While working at the Sydney recording studio Crash Symphony Productions, I have been lucky enough to be exposed to and use the most state of the art equipment available today. Part of that has been the ability to use arguable the best plug-ins money can buy, the Universal Audio (UAD) plugins. UAD have an incredible ability to emulate many complicated and intricate hardware units and do them complete justice. One of these is the UAD Ampex ATR-102 plugin which is a direct emulation of the Ampex ATR-102 tape machine.
Sydney Recording Studio: the Original Ampex ATR-102
Introduced in 1976, the Ampex ATR-102 2-track tape recorder is often cited as the finest tape handler invented. Not limited to one width, users can swap head-stacks and guides, permitting a single machine to handle 1/4”, 1/2”, and even 1” (when modified) tape. For decades, the ATR-102 became one of the most popular mixdown decks. As Universal Audio notes, “it would be easier to list classic albums that weren’t mixed down on this machine, rather than to try to list all those that were.”
Unfortunately, only about 3000 ATR-102 machines were produced (including variants such as the ATR-104, which allows up to 4-track operation). It is unsure how many were scrapped in the digital purge of the ’90s, stored in vaults for future archive playback, or sit forgotten in the basements of broadcast stations. You may even find one sitting in a Sydney recording studio.
Traditionally engineers would mix-down to the hardware Ampex ATR-102 adding a great deal of colour and warmth. It has been said that a “group of songs become an album” when they have been mixed down to the Ampex ATR-102. These days in the sydney recording studio in the digital age, albums are not quite as important since downloads have taken over but still adding colour and warmth to tracks is highly desirable.
This awesome video talks about the original hardware Ampex 102 and the UAD Ampex 102 plugin.
Although the above video explains all of the main controls and what they do, there are literally hundreds of settings. The best part is, you don’t need a screw driver to change the settings like you do with the original Ampex ATR-102. For a full list of all of the settings and what they do go to the UAD Plugins Manual.