u-he's Satin is a "tape simulation" plug-in unlike any other that I have used. It's not an exhaustive emulation of a specific analog machine, nor is it a simplified saturation box. Instead, Satin aims to provide a comprehensive tool kit of interactive controls to create your own simulated tape machine sound. Satin's nearly two dozen parameters are a bit overwhelming upon first use, but put in the time and you will be rewarded. At the top of the interface, two large knobs control input and output level with an option to engage a handy automatic makeup gain, the latter allowing the user to increase input gain for more saturation while keeping the volume consistent. Here we can also choose between vintage and modern tape formulations, as well as traditional VU style or RMS level (useful for assessing perceived loudness) metering for input and output.
In the main section of the plug-in, we find three modes of operation: Studio, Delay, and Flange – three plug-ins in one! Next in our control panel are continuously variable knobs that adjust tape speed from 1.87 ips (inches per second) to 30 ips, and Pre-Emphasis; a parameter described as "addressing the gap loss phenomenon." A quick look at the manual is full of further technical details on this, but in practical terms I found that increasing the Pre-Emphasis amounted to a broad high frequency boost. When used in tandem, Speed and Pre-Emphasis allowed for a wide range of tonal shaping, from dark and dense to airy and lean, and everything in between.
The Compander section of the main panel introduces a noise reduction system with classic models from Dolby and dbx. I found the Dolby A-Type to be flattering for most program material and general use. Compander allows you to choose to encode and not decode, or choose to mix and match different units for some wacky frequency curves. The classic "Dolby A-Trick" can be implemented here by choosing A-Type Mod as the encoder with no decoder selected. The result is a hyped high frequency texture that lends itself beautifully to lead and background vocals in need of air and presence. A wet/dry Mix control allows the user to insert the plug-in and blend the Compander effect.
Further tweakability abounds in Satin's service panel. The tape portion has adjustments for Hiss, Asperity, Crosstalk, Wow & Flutter, and Bias. Leaving most of these parameters at their nominal settings usually sounded best on complex program material to my ears, although I opted to turn the Hiss and Asperity all the way down for a lower noise floor. Further adjustments can be made to Gap Width, Head Bump, and Azimuth. Again, I often left these at unity but did experiment with a hyped bottom end with the Head Bump adjustment – mixes that could use a bit of thickening, or individual tracks like bass guitar and kick drum are perfect candidates for this treatment. Finally, we can choose our record and repro equalization circuit models. NAB EQ at 15 ips was a familiar starting point for me, and I immediately loved the euphonic sheen and density it imparted.
Satin is now permanently inserted on my mix bus chain, and I don't plan to change that any time soon. I would encourage mixing through this plug-in for a couple of hours and then bypass it. You will immediately miss the subtle gluing, thickening, and harmonic excitement that it brings to tracks. There is a rare three-dimensional quality that my mixes take on with Satin that feels similar to mixing down to a classic analog 1/4-inch deck. I won't claim that it sounds exactly the same as the real machine, but it gets me a lot closer to a finished mix, and that in itself is invaluable. Available in AU, VST2, VST3, AAX, and NKS FX formats.