Level changes record vs live playing synth (whilst in tape environment for both)

Whilst in tape, when I play synth live on the keyboard the volume is louder vs when I record that same instrument - keeping all factors consistent: channel volume at max, record at max, no clipping, and in tape mode for both recording and playing live. There also seems to be change in tone, with the tape recorded sample sounding a bit leaner… Has anyone noticed this? I can’t seem to replicate consistent volume between playing live and recorded in tape… I’m aware that playing live synth outside tape environment bypasses the internal volume control/mixers but I’m not doing this as I’m in tape mode for both, I would expect more consistent behaviour… anyone else finding this?

I reckon I can hear a difference when bouncing down tape… Even when I’m careful to set the gain to 0 , and the level to unity.

Me too, I do think there is an emulation of the characteristics of tape recording. I love this feature on the OP-1! Even though its not documented

Some years ago Cubase had a similar emulation, it recorded on 32-bit wav files and it did make a noticeable difference as well

interesting, so you think it’s a “feature” to make it sound more like tape? I find it tricky as it’s not what you hear what you get so i have to rebalance the mixer volume each time I record something to balance the levels

interesting, so you think it's a "feature" to make it sound more like tape? I find it tricky as it's not what you hear what you get so i have to rebalance the mixer volume each time I record something to balance the levels

Well yes, I do think it is, since the character of the sound changes, but it doesn’t make nasty changes or clipping. Its just the color that changes…

I hear a loss in punch. Kick drums and such.

Yup it seems that bassy sounds are more affected by losing some of their punch… i’ve been layering sounds to get some of it back, in addition to resampling with punch effect, and a touch of extra bass with master eq

I’ve noticed this when playing a full pattern then comparing to one-shots. By this I mean that when you play in a drum pattern (let’s say finger drumming a straight 4 on the floor) the combined sound of the multiple drum hits will “rob” each other of a little bit of punch. If you then record this, listen to it, and compare it by just hitting the drums individually (kick, snr, etc) the non-recorded drums seem louder. The same principal can be applied to playing a full chord vs playing a single note in the synth, the single note sounds a little crisper and fuller.

I just tested this out just to make sure I’m not going mad. Switched to tape mode with a kit selected (made sure the mixers were all at 99 and centred), recorded some one-shots, nice and spaced apart, then played it back. In the gaps between each one shot I would trigger the same drum to see how closely they matched, and they were exactly the same. I then added a simple sustained bass note from the pulse synth (ROWND BASS preset) and this significantly squashed the drum sound.
I reckon that this is due to the overall low headroom of the device, which of course is similar in “real” tape as well. Remember that huge, thumping kicks didn’t really exist until the advent of digital recording, as the low end information ate up too much tape headroom and pushed it easily into clipping. I treat the OP1 in a similar way. Would be interesting to see if the headroom was put in place on purpose (as a tape emulation of sorts) or simply just a limitation of the blackfin chip. I’d assume the latter occurred first (i.e. TE reached the maximum headroom quickly), but it kind of made sense for the application, so was not changed - instead becoming part of the overall sound of the OP.

TBH the low headroom was the thing that took me the most time to get my head around when I first got the OP, now I kind of write with it in mind, and I end up writing stuff on it that is wildly different to what I do on my mac, or in maschine software etc etc

double post

What @millbastard says makes a lot of sense, I wasn’t aware the thumping kicks for the dancefloor came with digital recording.

I understand these recorders were gradually making it into the consumer market througout the 80s? Which could explain why the Detroit/Chicago scene was making such great productions by the end of that decade

If the algorithm behind scenes on the OP-1 has similar limitations to the tape and this issue is something that can’t be fixed, that could mean that we must use it as a sketchpad, indeed. Mainly for the drum and bass section, but not necessarily the harmonies and melodies, before building the final production on a computer, which overcomes the problem.

Could this be taking us to some kind of conclusion?



I wonder if the squish is in effect only when layering on a single track, or if it accumulates on the stereo buss / elsewhere… Can’t test myself, my op-1 is not with me.

If it’s only when layering on one track, it would mean that clever division of track content is needed when creating arrangements… This enforces a limitation, which then in turn actually makes me feel clearer about how best to utilise the op-1…


By conclusion, are you referring to how we should / should not best use the op-1. Ie. Playing to it’s strengths / using the “squish” effect intentionally.

Nb: By “squish” I mean the flattening out of transients and other audio detail when recording to tape.


In my experience this “squish” happens on the stereo buss level, and you can hear the effects of it working when you mute/solo tracks - this sounds like a volume boost when things are solo’d. You can actually hear this in effect in my entry to the latest Battle:

The main vocal “oh eee ahh ahh” remains constant level while the drums thump away, and then when the drums are muted at about 0:15 it sounds like the vocals suddenly jump up in level. This is simply the headroom opening up, allowing more of the mids etc to come through as they are not punched away by the heavy transients of the drums. This is also effected by the master comp and drive, which I tend to set at around 90/40 respectively, which makes the effect quite pronounced. Lower drive settings opens up the headroom, but of course has less harmonic excitement so can sound a little flat in comparison.

Because this is happening on the stereo bus level it will invariably come into effect when layering a single track (e.g. Track 1 on tape), as this then still has to run through the stereo bus, and the limited headroom that entails.

Overall, this is essentially what people tend to implement in a DAW scenario anyway (using a stereo bus compressor, such as Glue in Ableton) and it tends to give tracks a certain punch and cohesion that can so easily be lost in digital recording. I teach recording at uni, and I tend to hear this a lot with students who haven’t wrapped their head around bus compression yet - their tracks tend to sound a little flat, and like all the separate elements don’t fit together as a cohesive unit. This is a really frustrating part of learning to record (“why doesn’t my mix sound professional???”). Back in the day (well before my time) this glue/squish would happen either via the initial multi track tape, or when the mix was passed down to the 2 track master tape (or both). The harder you hit the tape, the more glue/squish. Go too far and you trash it, and all the transients get hard-limited when the headroom runs out.
This is effectively what is happening within the OP1 IMO.

There’s no real workaround to this, as it is inherent in the device itself (summing to a stereo output), however we can control to a certain degree how apparent it is by:
1. Setting our master Drive low
2. Recording at a lower level with all elements (thus remaining under the headroom limits)
3. Creating less “busy” arrangements and patterns so transients don’t squish each other
4. Transferring the track files via USB and mixing them within in a DAW

It’s worth noting that #4 is the only true workaround, as this prevents the tracks from being pushed through the stereo bus. This won’t help if you’ve heavily layered different sounds onto the one track though, as you may have exceeded the headroom on that individual track anyway.

Personally, I’ve decided to just embrace it and roll with it, however I can see how some people would be dissatisfied with not being able to switch it “off” - which I think probably explains a lot of people saying the OP1 sounds kind of “lofi”. To me, though, this becomes part of the sound of the device, much like tape decks, hardware workstations like MPC’s, SP1200’s, EPS16+'s, etc etc. Really, the 808 has a similar thing going on, and only a real one SOUNDS like a real one, as it’s all getting pushed through a set of headroom limitations that can’t be replicated when you have individual sounds loaded into a software sampler like Maschine.


correct, once digital recorders started to hit the market was when we saw heavier bass come in. Once the ability was there to replicate lower frequencies via digital, speakers also began to change (bass players switching out 12" speakers for subs, etc), amps began to change, the overall technology started to shift away from the mid-heavy frequencies of recording up til that point. You can hear this when comparing late 70’s disco recordings to mid-late 80’s recordings - they started to hit a lot harder in the lows. By the time of the DAWs in the 90’s/00’s we began to hear full range systems that truely represented that low end. Aaaaaaaand all the problems that come with it (separation of recorded elements to make space for more bass, lack of midrange putting holes in mixes, extra low end being an acoustics nightmare, etc etc).

Man my fingers are flying today, apologies for the long rants
This is also effected by the master comp and drive, which I tend to set at around 90/40 respectively,
Did you mean master level and drive? Or drive and release?

Thanks for the detailed reply.

Where do you teach uni?
This is also effected by the master comp and drive, which I tend to set at around 90/40 respectively,
Did you mean master level and drive? Or drive and release?

Thanks for the detailed reply.

Where do you teach uni?

Yep, I mean the master level (which I find pretty interactive with the drive) and the drive. The release I usually leave pretty snappy on 35-40 ish. Haven’t really used longer release times.

I teach at Australian Institute of Music and soon the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. It’s now my full-time gig, which is awesome to finally be making money from music stuff. All the years of study (still ongoing) paid off!

Cool, dude. I did a comp unit at the Sydney con. I have a friend who goes to aim… He loves it. Rob Hart. He a good dude.

@millbastard do you gig? I need to expand my electronic music community (irl). I founded a live music night just near AIM, at cafe lounge in Surry. It’s called folkSwagon… My friend has been running it, since I’ve been overseas a lot lately, it’s always a cool vibe. Not so electronic, but all types welcome, mostly indie and folk.

Anyways, I might be implementing some live remixing concepts I have for the night soon. Maybe not till after my next trip.

I guess I’m just going on a bit, peace :slight_smile:


That’s awesome man, hilarious name too. Might be a bit of a commute for me though, I forgot to mention that I work at the melbourne AIM campus, not Syd!
That said, yes I do gig, primarily with a hip hop group but going to probably do some solo experimental gigs starting this year, so I’ll definitely keep you in mind if I come up north for any gigs. Which reminds me, really need to sort out what rig I’m putting together for live stuff… Hoping to get away from the CPU and maybe down an octatrack route. Got some youtube watchin’ to do…

@millbastard oh, haha. No worries! Dunno why I assumed you meant Syd, :stuck_out_tongue:

Cool, man. Hip hop is rad. Love Melbs. Might end up there in a couple of years.

Octatrack! Mmmmmm.

Yeah, I got a non It rig at the moment. I think OT is something I’ll wait until after the opz to get. Not because I don’t want it… It’s just a self discipline thing / foolishly not buying awesome gear.

Anyways, totes hijacked this thread, sorry @limesoft :stuck_out_tongue: