TemplarK wrote:Ok, maybe we can generate some chat about intricacies of using cassette tapes for those of us, like myself, who haven't touched a tape since a child back in the late 80's early 90's!
So far i've bought one tape a Maxwell XLII-S 90 - IEC Type 2/High position.
I've read the basics on the types of tapes, what i'd like to know is when you change the setting for the tape type what actually changes inside the TE2? The signal strength? Are there filters that come into play with different tape types?
What if i had the TE2 set to Type IV and was using a Type II tape? What would one expect to hear sonically? Would it be detrimental to the sonics or the tape mechanism itself?
Is there a tape type that is more expensive but actually a much better tape type (maybe one used for mastering etc) that i should look out for a bargain of? The maxwell i mentioned i bought was around £8 UK so, i don't mind so much to get a much better tape but i'm also mindful that a better tape might not saturate as much? Thoughts on this?
Firstly, you won't be damaging anything ever, no matter what kind of tape type you put in and what kind of eq/bias settings you use. It's all just sonic adjustment, like any eq knob essentially, and doesn't have anything to do with physical mechanisms or the oxide tape itself or magnetism of heads or anything.
The bias/eq situation on the Space Case is the same as for all cassette machines back in the day. The simplest way to think of it is that some tape formulations (the chemical brown stuff adhered to the inside of the tape) are cheaper to make but require some tricky frequency compensation at both the input and output in order to make it sound acceptable.. and then on the contrary...some tape formulations are better sounding and need less work (frequency compensation) to make it sound good but cost more to make (at least that's what they tell us). One of the absolute cores of the concept is this... With the cheaper tape, manufacturers knew well that if they sent in basic signal to tape but with brighter/higher boosts, and then reversed it on its way back out to bring the original signal back to normal, that whatever white noise was inherently on the empty tape itself would get dramatically reduced by the second half of the process.. the repro/playback stage.
To put that into a more life like context..... if you were to record a crash cymbal to tape live, and have a mixing board with a single channel turned up to monitor the tape/repro (delayed) signal being recorded, you'd being hearing your actual recording but you'd also have whatever tape hiss is inherent with the tape. Because, it's tape. And that's what tape does. Most people don't like tape hiss... So, if you go ahead and turn down some high-eq on that mixer channel's EQ knobs, let's just pick a setting of negative "5" out of a total of negative 10 notches on the high EQ knob, your tape hiss is maybe almost totally gone now right? .. but so are a bunch of your high frequencies of your crash cymbal. It sounds dull and muffled. That's a problem. But, if you happen to have another separate EQ/channel at your disposal, you could put the cymbal mic through it BEFORE tape and set the EQ exactly reversed.. turn up the high-eq exactly as much UP before it goes to tape, say to PLUS "5" instead of minus 5, so that your original signal is receiving a high boost before the recording process. Now, since your output EQ is cutting at negative 5, it's countering your boost going in, and your cymbal sound is practically sounding correct because it's bright enough again, AND your tape hiss sound is mostly gone, all that the same time. And the important thing to note is that the EQ designs are symmetrical. You're using a pair that does something and then undoes the same thing.
That's the overall principle. But in this tape/bias/type domain, there are multiple similar tricks being pulled off at once.. there is low frequency stuff, and also saturation/distortion/headroom stuff. It really is a lot more complex than that, and the curves are more elaborate than this picture is painting. But the point is always "compensation". We're doing something going in, and were undoing said something going out, for the specific purpose of making the tape better sounding than it should be on its own. If you dig through professional tape machine service/user manuals, you'll find one word often repeated, which is "compensation." Or "frequency compensation" Or "Low freq comp switch" and things like that. This is because that's exactly what's going on, circuit engineers are compensating for tape's lack of performance in certain ways. This is happening AT ALL TIMES ON ALL TAPE MACHINES. There is no such thing as a perfectly neutral tape situation. ( i don't think) That probably would have been unmarketable.
So the market comes into play then.. There are cheaper, Type 1 / I / Normal tapes, then there are more expensive Type 2 / II / Chrome / "High Bias" tapes, and there are properly high priced Type 4 / IV / Metal tapes. Three categories. There is a switch on most cassette machines for all three, but some just focus on two types and omit a third of their choosing due to customer base focus. But those three settings are standardized. I don't know if there are strict legal adherences involved so that consumers have their pre recorded tapes sounding fully as expected, and i also can't say for sure how much variance there is from cassette player design to cassette player design ("man have you heard this 1986 Sony 35L56's Type II eq curve it sounds so much better than the 1985 Sony 35L55's Type II eq curve!!" ???) But i find it doubtful that there is much art to the three curves when manufacturers implement them into their machines, and I think it's for the most part just standard for all three types. But with this machine here that i know well, the three curves have always done a very good job so i chose not to mess with it ever at all. If i had, it would have been extremely subtle. I also haven't had the time to look into all the history. It would be completely irresponsible to go ahead and adjust those curves, with the risk that some (or all) tapes around the world would no longer sound as expected.
With the TE-1/TE-2, there is a lot of EQ / Tone adjustment to take this and practically make it all a moot point. For instance on the TE-2 if you turn down the 4 pole Low Pass Filter and also raise your 4-Pole High Pass Filter, you're making an extreme shelf-change to both the high eq and low eq and all that Tape Type curve preset is just whisked away into meaning almost nothing to your ears. However, if you want stock and standard strong sound, you really should to start off with the proper setting for the tape, and then deviate from it. You'll start off with proper headroom/distortion, proper high and low frequencies, and then you have a healthy home base to then completely muck up. The primary reason is probably headroom. The sound that you send in to the machine is hitting tape first, then it's getting filtered and feedback'd, so you should hit the tape with the correct setting if you want it to sound as one would expect. But go ahead and flip the Type switch to something else to your hearts content. But you may get some weird overdriven tape sound at the core, which you're then working with as your basis.
The thing about hitting switches on the fly is that there are two different situations and two different results... playback and recording. You can experiment and get all kinds of results.. If you recall the example of live recording a crash cymbal, there was some EQ applied to the mic before hitting tape, then the reverse EQ applied afterwards on the output channel to bring your cymbal sound back to normal. So if you remove the first half and are just playing back a neutral cymbal crash, your sound will be too dull because your output EQ is turning down the highs... but if you record with the boosted highs but then don't apply your high cuts on the output anymore, your sound will be too bright. This is basically all that is happening when you're interchanging between Type 1,2,4 and also playback/record. You can change it up and get some different EQ's and saturations/distortions. If you fully record/playback with a different Type selected than the tape you're using is supposed to have, for example if you use a Type II tape and record/play using the Type I setting.. you might think "oh so it's getting adjusted going in and readjusted back going out, so it should sound the same no matter what Type switch i have selected" but this isn't the case because the formulations themselves are meant to chemically react to the Type curve, and Type II tape under Type I switch / curve will not at all have the same sonic results as using a Type I tape in Type I switch/curve. The Type I tape is meant to receive and react well with that curve. These are real physical chemicals, having magnetic reactions, giving you sound, and these chemical makeups are designed for certain reactions.
Generally speaking, the chemicals of a Type I formulation, whether its made by Sony, TDK, MAXELL, BASF, all pretty much do the same thing but some do it better than others. Then you can repeat that statement for Type II and also Type IV. So there is not just one single Type 1 cassette formulation/tape, one single Type II cassette formulation tape, nor Type IV cassette formulation/tape out in the world. There are thousands for each of the three. As opposed to the circuit EQ curves being standard on machines, tape formulations themselves are vastly more artful and secret, and they all are strategized to making the most out of one of the three I, II, IV eq curves on machines. Type II is very commonly assumed to be the best category to stick with since it can sound terrific and also be attainable reasonably. The TDK SA and MAXELL XL II have proven to be rather similar to each other, and also they are rather better than the rest of the world out there in relation to Type II tapes AND in relation to cost. There are other Type II tapes by BASF and others that sound quite similar and are just as good as well. Maybe even better.
There are also some unannounced things going on with third parties that I'm not yet allowed to disclose that are pretty exciting and have to do with brand new tape being made. It'll be fun to see it come to fruition. And it's sounding really good in tests. Interestingly though, this is all in the realm of Type 1, which has been reinvented in recent years by a handful of formulation designers and absolutely meets the performance quality of Type II, and exceeds it. The reason that Type II has been abandoned by anyone looking to make new cassette formulations is that the manufacturing behind making Type II chemical formulation is very caustic to the environment. It's a good sign that it's been ruled out! Fortunately there is a boat load of unused Type II out there. Also fortunately, good Type II tapes have been known to last a very very long time in the Space Case and retain high frequencies. It's impossible to give numbers because it has to do with how you handle the machine during use and how long and often your sessions are, but it's a long time. Under no clinical tests/measurements.. I've had tapes get used regularly for over a year with no noticeable issues. Whatever regularly means!