Direct Stream Digital Audio

Why does tape sound different than DSD?

Why does tape sound different than DSD?

Some of us talk about the magic sound of tape.  Some of us talk about vinyl and DSD256.  What is the difference that analog brings over digital?  We did a few experiments for you and here are our results.....

Over the last month, we had an artist (Mick Overman) insist on recording and mixing to tape.  I love the sound of an analog reel to reel machine, but finding great tape has been difficult.  During the pandemic, we stopped recording to tape for years and rarely turned on those machines.  Instead we relied on our DSD256 devices to record and mix.

So, when Mick's sessions came around, it took many months of preparation to find a tech to brush the dust off the machines, find a reliable tape dealer, bake the tapes (for added insurance of viability), then bake again, setup and calibrate everything.  The worst part was enduring the smell of the new tape (which is really horrible).

When we got to mixing on 1/2" at 30ips, we decided we would run the DSD256 while the tape deck was on input.  Then, we ran the DSD256 on playback of the 1/2" tape.  To my amazement, there was a difference... very slight, but there.... and I liked it.

So, what does that mean?  Both tape and DSD captured from the same outputs .... why did the tape sound different?

I would speculate that DSD256 recorded from the input heads of the tape machine is more accurate and what we heard in the control room while we mixed.  When we recorded the playback of the 1/2" tape, there was a glorious midrange I never heard before... all very slight but there.  And yes, the DSD256 was able to capture that difference in sound for us to compare.

Now that said, probably in a week... or maybe overnight....  had we not played back the tape immediately after recording, the tape might have lost some of its glory.  That's a common well known fact for those of us who have worked with tape.  We've learned to live with the degradation that time brings.  Capturing the sound of tape to DSD256 after recording to blank, fresh tape has a time clock on it.  In a few weeks, we'll replay the tape and capture it again to test the loss.

For the time being, the tape brought the magic and DSD256 was able to capture it.

By the way, I'm not the only one who captures tape to digital.  Neil Young and Rick Rubin recently recorded Neil's album to tape and immediately ran it to digital (albeit PCM) in order to preserve that freshly recorded to tape sound.  I've heard it's catching on in Los Angeles.  :)


Cookie Marenco

Founder and Producer
Blue Coast Records and Music

File Attachment: