The Future Is Analog

I spent two days this week with CLASP cutting tracks with live musicians in the SSL room at the Conservatory of Recording Arts. The system allows you to endless_clasp.gifrecord through analog tape, coming off the repro head and immediately into your DAW. It was a mind-blower and more fun I’ve had in the studio in a long time. It made me realize how one-dimensional digital recording has become and how I’ve gotten into the habit of settling for poor results.

In my career, I’ve seen the pendulum of our business swing from analog to digital, and now back to an analog/digital hybrid that marries the best of both worlds. I record on a regular basis using a lot of great mics, preamps, plug-ins and monitors. And while excellent audio gear can shape a track in many positive ways, the weakest link is digital conversion and what the digital mix engine does inside the box. Using tape again brought that ear-friendly component back, even after conversion, making the tracks mix easier and offering a palette of sonic color that is lost in conversion straight from the mic.

CLASP turns your conception of analog workflow upside down. There’s no rewind time and tape cost is cut dramatically because you’re not using it as a format but instead, as a medium. You can monitor off the repro head at different tape speeds on the same take so you can make judgements on how hard to hit the tape, what speed is best and then mix and match speeds and saturation over a series of overdubs, on the same song. The end result is dramatic and discernible, even to the untrained ear.

During two days of sessions, I invited enginers whose ears I respect, students, even non-audio folks and to the last person, they “got it”. They could hear the difference in the bottom end, the musicality of tape and how it effected their perception of the music. The musicians also loved it, urging on the experimentation. It became a shared peak musical experience: the best part of music production.

To read more about how CLASP can be integrated into a studio’s workflow, check out my interview with Lenny Kravitz and his audio team. He owns two systems and uses it across a range of tape machines. Since October, inventor Chris Estes has sold 21 systems, about one a week, and sales are strong. With all the bad news in our industry including studio closings, plunging budgets not to mention crappy music, CLASP is a bit of good news for audio pros who got into this business because of the sound of music.

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