U-he Satin – Vintage Wonderland
Welcome to StudioWise, this time we’re looking at a nifty tape machine emulator from U-He, which packs a surprising amount of flexibility, as it turns out.
UPDATED SEPTEMBER, 2017
Satin in the latest release from U-He, is quite an impressive little device – but can something amazing shine in such an oversaturated (pun intended) marketplace? Let’s check it out.
Satin is a VST effect plugin that is designed to emulate classic analogue tape machines. While it’s a simple-to-operate VST effect on the surface, if you’re brave enough to travel down into the rabbit hole a little deeper you will be rewarded with a plethora of sweet options to play with.
In its simplest form, you can just insert it on your master BUS, and turn up the input dial until things sound better, and that will get you good results 90% of the time. The Makeup switch should be on, as it balances the output with the input, and the soft clip will help reduce any stray peeks from clipping your output bus. You have to choose between modern and vintage tones, but in a nutshell, that’s enough to get some real cool mojo saturation vibe in your mix. Satin has three modes of operation – studio, delay and flange. Each of these is directly influenced by the three main controls constantly present at the top of the screen – Input, Output and Tape (vintage or Modern).
In its default mode ‘studio’ you will see 8 groups available. This is a clever way to use Satin over a group of tracks. Simply add an instance of Satin to each track in your BUS mix and assign each to a unique group. You could, for instance, add all the guitar tracks in your mix to group 1, drums group 2 etc. Now use just a single instance of Satin to apply the same effect across all in that group. A handy-dandy way to emulate the large multitrack tape machines and give your BUS tracks some analogue glue.
Using ‘highest quality’ settings tends to create the modern, high-fidelity results we’re all used to. It’s not until you start reverse engineering the machine, so to speak, do you begin to get the famed tape saturation effect in all its glory. Reducing the IPS, and adding hiss and crosstalk effect, it’s surprisingly easy to add a good amount of ‘retro vibe’ to your tracks if you’re careful not to overcook the signal. Of course, if you’re not after a lot of colouring, just pull back a little for some warmth and gentle compression.
IPS, or Inch per second, refers to how fast the tape is being dragged across the play heads. The faster the tape rolls, the higher the overall fidelity, mainly at higher frequencies. Easy enough, but since you’re not necessarily looking for high fidelity, increasing the IPS gives you a brighter, more modern sound. Of course, if you’re wanting that old-school retro vibe, start reducing quality and slowing the tape down, inducing more grit.
Pre-emphasis is a clever trick that adds high-frequency EQ to the recording, and then the opposite amount during playback, in essence reverting the audio back to its original state, but with any high-end hiss removed. This won’t affect any low-end noise and rumble, but it was a pretty good idea back in the day for removing recording artefacts. Satin allows you to virtually increase or decrease the EQ curve, creating specific tones using both IPS and pre-emphasis.
The clever interface doesn’t force you to be a guru tape machine operator but allows you to go as simple or advanced as you feel you need. In somewhat of an analogue for tape saturation in general, Satins’ workflow allows for users to simply apply the tape saturation effect until it just sounds right, or dig deeper for much more calculated processing. The choice is yours, which ultimately makes this device both deep and forgiving.
I wouldn’t hope to come close to offering advice on its use in all situations, though I feel there is more than enough flexibility here for all levels of users to find great results. Sure, understanding the finer intricacies of the interface might aid your decisions on where and when to use them, but at the end of the day, you can just turn this up until it sounds better and you’re probably 95% what the veteran user would do.
At $200 NZD Satin is not a casual purchase, but I think reflects pretty good value considering all the advanced features. Satin’s tape-focused saturation effect is unique on the market now that includes a lot of competition in the saturation genre. The funky vintage interface, simple controls and plenty of flexibility for fine-tuning follow the great designs currently available from U-He. Download the trial version today and see how much mojo can be injected into your master mix for yourself.