Typically, the dynamic range of an average studio tape machine is 60 to 70 dB, while the AR-300 has better than 105 dB, along with much higher headroom than tape typically better than 25 dB. Tape machines normally exhibit, a radical high-frequency EQ shift in varispeed mode, but the AR-300 limits this shift to ±2 dB.
There is also a big advantage in the speed selection. While most tape machines provide only two speeds, and the VSO range of usually no more than ±25%, the AR-300 offers three speed selections plus a VSO range that overlaps into the next speed.
When operating in the VSO mode, tape-machine motors have a heavier duty cycle, parts and heads wear out more quickly, and maintenance is generally high. As an analog effect, the Tape Eliminator is virtually maintenance free, easily portable (one rack space), and has no heads to clean, or tape to rewind every half hour!
The unit may be run in the balanced or unbalanced configuration, and connections (including power) are made via an edge connector at the back. In a studio environment this connector made a good tight fit, but if the unit was rack mounted for use on the road, it would be best to check the connection between shows.
Believe it or not, when I received this unit for review, I was told that it was set up to “simulate” Ampex 456 Grand Master on a Studer tape machine set at 0 VU = 420 nWb m flux level. Marshall claims to have built into each unit the NAB EQ curve; high-frequency EQ trim for each tape
speed; over-bias capability; and tape overload characteristics – yet without the hard clipping found in digital delays. The unit may be ordered to simulate different tapes or tape machines, depending on your favorite; “simulated” curves are available for Studer, 3M, and MCI tape machines, and Ampex 456, Scotch 250, and Agfa P EM-468 tape.
Now that you know what the Tape Eliminator can do for you, let’s look at its operation. The front panel consists of three rotary knobs. On the far left is the input-level control, with the 12 o’clock position representing unity gain. Just to its right are three LEDs that display available headroom: once you hit the red zero-dB indicator, the unit does not go into clipping.
Instead, it exhibits the characteristics of tape compression, and can be utilized in that way as a special effect. The center control is a three-position pot indicating the speed ranges corresponding to 7.5, 15, and 30 ips with LED indicators. The third knob is a VSO control, the 12 0’clock position being the center of the speed range, while the settings between 40 and 70 cover most popular inter-head delay times.
VSO ranges for each tape speed are as follows: 30 ips: 20 to 75 mS; 15 ips: 40 to 150 mS; and 7.5 ips: 80 to 300 ms. With this kind of overlap you can achieve tape-delay ranges that were previously unobtainable with tape machines. The clocking of the unit is so precise that if you select a delay setting at 15 ips, and then decide to make it half as long, you can split the time exactly by switching to the 30 ips ranges. Or you can double it by switching to 7.5 ips. (Try that with your tape machine, and I’ll bet the VSO drifts!)
Of course, the ears are the final, true testing equipment evaluation. The perfect opportunity to use the Tape Eliminator came during the recording of the Dinosaurs, a group consisting of members of several famous bands from the Sixties. These guys didn’t want to know about digital, and stated specifically: “There is nothing like tape echo. ” The was used to create Elvis-style slaps for lead vocals, to provide simple doubling, and to broaden background vocals by creating panned delay images. All these effects were handled well. and everyone involved on the project
loved the warmth of the signal.
Desired effects were obtained very quickly and, yes, this box sure does sound like tape, only without that ever-present tape hiss. As this reviewer is prone to do, another opinion was solicited on the sonic qualities of the AR-300 from Terry Delsing, chief engineer at Studio D, in Sausalito. CA. Delsing was impressed with the “warmth and quality of the sound” and believed it to “sound very much like tape.” He also liked the speed with which he was able to dial in the desired effect.
As chief of maintenance at Sausalito Record Plant, I)elsing was in charge of tweaking the tape machines for engineer Tom Flye. “Tom is a tape-echo freak,” the engineer recalls. Because the VSO always screws up the machine’s pre-emphasis curve, I was constantly tuning it up with pink
noise; it was a real pain. The Tape Eliminator eliminates that problem completely.
According to its manufacturer, the unit was designed over a period of several years. and is the product of interactive development and cooperation with A&R Studios in New York – hence the name AR-300. The years of development certainly paid off, since the Tape Eliminator is a fine sounding piece of gear. and lives up to Marshall’s claims.
Use it anywhere you would normally use tape echo for
vocal slap, doubling, or as a pre-delay to plates and chambers. You may even find it interesting for smoothing out the sound of your digital reverbs, by running the reverb outputs through the AR-300 before returning them to the board. I also hear that some engineers have been using the unit to “warm up” the sound of digital recordings. It should be re-stated, however, that this is an analog effect; the manufacturer’s goal of simulating the sound of conventional tape could not be achieved with digital technology in its present state.
Operation of the AR-300 takes virtually no time to learn. The owner’s manual is simple. straight forward, and only three pages long, with one page dedicated to design concept and a history of its development. For less than the price of a low-end tape machine that is usually dedicated to the tape echo chore, you could buy a very high-end product that will provide higher quality sound and more flexibility. If you like tape echo, I would not hesitate in recommending that you listen to the AR-300 Tape Eliminator.
Due to the lack of information available for this device, we have reproduced a review from the June 1985 edition of Recording Engineer Producer Magazine, written by Bob Hodas.