It all started in 1966 as a way to fake multiple takes – and it works pretty well for any vocals. And now, in one of the more ambitious emulation efforts undertaken recently, software engineers are hoping to recreate a sound you know quite well from artists like The Beatles.

And oh, yeah, even if you don’t want to sound like Paul or John or George, this turns out to be a pretty easy way to double up vocal recordings. That is, if they’ve done a convincing emulation.

Plug-in giant Waves Audio has partnered with Abbey Road Studios themselves, and say they’ve succeeded in emulating the effect partly because they’ve gotten an inside track on how the technique was performed.

Whether Abbey Road gave up some essential secret or not, though, it seems the quality of this effect will depend on how good the modeling is – and modeling non-linear processes like wow and flutter and specific musical effects isn’t easy. But first, let’s talk about what we mean. As Waves themselves explain:

By connecting the primary tape machine to a second, speed-controlled machine, two versions of the same signal could be played back simultaneously. And by gently wobbling the frequency of an oscillator to vary the speed of the second machine, the replayed signal could be moved around just enough to make it sound like a separate take.

(The video below goes into more detail with the original creator.) In other words, “Artificial Double Tracking” or ADT as created by engineer Ken Townsend is really a fancy name for “doubling up tape recordings and intentionally making them wobble.” Even if you don’t want to emulate the Beatles, that’s juicy stuff for modeling. And it has real historic import, an effect beloved by John Lennon (who called it “Ken’s Flanger,” says the Waves press release).

There are definitely creative possibilities here. Waves has added individual saturation controls, and can be used not only for doubling efects but flanging and phasing. There’s MIDI assignable controls, too, so you can get that “twisting the knob” feeling. You can set it to either automatic or manual.

It’s also not expensive: the intro price is US$99, after which it rises to $200.

Now the question remains: how does it sound? While we wait on that answer, it’s a treat to get to hear from the real Ken Townsend. He’s absolutely real, and not an emulation.

Great tidbits there – one of them being why some of the mono mixes are better than the stereo ones.

Here’s the obligatory promo video:

Waves have also posted a whopping, full half-hour tutorial.

Reel ADT @ Waves

  • heinrichz

    I used ADT back in the late 70ties while producing in top UK studios and it never sounded like a real double, rather a bit cold and glossy, lacking the liveness and warmth of real doubles (which i have recorded thousands of since:)

    • Ifthenwhy

      “and it never sounded like a real double”

      Personally, I would never use it to try to replicate a “real” double.

      For me ADT is an effect that adds a certain weird thickness when the Varispeed knob is played with? It’s that variable that gives this plug some merit.

      Abbey Road cant help but to operate under the illusion that Beatle gear may help you sound like John Lennon. For me, that’s part of the fun.

    • foljs

      “””Abbey Road cant help but to operate under the illusion that Beatle gear may help you sound like John Lennon.”””

      Well, from the technical/audio side, it WILL help you sound like John Lennon.

  • Fabio Neves

    This looks like a “laughing all the way to the bank” plugin. I can’t think of many things that are easier to implement than this.

    • foljs

      If it only did the doubling and modulation yes. But you missed the part where it emulates the characteristics of the SPECIFIC implementation, down to the behavior of those tape machines, etc.

      Now you might not need the latter, but it not fucking easy at all.

    • Fabio Neves

      I would agree if we weren’t talking about Waves. They already have libraries for all kinds of tape saturation, wow, flutter and so on. It was just a matter of slapping everything together and calling a decent photoshop artist. If this plugin didn’t carry the Abbey Road brand (which probably counts for most of the cost), it would be way less hyped.

  • Tracy Blair

    Here’s a free alternative that’s been around for a few years now:

  • gunboat_d

    Recording the Beatles will give you a list of the biggest songs that used it. Great book. While it was done to save time, the Beatles sometimes did return to “real” double-tracking. it’s a matter of taste whether you like the ADT or actual double tracking.

  • yyy

    regardless of the “hyped” ADT process… which is a novelty from A.Road…
    this thing sounds excellent and very very smooth in both ends of the freq spectrum.. especially with ultra slow modulation speeds…
    instant fatness and there’s also a component with 3 tape-heads (original + 2 variying)

    I have to say at this point something about the metafilter plugin which came out last week also sounds lovely and has a character of it’s own’s versatile (sweet to nasty.. hifi to lofi) i’ts more of a creative “analog” multi-fx unit with great modulation rather than a simple filter
    it’s what you’d expect the ideal synth fx-section to be
    the filter section can be also switched to “combing” or compressor and modulated by the same sources
    it’s rather CPU intensive but sounds great

    both of these plugins allow for a more creative usage rather than surgical technical (and boring)