Review: “ToTape5” and “Air” (by Airwindows)

André LaFosse made me aware of those – Airwindows plugins, which do, as Chris, the man behind them, puts it, do “handsewn bespoke digital audio”.

Those (effects – AU, and for quite some time now, Win and Mac VST2 32/64) plugins are somewhat different.

The GUI is very minimalistic: sliders from left to right in the DAW’s standard layout, typically going from 0 to 1 or -1 to 0.

The plugins are either analogue modeling, more often than not what the author calls a “weird little science experiment”. Or they’re digital things that, for once, do things differently than everybody else.

There’s no documentation. Except for a short blog post and a YouTube video.

Today, we’re looking at two of Chris’ more recent offerings, namely ToTape5 (which is about tape simulation – to a degree), and Air (which is a HF EQ). Both of them are Patreon-sponsored – which means you can get them for nuttin’.

Thesis: ToTape5

ToTape5 is one of many tape emulations by Airwindows, yet it’s “the best Airwindows analog tape emulation”. It’s different than Airwindows’ other product line in that realm, IronOxide, in the same way than it’s different than about any other tape emulation plugin out there: ToTape5 is an emulation of a pristine quality, mastering grade analogue tape. Which can be a little misused, if you want to.

If you don’t count the dry/wet and output level controls, it has four controls, named “Louder”, “Softer”, “Fatter” and “Flutter” (note that tricky pseudo-comparative in the last one – Airwindows/Chris is like that!), of which the last one is there more for completeness than for intended use (if you want that, you’re probably better of with IronOxide).

“Louder”, “Softer” and “Fatter” are, essentially, the three dimensions of a pristine analogue tape sound: you gently (or not so gently) drive the tape with “Louder”, you get that gentle high-frequency rollof/softening with “Softer”, and you get the head bump with “Fatter”. Of course, as we aren’t in a true physical world, this is not that actual gap loss, and is independent of tape speed, too, rather, it’s more of a big bump at zero frequency (which you can then feel free to tame with a post-tape HP).

The way this one is intended to be used is to dial up Louder, Softer and Fatter to a point where you start to consciously notice it, then dial it back, for some very subtle tape sound.

Now you maybe made it a little “Softer” than you intended, so you’re suffering from a HF loss. This is when the analogue folks bring in a special “Air” EQ which is a fancy HF EQ. Enter our

Antithesis: Air

Air is a very specific digital EQ for the higher frequency range. You get three frequencies – 11k, 15k and 22k (although those numbers only apply if you use it at 44k1), and one “Filter” dial for feedback (which works like the Q in your standard EQ). It goes up to gains of around 16dB, and down a lot, before it snaps back into adding by some fancy phase effect.

This EQ is built differently than maybe any other digital EQ out there, and it sounds different. What’s interesting, though, is that it sounds good, especially if you want that “sparkling digital” without the “ugly digital”. A very specific tool, and of course an EQ you won’t use alone (unless the top of the audible range is the only thing you need to adjust), but that’s just fine. And taking up the ending statement from the last chapter, we reach our

Synthesis: ToTape5 meets Air

Use ToTape5. Start with the default settings. Make it “Softer”, until you like the sound, but want to get those lost high frequencies back at the same time. Add Air, and pull up the 22k tap. If the high-mids then come out too strongly, turn up “Filter” just a little.

A perfect marriage of analogue tape emulation and unusual digital EQ!

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