At AES, we met with Waves, and they asked us why Tape Op never reviews their plug-ins. "Good question," I said. Then, a bit later at the show, Geoff Stanfield and I started talking about how we had both purchased and were using Waves ADT. "Hey, wait a minute," I said, "This is a review if we do an email dialog." So here it is. -JB
JB: Hey Geoff, you have the Abbey Road Studios Reel ADT plug-in from Waves, the one that simulates automatic double-tracking the way The Beatles did with two tape machines. I bought it when it went on sale, and I have to say, I've been digging it. It's a bit more subtle than I expected, actually, but it can really beef up a vocal track. What have you been using it for?
Geoff Stanfield: Oddly enough, the first time I used it was on drums. I was looking to add some vibe to a sort of static drum part. It has a cool "drive" feature on both the source and the ADT effect, which saturates in a great way, so I cranked that up and set the Varispeed knob to taste, and it gave me a sound that was reminiscent of the flanged-out cymbals on "Kashmir." On drums, it is pretty subtle - without a melodic instrument to showcase the modulation of pitch - but it presents itself in a much more noticeable way when the cymbals are played. I tried it directly on the overheads and on an aux track, and both results had their pluses and minuses.
On vocals, I found many of the presets to be very useable starting points, and I liked the watery quality of the wow-and- flutter effect this plug-in provides. Often, I will set up an aux track with a pitch plug-in at ±11 cents or so, and send my vocal to it to add some extra width and presence. Reel ADT performs a similar task, but unlike the fixed pitch setting in my previously mentioned technique, Reel ADT lets the LFO move either with a fixed shape or randomly, which provides a bit more interest in my opinion. In addition to the wave shape, you can also adjust the rate of the LFO or use the Sync option. It can be subtle, but turned up, I can really hear it if I want to. Have you ever set up two tape machines and done ADT the real way? How does this compare?
JB: No, despite having two tape machines, I've never tried this. I dug out my Recording The Beatles book [Tape Op #53] and looked into how they did ADT back then. First, ADT stands for Artificial Double Tracking, not Automatic Double Tracking as I'd thought. With John Lennon apparently complaining about how long it took to double vocals, engineer Ken Townsend came up with a process to do it using two of Abbey Road's tape machines, the 4-track Studer J37 and the mono EMI BTR2. The key to making the ADT effect work was that the main multitrack, the J37, unlike most tape decks, had separate playback amplifiers for both the record/sync head and the reproduce head. When they were mixing from the repro head, they would send a simultaneous signal from the sync head of the J37 to the BTR2, which was in record mode. This signal was "ahead" of the repro head on the J37. Also important to note is that the head gap between the BTR2's record and play heads was approximately twice that of the J37. By running the BTR2 at 30 IPS, twice as fast as the J37 at 15 IPS, Mr. Townsend realized that the delayed signal coming off the repro head of the BTR2 was almost in sync with the signal on the J37's repro head. By slightly varying the tape speed of the BTR2, he was able to move the ADT signal slightly ahead or behind the unaffected signal from the J37. Whew! You really had to work hard back in those days! I'm pretty stoked that Waves has this plug-in now. Obviously, it is much easier to use, takes up less space, and weighs less too!
While you could simulate the sync head in a DAW by duplicating a track and shifting it back in time to send that to a tape machine, this plug-in does add some nice features. The LFO that you mention is key as that allows subtle - or not so subtle - variations on the delay time, simulating the speed fluctuations of a tape machine. But, one of the biggest bonuses is the "double" version of the plug-in that allows you to replicate two separate tape machines doing the ADT effect. With this, you can really fill out a track and widen its stereo field. Factor in some nice console-like features, like level controls, mute, and polarity reverse, and I'm pretty impressed with Waves' take on this effect. Lastly, you have the tape saturation process modeled as well, and you can drive the tape harder for more saturation.
I bought Reel ADT when it was first released and on sale, and I happened to be working on some tracks that I felt needed a bigger vocal presence, and I didn't want to double the vocals. The plug-in worked great for that project, and I'm looking forward to trying it on other tracks. Geoff, any last words?
GS: I can certainly see using Reel ADT on projects in all sorts of ways. You've inspired me to go open my Recording The Beatles book again to dig in further on the ADT process. I often have singers do a "shadow double" of the lead vocal to beef it up. Even if it is almost inaudible, the secondary track does a nice thing. Reel ADT does a great job of mimicking this when tweaked appropriately. As I mentioned already, a great benefit to this plug-in is the ability to integrate some randomness to the process. I think leaving a few tidbits to the recording gods is always a good thing. As is the case with many great effects, you can use Reel ADT as intended or go off the rails with it in your own creative way. The fact is, this plug-in lets you do effective and analog-sounding auto-doubling of vocals - from retro to modern - and you can use it as an inspiring modulation tool for any number of applications. I'll be using it frequently.
($200 download; www.waves.com)