The cost of analog is no longer an obstacle. Technology has achieved an incredible feat where we have dozens of fantastic emulations of analog hardware models packed into cost-effective digital packages, allowing us to avoid tens of thousands of dollars in debt building a home studio. But how do we get “that sound?” Let us show you how to get analog tones with digital plugins!

Mimic An Analog Workflow

If you want an analog sound, your best bet is to adapt your workflow and signal chain to match that. Using a tape saturation plugin on your master bus is not an accurate depiction of how traditional records are made.

Back in the days before digital audio, records were commonly made by recording each track to tape, then running it through the console for EQ/compression, possibly sent to other outboard processors, and then the entire mix was printed to tape.

So what does that mean for us?

If we were to imitate that workflow our signal chain would be:

1) Tape Emulation
2) Console Emulation (Color, and EQ/Compression)
3) Additional Sends (Reverbs, Delays, etc.)
4) Tape Emulation on Master Bus

There are several variations on this setup depending on the exact kind of analog workflow you’re aiming to emulate. Now we know that this violates one of our 5 recording mistakes to avoid, but this is for a specific purpose and if you’ve got the CPU power then this is a great starting point to get the proper coloration and processing steps into your DAW.

A Touch of Saturation

Some of us don’t have the time, patience, or CPU allowance for a full recreation of a $500,000 studio in our DAW, but sometimes a bit of saturation is all you need!

Try some gentle tape saturation on your guitars to smooth out the high end, some preamp emulation to give your drums some aggression and punch, or even some tube emulation to warm up your vocals. A hint of color and saturation can give life and depth to your instruments in an instant.

Don’t Forget Your Effects

Your raw tracks aren’t the only things that can benefit from some coloration.

Tape doesn’t just appear in tracking or printing your mix. Plenty of old delay and echo units used tape to get their sound. If you don’t have a delay plugin that emulates a tape delay, you can still get this sound by using a digital delay plugin and combining it with a tape emulation plugin.

While we have an incredible amount of beautiful sounding algorithmic reverb plugins, many people prefer impulse responses for their more natural, organic sound. While impulses are not going to be as flexible and tweakable (while taking a more noticeable hit to your CPU), they are a snapshot of a real physical environment, rather than trying to recreate something similar using algorithms.

But why does that matter? That’s not about analog gear…

Part of the analog sound is not just about the analog gear, but the old workflow styles that went along with it those recording processes. These tracks were recorded in beautiful live rooms with lush, natural reverb, and impulses are a far more accurate way to capture the sound of a space than to apply algorithms to recreating it from scratch.

Both tools have their benefits. If you want that gorgeous shimmer reverb or something otherworldly sounding then impulses might not be your best bet, but if you’re looking for a more “analog” sound, you’d probably be better off using a snapshot of real physical environments.

Get As Analog As You Can

Alright, you caught us… this one isn’t a plugin, but it’s still one of the best tips for getting analog tones on a budget that we’ve ever tried!

None of us have the money for a real analog studio (why else would you be reading this article?) but we do have access to some of the more budget-friendly analog methods.

Buy yourself a nice analog compressor or EQ to replace one or more of your similar plugins. It’ll add some of that depth and coloration to your tracks (or even your master bus), and with countless great analog clones on the market, it’s easy to find something that delivers the “real deal” even better than a plugin.

One of my favorite tricks is re-amping modelers using real cabs and mics. Digital modeling is fantastic for a number of reasons, but sometimes it just needs a little extra realism. One way to do so is to take your digital tones and record them through a real cab. You’d be surprised at the difference that a real Mesa 4×12 and SM57 can make compared to their digital counterparts!

Putting It All Together

Let’s be realistic… No single move will give you the analog sound.

Every record is the sum of its parts, not just one decision made by the mixing engineer. As such, if you want “that sound” in its most honest form, you need an analog recording setup.

The good news is that if you approach your songs with the “sum of its parts” mentality from the very beginning, you are fully capable of getting a mix that even the hyper-critical analog purists would be hard pressed to comment on.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what tools you’re using, as long as you’re happy with the sounds you get. If the analog sound is what you want, implementing these techniques will get you remarkably close for a fraction of the cost.

We hope you enjoyed this article! If you did, make sure to check out more, because we upload new reviews, technical articles, lessons, and more daily!

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This article was written by Connor Gilkinson, our editor located in Canada.

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