers are demanding better audio to go along with increasingly sophisticated video systems, said McMakin, who last week recorded a full score by an orchestra for an upcoming Sony PlayStation game.
Bandwidth probably will expand, allowing for bigger digital music files that store more sound frequency.” My instinct is there’s going to be an ‘aha moment,’” McMakin said. “There’s going to be a generational shift where there will be more reasonable access to alternative formats than we have now, and people will hear the difference.”
In theory it might sound a little confusing, but in reality, SIMON TILLBROOK finds that there’s simply nothing to compare to CLASP.
“It is not very often that you get to have a look at something technically unique in this business, but I have had the opportunity to do just that recently with a visit to KMR Audio and a demonstration of a unit, designed by one Chris Estes of Endless Analog, called CLASP. ” – Simon Tillbrook, Audio Media Magazine
CLASP stands for Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor and, in simple terms, integrates real analogue tape recording into your DAW signal and workflow.
The concept can be quite confusing when looking through the literature and diagrams associated with CLASP, but the system is, in practice, much simpler when demoed, with some very clever stuff going on in the background.
CLASP currently allows your Pro Tools or Nuendo/Cubase DAW (other DAW support is being talked about but not available as yet) to integrate a number of analogue multi-track options from Studer, Otari, Ampex, 3M, MCI, Tascam, Scully, and Sony.
CLASP is packaged in a 2U box with a front panel consisting of a large display (usually set to display tape time remaining) and five large buttons.
These buttons are labelled IPS, MON, SYNC, and RTZ. IPS (inches per second) enables you to select the tape speed for the counter (you need to manually change the speed on your multi-track). POST allows additional post roll after recording. MON is selected for latency-free input monitoring; SYNC is used during the initial setup of CLASP with your DAW (more later) and, finally, RTZ (return to zero). The rear panel of CLASP is a sea of Tascam protocol
25-pin DSUB connections for use with any multi-track machine. The first three accept input from your console buss outputs or feeds from pre-amplifiers (for example), then the next three deliver the signal to your analogue multi-
The analogue multi-track outputs (that come from your multi-track REPRO head) would then feed your A/D converters into the DAW system, completing the input connection configuration.
Output from your DAW D/A converters then feed back into CLASP through the three DAW return DSUBs, and then finally the Monitor DSUBs get the signal back into your console’s tape returns.
In addition to these audio connections, we have a Tape Control 15-pin connection to connect to your analogue multi-track to control transport, track arming, etc. You can specify which machine you are using and the appropriate cable will be supplied.
XLR connections for sync in and out sit next to MIDI in and out sockets.
It is through MIDI machine control and the HUI protocol that CLASP translates machine control information from your DAW to your analogue multi-track through an appropriate USB to MIDI interface.
It is worth noting that you can chain up to three CLASP units together for control of three analogue machines for 72-Tracks.
We have our CLASP hardware configured; now we need to sort out the software side of things.
I am talking about the set-up with Pro Tools specifically, but remember that Cubase/Nuendo are also catered for.
For the system to work in terms of machine routing
and control, as well as delay compensation (more soon),
we need to have a master fader for each DAW output used
in the session.
Once you have created this, you can hide these and just run your session as normal, they just need to be part of your session set-up to give routing and arming control to each specific analogue track.
Within your Pro Tools session itself you need a single instance of the CLASP Bridge control plug-in to be present. This can be on any track and is used to communicate through MIDI/HUI transport and track arming information to your analogue multi-track.
The CLASP Bridge plug-in is used to store delay compensation and transport control data for up to three tape machines, each with three different speed options. The display in minutes and seconds then behaves according to the selection you have made.
Initial Set-Up & Use
Audio runs through the system input, recorded onto your analogue tape, and then played back via the REPRO head into your DAW where it is recorded. There is obviously a delay between heads on your multi-track, and this is the really clever bit with CLASP.
CLASP needs to learn the specifics of your multi-track machine from a control, speed, and head delay standpoint, so you run a sync setup for each tape speed for your system to learn.
This is a simple button push affair, and CLASP informs you when the process is complete and successful. From then on you simply run your session as normal.
When you record the audio from your analogue machine, it is recorded into your DAW in real time and, with input monitoring alongside your DAW output, you enjoy zero latency.
When you push ‘stop’ at the end of your recording, CLASP time stamps and realigns your audio into the future on your timeline based on the delay compensation calculated during the initial set-up…very clever.
You can select between different speeds from one take to the next, taking advantage of the different characteristics of your machine, tape, and speed at the push of a couple of buttons and, because you are storing your audio directly into your DAW system, one reel of tape can be constantly reused across multiple sessions until you deem it to be no longer of optimum use to you.
The CLASP system works. It does exactly what it claims to do, and there is nothing else to compare it to. It is a system that is almost impossible to get your head around in theory but, when seen in use, it becomes surprising simple in operation.
The initial set-up with CLASP in terms of
session layout and synchronisation is the tricky
part but, done once, you are good to go.
Studios with tape machines that have become idle will love the opportunities CLASP offers, bringing them back into service and offering clients an even greater sound pallet to incorporate into their projects.
For those who have had the experience, CLASP lets you rediscover all that you loved about tape and its interaction with sound but which, maybe, had just slipped from your memory.
“The world’s first truly hybrid analogue digital recording system”
is how Christopher Estes of Endless Analog describes CLASP (Closed Loop Analogue Signal Processor). Estes and Endless Analog, the company he founded in Nashville five years ago, invented the hardware and software solution, which is aimed at artists who have a purist analogue approach to recording and want the chance to work with tape again. CLASP is also helping to give value back to studios that have invested in now often dormant 24-track machines.
The system integrates multi-track tape machines with Pro Tools, Cubase or Nuendo, giving users the editing and functionality of a DAW combined with analogue tape. The CLASP unit is a 24 I/O on D-Type connectors that plug in via a DAW. So, for example, when working with Pro Tools recording is done to tape as users ordinarily would, but it is monitored through Pro Tools with zero latency. The actual audio signal is delayed from the Record head to the Repro head and then recorded back into Pro Tools and time stamped so that it is back in sync.
All the tape control and transport control happens on the DAW via the CLASP system, which can handle up to 24 channels at a time – up to three CLASP units can be chained for 72 channels of simultaneous recording. Another advantage of the system is that a whole project can be carried out on a single reel of tape so reducing cost. CLASP even offers the ability to jump between tape speeds on-the-fly to audition and then print, even mixing speeds in the same project, something that’s impossible in an all-analogue production.
“The idea behind CLASP came about because I started to get frustrated with the way my digital recordings were sounding,” explains Estes, a successful Nashville songwriter and producer. “I started out my career recording onto analogue tape when there was no Pro Tools and there was no plug-ins. I thought OK, these recordings sound better and so it forced me to come up with a solution so that I could actually integrate analogue tape into my workflow in a seamless manner. So that is what I did. It is literally analogue tape without any hassle. So even for people who aren’t very familiar with analogue tape it is an easy, user-friendly system to work with.”
Distribution for the UK is by KMR Audio, which took on exclusive rights for CLASP in April this year. Stefan Pope, KMR’s sales manager, comments: “I think this is a truly revolutionary product. The ingenious way in which it fuses a bygone technology that produced a sound that is still so incredibly popular, with a modern ‘digital’ workflow, is exactly what this industry needs. For too long the debate over plug-ins, analogue, digital, control, workflow, sound has raged. Well finally, you can have it all! The sound, delivered in a modern way. KMR is all about the hybrid future – the fusion of analogue and digital. Both have their place, and now, finally, they can work beautifully together.”
The product has been on sale for a little over a year with 170 units already sold worldwide. “The reaction has been incredible over here so far and we’ve only had it for about a month,” says Pope. “Obviously the market at the moment is to studios with tape machines that don’t get much use out of them – the studios that have thousands of pounds invested in a technology they want to use but can’t, gathering dust in the corner. Well dust off those tape heads, clean your tape stock, get the maintenance man in, get a CLASP in the rack and bang – your tape machine is once again making you money. Frankly, the market is as big as the number of people recording audio! So, quite big!” Current users in the UK include Abbey Road, British Grove and Sphere Studios.
As well as demonstrating the product at AES London, KMR also organised a number of practical showcases with Estes. The largest of these was to members of the Music Producers Guild at Air Studios in May, which more than 50 producers and engineers attended. This demo also featured the recording of a live band using the new system. The event proved so popular that it was necessary to hold two sessions, and still not everyone could be accommodated. More demo evenings are planned for later in the year to satisfy those who weren’t able to attend. The previous day a private demonstration was held for a small number of attendees at Hook End Manor recording studios where the owner of the complex, Mark White, declared the results as “simply amazing”. www.endlessanalog.com www.kmraudio.com
Engineer/producer Greg Collins and Kiss are using Endless Analog’s CLASP System to record the band’s next album.
KISS bandleader Paul Stanley with co-producer engineer mixer Greg Collins in the studio with CLASP.
Commenting on the use of CLASP during the sessions, band leader/producer Paul Stanley stated, “CLASP allows us to go ‘back to analog’ for all the warmth and classic sonic characteristics but with all the convenience and advantages of Pro Tools. It’s a no brainer and you just can’t lose with CLASP. I’m a believer.”
On their first collaboration, 2009’s Sonic Boom, music was recorded on analog tape and edited in Pro Tools, but the two processes were separate from each other, necessitating frequent extended pauses in recording for tape transfers. For the recording of the new LP, Endless Analog’s CLASP (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor) system, which integrates analog tape machines into the digital audio production workflow, is allowing the band to use analog tape while tracking to Pro Tools in real time, opening up the sonic space of tape while providing the editing capabilities of the digital recording workspace.
Collins recalls, “I went to Endless Analog’s web site and saw Bryan Lenox giving a pretty thorough description, and this was right around the time we were making plans for the new KISS album. We had done a majority recording for Sonic Boom using tape, and we loved the sound, but punch-ins were challenging at times, and getting the tracks into Pro Tools for editing took a lot of time. But mainly, we enjoyed the process of using tape, and everyone enjoys the convenience that digital recording offers. If there had been a way with that first record to get the best of both worlds at the same time, we would have done it. And now there is that reality [with CLASP], so we had to give it a try.
“I sat down with Paul, who is once again producing, while I am co-producing, engineering and mixing. Paul really knows his way around a studio, but he lets me manage the gear side of things. He gave the go-ahead to use CLASP, so we went for it.”
Once they acquired
CLASP, Endless Analog President/Founder and CLASP inventor Christopher Estes made a personal visit. Collins continues, “I got in touch with Chris, and he was good enough to come out and set us up on the first day in the studio, and he stuck with us through the first few days of tracking to make sure that it was all going smoothly, which it did. And it was such a good experience. For me, the tape sound, for a hard rock band, is the ideal sound. It deals with the transients in a way that’s really nice and easy on the ears. Drums for instance – it keeps them sounding punchy and powerful, but not ‘painful,’ like you might associate with a digitally recorded drum sound. Tape is an important part of the right sound, and CLASP makes it possible to not have to sacrifice any of the perks of digital.”
Collins also recalls how nice it was to keep things moving. “There was zero downtime needed for transferring the tracks into Pro Tools. The band is so tight and well-rehearsed, and it’s so great to just start a session and knock out a song in two or three takes. A few punch-ins and the track is pretty much there. It’s so efficient; it just keeps the creativity and performance going. And the band loves the sound. Honestly, every time the guys walked in the control room for playback, everybody was so impressed – they said, ‘It sounds even better than last time, and we loved what it sounded like last time.’”
Recently opened, Blade Studios is world-class sound recording studio complex in Louisiana. Behind it are drummer/producer Brady Blade, executive producer/media developer Scott Crompton and chief engineer/producer/mixer Chris Bell. Inside is the latest placement of Endless Analog’s Clasp recording system.
Clasp integrates analogue tape machines into digital audio production workflow, and follows the thinking behind Blade’s complement of modern and classic recording gear. With it, Blade can run an analogue tape machine alongside a DAW, combining classic sound and digital convenience.
The studio is running a Studer A827 with the Clasp (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor) system and an SSL Duality console – which combines an analogue path signal processing with DAW control. Recent studio sessions have involved Rolling Stones touring bassist Daryl Jones with Brady Blade on drums.
Bell (pictured) was in the process of selecting equipment for the new facility, when he came across Clasp online. ‘I read a couple of articles on it, and I thought it sounded very interesting,’ he says. ‘I grew up using analogue tape, but in recent years it’s just been disappearing. Last year. I think I only did one record on tape.
‘But Clasp opens up that possibility again in a very real, modern way. So I contacted my sales rep to track down a Clasp, and got in touch with Chris Estes, who invented the Clasp box and runs Endless Analog. He was immensely helpful, and he helped me get the unit up and running. That was just a few months ago, and we’ve already been using it on sessions here at the studio.’
‘The most important thing we do for our clients is create an atmosphere where they are inspired, breathe easy and feel great about the room and the sessions that are taking place,’ says Crompton. ‘We want them to perform confidently and enjoy the sound of their own voice and playing, and Clasp is an important piece of that puzzle – a tool to make that happen. A lot of people want to use vintage gear, but they don’t necessarily want the hassles associated with it – high costs for tape reels, time for rewinding or transferring things to Pro Tools and so on. Clasp solves those problems; you only need a small amount of tape, and no time is needed for transferring things.
‘The artist can always be in the moment, and no inspiration gets lost. That is a tremendous gift. Artists are generally more at ease when they don’t sense the pressure and ticking clock of burning through expensive tape. Now, they can walk in and see Clasp and think, “I can do a thousand takes; I can do a million takes, and it’s all going to tape and it all sounds sweet”. Clasp separates itself from all other gear – it’s like riding around in a beautiful old Gullwing Mercedes and not having to worry about it breaking down or anybody backing into it.’
‘It’s so nice to see reels of tape rolling again – everybody is so curious about the tape machine,’ Bell continues. ‘They say, “Man this is cool. We haven’t done this in a while”.
‘It really makes an enormous difference in sound, and since it’s not slowing down the session, you don’t really think about the fact that it’s there and working. You just know that feeling when everything sounds rich and nuanced, coming right from the moment of performance. The tape adds that smooth, full compression on the front end, so I don’t have to add as much compression later on – it’s changed the way I mix to more how I used to mix once upon a time, pre-digital. You can just let the tape machine do so much.’
Blade Studios had a very successful grand opening party on Saturday April 2, 2011. With close to 600 in attendance, the crowd enjoyed food and drinks while exploring the newly constructed studios. The highlight of the night was the jam session where musicians could sit in and jam with other fellow musicians. Brian Blade led the jam session starting out with his father Brady Blade Sr singing. The jam session was recorded on Blade Studios new CLASP system running to a Studer 827 then recorded to Pro-Tools at 96 Khz. Some of the mixes will be posted soon on the Blade Studios Facebook page.
— The first CLASP® purchaser in the U.K., Smith knows the importance of rich sound, even on the most contemporary pop and dance tracks, and CLASP is now one of his essential tools to get him there —
Endless Analog’s CLASP® (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor) system, which uniquely integrates analog tape machines into the digital audio production workflow, has recently become an integral part of the studio setup of award-winning British producer, songwriter, mix engineer and multi-instrumentalist Fraser T. Smith. In fact, Smith has the distinction of being the first in the U.K. to purchase CLASP, and of being among CLASP’s highest-profile users to date. One of the hottest writer -producers in today’s pop music scene, Smith’s discography includes tracks on recent smash albums from Adele and Cee Lo Green and a track on Britney Spears’ new album, Femme Fatale, as well as work with such talents as Taio Cruz, Clare Maguire, James Morrison and more. Dedicated to warm, nuanced sound, he is a firm supporter of the use of analog tape in the recording studio, and his recent purchase of CLASP has revolutionized his workflow and helped him capture the classic sounds he is looking for while producing thoroughly modern dance and pop tracks.
It did not take long for Smith to fully appreciate CLASP. He notes, “It is so flawless. Basically we can’t even tell it’s working, which is a great thing. We can just hear the difference. It’s invisible. A lot of other producers and engineers are using CLASP and tape intentionally to get a more traditional sound, but I use it in a different way – on modern dance records – and I think this shows the versatility of tape and of CLASP. Aside from vocals, bass, guitar and drum tracks, I’m tracking all my drum machines and synths through it – it’s incredible.”
Smith became acquainted with CLASP through a friend in Los Angeles, who knew of CLASP through Nathan Chapman, best known as Taylor Swift’s producer. He recalls, “I knew Nathan’s work on the fantastic Taylor Swift stuff, and my friend was reiterating how great CLASP is, so I felt compelled to visit Endless Analog’s website and learn a bit about the box. I was struck by the amount of engineers, producers and musicians who I totally respect, giving their endorsement and raving about CLASP. I knew I had to get one immediately.”
Smith’s signal chain was already utilizing a mix of classic and modern, with a vintage Otari Mark-III analog tape machine. “We were already using the tape machine, but we were bouncing stuff out after we recorded it in, as many engineers do,” he states. “I figured if we could integrate CLASP in the way I hoped, it would save many steps in the recording process and indeed improve the sound across the board. And that’s what happened.”
CLASP has also helped Smith get great performances from his artists. “When you’re tracking with an amazing singer like Cee Lo or Adele, the zero-latency monitoring really helps the performers deliver at the top of their game. And because they’re hearing that richness in real time, we get to record some magical moments. Artists like that feel at home when they are in the vocal booth, and out of the corner of their eye, they can see tape roll. And beyond that, there is no time wasted waiting for tracks to bounce or tape to rewind. And finally, when the mixing starts, I find the tracks so much easier to blend, because I’m using less EQ and compression. The tape has put its own natural EQ and compression on the track, which is better all-around.”
Smith’s star will continue to rise throughout 2011, as he is currently working on high-profile projects with such artists as Natalie Findlay, Rough Diamondz, and The Kooks. Through it all, he will be working with analog tape and his CLASP. “It’s an unbelievable system,” he adds. Visit www.endlessanalog.com and www.frasertsmith.com for more information.
Despite digital technology’s infinite possibilities, some artists and audio professionals prefer recording in an analog environment
By Dan Daley / GRAMMY.com
When three-time GRAMMY-winning producer/engineer Joe Chiccarelli heads into the studio to work with artists such as Manchester Orchestra, My Morning Jacket, Counting Crows, or the Shins, he steps into a bit of a time machine. Chiccarelli is transported back to an era of music-making that involves huge reels of two-inch tape spooled on to half-ton multitrack decks.
"If you have the budget for it, analog has a particular sound, a color that is just fantastic for rock music," says Chiccarelli. "When musicians hear their mixes played back on analog tape, it sounds vintage to them, like an old Marshall amp. It’s the glue that holds the bottom-end together on a record."
After two full decades in which digital formats have been arguably the primary music recording methodology, analog has made a comeback. Recent recordings from John Mellencamp, Elton John and Leon Russell, Taylor Swift, and the Secret Sisters were recorded completely on analog tape. Other artists, including four-time GRAMMY winner Lenny Kravitz and nine-time GRAMMY winner Jack White, have spent most of their careers in an analog environment.
Three-time GRAMMY winner Vance Powell, a Nashville-based engineer/producer who has collaborated with White, says their recordings have been on analog tape exclusively.
"We’ve never done a project that was not recorded to tape," says Powell, citing White’s projects with the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather and Wanda Jackson. Powell feels that analog tape’s finite track count, which maxes out at 24 tracks per two-inch reel, encourages artists and producers to make aesthetic decisions as the recording progresses, instead of letting the nearly infinite track capabilities of digital workstations allow these artistic decision points to mount.
"Using tape is a constant decision-making process," says Powell, noting the Studer A800 8-track deck that he and White often use necessitates constant "bouncing" (combining several tracks to one or two of recorded tracks) to make way for new tracks, with each bounce constituting a sub mix of the final mix.
"Digital is like Stephen Hawking — all mathematics and numbers," he says. "The analog world is God-based and has its own ebb and flow."
To some artists and audio professionals, analog’s resurgence represents a pushback against years of dynamic limitations imposed by compressed formats such as the MP3 and playback environments comprised of earbuds and MP3 players. To others, analog is an additional color within the technology palette capable of being added to recordings that are still being recorded digitally, via an array of modeling plug-ins that are digital recreations of classic analog audio processors, including Universal Audio’s software versions of the Teletronix LA-2A Classic Leveling Amplifier or Fairchild 670 Compressor.
But hardcore fans of analog insist the warmth and dynamic characteristics of tape can only be fully realized by working with tape on a tape deck.
However, authenticity comes at a cost. According to Mike Spitz, owner of both ATR Services, a company refurbishing vintage analog decks, and ATR Magnetics, which manufactures tape for them, a premium two-inch reel of analog tape can cost as much as $300, more than twice the cost a decade ago.
Availability is also a factor. Quantegy, the last major U.S.-based tape maker, closed down its industrial manufacturing operations in Opelika, Ala., in 2005, ending cost-effective mass production of half-inch, one-inch and two-inch professional configurations of reel-to-reel tape media. Engineers and producers today must rely on boutique companies, including ATR Magnetics and Netherlands-based RMG International, for supply.
Analog hardware is also costly. A vintage multitrack deck such as a Studer A827 costs $7,000 or more to buy and another $10,000 or more to refurbish, and the number of salvageable professional decks has dwindled over time, as have expensively machined replacement parts. In addition, unlike digital’s random-access capability, analog’s workflow is both linear and mechanical — tape must be constantly shuttled back and forth for retakes and overdubbing.
But for some, the cost of working under analog’s inherent limitations is worth it.
"Musicians are willing to pay that now, because they know how much better it sounds," says Don Morris, director of sales for RMG International.
Adding another challenge in the studio environment, analog and digital technologies are not compatible. Like many producers, Chiccarelli routinely tracks with Pro Tools and then mixes to analog, which mitigates tape costs.
A recent innovation also offering flexibility is the Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor, developed by Chris Estes, founder/president of the Nashville-based company Endless Analog. With a cost of approximately $7,000, CLASP is essentially an analog front-end to a digital audio workstation, offering the best of both worlds.
Producer Butch Walker, who has worked with artists including Avril Lavigne and Katy Perry, had nearly given up on analog due to the cost of tape and machine maintenance. He purchased a CLASP system last year and has since used it to track recent projects with Pink, Panic! At The Disco and his own band, Butch Walker And The Black Widows.
"It’s great being able to go back to analog again," says Walker. "Brendon [Urie] of Panic! [At The Disco] flipped out when we made the switch from digital to analog mid-project. He noticed the difference immediately. There’s a kind of comfort that you get when working on tape. There’s a soul to it that you can’t understand till you’ve used it."
(Dan Daley is a freelance journalist covering the entertainment business industry. He lives in New York and Nashville.)
Nashville, TN (April 5, 2011)–John Hiatt is tracking his next album in Nashville with producer Kevin Shirley and an Endless Analog CLASP system.
A multiple Grammy nominee, Hiatt’s career spans several decades, with songs such as “Thing Called Love,” “Riding with the King,” “Have a Little Faith in Me” and “Angel Eyes” to his credit. He is working with Shirley–Hiatt’s last few LPs have been completed without the help of a separate producer–at the studio space now owned by Ben Folds, previously known as RCA Studio A/Javelina Studios.
Endless Analog’s CLASP (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor) system integrates analog tape machines into the digital audio production workflow. “Working with tape again just sounds so much better to me; it’s such an improvement over straight digital,” noted Hiatt. “When we started tracking these songs, we were all blown away just hearing it again, because I haven’t cut to tape in several years. And we’re back using different kinds of tape and experimenting with different tape speeds to the MCI JH-24, just like the old days. It’s really thrilling. The tracks sound alive, and because we don’t have to change reels or rewind, the creative process is uninterrupted.”
Hiatt appreciates the ways that CLASP improves upon the analog recording process. “The fact that you can run the 24-track and work in real time and do everything–punch-ins and all that stuff–is fantastic. We get warm, classic analog sound with all the editing and recording capabilities of the digital age. And we do not have to worry about changing tapes, because CLASP lets us use the same reel almost indefinitely. We’ve only used one reel so far, and we’ve cut 15 songs.”
This past March, I had my first experience recording to tape with CLASP (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor).
CLASP inventor Chris Estes was at Yellow Dog Studios in Austin to help us get started with his revolutionary device and to demo CLASP to other engineers, producers, and artists during SXSW. (A video of the demo is online at www.vimeo.com/13170067.)
We had invited more than two dozen acts (from solo artists to seven-piece bands) to record in the studio during this year’s music festival. We tracked them all to an MCI JH-24 2” 24-track using CLASP to Pro Tools via Apogee AD-16X converters (Tape Op #59). We didn’t have to mess with transferring from tape to Pro Tools or change reels in the middle of a set; CLASP gave us the sound and vibe of tape (and a few bonus features) without sacrificing the advantages of a DAW.
What CLASP does is simple, elegant, and powerful. It essentially turns any tape machine into an analog plug-in or signal processor within your DAW recording chain. Instead of recording and storing signals to tape, CLASP “harvests” the recording as it passes over the repro head and sends the signal on to your DAW’s A/D converters. From that point on, you’re working in your DAW (currently supported on Mac OS and Windows in Pro Tools, Nuendo, and Cubase; Digital Performer and Logic to come) just as you were before CLASP. With CLASP, your DAW becomes your tape machine transport control; but instead of stopping and rewinding the tape at the end of each take, the tape rolls continuously from the beginning of the reel to the end, before rewinding automatically for further passes. That means less stress on the deck and longer tape life. Better yet, you can control up to three tape machines from a single CLASP; since you’re not storing on tape, you can record simultaneously with two or three multitracks without having to sync the decks. CLASP also lets you record at three tape speeds of your choosing; just select the tape speed in the CLASP plug-in window. A great feature is being able to quickly audition and compare tracks recorded at different tape speeds and to overdub at different speeds than other tracks were recorded. CLASP sounds great; you can monitor the signal right off the tape repro head instead of listening to what’s been converted twice when recording straight to DAW.
CLASP comes in a 2RU-height hardware unit, which includes a large tape countdown display and buttons that control tape rewind, sync mode, tape speed, post-stop monitoring, and tape speed auditioning. The unit interfaces with your preamps and DAW via twelve DB-25 cables and a pair of XLR sync cables. A MIDI cable to transmit the HUI-based data to your DAW and a tape transport cable are included with the system. Hardware hookup and loading the CLASP Bridge plug-in software is straightforward. Set up a CLASP session template with one instance of the CLASP Bridge plug-in on any track and 24 mono master-fader tracks (each with a CLASP Machine plug-in); and the system calculates and stores the proper delay compensation and time stamp. (You do have to add the proper offset when using converters not supported by Pro Tools ADC such as Apogee.) Analog monitoring is sample-accurate and zero-latency.
At a two-day tracking session at Yellow Dog, I worked with my partner and resident producer/engineer David Percefull (David Cook, Phil Marshall, Brandon Jenkins) and Grammy-winning engineer Adam Odor (Dixie Chicks, Shawn Colvin, Court Yard Hounds) to record basic tracks for a few songs from my upcoming album. We listened at both 15 IPS and 30 IPS and thought the extended low end on the drums and bass we’d get at 15 was worth a little tape hiss, but I’d overdub my vocals and acoustic guitar at 30. After the sessions, Adam remarked, “Once digital recording took over, many engineers became afraid of committing sounds and moving on to the next track. I spent a lot of time trying to make digital recordings sound like tape.” He appreciates the flexibility and time savings afforded by CLASP. Dave agreed, “As a businessman, it’s about getting tones more quickly. When I cut to tape, I feel like I’m getting the tone I want instead of fixing it in the mix. CLASP saves me time and maintains creative flow.” Bottom line – CLASP presents a good investment for the professional studio that already owns an analog multitrack recorder or whose clientele and engineers will appreciate the sound and new-found affordability of recording with analog tape again.
John Mellencamp’s recent album “No Better Than This” was recorded by the singer and “O Brother, Where Art Thou” music producer T-Bone Burnett using a single vintage RCA 77DX microphone and a 50-year-old refurbished mono Ampex 601 portable tape deck.It’s easy to dismiss the record as simply an artful manifesto on Mellencamp’s part — he along with fellow music artists Prince and Stevie Nicks have all railed publicly that digital technology in general and the Internet in particular have destroyed both music and the music business. Except that Mellencamp also took what has become a recent trend to its extreme: as CD sales continue to plummet and digital downloads barely dent that fiscal void, new recordings using hoary analog technology and released on vinyl making a surprising comeback.Vinyl’s resurgence has been well documented. In 2009, 2.5 million vinyl albums were purchased, up 33% from the previous year and showing a sustainable rise from sales of 858,000 in 2006, according to Nielsen SoundScan. And new LP prices can range as high as $30, twice what the typical new CD fetches.But as vinyl records grow in popularity, the back-to-analog effect has been heading upstream — more artists now choosing to record their LPs from the very first note using ancient tape machines revived by artisans with soldering irons. Taylor Swift, Jack White, the Secret Sisters, Lenny Kravitz, and Elton John and Leon Russell on their recent “Reunion” LP are among analog’s fanatics; Kravitz owns one of the four-track tape decks used to record the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s” album at Abbey Road Studios.Mike Spitz, owner of both ATR Services, which is refurbishing vintage analog decks, and ATR Magnetics, which is manufacturing tape for them, says business has boomed in recent months. “Tape is now the holy grail for musicians,” he says, welcomed by both industry veterans who miss the format’s sine-wave warmth and by indie twentysomethings who are experiencing full bandwidth after a lifetime of listening to highly compressed MP3s.Nathan Chapman, Swift’s record producer, says the 21-year-old loves the sound of analog tape as well as the way it changes the recording process. “Taylor’s young and she has the energy to go the extra mile it takes to record in analog’s more limited number of tracks,” Chapman says. “A lot of older recording artists have gotten used to the convenience of digital.“It also affects her vocals, in a good way. When recording vocals to Pro Tools there’s always a tiny bit of latency, for the analog-to-digital conversion process. Recording directly to tape, there’s an immediacy Taylor hears and reacts to.”A vintage multitrack deck like a Studer A827 costs $7,000 or more, and and additional $10,000 to refurbish, but Spitz says demand continues to increase. The cost of the media is also rising — a reel of 2-inch tape today costs $250 to $300, more than double the cost a decade ago. That reflects the scarcity of the necessary raw materials like base film and oxide, says Don Morris, director of sales for RMG Intl., the Dutch company that took over the assets of BASF’s liquidated EMTEC tape manufacturing business. “But musicians are willing to pay that now, because they know how much better it sounds,” he says.
A recent innovation that addresses tape cost is Clasp — the Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor developed by Nashville-based Endless Analog. The $10,000 unit is essentially an analog front end to a digital audio workstation like Pro Tools, imparting analog’s warmth and the tonality associated with running the tape at various speeds — slower speeds like 7.5 inches per second are used to capture the low frequencies of drums and bass while vocals and guitars sparkle at 15 and 30 ips.
Clasp’s inventor, Chris Estes, says since the tape is used for processing the sound but not to store it, one reel of 2-inch tape can theoretically be used as many as 10,000 times, mitigating the high cost of the media. “The tape is constantly running, not being constantly stopped and restarted, which stresses and stretches the tape,” he says.
Perry Margouleff, who owns the vintage-equipment fantasy land Pie Studios in Glen Cove, N.Y., which attracts artists like the Rolling Stones and Jimmy Page, says working in analog restores some of the talent filtering lost to the DIY ease of digital recording. “When you record in analog, the drummer has to play in time, the singer has to sing in tune, the guitar player has to nail the part, because you can’t go back later and fix it with a black box,” he says.Analog-recorded music is finding its way into films. Soul singer Sharon Jones’ rendition of 2009′s “Up in the Air” theme track “This Land Is Your Land” was recorded in the funky and analog Daptones Records studio in Brooklyn’s Bushwick section, where the basic tracks for Amy Winehouse’s Grammy-winning “Rehab” were also recorded.“The sound of the tape is a big part of the sound of the record,” says Gabriel Roth, Jones’ record producer and Daptone partner.Analog’s attraction lies in its ultra-high resolution capability, Spitz explains. Direct Stream Digital (DSD), the high-resolution digital disc format Sony used for its audiophile SACD format, is capable of 2.884,000 transitions per track per second, but a high-quality mastering tape contains approximately 80 million transitions per track second. “And that’s just for 1/4-inch two-track tape running at 15 IPS,” says Spitz. “The resolution goes up substantially with wider tracks and higher (tape) speeds.”However, don’t pull your tie-dyed jeans out the closet just yet, say musicians, producers and music execs. The entire infrastructure of professional music recording has been firmly entrenched in the nonlinear digital domain for more than a decade, and even basic tape deck maintenance such as headstack alignment is no longer part of the core curricula for aspiring engineers at media academies such as Full Sail U., SAE and Berklee College of Music.“Analog is great, but it’s just economically unrealistic to think you can use it all the time or even very often,” says David Frangioni, who has cut tracks for Aerosmith, Bryan Adams, Ricky Martin and Ozzy Osbourne. Aside from the cost of media and hardware, Frangioni says contemporary records need to have access to more tracks and nonlinear editing capabilities to be competitive on radio and at retail. “These days especially, you have to balance time and budget against the cost of analog.”Michael Lloyd, a record producer and exec at Curb Records in L.A., says while the cost of tape media may not be a budget-breaker for major labels, he wonders, at a time when music sales continue to decline, if recording technology even matters to consumers. “At the end of the day, it all goes out (on CD) or MP3. I’d rather see the concentration on good songs than on the technology. We have a good digital workflow in place.”Analog recording is expensive and exotic compared to digital systems and it will remain a niche. But its renewed popularity suggests some listeners may be tired of MP3′s squeezed sonics.
It’s a pleasure to welcome guest blogger Mike Crossey, our partner at the Motor Museum Studio in Liverpool, to share his thoughts on the latest piece of gear at the studio, the Endless Analog CLASP – Tape to DAW synchronization hardware…
I have always been a big fan of recording to analogue tape, for me it adds another dimension to the recording that is impossible to get with digital. It emotionally has more impact on me. All of the records I have worked on that have stood the test of time with me personally have all had tape in the chain at the recording process.
As a huge fan of this way of recording I can list many advantages to recording this way!
Tape gives those slight differences in tone that provide cinematic width to your stereo sounds.
Tape thickens your transients providing a more meaty punch to your drums and percussion.
Tape smooths your dynamics in a much more musical way than any compressor can, leaving you with more power in your raw tracking.
Tape provides a sonic thumbprint to all your individual tracks that allows them to marry together perfectly in the mix.
Tape forces you to use good engineering practice with your gain structure and levels.
Tape laces your sounds with harmonic richness that makes your EQ feel more powerful in the mix.
Tape running at 15 ips gives a huge tight low end that has to be heard to be believed.
All that vintage gear everyone loves, U47s, Vintage Neve mic pre-amps etc, were all designed to hit tape and sonics of that process were allowed for in the design. Check it out!
In my view, the reasons that tape has been left behind to the pro tools generation have never been sonic reasons but financial reasons and convenience. Much of modern culture makes this sacrifice, quality for convenience/cost.
Imagine being able to work with the speed and editing possibilities of pro tools but still have all of the benefits of tape! I never thought this would be possible until now!
When I first heard about the Endless Analog CLASP system on youtube I was literally straight on the phone to the designer Chris Estes In Nashville to have him explain it to me more. The main challenge for Chris is to actually get across how seamlessly CLASP works and how this is achieved. I’ll have a go…
CLASP allows Pro Tools to take complete control of your tape machine. Once the tape is loaded on the machine, you never need to touch the tape machine again for the whole session. You can work in Pro Tools as you would normally! How amazing is that!
CLASP has a built in switching system that automatically controls how your performers can monitor what they are playing (with zero latency!) and what is routed to tape.
CLASP learns your tape machine and can take control of the pro tools delay compensation engine to automatically compensate for the delays between the record head and the repro head in real time.
CLASP is constantly sending information about the status of your tape machine to pro tools via MIDI and in vice versa, can control your tape machine through the cable that would normally run to your remote transport.
CLASP allows you to change tape speeds on the fly mid session. Would you like to record your bass and drums at 15ips and your vocals at 30ips? No problem. This was never possible before when working just with tape.
Lets say for example you have a singer with the vocal chain patched into multitrack input 3, you then arm track 3 in pro tools ready to record…
1. CLASP routes the live mic directly to channel 3 on the console from here the vocal can be sent to foldback, this allows the performer to monitor themselves with ZERO LATENCY.
True zero latency monitoring is not possible when monitoring post converter in pro tools. I have noticed a marked increase in the comfort and performance of a musician performing to a true analogue signal of themselves.
2. CLASP then also simultaneously routes this signal directly to the 3rd input of the tape machine, when you put Pro Tools into record, your tape machine automatically jumps into record also.
3. Whilst in record during the take, CLASP automatically transfers the take straight from the repro head into input 3 of Pro Tools.
All delays involved in this process are corrected in real time!
3. Once your take is finished and you press stop, as soon as you disarm track 3 in pro tools and CLASP automatically then routes Pro Tools output 3 to track 3 on your console in place of the original live mic ready for playback.
4. In summary, the recorded region in pro tools has hit tape, been played out off the repro head, transferred to pro tools and been placed in sample accurate time with your existing tracks. Seamlessly and instantly!
This process allows you to work with playlists, comp between takes, edit arrangements and everything else you would normally in a pro tools session but with every track recorded to tape with that sound
As you are working with the tape machine in a non linear way, there is no need to rewind the tape between takes. My preference is to work at 15ips on our studer A80, this allows for 30 minutes solid record time before a 45 second break is needed to let the tape rewind again, CLASP warns you when you are about to run out of tape and you can of course rewind the machine directly from pro tools without having to leave your workflow.
Because of the way CLASP integrates Tape with Pro Tools, you also see less tape wear and wear on the machine itself. This allows reels of precious tape to go a lot further and minimum maintenance required!
Anyway as I’m sure you can tell from this blog, I am blown away by this system and it has allowed recent sessions to run smoothly and quickly without any compromise to the sound quality, suddenly I am able to use tape on the single sessions where only a few days are booked for tracking!
Here at the motor museum, we have also been having fun experimenting with different lineups on the Studer. Adding a slight high lift at 10Khz on the record lineup at 15ips and setting the bias by ear on a 40Hz sub tone Steve Albini style being my favourites!
Producers and Engineers, Come and check it out!
The Secret Sisters are real-life sisters
Laura (left) and Lydia Rogers.
Photo: Courtesy Universal Republic Records
Considering the music industry buzz surrounding the impressive debut album by the neo-traditional country duo the Secret Sisters, it’s remarkable to think that a year ago the act didn’t exist and that real-life sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers hadn’t been knockin’ ’em dead at talent shows or coffee houses in their hometown of Muscle Shoals, Ala., the past several years. They’re that polished, that charismatic.
About the only concession that was made to modern technology was using Pro Tools as a storage medium, but even that had an old slant: Cobb and Bolas used Endless Analog’s CLASP system in which the recording signal bounces off the repro head of an analog tape recorder (in this case, a Studer A27 2-inch 16-track machine) directly to a DAW so that the recording retains the favored characteristics of analog tape without requiring thousands of dollars of the medium. (For more on CLASP, see the Mix June 2010 review.) “We also had real slap going the entire time off a Studer B-67 and we printed slap live. We were printing effects as we were going,” Cobb says. The producer lauds Blackbird’s “incredible chamber, which is like a two-story-high entryway, but the ceiling goes up and goes down so you can change the size of it. It’s pretty magical.”
Indeed, as their producer Dave Cobb recalls of their origins, “We discovered them at an open-call audition in Nashville in October . One sister—Laura—got up and sang, and it was just the most magical thing: She sounded like Snow White or something; I’d never heard anything like it. It seemed very different but also sort of timeless. And she said, ‘My sister is coming in a couple of hours and you should check her out, too.’ So we paid attention to her, and she was great, too, and then they sang together and they were so good. But they’d never officially been a band or a group or anything and had never performed live. They didn’t consider themselves professional singers.”
Laura and Lydia Rogers, both in their early 20s, are from a musical family and had been singing for years informally in church and around the house, but as Laura Rogers says by phone from San Francisco where she was about to perform with her sister and T Bone Burnett’s band at the famed Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, “Up until the point we were ‘discovered,’ nobody had a clue that we were singers. I have friends from high school who message me on the Internet, and say, ‘I didn’t even know you could sing! You just played the Ryman, you recorded with Jack White, you made a record.’” She laughs at the seeming absurdity of the Secret Sisters’ truly meteoric rise.
“It’s been a crazy year,” she continues. “Obviously, we never expected this. It’s almost like we get these Christmas presents every few months: ‘Oh, guess what, you’re going to be doing a taping [for an upcoming TV special] with Jakob Dylan and Elvis Costello and T Bone Burnett’s going to be there. And then you get to play in San Francisco for the bluegrass festival.’ It’s pretty humbling and very moving for us emotionally to know that these big names are inspired enough by two little girls from Alabama who nobody has ever heard of before, to want to be part of what we’re doing.”
DUO UPDATES CLASSIC COUNTRY AND POP SOUNDS
For Cobb, after the Nashville audition had knocked him out, “We had to figure out what to do with them because it was so out of left field—it’s certainly not your Lady Gaga or Katy Perry. What do you do with this? So my manager—Andrew Brightman—and I flew them out to L.A. and cut a couple of songs with them at my studio [known as 1974, after the year Cobb was born] and they were signed within a week. They had a couple of songs that they knew and we did an experiment with the recording and really had a good time trying to do something different. I love old records—I’m a huge fan of RCA Studio B [Nashville] recordings of the ’50s and ’60s, and also the whole Wrecking Crew era in L.A., and that’s what we tried to do with it [sonically]. I thought it would be cool to bring back a little bit of Skeeter Davis and a little bit of Patsy Cline, a little bit of George Jones and kind of blend it all together. Country, but also pop. So we had some A-list guys here in L.A. come down—some friends of mine—and we did it really quick. We did the demos with this engineer named Greg Koller, and he had access to all sorts of original Universal Audio 610s and Fairchilds and [RCA] BA6A compressors, and we really tried to pick period-appropriate gear.” Though none of those tracks made the eventual album, it set the tone for the duo’s aesthetic—retro but with a modern twist.
“Then we went to Nashville,” Cobb continues, “and did the record at Blackbird, mostly in Studio A, with the help of this pedal steel player named Robby Turner who used to play with Waylon Jennings, and he suggested Pig Hargus as the piano player. Pig was part of the whole RCA Studio B scene, and he actually helped invent that style of piano along with Floyd Cramer. It was funny, when we were going through and picking songs for the record, he’d say, ‘Oh, I played on that one.’ ‘Yep, I played on that one, too.’” [Laughs.] Rounding out the house band were guitarist Jason Cope, bassist Brian Allen and drummer Chris Powell. The songs are a blend of old country nuggets by the likes of George Jones, Buck Owens and Hank Williams; a couple of traditional pieces; and two originals written by the Rogers sisters. As Laura Rogers notes, “It was pretty cool to know that songs we had written in the 2000s were compatible with songs from the 1950s.” Their sound at times resembles a female Everly Brothers (and Louvin Brothers)—“It’s that thing where two voices sort of sound like one when they’re together,” Laura Rogers says. “Being sisters helps.”
Cobb notes that at Blackbird, “We did it all live in one room together, though the girls were in a booth separately but looking at the band the whole time. There was a lot of bleed. The first round of songs we did were with [engineer] Niko Bolas, and he did a great job capturing everything. Once again, we stuck with the old equipment. Blackbird really has anything you could want; it’s unbelievable. I stayed up at night dreaming about the gear in the place! So we really took advantage of what they had there, plus Niko had some original tube mic pre’s from a DeMedeo desk here in L.A. But the studio had some [Telefunken] V76s for the vocals and [Blackbird owner/engineer] John McBride had these old RCA OP6 [pre’s] that he recommended and sounded incredible. Then we used all period microphones: Greg Koller, who did the demo, had an original RCA KU3A ribbon, which is a mic they used to use for film in L.A., and it’s a great-sounding mic with a crispy top end, as well as the low end of a [RCA] 44; so we used that [as an overhead] on drums, a [AKG] D-30 on kick and then Niko also put up a couple of side mics—[RCA] 77s—to fill it in between the rack tom and snare, and one in between the floor tom and the kick. But in the final mix, it ended up being mostly the overhead and the kick. Nearly everything else was miked with 77s, except the guitar, which was an RCA BK-5—a really cool mic John McBride turned me onto. The girls were singing on a Neumann U48—just one mic in cardioid—and then on one particular song, ‘House of Gold,’ they were facing each other and we did that one in figure-8.
“We did the bulk of the tracks in about three days together—three or four songs a day—and they were just nailing the lead vocals on the scratches. We set ’em up so they could maybe punch in or come back to something, but we didn’t really need to. We did several passes on most of the songs and every pass was good. It was just really, really easy for them. They actually told us after a couple of days, ‘This whole recording thing is really easy,’ and we were thinking, ‘Girls, you have no idea how laborious this usually is!’ I’m not kidding—it was like hearing a finished record by pulling the faders up. We actually had a few more days booked for [Blackbird] Studio B for overdubs and fixes, but we mostly just ordered food,” he chuckles.
Though Laura Rogers says she and her sister had some typical first-time nerves in the studio, “Luckily, we really connected with all the session players who were there and Dave [Cobb] was such a huge source of comfort for us. It felt like there was no pressure. All we had to do was walk into a room and sing, which wasn’t hard for us.”
In truth, the whole Secret Sisters “package,” if you will—the name, the look—came after the sessions for the most part. Laura Rogers comments, “Dave was especially instrumental in helping us hone what we wanted to do. We knew that we loved that old kind of music and we knew there wasn’t a huge amount of it out there for the general public to hear, so we really kind of blossomed in the studio sessions at Blackbird. That’s when we became the Secret Sisters. We really became ourselves in that moment. And then, once the music was there, that’s when the label stepped in and they wanted us to have a unique look, so we decided the best way to go was let the style of what you see when we come out onstage match the music that you hear. So far it’s working pretty well because people are starting to recognize that aesthetic of the Secret Sisters. When we walk out onstage, you’re going to see us looking like we just walked out of 1957. At the same time, in our regular everyday life, we don’t dress that way and we prefer it that way because nobody knows who we are whenever we’re dressed like regular people and we like that anonymity. It’s kind of like the only time you get to see the Secret Sisters is when they come out onstage and perform. We like that mystery.” The name was suggested by manager Andrew Brightman.
After the Blackbird sessions and some subsequent mixing work by Darrell Thorp, Burnett heard the Secret Sisters and was so floored that he wanted to get involved, too, and signed on as executive producer of the fledgling act’s first disc. As Cobb says, “T Bone really opened up a lot of doors for people to pay attention to the record.” Burnett suggested cutting one last song for the album—the haunting Bill Monroe ballad “The One I Love Is Gone” (which the Rogers sisters sing similarly to duo versions by Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard)—and also a couple of B-sides recorded at Blackbird with Cobb producing and McBride engineering. Burnett’s engineering team, including Jason Wormer and Mike Piersante, also supervised the recording of a few guitar and steel overdubs (by Russ Pahl) and re-mixed the album at Burnett’s Electro Magnetic Studios in L.A. on an API console, with Piersante and Burnett tackling four songs, Wormer the rest. Wormer says, “T Bone wanted to change the aesthetic a little bit and kind of bring it closer to what we do, which is a very traditional sound, but a very modern traditional sound. It sounds old-timey, but it’s also full-fidelity big. I think Dave [Cobb] and those guys were going for more of a pure ’50s sound, but when you hear the girls sing, they immediately take you to that era anyway, so T Bone wanted to hear something a little different.”
Separate from all of these sessions was a day the Rogers sisters spent cutting a one-off single with Jack White, who had also become enamored with the Secret Sisters’ sound. The feeling was mutual: “We’re huge fans of his and had to pinch ourselves and try not to seem like girlie fans,” Laura Rogers says. White and the ladies recorded the traditional “Wabash Cannonball” in a fairly straight style, but transformed the Johnny Cash nugget “Big River” into a full-blown, White Stripes/Raconteurs thrash number. “We were thinking it was going to be the same tempo as the Johnny Cash version, maybe have Jack play some bluesy bottleneck guitar on it, but before we know it, he’s got that guitar and he’s shredding!”
Not bad for a couple of unknown country girls—and that was all before their first album even came out. Their performing career is actually just beginning now. They’re off to a good start.
Five years in the making, CLASP (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor) represents an exponential leap forward in hybrid analog/digital technology. It offers an easy, cost-effective way to integrate analog tape into digital production workflow by literally turning any tape machine into a DAW plug-in processor. CLASP drastically cuts rewind time and tape cost because the tape is only used for momentary throughput. This lets you use the same reel for an entire project and run the reel front to back before rewinding. CLASP even pulls some new analog tricks out of its hat, offering the ability to jump between tape speeds on the fly to audition and then print, even mixing speeds in the same project—something that’s impossible in an all-analog production.
CLASP’s simple front panel provides access to essential system functions and a large countdown display.
For this review, CLASP was integrated into an existing studio comprising an SSL 4056 E/G console, a Studer 827 2-inch analog machine and Pro Tools HD2 Accel running on a Mac Pro with 6 GB of RAM, Mac OS 10.5.8 and Pro Tools Version 7.4.2cs4. Conversion was through Apogee Rosetta 800s clocked by an Apogee Big Ben.
GETTING A GRASP OF CLASP
CLASP is a well-built, two-rackspace box with a large countdown LCD and five backlit function switches for tape rewind (RTZ), sync mode (SYNC), tape speed auditioning (MON), post-stop recording (POST) and machine speed alignment (IPS). The countdown display indicates the remaining time on the reel and can be set to beep as the reel end approaches.
The back of the unit carries enough D-sub connectors for 24 tracks (12 D-subs), a 15-pin machine control port, XLR sync in/outs and MIDI in/outs. There is no minimum requirement for tape tracks; CLASP will operate using analog machines capable of anything from mono up to 24 tracks and can be daisy-chained for up to 72 tracks. Add an optional optical sensor, and an older machine (without a 15-pin transport control port) can also be used.
The key to understanding CLASP (see the signal flow diagram) stems from its signal flow and how the system time-corrects audio. Analog signals from your mic preamps, console or your DAW are recorded through CLASP to tape, then immediately routed off the playback head into your workstation because the deck runs in repro. Due to the head gap delay between record and playback, CLASP cleverly uses plug-ins to time-correct and re-time stamp the audio. The system is sample-accurate: It doesn’t need SMPTE timecode for sync, so all 24 analog tracks are simultaneously available for recording.
It’s important to understand how CLASP accomplishes access to the Pro Tools software. CLASP uses a USB-MIDI interface and HUI protocol for machine control and track arming. For Pro Tools delay compensation to work with the CLASP hardware, it requires 24 mono master faders in the Pro Tools session, each carrying a CLASP plug-in. I used Apogee converters, which—among others—don’t correctly communicate with Pro Tools Delay Compensation. To fix this timing mismatch, an offset number for the Rosetta’s delay was added into the CLASP Bridge plug-in. (For more on working with Pro Tools delay compensation and third-party converters, go to mixonline.com.) These workarounds are unnecessary for users with Cubase, Nuendo or Logic systems, as CLASP can easily gain access to MIDI Machine Control.
UP AND RUNNING
Initial setup was simple. CLASP integrated via the patchbay using TT-to-D-Sub harnesses, plug-ins were loaded into the system and a CLASP-specific session template was created. The 24 master faders used for time correction were hidden via the Show/Hide list, making the session look like any other. Whether the session was from scratch or pre-existing, importing the needed CLASP session components was easy.
Apart from the 24 other plug-ins used in Pro Tools, the CLASP Bridge plug-in is a single instance that can sit on any channel. It offers access to rewind, arming and other essential functions for system operation. I ran a quick one-time setup operation, in which the hardware figures out the difference in time between the record and playback heads and stores it at different speeds. (The system holds setups for up to three machines.)
D-sub connectors give you the ability to record up to 24 tracks through CLASP.
I spent the first day with CLASP in a session recording a six-piece band. Drums were in an iso booth while the rest of the players were taken direct or miked in the large main room. Cue mixes were built from the CLASP outputs, which offer the same listening experience as hearing input on the analog machine: zero latency, before the converters. Levels were set, and the session ran from Pro Tools with CLASP running in the background. After the initial tracks were cut at 30 ips, new Pro Tools playlists were created on all tracks and another pass was run at 15 ips. The difference was remarkable. The bottom end on the kick, low toms and bass was thicker, with more saturation at the top end and, of course, more tape noise. After some discussion, the 30 ips pass was kept and the bass and vocal were auditioned and re-cut at 7.5 ips. This particular singer’s voice benefitted from the lower tape speed, and the bass took on a richness and symbiosis with the kick that was not apparent at the higher speed. Because of the mix of the speeds, the noise wasn’t as intrusive as it was when the entire track was cut at the lower speed.
Another session involved re-cutting drums on an existing track. The CLASP-specific plug-ins and master faders used in the previous session were imported into this day’s session, and I was up and running in no time. Levels were set and I put CLASP into Demo mode to audition tape speeds. As I was listening straight off the uncorrected repro feed from the machine, it necessitated killing the cue feed to the drummer. While the drummer was playing, I could drop out of Record on the analog machine, change tape speeds, engage Record and hear the difference. I can’t say enough about this feature. It lets you audition the “effect” and change levels to tape accordingly. It’s much like changing the settings on an EQ or compressor on the fly.
Once out of repro-only mode, I could sync to the track and re-cut the drums. The drums were first cut at 30 ips, then I created new playlists for the second pass and cut at 15 ips. Just for fun, I then dropped down to 7.5 and did the same. CLASP’s front panel buttons make this a simple operation: Choose the desired speed on CLASP, change the machine’s speed and you’re off.
Once the drums were cut, we started experimenting with the rest of the track—which had been cut directly to Pro Tools a year before. I created an ADT (automatic double tracking) effect on the vocal using the interface. This is similar to how it was done in the 1960s: using a secondary tape machine set at a different speed. I didn’t need a second machine because I re-recorded the vocal to a new track through CLASP at a slower speed. The difference in the head gap created a great double. I tried a few different speeds until I nailed it and moved on.
Another great trick? I took some interesting guitars that unfortunately had a nasty digital edge to them and tamed them down by re-recording them through CLASP. This corrected the edginess, giving the tracks a roundness that was easier to tuck into the mix. This particular technique was an “a ha!” moment for me, seeing the possibility of tweaking the sonics of tracks not previously recorded to analog tape.
WOW AND WONDER
The only problem with CLASP is that it’s harder to describe than to use. At first, it’s tough to grasp the concept, but once CLASP is in your session, the wow and wonder of your first encounter with pro audio is revived. During sessions with live musicians, I was easily jumping between tape speeds, auditioning and changing levels to tape based on what I heard, then printing that directly to Pro Tools. It was easy to re-record original digital tracks back through CLASP for color, create ADT, run tests at different tape speeds—all while having a blast. The system quickly reminds you about the beauty of tape’s effect on transients, low frequencies, cymbals, vocals, guitars and more, especially at slower speeds. The workflow was sonically and functionally inspiring because CLASP puts the tape machine behind the curtain, letting the session run just as it would with the DAW alone.
Like other early releases of new technology, CLASP is costly. However, the payoff for home and commercial studios with tape machines in mothballs, or those looking to put their own unique creative stamp on their work, is worth it. And the timing is perfect: The used audio gear market is rife with tape machine bargains from 2-tracks on up. Plus, the arguments that good tape is no longer available or too costly no longer hold water. I bought 10 reels of RMGI 900 2-inch and the formulation is as good or better than any BASF, Ampex or Quantegy tape I’ve used. There was a time when this wasn’t true, but the market has reset itself and there’s plenty of good tape out there from ATR and RMGI. In all my years of writing product reviews, I’ve gotten excited about great products from time to time, but this is something more: It’s a concept whose time has come. If you get a chance, try CLASP for yourself and rediscover your love of sound.
Although it’s hard to resist the convenience of a digital audio workstation, nothing beats the way analog tape colors sound. It’s a format that makes guitars, bass, and drums sound huge, while smoothing out the voice like butter.
It’s common for engineers to record to multitrack tape to reap the benefits of tape compression and tone, then dump the tracks into a DAW for tweaking and mixing. Unfortunately, tape is an expensive format to use in terms of the blank media—reels can cost as much as $250 each. Considering that you get only 15 to 30 minutes of recording time per reel (depending on tape speed), if you do multiple takes of each song, it can amount to quite an investment.
The million-dollar question is, How do you get the warmth that tape offers, while maintaining the convenience and lower media costs of computer recording?
Nashville-based engineer Chris Estes has an answer. His company, Endless Analog [www.endlessanalog.com], has created CLASP, which, in a nutshell, bounces audio signals off of analog tape before going to disk, but without latency issues.
Fig. 1 (Click to download a high-res PDF)
CLASP, which stands for Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor, combines a 2U hardware matrixing device with a native plug-in (VST, AU, RTAS) interface that, together, routes audio signals through your tape machine—onto and immediately off the tape itself—before sending the results to your recording software. The hardware box provides the no-latency monitoring environment, while the system time-stamps the audio files so that they are sample-accurate with the other tracks in the session, correcting for the amount of time it takes the audio to go through the entire signal path.
I attended a demonstration of CLASP at Studio Trilogy in San Francisco this week, where Estes was tracking a song by Bay Area band The Trophy Fire. It was easy to hear the difference of the tracks played before and after hitting the tape—that part wasn’t such a big deal. What really knocked me out was the efficiency of the workflow: The tape machine and the Pro Tools session were being controlled simultaneously from the computer keyboard as if they were one and the same. I was witnessing a major breakthrough in recording technology, but it was as if nothing special was happening: Everything ran smoothly. I kept thinking to myself, “This is how things should work.”
Of course, its not trivial to make something like this happen. Before I further describe CLASP, let me mention one important detail: you only need to rewind the tape when it reaches the end. The first thing you notice during a session using CLASP is that the engineer never shuttles the tape back and forth, or rewinds between takes. The engineer simply hits record on the DAW and the tape machine immediately begins rolling until the take is stopped. It doesn’t matter whether you’re recording an entire pass or doing a quick punch-in, the process is the same. The tracks you’re recording only use the tape media for a short amount of time—equal to the distance between the record and playback heads—before being sent directly to your A/D converters and onto your disk drive. (Of course, you can rewind the tape at any time by pressing the large rewind button on the CLASP Bridge plug-in in your DAW, but it’s not at all necessary.)
If you’ve used a tape deck, you know how much time is spent rewinding and how much wear that puts on the tape. With CLASP, you can play the tape from top to tail without multiple rewinds in between, so the tape lasts longer and you can reuse it for other projects. Wouldn’t you rather amortize the price of that $250 reel over several album projects?
The hardware/software integration behind CLASP is ingenious, from the signal flow to the control system. The input signals coming from your board are sent to the CLASP hardware unit where they are immediately split: one set of signals goes to the tape machine, the other set goes back to the monitoring inputs of your board (see Fig. 1). It’s these latter signals that give you the no-latency monitoring. Consequently, as you record, you’re not hearing what’s coming off the tape machine: You’re hearing the sound from the board. You can certainly audition the sound from the tape when you’re setting levels, but you’ll hear the straight analog signal as you’re tracking.
A single CLASP hardware unit handles 24 tracks, with analog I/O on D-sub connectors for input, tape send, DAW return, and monitoring. The system supports tape machines by Ampex ATR, Otari, Studer (800-827), 3M, Sony, Tascam, and MCI (JH-series), and an optical tape sensor is available for synchronizing the system with other playback machines.
From your DAW, you use the CLASP Bridge plug-in to control everything. Among other things, the plug-in keeps track of how much time you have left on the tape, and if you are not paying attention and the tape runs out, CLASP automatically rewinds the tape for you. The plug-in window and the hardware unit have countdown timers that display the amount of time remaining. Remarkably, if you change your tape speed, the counter updates automatically.
The ability to combine different tape-speeds in a single session is one of the interesting benefits of CLASP. In general, the faster the tape speed, the higher the fidelity. On the other hand, the slower the tape speed, the more old-school the sound becomes—rounded transients, beefier bass frequencies, and a bit more oomph. Because everything is, ultimately, sent to disk when using CLASP, you can do a recording pass of the vocals at, say, 30 ips (inches per second), and then do the lead guitar at 15 ips to fatten the tone. During the session at Studio Trilogy, Estes demonstrated the sonic differences that changes in tape speed make and the results were remarkable. It’s the kind of sound we all want from plug-ins, but never seem to get.
Mind you, the technology isn’t cheap. The street price for a CLASP system is $7,495, which isn’t surprising because Endless Analog is a U.S.-based, boutique pro-audio manufacturer, and CLASP systems are built by hand in short runs. “CLASP is a high-end piece of gear,” Estes explained to me. “We use the highest quality components available to support features such as our non-switching, dual-linear power supplies and our transparent audio monitoring signal-path.
“If you think about it,” he noted, “for studios or individuals who have made a substantial investment already in analog tape machines that have been in moth balls for many years, CLASP is a way to bring those machines out of retirement to recoup on the original investment, all the while getting the sonic benefits of recording on tape. Additionally, it gives commercial recording facilities something unique that people cannot get at a typical home studio.”
For less than the price of a Pro Tools TDM system, you get a device that eliminates the time you’d spend transferring everything from tape to disk, while increasing productivity and drastically reducing tape costs. Imagine telling prospective clients they can record to tape, but they’ll only need one reel.
Check out Kevin Becka’s excellent review of CLASP at mixonline.com, where he goes into greater detail about the features and takes the system for a spin at the Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences (CRAS) in Tempe, Arizona. But you really have to see and hear CLASP in action. Check the Endless Analog Web site for upcoming demos, which no doubt will include Mix Nashville in September and the AES convention in San Francisco this November.
— Yellow DOG studios standardizes its control rooms with Endless Analog’s CLASP® —
David Percefull, chief engineer at Yellow Dog Studios
AUSTIN, TX, November 5, 2010 — Endless Analog’s CLASP® (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor) system (booth 617), which uniquely integrates analog tape machines into the digital audio production workflow, has been so successful at yellow DOG studios in Austin, Texas, that producer and engineer David Percefull has installed a second unit. According to Percefull, the first CLASP unit has been in constant use since it was installed in Studio One earlier this year, ensuring that it would also take pride in placing a unit in the newly constructed Studio Three.
Percefull, who moved into the facility, formerly known as 5AM, with partners producer-musician Ed Robinson and singer-songwriter Steven Todd Hudson near the end of 2009, reports, “Everything that I record hits tape through CLASP and goes to Pro Tools. I thought initially I would use it on occasion, if the client wanted tape.” But as he quickly discovered while using CLASP at every available opportunity, “It’s a game-changer. I won’t do anything that doesn’t hit tape at this point.”
Soon after opening in spring 2010, the partners set about promoting the studio at South by Southwest, recording 23 artists over three days. “We laid it to tape, thinking that people would hear the difference and want to come here and record. It was wildly popular; everybody really loved our gear and the tone we were getting. A huge part of that is going to tape, but even more importantly the speed at which we were going to tape, and the availability to overdub and use different tape speeds within the same session – that was a huge deal.” CLASP’s proprietary SST® sample synchronization technology allows groups of tracks within a project to be recorded at tape speeds appropriate to their frequency content and transients.
Bookings started to come in and Studio One, the facility’s main tracking room, was soon also attracting mix projects. In planning Studio Three, the partners chose not to take the more traditional route of equipping a new mix room with a vintage console, different monitors, and so on. “We did things a little bit out of the box, so instead of doing that, we thought, why don’t we just mirror this control room? So we bought the exact same API 1608 console and set up a very similar monitoring scheme.”
With yellow DOG’s equipment complement now including both 16-track and 24-track MCI tape machines in addition to Pro Tools|HD2 with Apogee converters, a second CLASP unit was also a given. That makes a lot of financial sense, as Percefull explains: “The biggest impact has been in efficiency – I can get tones quicker. I go to mix and if stuff is recorded to tape it’s just very forgiving and everything sounds good, whereas in the digital world you suddenly have five EQs ganged up and you’re notching this out and doing that to try to achieve a sound that is immediate with analog tape.”
He continues, “Processing audio to tape inspired me to spend more time creating and shaping tone at the beginning of the recording process instead of keeping it safe and clean and dealing with at the end of the process, the way that I did when I was a kid cutting to analog tape. The sound of tape is much, much more musical and it’s inspiring to me.
Current projects at yellow DOG, all involving CLASP, include a new album by 97-year-old Pinetop Perkins, the last of the living Delta Bluesmen and one-time house pianist at Chess Records; iconic Texas singer/songwriter Brandon Jenkins, with whom Percefull has worked on seven previous albums; and Cody Canada’s first solo album with producer/engineer Adam Odor. “I’ve been recording with Brandon since ’96,” shares Percefull. “He got in here and started tracking some new stuff and was just blown away with the difference. That’s held true for many clients.”
CLASP fits perfectly into Percefull’s workflow, allowing him to spend more time on the creative process rather than fixing the audio: “I came up in the industry recording to tape; it was my only option. So it’s been great, because in my way of thinking it gets me to the end game much quicker — with much better results.”
Jared Neimann (left), Brian Kolb (center) and Dave Brainard (right) with one of their two CLASP systems.
Nashville, TN (September 14, 2010)–Producer Dave Brainard and engineer Brian Kolb have been using CLASP while working on a project for artist Ray Scott at Mix Dream Studios in Nashville
The pair use a CLASP (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor) system from Nashville-based Endless Analog, which sends digitally-recorded audio to analog tape and back to a DAW in order to achieve the sonic qualites of tape-based recording. Brainard and Kolb work on Pro Tools systems in separate control rooms at Mix Dream Studios. When overdubs are finished, they begin to run individual tracks, up to four at a time, to a vintage Studer A807 MkII ?-inch 4-track deck via CLASP.
“The advantage here is that we can take a single track or group of tracks and listen to them individually as they go to tape from the Pro Tools environment,” Brainard explains. “We can process the bass guitar at 7.5 ips, greatly adding to the low-frequency effectiveness, and the kick drum at 15 or 30 ips, which lets it retain the transient that gives it its punch. We can also see how each track reacts to different kinds of analog processing – tape speed, saturation, compression and so on – and treat it for maximum effectiveness. The idea of being able to have different tape speeds on the same song is incredible. Every track gets exactly what it needs.”
Kolb, who mixed Scott’s record and others at Mix Dream using CLASP, says he applies it to virtually every kind of track. “I have clients who come in to listen to a mix and they tell me they’ve never heard their vocals sound so good,” he says, noting that a vocal for country and gospel singer Sonia Isaacs was recorded and mixed with no EQ, with the only processing coming through the CLASP system and tape. “She agreed that it sounded amazing,” says Kolb.
Los Angeles, CA (October 18, 2010)–Songwriter, musician, producer and engineer Butch Walker recently purchased Endless Analog’s CLASP system for his new Santa Monica studio.
“I grew up cutting tape and I missed the sound and art form of it,” stated Georgia-born Walker. “Being the proud owner of Studer A800 MK III, I sadly had it in storage for 10 years because it just slowed down my workflow, so I gave it up to just go digital. But still to this day, nothing’s ever emulated tape the right way, so I was extremely happy when I finally heard CLASP [Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor].”
Walker’s first demo of CLASP was at the studio of his friend and noted producer John Fields. “I went over to John’s studio and he demo’d it for me,” Walker commented. “I really like being able to have everything hit tape first, not only because of the audio quality, but it’s no fun having to record everything onto tape and then dump it at a different time; it takes up the whole day. And so with CLASP, I liked the idea of it constantly dumping on to Pro Tools without having sync issues. I was also able to hear the actual audio again for the first time in years coming off of tape, and that’s enough to sell you!”
Walker will be using CLASP with his new 24-channel custom-made Tonelux Designs, Ltd. recording console and his selection of vintage analog tape recorders, which also include an Otari MTR-90III and an ATR-102.
Walker has penned numerous hits for artists like Avril Lavigne, Sevendust and Fall Out Boy. As a producer/engineer, he is credited with works by Katy Perry, Pink and Weezer, as well as being Rolling Stone‘s 2005 producer of the year. And as a musician/artist, he has received critical acclaim for his work with Marvelous 3, his DVD Live at Budokan, his studio record The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and The Lets-Go-Out Tonights and Sycamore Meadows.
NASHVILLE, TN, October 12, 2010 — MSR Studios, a multi-room, full-service tracking and mixing complex located just off Times Square in midtown Manhattan, has become the first recording facility in New York City to purchase a CLASP® (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor) system from Endless Analog. CLASP is the critically acclaimed professional audio product that invisibly merges real Analog Tape with Pro Tools and other DAWs. It provides an elegant hybrid workflow that allows real-time analog tracking and overdubbing under the fast and efficient control of a familiar workstation interface.
Bradshaw Leigh, chief engineer at MSR Studios, which has a long and rich history in the city as the former site of Legacy and, before that, Right Track Recording, observes that regular studio clients such as the Roots, Erykah Badu, Neil Young and others prefer to work on analog tape. “But they all wind up doing the same thing, which is they all track to tape and then immediately transfer to Pro Tools,” he comments. “That gives them, in a sense, the worst of both worlds, because they can’t fix what they’re working on and get the analog sound at the same time. So they get the minimum benefits of tape before they transfer to Pro Tools.”
But with CLASP, says Leigh, “I think what’s great about it is that they can get the analog sound and use their normal Pro Tools workflow. It gives the absolute best of both worlds.”
Leigh is looking forward to introducing his younger engineers to MSR’s newly acquired CLASP system. “I can take a young engineer that’s never touched an analog tape deck and have him not be intimidated to use analog tape, because he can sit there and work with what he understands, which is Pro Tools. I think what’s going to be great about using CLASP is that they can get the analog sound and use their normal workflow.”
Leigh suspects that eighty to ninety percent of the people who want to incorporate analog tape into their DAW workflow don’t realize that recording and overdubbing can’t easily be done in real time, due to the gap between the tape machine’s record and repro heads. “I have had so many clients ask me to hook up an analog 24-track in front of Pro Tools and put it in sync. You can’t do that; there has to be a delay, otherwise you’re not getting the analog sound.” CLASP eliminates that problem through its latency-free analog monitor path.
MSR Studios houses two tracking/mixing rooms, one featuring an SSL J Series console and the other a Euphonix System 5, with another SSL J Series console in a dedicated mix room. The CLASP unit will be available for use in any of the studios, says Leigh: “We have it racked up and pre-wired on DL connectors, so it can be pretty much inserted anywhere.”
As a designer and manufacturer of audio equipment, Leigh appreciates the work that founder/president Chris Estes and Endless Analog have put into the CLASP system, he says. “I was just so floored by the elegant, perfect execution. It shows a lot of work, a lot of thought, went into it.” But he does admit to some initial misconceptions about the system. “When we had the demo I was not going to even go into the room, because I figured it was an input switching box and it had to be a kluge. I just happened to stick my head in and saw how wonderfully it was done. As soon as I saw how well it was executed I bought it in a heartbeat.”
CLASP is the world’s first and only pro audio hardware that lets you record on real analog tape with digital speed. CLASP provides sample accurate tape synchronization with zero latency analog monitoring while delivering a true Analog front end recording solution for Pro Tools and other DAW’s. Already being used by top artists, producers and engineers worldwide, CLASP is re-inventing analog for the digital age. CLASP is employed by a diverse range of artists, engineers, producers and facilities, including Lenny Kravitz (at his new Bahamas-based Gregory Town Sound recording facility); Michael W. Smith; Denis Savage, engineer for Celine Dion; Butch Walker (Panic at the Disco, Pink, Avril Lavigne); producers Nathan Chapman, Dave Cobb, Chuck Ainlay, John Fields and Tom “T-Bone” Edmunds; and studio facilities such as Clearwater, Florida’s Cleartrack Productions, Los Angeles, California’s Hemispheres Recording and Austria’s Prime Studios. Analog tape manufacturers recommended by Endless Analog for use with CLASP include ATR Magnetics and RMG International.
Endless Analog in Nashville reports that the Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences (CRAS) in Arizona has taken delivery of two Endless Analog CLASP (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor) systems for its campus facilities in Tempe and Gilbert, Ariz. The CLASP units will be used in conjunction with CRAS’s SSL 4000 Series consoles, Studer A-820 2-inch 24-track analog tape machines and Avid Pro Tools HD systems. Beginning in 2011, CRAS will teach and certify its students on the operation of CLASP.
"We had CLASP here for a two-day demo, and it was immediately obvious that this is the next step in hybrid audio production,” says Conservatory Administrator Kirt Hamm. “The cost and time issues that put analog tape on the back burner are nullified by CLASP. It allows us to expose our students to the sonic palette that only tape can offer while still maintaining the speed and capabilities of digital audio workflow. We are proud to be the first audio recording school in the world to certify students in the operation of CLASP.”
Nashville-based Endless Analog today announces that its remarkable CLASP® system has been nominated for a 2010 Technical Excellence & Creativity Award in the category of Outstanding Technical Achievement, Signal Processing Technology/Hardware.
CLASP was nominated for the upcoming 26th Annual Technical Excellence & Creativity Awards (TEC) by top industry pros – engineers, studio owners, producers and other leading industry figures – further underscoring the system’s growing reputation within the professional audio industry.
Commenting on their nomination, Endless Analog founder and CLASP inventor Chris Estes commented,
"We’re very proud to be acknowledged for the CLASP by the top industry professionals. It is truly an honor to receive such accolades from our peers!”
The 26th Annual TEC Awards, presented by the TEC Foundation for Excellence in Audio, will be held on January 14, 2011 at the NAMM Show in Anaheim, California. The TEC Awards was established in 1985 to honor outstanding achievement in professional audio production and product innovation. The Nominations were made by a panel of approximately 100 audio industry veterans, in a variety of fields. Winners will be determined by members of professional audio and sound production organizations, through online voting conducted by an independent company. Voting will take place from November 1 through 30, 2010. Winners will be announced at a ceremony to be held Friday evening, January 14, at the Anaheim Hilton as a special highlight of NAMM, the leading international music products trade show. The ceremony will include the presentation of the Les Paul Award and the TEC Awards Hall of Fame Induction.
Bryan Lenox: “You’d be amazed with the difference in Michael [W. Smith’s] singing because of hearing himself analog in the playback.”
Nashville-based Bryan Lenox has extensive engineering, production and programming credits in the enormous Christian music community, including several albums with top-selling artist Michael W. Smith. Until recently, all the albums Lenox had cut with Smith were recorded digitally, but for Smith’s next, still untitled album (due this fall), the engineer made the bold move back to tape—sort of. Actually, Lenox is one of a growing number of people who have adopted the Endless Analog CLASP (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor) two-rackspace box that, as Mix’s technical editor Kevin Becka explained in a rave review of the product in our June 2010 issue, “offers an easy, cost-effective way to integrate analog tape into digital production workflow by literally turning any tape machine into a DAW plug-in processor.”
“This has been life-changing in terms of how I view recording,” says Lenox, who has his own mix room called the Bird House in a larger facility known as The Coop, owned by another popular Christian artist, Toby McKeehan (better known as tobyMac). “CLASP is a device that allows you to record to analog tape by taking an instant virgin transfer off the repro head [of the recorder] into your DAW, whether it’s Pro Tools or Nuendo or whatever, Mac or PC. And the way it works, your mic pre’s and your inputs come into CLASP, and it splits it—one’s a hard-wire split that goes straight to your mixing console as you’re playing, if you were on ‘input’; the other split goes to the 2-inch machine or 1-inch or whatever you’re using and it takes it off the repro head so the amount of time the sound is on the tape is very, very brief. It only stays on there as long as it goes through the record head and out the repro head because then it’s instantly transferred into whatever DAW you have. But it’s on there long enough to get the benefits of tape compression and whatever it is that sort of glues the sound together.
“Another thing that’s been remarkable,” Lenox adds, “is back in the old days, without the CLASP you had to choose either 30 inches per second or 15 inches per second, and that’s it; you’re locked in at that tape speed. Well, CLASP allows you choose to record the drums at 30 ips in the verse and 15 ips in the chorus if you want, or you can go down 7½ or 9 or 12; whatever you want. So for the first time you’re able to really use any speed you want and you can quickly compare between the speeds and choose the one you want. We’ll audition as we’re going along and it’s remarkable for the guitarist or bassist to be able hear how it sounds at different speeds.
“You’d also be amazed with the difference in Michael’s singing because of hearing himself analog in the playback. We’ve also lowered some of the keys so his voice is bigger and he’s a lot more expressive. All in all, it’s had a huge impact on the performances—we’re making a much more emotional album.”
Smith was evidently impressed, too. He bought the CLASP box after the sessions and now it can be an ongoing part of his (and Lenox’s) recording arsenal.
“I use tape every day,” says L.A. producer/engineer/musician Dave Cobb (Shooter Jennings, Brooke White, Oak Ridge Boys). “It’s funny because I was one of those people who about eight years ago slowly stopped using tape. I thought digital sounded fine, you can work faster, more conveniently. But the records that have really inspired me the last couple years have been very, very tape-centric. I think Jack White is kind of killing everybody right now—he’s the guy who is making the coolest-sounding records around, whether it’s the Dead Weather or The Raconteurs; he’s the guy to beat right now. His records sound honest and real, and in a way he’s making something that is very traditional sound modern and exciting again.
L.A.-based producer/engineer/musician Dave Cobb says he uses tape every day.
“I just did a record in Nashville by these two girl singers—the Secret Sisters [Laura and Lydia Rogers of Muscle Shoals, Ala.]—and the whole record is supposed to sound ‘period,’ like it’s from 1957 or something. So, of course, I wanted to go analog on it, but if I turned in a budget that said ‘12 grand for tape,’ people would have a heart attack. That’s the way it used to be—you would allot $10,000 or $12,000 dollars for tape. Nobody gets that anymore.”
For Cobb, too, CLASP aided his return to the sonics of analog tape. “It’s changed my work flow dramatically,” he comments. “CLASP allows me to use the same tapes—my favorites are these old [Ampex] 456 reels I use over and over—and dump each take I do immediately to Pro Tools. I like to do pre-production in the studio where tape is rolling the whole time while bands are working out the songs, and I couldn’t do that if I strictly stayed on tape unless I had a huge budget and a big pen to mark down the times between each take and what was special about them and all that. The CLASP allows me to run tape, keep creating playlists inside Pro Tools, and then when I’ve got what I need I just comp it together.”
For the Secret Sisters’ forthcoming album, which was cut at Blackbird, Cobb also enlisted ’50s Nashville players like steel player Robbie Turner and pianist Pig Robbins for that extra dose of retro authenticity, and he used “old-school” tape effects: “One thing I don’t ever go without is tape slap,” he comments. “I use a lot of slap and feedback slap and distorted slap and reverse tape stuff and flanging. I have two 2-track machines in the control room so I’m constantly messing around with those. For instance, a 15 ips slap always works with any tempo of any song for some reason. I don’t know why it is, but you can put it on the drums or it will help to tie a vocal with a track. Even if you barely hear the slap and it’s buried, it still has a way of making the vocal sit. My heroes are people like Geoff Emerick and Glyn Johns and Andy Johns, who really pushed the limit with tape effects. I think there’s nothing that beats them. There’s no digital box you can buy, no plug-in that sounds like a tape slap.”
Note to all audio engineers: Hope you held onto your tape machines, because as they languished in garages around the country as digital advancements won the day, Nashville engineer, producer and musician Chris Estes was scheming to make them relevant again. Two patents issued last month are proof he may have just blown the dust off a nearly extinct breed of deteriorating gear.
His invention: the CLASP system, short for Closed Loop Analog Signal Processing, or a fancy way of saying that he figured out how to make the predictable but clinical Pro Tools and the unreliable yet thrilling vintage tape play nice. Previously, merging the two in the studio was a lot like Elizabeth Taylor and men — a big hit in theory, but incredibly time-consuming and tedious in real life, and almost always regrettable.
Many studio folk consider two-inch tape the recording medium of the gods, but when Pro Tools took hold in the early ’90s, it bewitched with its more efficient, dependable and cost-effective appeal. In short, it made analog look like your grandpa’s way of doing things. But music aficionados still mourn the loss of analog’s more honest sound, in spite of its high-maintenance reputation.
CLASP, which Estes spent some five years finessing, not only promises all the benefits of analog’s pleasing electromagnetic charm, but throws in digital’s speed and ease of use. Plus, it extends the working life of tape, now in shorter supply with only two manufacturers worldwide and a price tag of $289 a reel.
"”With CLASP, tape is no longer linear or destructive,” Estes says. “You’re not actually storing on it. It’s just used as the medium.”
With tape as the puppet and digital as the master, it’s the best of both worlds. And it couldn’t come at a better time: Artists like Jack White still champion analog’s superior sound, and vinyl sales just jumped 33 percent in 2009 from the previous year, proof that just when you thought the analog vs. digital debate had exhaled its dying breath, it’s been resurrected.
Estes already has a number of marquee clients, with the likes of Lenny Kravitz using the system in his Gregory Town Sound studio, Taylor Swift producer Nathan Chapman and Neil Young producer Niko Bolas on board, and a few dozen clients on the coasts and overseas.
It’s been adopted by a handful of Nashville producers, but CLASP has been met with skepticism and befuddlement from some locals. Perhaps Music Row — itself slow to embrace Pro Tools once — is now so devoted to digital that it isn’t sure if there’s enough room for both formats in town. Not so with engineer Brian Kolb.
"”It’s a dream,” Kolb said on a recent visit to studio The Mix Dream, owned by producer Dave Brainard, where Kolb was in the midst of recording Ray Scott, a country crooner coming off a Warner Bros. debut. Kolb’s been recording in Nashville for a decade, using Pro Tools for eight of those years, and can recently boast the mixing credit for Jerrod Neimann’s third studio album Judge Jerrod & the Hung Jury, which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard last month.
“We were cutting at Ocean Way, and our drummer came in, who’s one of the best in the world,” Kolb recalls. “And he smiled when he saw the tape machine and said, ‘I’m gonna have to play good today, aren’t I?’ And I said, ‘Well, of course you are, but we can still punch,’ ” he says, referring to the process where the artist re-records a specific part of a take. With tape, when you punch, you lose the previous version, for better or worse. With CLASP, you can record a new take (or portion thereof) while preserving the old one, and you have the freedom to do it over and over. “He said, ‘Really?’ And the other guys were just like, ‘What?’ We still had all the benefits of tape, but we weren’t confined to it. We could still try things.”
Kolb figures Nashville’s resistance is fear of trying something new. Or maybe they just can’t understand how the thing works — Estes’ patents were initially rejected twice by the patent office; it took an in-person demonstration in D.C. for them to understand that he wasn’t just creating a new tape machine.
"”A world-class engineer at a studio took me out in the hallway and argued with me for half an hour saying it was physically impossible,” Estes recalls. “He said I must have invented the flux capacitor for this to work.”
That’s because the real trick of Estes’ innovation is time stamp manipulation of each digital audio file. Just don’t ask what that means unless you want a lesson in engineering, physics and a little time travel.
"A demonstration from Estes with an acoustic performance by Ray Scott had Scott’s voice, a mischievous baritone, go from Randy Travis to Johnny Cash with the flip of a switch. Or as Scott puts it, “All I know is he makes me sound better. Digital stuff slams, but it loses all the feeling.” Lucky for him, he’ll never have to choose between the two again.
MIDTOWN MANHATTAN: Nashville-based producer/musician/inventor Chris Estes demonstrated his revolutionary Endless Analog CLASP system in Avatar’s Studio G on Monday. The session featured ace-of-bass and producer Jerry Barnes laying down some of his thick, low-end goodness to Pro Tools HD via 2” tape and the CLASP.
The CLASP hardware unit is installed between your mic pre’s, DAW and tape machine.
Since the CLASP is such a newfangled, first-of-its-kind product, there’s a lot to understand about what it does and how it works. There are several great reviews and testimonials on the system here and plenty of information to answer any and all questions you may have. But here’s the gist:
CLASP (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor) consists of a hardware unit that is installed between your mic pre’s, DAW and tape machine (pictured), and the native Bridge plug-in (RTAS and VST), which you open on any track in your DAW session and use to control the tape transport.
These days, most recordings being done to tape are then dumped into the digital realm for editing and mixing. CLASP allows for a totally hybrid workflow, where analog recording and overdubs are done in real time, controlled with the speed and efficiency of digital, and all audio is stored in your DAW, minimizing tape usage. You can use one reel of tape to record an entire record, or several records for that matter.
CLASP essentially allows the tape machine to be used like a plug-in. You control the tape machine and switch between tape speeds stored in the CLASP right from your DAW. And you can monitor analog in repro mode. See the CLASP connection diagram here.
CLASP's Bridge plug-in
The elevator pitch to engineers via Endless Analog’s website: “CLASP provides sample accurate tape synchronization with zero latency analog monitoring while delivering a true analog front end recording solution for Pro Tools.”
Seeing the CLASP in action, its functionality seems instantly essential. It totally streamlines a process that needs streamlining and will allow so many more people to utilize analog tape as part of their production.
At Avatar, the CLASP hardware unit was connected via MIDI to the Pro Tools HD rig and through an Endless Analog proprietary cable to the 24-track Studer A800. Once the tape machine was aligned and synchronized to the Pro Tools session at both 15 ips and 30 ips recording speeds via CLASP, Barnes tracked a bass line and then monitored off the repro head to select his preferred speed.
During playback, Estes pointed out: “Being able to monitor in repro is a really great thing for getting drum sounds, for example, because you can make judgment calls about what tape speed you want to use for a particular song.”
Chris Estes explaining the CLASP signal/workflow
“You can have it on whatever speed and then have the drummer play, mute his headphones, and then listen off the tape in Pro Tools. And you can make decisions about levels and EQ and things like that based on what you’re hearing.
“You can have the tape rolling while the drummer’s playing and, starting with the kick drum, you can bring the level up to find the sweet spot — right where we get just the right amount of tape compression — and dial it in so when you go to do your recordings, there are no surprises.”
CLASP stores information for up to three different recording speeds. Estes relayed to the group: “In a lot of sessions we’ve done so far, people will record the drums at 30 ips, then they’ll go back and re-cut the bass at 15. Then they’ll cut electric guitars at 7½, which sounds really great if the machine is aligned properly. With this [A800] machine, you’d vari-speed it down as far as you can get it and then do an alignment for that.”
“And if you wanted to use varispeed to overdub just a Tom Fill at 15IPS and have the rest at 30?” engineer Roy Hendrickson asked.
“You’d use the sync I/O in Pro Tools and vari-speed Pro Tools up,” says Estes. “So to make the toms sound bigger you’d vari-speed Pro Tools up and do the tom fill, put it back normal, and then the toms would be huge.”
Demo group at Avatar, Jerry Barnes at right
Estes also points out you can daisy-chain up to three CLASP hardware interfaces and synchronize three 24-track tape machines for a total of 72-channels of recording. You can use CLASP with 24, 16, 8 or even 2-track machines, you can combine different machines and tape speeds for different tones. In addition to Pro Tools, CLASP also works with Nuendo and Cubase.
But there’s even more to know…here’s Estes on-the-spot rundown of CLASP’s main functions and features:
1) First of all, the CLASP is a precision measuring instrument, which functions as a sample-accurate synchronization device, so it’s able to profile the tape machine, analyze the ballistics of the machine, calculate to the sample what the latency of that machine is — taking into consideration the transport, the flutter, etc. Then, it’s telling Pro Tools to change the time stamp of the audio that’s coming into the converters.
So, while you’re recording, the meters are actually late but then when you watch the wave forms as they’re going down, Pro Tools is drawing them in relationship to the grid in the correct time. So it’s an actual time stamp, you can take the session to another studio and you don’t have to have the CLASP. You only use the CLASP when you’re cutting tracks.
2) The CLASP is seamlessly controlling the tape transport for you invisibly in the background. It works a lot like the Quick Punch mode — it looks at the track-arming status and as soon as you have tracks armed and you start the Pro Tools transport, the CLASP, analog machine and Pro Tools Quick Punch all start recording simultaneously in the background. It’s extrapolating from the Pro Tools transport and track-arming status. So even though you might have punched in late, you can peel back audio with tape now. Which is impossible otherwise.
3) You don’t have to rewind the tape until you reach the end of the reel. In this case, it’s counting down from 30 minutes (@15 IPS), so you’d only have to rewind every half-hour or so.
4) You now have latency-free analog monitoring. We’re monitoring here through the master-grade analog hardware of the CLASP, not Pro Tools.
5) CLASP compensates for the converter delay times. If you’re using Apogee 16X converters with Pro Tools, for example, that’s 62 samples of converter latency at 44.1, so you simply type in 62 samples in the offset and then everything you play is perfectly in time with where it’s supposed to be when you play it back.
After the demo at Avatar, engineer Roy Hendrickson shared his impressions with us:
“I think what Chris has done here is quite brilliant. The fact that he is getting Pro Tools to record these files into the DAW with an adjusted time stamp is genius.
“And once you’re finished using CLASP and you go back to using Pro Tools normally, there are no side effects, there’s nothing you have to change about your workflow. You don’t have to move your files and it does all those little tweaks that you’d normally have to do — like re-compensating for things like delay manually — this takes care of all that for you in a really elegant manner so you don’t have to worry. You can concentrate on the performance.”
On the Endless Analog website, Chris Estes and Endless Analog VP Amy Becker Estes ask us to: “Imagine experiencing analog tape recording as fast, effortless and timesaving as Pro Tools.” The CLASP system, which Estes started developing out of his garage in Nashville over five years ago, makes this idea – once Estes’ daydream – a reality.
Endless Analog’s CLASP system is available now from Vintage King for $7,495.
Producer Dave Cobb recording with CLASP at Blackbird Studios
Nashville, TN — Los Angeles-based producer, engineer and composer Dave Cobb has worked with some of the biggest names in neo-traditional country and roots music – Shooter Jennings, Oak Ridge Boys, Waylon Jennings, Jamey Johnson and Brooke White, to name a few. He recently discovered a promising young sister act, The Secret Sisters, composed of Laura and Lydia Rogers. As producer of the group’s upcoming debut album, which is being overseen by Executive Producer and GRAMMY®-winning roots music legend T-Bone Burnett, and set to be released on Universal Republic, Cobb is using the opportunity to masterfully match the Sisters’ unique vintage sound, reminiscent of classic late 1950s country-pop, with period-accurate recordings. A huge piece of that puzzle is Endless Analog’s CLASP® (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor), the critically acclaimed pro audio product that invisibly merges real Analog Tape with Pro Tools and other DAWs.
Cobb first became aware of CLASP through online recording forums.
"It piqued my interest immediately,” notes Cobb, “because I’ve always been into tape, and matching it with Pro Tools in this seamless way makes a really convenient, fast and easy workflow. CLASP seemed like the perfect marriage of the two. It lets me just work, and not have to think! Designer Chris Estes from Endless Analog gave me a demo at my L.A. studio, and I bought it on the spot. I’ve always had two-track tape machines, but lately I wasn’t using them quite as much. But now that CLASP has come along, it has completely solidified my workflow, and I’m back to using tape machines all the time.”
The Sisters’ project provided the perfect opportunity for Cobb to put the CLASP to great use. The album’s tracking sessions are taking place in Nashville at Blackbird Studio A, and Cobb made sure to go to every length to attain the classic sounds they were seeking. “We used a bunch of Universal Audio mic pre-amps, old RCA ribbon mics, Neumann U48s – all very period-correct stuff,” he recalls.
"There’s something really pleasing and honest about records from the 50s, 60s and 70s. CLASP enables us to get that classic sound with modern convenience. We used super-minimal mic-ing, period-correct compressors, instruments and setup, and gave the studio a vintage atmosphere. Really, the only difference in the way we tracked it now versus how they would have done it 50-plus years ago is that we have computers to act as a big storage device. With CLASP, we’re able to use one roll of tape, and just constantly hit ‘tape,’ and immediately it’s transferred into Pro Tools. We even used live slap going down to the chambers, and we were able to print it all to tape just as they would have done back then. All the sounds are coming from the rooms, the performers, the mics, the vintage mic-pre’s, and the tape, just like years ago. Pro Tools for us is a storage and editing medium only.”
He points out how CLASP has made their faithfulness to the vintage sound possible. He notes,
"If we’d done it before CLASP came along, we’d have spent probably $12,000 on tape alone, but with CLASP, you only need one roll. We were able to keep every pass we did on the computer – not that we needed a ton of passes – but we were able to keep them all and easily comp between those passes with the convenience of Pro Tools. And we were able to get the classic analog tape sounds without spending a fortune on tapes.”
As Cobb continues to work on projects at his L.A.-based 1974 Studio and elsewhere, he will be sure to keep CLASP as an integral part of his signal chain. He states,
"I don’t have to use plug-ins anymore to try and get the sounds I’m looking for. CLASP opens the doors to sounds that just don’t really exist in the digital realm. Classic-sounding records with modern convenience, that’s what CLASP allows us to do.”
CLASP is the world’s first and only pro audio hardware that lets you record on real analog tape with digital speed. CLASP provides sample accurate tape synchronization with zero latency analog monitoring while delivering a true Analog front end recording solution for Pro Tools. Already being used by top artists, producers and engineers worldwide, CLASP is re-inventing analog for the digital age. CLASP is employed by a diverse range of artists, engineers, producers and facilities, including Lenny Kravitz (at his new Bahamas-based Gregory Town Sound recording facility); Michael W. Smith; Denis Savage, engineer for Celine Dion; producers Nathan Chapman, Dave Cobb, Chuck Ainlay, John Fields and Tom “T-Bone” Edmunds; and studio facilities such as Clearwater, Florida’s Cleartrack Productions, Los Angeles, California’s Hemispheres Recording and Austria’s Prime Studios. Analog tape manufacturers recommended by Endless Analog for use with CLASP include ATR Magnetics and RMG International.
Bridging the Gap Between Analog and Digital Recording
by Grace Larkin
On Tuesday, July 6th, San Francisco’s Studio Trilogy
held a two-hour demonstration of the newly released Closed Loop Analog
Signal Processor, also known as CLASP. Five years in the making, CLASP
is a breakthrough way to incorporate analog tape into digital
production through turning any tape machine into a DAW plug-in
processor. In other words, this product reduces rewind time as well as
tape cost, allowing for the same reel to be used for an entire
recording, running the reel front to back before rewinding. The release
of this form of hybrid analog/digital technology is overwhelmingly
exciting in the production world, and I was lucky enough to experience
the processor in action.
Inside the studio, CLASP inventor,
Chris Estes ran the show, explaining to various recording engineers,
journalists, and curious faces like myself how the thing really works.
Estes sat behind the control panel, with all of us over his shoulder,
and effortlessly executed a live session with Bay Area band The Trophy Fire,
a three-piece group willing to lay down a track with Estes while he
simultaneously explained the process as they went. The band (guitar,
bass, and drums) played through the song one time instrumentally, felt
they had the cut they wanted other than a 5-second guitar punch-in fix,
and were on to the vocals.
Because the major part of the
recording went by so smoothly, and because the equipment was equally
flawless, Estes was able to show us some of CLASP’s cool secrets. One
feat was CLASP’s ability to jump between tape speeds on the fly to
audition and then print, even mixing speeds in the same project –
something that’s impossible in a production recorded exclusively on analog tape. Why is this important? Gino Robair, former editor of Electronic Musician and now contributor to Keyboard magazine, says, “In general, the faster the tape speed, the
higher the fidelity. On the other hand, the slower the tape speed, the
more old-school the sound becomes—rounded transients, beefier bass
frequencies, and a bit more oomph. Because everything is, ultimately,
sent to disk when using CLASP, you can do a recording pass of the
vocals at, say, 30 ips (inches per second), and then do the lead guitar
at 15 ips to fatten the tone. During the session at Studio Trilogy,
Estes demonstrated the sonic differences that changes in tape speed
make and the results were remarkable. It’s the kind of sound we all
want from plug-ins, but never seem to get.”
The tape machine
ran throughout the session, and it was hard to believe the digital side
of things was really going to be fluidly integrated with this large
piece of analog equipment. Beyond our expectations, though, Estes lay
on the last vocal cut, mixing the final product with a sound so
pristine it had us all drooling for our own Endless Analog/CLASP.
Quick, easy, and professional beyond all expectations, the CLASP setup
proves to be the biggest breakthrough in recording technology we’ve
seen in years. Learn more about the equipment and how it could work for
you at www.endlessanalog.com.
Me with CLASP inventor Chris Estes and the CLASP.
CLASP inventor Chris Estes and Vice President Amy Becker showcasing their new CLASP product.
Nashville-based Endless Analog, developer and manufacturer of the CLASP (Closed Loop Analog Signal Processor) system, has appointed Vintage King Audio, a leading dealer of high-end new and vintage recording equipment, as its exclusive U.S. retailer for its CLASP system. Endless Analog president Chris Estes made the announcement.
Additionally, potential purchasers will have the ability to demo the CLASP system in Vintage King’s facilities as well as in Infrasonic Sound Recording Company—Vintage King Audio’s showcase facility in Los Angeles—and Media Right Productions in New York City.
"The appointment of Vintage King Audio is part of a comprehensive business plan that positions the next stage of growth for Endless Analog,” states Estes. “Vintage King is the acknowledged leader in boutique and classic audio products, which makes them a perfect fit to carry CLASP. Their staff is exceptionally well trained and uniquely qualified to offer Endless Analog’s product line, and their contacts and reputation in the industry are second to none. We look forward to working with Vintage King to spread the word about CLASP and analog/digital hybrid recording.”
"Vintage King is reaffirming its place as an industry leader by carrying the CLASP,” states Mike Nehra, Vintage King co-owner and Sales Director. “The CLASP’s revolutionary technology bridges the gap between classic analog recording and modern digital workflow; it’s a cutting-edge innovation that our clients will undoubtedly jump at the chance to work with. Vintage King is incredibly excited to offer them the opportunity to do so.”
The CLASP is a hardware and software system that seamlessly integrates analog tape recorders with digital audio workstations using a proprietary method called SST (sample synchronization technology). CLASP delivers an analog front-end recording solution offering the character of a tape machine while eliminating the delay associated with digital AD/DA converters. Endless Analog founder Estes created the CLASP in order to address the need engineers had for using DAWs in a familiar workflow while still getting the benefits that analog circuitry and real tape have to offer.
Infrasonic Sound will integrate a CLASP system into its existing setup (including the Rupert Neve 5088 console that the studio acquired from Vintage King last year), using CLASP with its three Otari units. CLASP will be available to all those tracking at the studio as well as any Vintage King clients interested in previewing the unit.
"By integrating The CLASP into our workflow at Infrasonic, we’re able to stay completely committed to the best of analog recording while taking advantage of the speed and fluidity of digital recording," says Infrasonic co-owner and Vintage King Los Angeles sales representative, Jeffrey Ehrenberg. "The majority of the sessions we have at Infrasonic track to tape, including the recent session my partner Pete Lyman completed with No Age [Sub Pop]. With the CLASP, we’ll save our clients’ time and money by eliminating consuming tape transfers and excessive tape costs. Additionally, the CLASP enables us to preserve the larger-than-life sound that you can only achieve when tracking to tape, yet edit, comp and tweak as today’s digital productions are accustomed to. I’m looking forward to not only using it myself, but giving Vintage King clients the opportunity to experience what it’s all about firsthand."