My Experience Mixing Down to Tape

SOURCE / Home Recording Blog | Make Home Rec... by DarthPreamp x
I though some might be interested in this process, so I am writing it up.

My most recent mixing experience was with a local Singer/Songwriter named Jim Waters. I recorded his album from start to finish and then mixed it. The music is mostly only voice and guitar; while some tracks have overdubs of backing/lead vocals and/or Harmonica. It is important to note that most of the tracks were recorded live, no overdubs, two mics, one for the voice, one for the guitar. Even though there were only two tracks basically, it was not as easy to mix as one might think. In a certain way, mixing a whole band is much easier!

To begin with here is a list of the equipment/Signal Chain I used to mix on.

Cockos Reaper DAW
Allen & Heath GL4000 Console
Golden Age Comp 54 Stereo Linked
Revox A77 rebuilt to 15ips with "Abbey Road" Modification (This mod bypasses the mic preamps on the line inputs)

Digital Transfer using TC Electronic Konnekt 24D at 192khz

So the Revox A77 that I own is an interesting machine, it is well, fairly old for a piece of working equipment, so, like me, ;) ,it has a couple issues that I had to deal with. The main issue is that the rebuild did not include new connectors, so the line outputs really don't work. Instead, I used the Headphone outs, as that is the only option with this particular machine. Thankfully, the headphone out sounds lovely, even if Left and Right are opposite. Go figure. It sounds REALLY good to my ears, so it is worth putting up with a couple of issues. 

I first started by using ATR tape at 15ips, an old reel that I use as a scratch reel. It is an absolute must to monitor what is coming from the tape. I monitored the headphone out, as that was what i was using to transfer to digital. 
I liked what I was hearing, a lot! I used the stereo compressor to even out just slightly the peaks of the mixes, in order to get as much gain on the tape as possible with out too much tape compression. This is, of course , a matter of taste. How hot your signal is, and how much stereo compression you use before the tape, in conjunction with how much 'tape ' compression you want. All of these parameters are really, really important in order to get the most out of mixing to tape and in order to achieve the sound you want. The truth is, this is really what mixing to tape is about, stereo signal to stereo compression to tape input level = sound you are after.

After I got the sound I wanted on the scratch mix, I removed the scratch reel and proceeded to clean the machine, in prep for the final mix to tape. Then I put the new ATR reel on, and marked my 0000 point. Then I documented, the track info in actual writing, on the sheet provided by ATR. 

Now I was ready to print it. I did print it, then went back and carefully monitored that it printed properly, with no drop outs or other problems. As far as I remember, drop outs never occurred. 

The whole process added around 60 - 120 minutes of time to the total mix time of each track. I was quite meticulous to follow this little routine, and make sure that all the moving parts were clean. 

The experience was very hard and detailed work, but absolutely worth it. I LOVE mixing to tape, not because I am a glutton for punishment, but because the sound, when properly attended to, is so nice!

I've attached an example of the raw mix. This is the digital transfer only, without any effects. It is very, very close to the way the tape itself sounded, as the conversion in my old TC unit is fantastic! The song starts at 18 seconds in. 

I hope this is useful and or interesting to someone! Or at least entertaining! 




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