CHOW Tape Model – The Best FREE Tape Saturation Plugin?

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Jatin Chowdhury has released CHOW Tape Model, a freeware reel-to-reel tape emulation effect in VST, VST3, and AU plugin formats for compatible digital audio workstation software on PC and Mac.

CHOW Tape Model isn’t exactly a new plugin (it was released on GitHub back in 2019), but I had only discovered it a few days ago. And there’s literally not a lot of buzz surrounding this freeware VST gem, apart from a few forum threads and Reddit posts. This is very surprising, especially since the CHOW Tape Model plugin is easily one of the best free analog tape emulations out there.

The software is based on a physical model of an analog tape machine that was developed as a class project for Music 420 at Stanford University. The physical model is described in a paper published by Jatin Chowdhury and presented at the 2019 DAFx conference (here is a link to the article).

Although the plugin was initially intended to model the Sony TC-260 tape machine, the algorithm was later changed to be a more flexible simulation of a wider variety of analog reel-to-reel machines.

CHOW Tape Model sounds impressively authentic and offers a tremendous amount of parameters for tweaking the tape simulation algorithm.

The plugin emulates all the sonic components of an analog tape machine. This includes the analog saturation, harmonic distortion, and other non-linearities that can enhance the sound. But, CHOW Tape Model also emulates the lo-fi aspects of analog tape that are used for a “vintage” effect.

The great news is that you can choose which aspects of analog tape recordings will be simulated. You can use CHOW Tape as a saturation device, a lo-fi effect, or both.

There is a dedicated section for adjusting the depth and rate of wow and flutter that is applied to the signal. The user can also fine-tune the bias, drive, and saturation amount in the hysteresis section.

The developer stated that the CHOW Tape Model plugin was developed as a “research project rather than as a plugin to be used for mixing/mastering.” That said, there’s no denying that this is one of the best free tape simulation effects at the moment.

The tape saturation algorithm is spot-on, and the lo-fi aspects of the tape model sound very realistic. The obvious use for the plugin’s audio degradation features would be to emulate an old tape recorder. That said, the CHOW Tape Model can also be used as an analog-style double-tracking effect thanks to its wow and flutter simulation.

The updated CHOW Tape Model user interface looks much better.

The updated CHOW Tape Model user interface looks much better.

The user interface uses the default JUCE graphics. It is freely resizable, which is an excellent feature in this age of high-resolution screens. The GUI is vertical by default, but you can easily set it to any shape and size by clicking and dragging the lower-right corner.

CHOW Tape Model is available as a standalone effect, as well as a VST, VST3, and AU plugin for compatible hosts on Windows and macOS. A version compatible with Mac OS Catalina is also available, along with an LV2 port. You can download the software completely free of charge from GitHub.

UPDATE (December 8th, 2020): CHOW Tape Model was recently updated with a new and improved user interface.

More info: CHOW Tape Model (5.83 MB download size, ZIP archive, 32-bit & 64-bit VST/VST3/AU plugin formats for Windows & macOS)

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About Author

Tomislav is a journalist, music producer, and web designer from Belgrade, Serbia. He is also the founder and editor-in-chief here at Bedroom Producers Blog.

15 Comments

    • Looking at the screenshot I can already tell I’ve been using/testing an older version so grain of salt and all that… But I had the same troubles with it before, usually when pushing ‘far’ on some knobs. Looking at the changelog I can see some issues I had being addressed, so time to upgrade. It’s a bit of a nerd tool, don’t forget to wear your lab coat and protective goggles!

    • It’s not really a designed interface, those are just the generic knobs and sliders included in the JUCE framework. I hope Jatin will continue to develop this further and at some point also add an overhauled user interface.

      • Tomislav Zlatic

        on

        A fancy interface would be great, but I have to say that the current one works well, too. I like the fact that it’s fully resizable and the color scheme is easy on the eyes.

  1. antti maatteri

    on

    ableton project crashing after using the vst3 version on keyzone classic with no probs for around 1h or so. i just closed the prject reopened it and serious error crash appears. crash was cosntant on all backups. i then disabled the plugins by renaming it, opened the prject and used the vst2 version. crash disappeared.

    plugin sounds great tho!

  2. Well, this seems an on – going project, which was actually never meant to enter the Audio – World.
    The Developer is pretty responsive & seems interested in Bug – Reports, also frequently Updating;
    In Case you want to help a bit to continue this little Gem and make it even better:
    https://www.kvraudio.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=536112
    It still has some Bugs here & there, yet imho – this is surely a very unique & good sounding tape – emulation.
    So, I actually check his Github & that thread pretty regular to see, if there was an Update etc. – also worth mentioning might be the other circuit – based plugins, he is offering on his site. interesting stuff, to say at least.

    • Tomislav Zlatic

      on

      It’s similar to FerricTDS, but with added lo-fi functionality. FerricTDS didn’t emulate the noise and wow/flutter. But it’s still my favorite tape plugin ever (wish it was 64-bit :( but oh well).

  3. Bit of a miss-characterization here, LV2 is a plugin format that is available for all platforms so it should be in the first list.

    The VST3, LV2 and Standalone work also on Linux. Information that is completely missing from the article.

    • Can’t figure out how to install on Linux (ubuntu 18.04). Would like to install it, but doing so isn’t as easy as I thought or hoped it would be…

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