“The world's first truly hybrid analogue digital recording system” is how Christopher Estes of Endless Analog describes CLASP (Closed Loop Analogue Signal Processor). Estes and Endless Analog, the company he founded in Nashville five years ago, invented the hardware and software solution, which is aimed at artists who have a purist analogue approach to recording and want the chance to work with tape again. CLASP is also helping to give value back to studios that have invested in now often dormant 24-track machines.
The system integrates multi-track tape machines with Pro Tools, Cubase or Nuendo, giving users the editing and functionality of a DAW combined with analogue tape. The CLASP unit is a 24 I/O on D-Type connectors that plug in via a DAW. So, for example, when working with Pro Tools recording is done to tape as users ordinarily would, but it is monitored through Pro Tools with zero latency. The actual audio signal is delayed from the Record head to the Repro head and then recorded back into Pro Tools and time stamped so that it is back in sync.
All the tape control and transport control happens on the DAW via the CLASP system, which can handle up to 24 channels at a time – up to three CLASP units can be chained for 72 channels of simultaneous recording. Another advantage of the system is that a whole project can be carried out on a single reel of tape so reducing cost. CLASP even offers the ability to jump between tape speeds on-the-fly to audition and then print, even mixing speeds in the same project, something that's impossible in an all-analogue production.
“The idea behind CLASP came about because I started to get frustrated with the way my digital recordings were sounding,” explains Estes, a successful Nashville songwriter and producer. “I started out my career recording onto analogue tape when there was no Pro Tools and there was no plug-ins. I thought OK, these recordings sound better and so it forced me to come up with a solution so that I could actually integrate analogue tape into my workflow in a seamless manner. So that is what I did. It is literally analogue tape without any hassle. So even for people who aren't very familiar with analogue tape it is an easy, user-friendly system to work with.”
Distribution for the UK is by KMR Audio, which took on exclusive rights for CLASP in April this year. Stefan Pope, KMR's sales manager, comments: “I think this is a truly revolutionary product. The ingenious way in which it fuses a bygone technology that produced a sound that is still so incredibly popular, with a modern 'digital' workflow, is exactly what this industry needs. For too long the debate over plug-ins, analogue, digital, control, workflow, sound has raged. Well finally, you can have it all! The sound, delivered in a modern way. KMR is all about the hybrid future - the fusion of analogue and digital. Both have their place, and now, finally, they can work beautifully together.”
The product has been on sale for a little over a year with 170 units already sold worldwide. “The reaction has been incredible over here so far and we've only had it for about a month,” says Pope. “Obviously the market at the moment is to studios with tape machines that don't get much use out of them – the studios that have thousands of pounds invested in a technology they want to use but can't, gathering dust in the corner. Well dust off those tape heads, clean your tape stock, get the maintenance man in, get a CLASP in the rack and bang – your tape machine is once again making you money. Frankly, the market is as big as the number of people recording audio! So, quite big!”
Current users in the UK include Abbey Road, British Grove and Sphere Studios.
As well as demonstrating the product at AES London, KMR also organised a number of practical showcases with Estes. The largest of these was to members of the Music Producers Guild at Air Studios in May, which more than 50 producers and engineers attended. This demo also featured the recording of a live band using the new system. The event proved so popular that it was necessary to hold two sessions, and still not everyone could be accommodated. More demo evenings are planned for later in the year to satisfy those who weren't able to attend. The previous day a private demonstration was held for a small number of attendees at Hook End Manor recording studios where the owner of the complex, Mark White, declared the results as “simply amazing”.