The “Classic Oldies” preset includes all the elements of old analog recording chains: passive EQ, optical compression, analog tape saturation and non-linear consoles. Get this sound in the StudioRack plugin chain.
By Craig Anderton
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…
Well actually, it was about a half-century ago, in a galaxy called big studios. Tape ruled the recording world, along with classic signal processors like the LA-2A compressor, Pultec EQs and analog consoles. They created a sound for rock and pop music that endures to this day.
Now we have digital recording with its pristine sound quality, and that’s great for recording the Brandenburg Concertos, or Chester Thompson doing a jazz gig. But yesterday’s sound is a signal processor, and sometimes, that’s the perfect sound for a swampy guitar solo, thundering drum set, or even a bass straining its amp’s speakers to the limit. StudioRack’s “Classic Oldies” preset brings this sound into the present, for times when you want more flavor in the digital age. In this article, we explore the classic sounds that make up this vintage chain.
The “Classic Oldies” Plugins
Classic Oldies uses plugins that emulate the most popular sounds of the past.
Jack Joseph Puig’s PuigTec EQP-1A delivers the classic Pultec sound. This was before the parametric EQ was invented, and the passive circuitry created a gentle EQ curve that was popular for shaping tone—from individual tracks to program material while mastering. Today’s parametric and phase linear equalizers offer far greater precision, but the analog EQs of yesteryear had an undeniable character that remains coveted to this day.
For dynamic control, few compressors/limiters have ever matched the popularity of the Teletronix LA-2A. The CLA-2A, an exact model of Chris Lord-Alge’s favorite compressor that he’s used on hundreds of hits, delivers that vintage sound. The unique compression quality comes from an optical-based gain control element, which lacks the precision of today’s VCA or digital-based compressors—but through a lucky twist of fate, it has electrical characteristics that make it ideal for vocals, guitars and many other audio sources.
Kramer Master Tape doesn’t apologize for tape being a signal processor; it revels in it. The saturation effects added by tape remain difficult to reproduce digitally, but this plugin does the job. For imparting a classic sound to bass, keyboards and drums, this is a key component. Even for the most modern, digital-sounding recordings, Kramer Tape’s saturation adds depth and grit you can’t get any other way.
NLS Channel is all about the sound of analog consoles. Although some dismiss console emulation, the reality is that consoles did have unique “sounds.” From the input and output transformers to the non-linearities in the left and right channels that added a “sparkle” and widened the stereo image, consoles were a major contributor to classic sounds.
Retro Character Variations
A major StudioRack advantage is that you can substitute different plugins easily while still retaining the overall sonic character. For example, the V-EQ3 delivers the “British invasion” sound, while the H-EQ offers multiple “vintage” EQ curves so you can choose the one you like best for the track. For aggressive dynamics control with more character, the dbx 160 Compressor can’t be beaten. But if you want to combine the best of the analog and digital worlds, the H-Comp hybrid compressor is an excellent choice. On the other hand, if your goal is to meld the Classic Oldies sound with transparent dynamics control, try replacing the CLA-2A with a multiband compressor like the C4 Multiband Compressor, a dynamics workhorse.
Using the Macro Controls
The Bass control takes advantage of the EQP-1A’s architecture so that in the center position, there is no boost or cut. Boosting increases the Boost control, while cutting alters the Attenuation control. Treble works similarly with the EQP-1A’s treble range Boost and Attenuation controls.
The EQ’s center frequencies default to 100 Hz for the low frequencies, and 8 kHz for the highs. However, the B Freq control switches between 60 and 100 Hz for the low frequency, while the T Freq control chooses among 5, 8, 10, and 12 kHz.
For the CLA-2A, the Compress control varies the Peak Reduction (compression amount) and Gain (makeup gain) controls simultaneously. The advantage of modifying both is that as you increase the compression amount, you usually need to increase the makeup gain—so you have to go back and forth between the two until you obtain the right sound. Not so with StudioRack: When you add more compression, the Macro control compensates automatically by increasing the gain.
The Tape control for Kramer Master Tape underscores why the StudioRack approach is so useful because this single control affects four parameters.
The Tape Control’s main function is to turn up the Record Level while turning down Playback Level, so the overall level remains constant, regardless of how much tape saturation effect you want. However, turning the Tape control down all the way essentially bypasses the tape sound. Furthermore, extreme Tape settings increase the drive to the NLS Channel, thus adding a different type of saturation to the Master Tape saturation.
To add a slapback echo, there are additional Kramer Master Tape controls for Echo and Time.
What Matters Is the Sound
Being able to dial in the sound you want so easily is a major strength of StudioRack. In the audio example, you can hear that the first four measures, while well recorded, are somewhat lifeless and dull—or at least they are when you compare them to the second four measures, as processed by the StudioRack settings shown in the image above. The peak levels are the same in both cases, but the average level is much higher in the second four measures, and this brings the sound to life while still retaining dynamics.
Note that even with tape saturation and some compression, the dynamics and peaks still come through—and with the brightness and low end contributed by the EQP-1A, the sound is both full and bright. It’s a luscious, vintage drum sound—and indeed, it has that “Classic Oldies” vibe.
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