Tape emulation plugins are designed to replicate the warm, saturated sound of analog tape recordings. They add subtle compression, distortion, wow and flutter, and noise to clean digital audio tracks, making them sound like they were recorded to tape. This helps give mixes a vintage, retro sound that many producers and engineers find more pleasing than sterile, digital recordings.
In the world of music production, tape emulation plugins have become a go-to tool for adding analog “mojo” and character. They can be used on individual tracks like vocals and instruments, or on the full mix bus to glue everything together. The best tape emulation plugins accurately recreate the nuances of real tape machines, ranging from the gentle compression of worn tape to the gritty distortion of overloaded tape.
In this article, we will count down the 10 best tape emulation plugins available today. We’ll explore both paid and free options from leading plugin developers like Waves, Softube, UAD, Slate Digital, and others.
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10 Best Tape Emulation Plugins
- Waves J37 Tape
The Waves J37 tape plugin models the sound and saturation of a classic 1/4″ 4-track tape machine. It has controls like Tape Speed, Bias, Noise, Saturation, Wow and flutter, and a wet/dry mix knob. You can dial in everything from subtle tape compression to heavily distorted lo-fi tones. It works great for adding vintage analog characters to recordings.
- Softube Tape
Softube Tape recreates the sound of an analog tape machine, with separate control over the record and playback sections. You can adjust tape speed, bias, flux, wear, noise, etc. It has a Saturation knob that goes from clean to heavily overdriven. Softube used modeling technology to capture the behavior and non-linearities of real tape.
- UAD Ampex ATR-102
The UAD Ampex ATR-102 models the sound of a classic Ampex tape deck from the 1960s and ’70s. It has adjustable tape speed, bias, flux, etc. A Saturation control adds warmth and compression. The Wow & Flutter section replicates tape irregularities. It’s part of Universal Audio’s UAD plugin platform, requiring their DSP hardware.
- Slate Digital Virtual Tape Machines
Slate Digital’s Virtual Tape Machines bundle includes 4 plugins: the Virtual Tape Machine, Virtual Tape Machines Platinum, Virtual Mix Tape, and Virtual Tape Warmth. Together they provide a complete tape emulation workflow, from track saturation to glue compression on the mix bus. It models tape decks like Studer, Otari, Ampex, and more.
- AudioThing Type A
Type A by AudioThing is based on the Revox A77 open-reel tape recorder. It has adjustable tape speed, bias, noise, saturation, and wow & flutter controls. You can switch Type A between A, B, and C tape types, each with its frequency response. It’s great for getting vintage tape sounds without complexity.
- Kazrog True Iron
True Iron is an easy-to-use tape saturation plugin from Kazrog. It has just a few key parameters: Iron bias, for adjusting the warmth and compression; Relax, to control high-frequency roll-off; and a Saturation knob for increasing the tape distortion. The simple interface makes it quick to add tape-style saturation.
- Sknote Triple Tape Machine
As the name suggests, Triple Tape Machine by Sknote provides 3 tape machine models in one plugin. It has emulations of a Studer A80 recorder, Akai 4000DSmk2, and Akai M20. Each has its sound, ranging from smooth to lo-fi. It’s a great all-in-one tape solution.
- Overloud Tape Desk
Tape Desk by Overloud models an 8-track tape recorder and mixer console. It has tape speed, saturation, and bias controls, plus built-in EQs and compressors to shape the tone as you saturate. You can drive each track into analog-style distortion and compression. Tape Desk provides an end-to-end tape workflow.
- iZotope Vintage Tape
iZotope Vintage Tape uses modeling technology to emulate both tape and tube circuitry saturation. The Bias, Speed, Noise, Warble, and Wow controls alter the tape sound, while Drive, Compress, and EQ shape the overall tone. It’s part of iZotope’s Vintage FX suite of creative effects plugins.
- True Tape Caliburn by G-Sonique
The True Tape Caliburn plugin by G-Sonique is available for free and provides authentic tape saturation and compression effects. It models a Studer tape recorder and has controls for tape speed, saturation, gain reduction, etc. For a free plugin, Caliburn can add convincing analog tape warmth.
Tape emulation plugins offer an easy way to add the sound of analog tape saturation, compression, and distortion to digital recordings. Whether you are looking to add subtle warmth or heavily driven distortion, the plugins featured above all deliver excellent tape effects.
From paid options like Waves J37, Softube Tape, and Slate VTM to free plugins like G-Sonique’s True Tape Caliburn, there are great tape emulation tools for every budget. Try adding some of these plugins across your tracks and mix bus the next time you want to give your music an analog, vintage tape sound.