Summery: The audio samples are further down this page.
I really like Am-Track as a compressor/tape simulator. In fact, it’s my go to compressor for vocals. To my ears it has a natural sound and there are controls for adding just the right amount of distortion in the right place to make things sit in the mix.
Now for the cons… sort of. You can only purchase Am-track as part of a suite of plugins or as it’s bundled with the feature rich DAW Samplitude Pro X Suite. Unless you are doing some upgrade (or maybe cross grade) that version of Samplitude is $1000. The suite of plugins is $200 and contains other useful high quality stuff. When I think about all the plugins out there and the price range I consider these prices reasonable but not a great value.
Some background: Let me back up a second. Have you heard of Sequoia? It’s a DAW made by the German company Magix. It’s primarily used for mastering. Samplitude is like it’s little brother. Samplitude uses the same audio engine as Sequoia but has a pared down set of features. Don’t get hung up on the pared down part. Sequoia must have a huge set of features because Samplitude is a very “deep” program.
Samplitude comes with some very nice high quality plugins. One group of plugins is the analog modeling suite. As you may expect these are all supposed to sound “warm” or “analog” whatever that means. To me they just sound good. There is a compressor/tape simulator (Am-Track), a transient modeler (Am-Pulse), a mastering compressor (Am-Munition) and a tube amp simulator (Am-Phibia).
The entire suite deserves review but I’m focusing on just the compressor/tape simulator because I use it often and know it well.
Try it free? There is only one way to do a free trial of Am-Track that I know of. Download the free trial of Samplitude Pro X Suite. The link is at the bottom of their page. Make sure you get the suite version. The analog modeling suite also comes as standalone plugins but there is no free trial of that.
Too bad because it makes demo-ing the plugins a lot more work. Download trial. Wow only 3 megs! That reminds me of Reaper install. Ooops, only 3 megs for the app that does the actual download of… 340 megs. Dang! Now foreign DAW. Must figure out how to import file, switch to mixer view, insert plugin. Kind of a pain to try out imo.
“Does it really sound like tape?” asks hopelessly devoted to analog guy. I am sure I do not know. Whatever it sounds like I like it. Isn’t that what it’s really about?
I have a sample of Am-track and an analog compressor further down this page.
Controls: There are basically 2 sections on the plugin. A compressor and a tape simulator. I like them both.
The compressor has 2 modes: vintage and vca.
The vintage mode has only attack, release, and ratio controls. Might sound sparse but this is the mode I always use. I usually leave the default attack and release alone (4.5 ms and 185 ms respectively) and adjust the ratio until things sound right. Different compressors behave differently so I don’t pay too close attention to the numbers.
The thing I really like about this mode is the automatic make up gain. As you turn the ratio knob from min to max the automatic makeup gain does a really good job of matching subjective volumes. Let me tell you why I like this and why it’s important.
You may have heard that louder always sounds better. Sounds like a joke right? But it’s meant to be taken literally. It turns out the human ear is not linear. The same sounds at different levels are perceived differently! That’s the bottom line of something called the Fletcher-Munson Curves. Now, what happens when you add processing to a signal? Often times you boost it’s level. Then you compare it to the original. Except now it’s louder and often will sound better. This makes evaluating any processing (eq, compression, distortion) difficult.
So why not add something called automatic gain compensation to a compressor? You add compression changing the level and the plugin compensates. Sounds good but the implementation is not always so great. I suspect this is because some automatic gain compensation relies on peak meter levels instead of RMS meter levels. But even RMS levels don’t tell the full story because loudness (especially loudness in a mix) is a matter of perception. In other words you need to judge with your ears.
Ending this very long explanation; the automatic gain compensation in vintage mode does a very good job of matching received loudness. You can dial in compression fast and reliably. In vintage mode it’s often just a matter of adjusting one knob. A typical compressor requires you to set a ratio, bring down the threshold, adjust the output gain, and then compare to the original.
I hope that was clear as an un-mudded lake or azure sky. If it wasn’t here’s a sample. In Here I automate the ratio control in vintage mode. It starts in the minimum position with no compression and ends up with around 20db. If you listen close you will hear the vocal go from uncompressed to compressed nicely to kinda squashed.
The other mode, RCA, has your typical settings: Ratio, threshold, attack, release, knee. Either mode sounds good to me. Does it sound analog? Again, I’m sure I don’t know. To my ear it sounds good.
The compressor takes up the left side of the plugin. On the right is the tape simulator. Each operates independently so you can run both, neither, or either. And since tape is essentially a type of compression you may consider not using the compressor at all.
Tape has 3 controls: saturation, lo/hi EQ, and bias. With tape there is no awesome automatic gain compensation. You’ll have to match levels manually.
The controls I use the most are level (of saturation) and lo/hi EQ. Level pushes the tape saturation. If pushed to the extreme you get some distortion but nothing drastic like a guitar sim. The lo/hi EQ seems to set the frequency where saturation or mild distortion occurs.. This is very handy while mixing. In a way it’s like choosing a bandwidth to saturate. Changing the lo/hi EQ can make things like vocals pop up in the right place. I typically add lots of level and sweep around the lo/hi EQ. When I find the right lo/hi EQ I dial back the level.
I tend to evaluate things from an “ear” perspective and not the manual. So let me tell you what the bias sounds like it does. It makes the tape sim more or less sensitive to input levels. With a low setting all audio hits tape. With a high one only the high signals hit tape.
On the far right is an input and output level control. As a matter of good signal flow practice I try to hit my plugins at about -20db RMS. So I never touch the input control on this plugin. If you are using the tape sim you will probably want to adjust the output level just so the next thing in the chain gets a proper level. The output control has a soft clip but again it’s something I never use.
Let’s Hear Some Samples: Below I have the same audio run through 2 different compressors. I tried to match the compression settings and volumes for comparison. There is Am-track (with tape sim running), an LA2A plugin, a hardware FMR RNP in normal mode, and Samplitude’s Stock Advanced Dynamics compressor.
You may be thinking, “wow not a huge difference.” Fair enough but when you have the vocals in a mix the little differences are less little. Some compressors will just mix better. This is something that took me a while to understand. It’s how things sound mixed NOT SOLO. That is the reason I like Am-Track. It mixes well.
Graphics Interface: I really don’t care what a plugin looks like. Some are stunning some are fall asleep functional. But I do care about usability. Common controls should be easy to find and use. Related controls should appear graphically related. If they aren’t you end up spending more time learning the plugin and adjusting the wrong controls by accident. All of these plugins are both beautiful and laid out well.
Parting might be such sweat sorrow: Over the last year I’ve been drifting away from Samplitude. If I go that route I’ll really miss the analog modeling plugins. They sound good and have so many useful features.