By Sarah Jones

Sponsored by Access Analog

Gearspace profile: Access Analog-robotics3-1.gif

Gearspace profile: Access Analog-robotics4.gif

Access the world’s most sought-after analog gear from anywhere—with a little help from robots

Very few industries get excited about classic technology. (When’s the last time you shopped for a vintage computer or microwave?) But in the world of pro audio, analog gear is revered for its craftmanship, the character and warmth that it imparts, even its occasionally unpredictable behavior.

But, as anyone who’s shopped for boutique and vintage audio gear is painfully aware, these benefits come with a steep price tag—if you can get your hands on that hardware in the first place.

Access Analog is changing that by offering instant and affordable access to rare, vintage, and boutique analog gear from anywhere in the world, right from your DAW. The Longmont, Colo., team of engineers and music makers has developed an ingenious system for processing audio in real time by accessing robotically controlled analog hardware over the internet through a plug-in.

Access Analog offers dozens of iconic boxes from the likes of Manley, Pultec, Universal Audio, Empirical Labs, Daking, Neve, SSL, and API. Gear is accessed through credits and reservations; a handful of free options are available for exploring the platform.

Access is as simple as opening the Analog Matrix plug-in and dragging and dropping equipment. Users have full access to front panels: Manipulate physical controls in real time; take advantage of full recall, automation, parallel processing, and instant routing and re-routing.

Access Analog streams live, continuous audio in both directions, and works over any standard internet connection; users who encounter bandwidth issues can play around with buffers and compression schemes to streamline real-time operation, then send full-resolution files for offline processing.

It’s a radical idea, but it works. And it brings a world of new possibilities to musicians, engineers, students, retailers, and equipment manufacturers.

Gearspace sat down with Ryan Morse, Access Analog’s Director of Sales and Marketing, to learn more about the Access Analog backstory and explore the implications of this groundbreaking technology.

Take me back to the first spark of this idea.

Chris Barrett is our founder and inventor. His band wanted to mix their own record, and they’re fans of a lot of classic rock. For anyone who’s heard those albums, often when you go to make something similar using plug-ins, there's just something missing. He had the desire to use this equipment, but didn’t want to buy it all just to make one record.

He said, "I don't want to go rent a studio and have to drive there every day; that's going to cost a lot of money." He thought it through and said, "What if I put something on that gear to control it, and then everybody could use it and share it?"

The idea was born around this very common situation: "I want to use this equipment, but I don't want to buy it. I don't want to book a recording studio. What's the other option?"

How did you come into the picture?

Chris is an engineer at a major tech company. A recording studio that I was working at in San Diego is owned by a guy who works at the same company, who knew Chris. The first time I ever talked to Chris, we spoke for two hours. We just started to dive in. We were a good fit in terms of partnering on the product development.

So you came up with this idea together and he developed the robotics and the software integration?

The thing that a lot of people assume is that the robotics is the hardest part because that's the thing that’s the most mind-blowing. But that’s what Chris does. The coding, managing the internet, managing the computer side of everything is much harder. It just so happens that a Qualcomm engineer and a music engineer were able to come together and work on this.

What did you do next?

He purchased a few cheap units and we were in a private beta, just me and him. He would engineer something and then I would download the newest version. Because we didn't live in the same city—I was in San Diego connecting to Colorado—I was a really good usage case.

Then it was a year of beta testing, and then we started to invite other people in different locations to test it. We started to feel more confident, so we started to buy more equipment.

There was a key moment where we said, "Okay, this thing works.” But then we started to encounter an incredible amount of skepticism and resistance, where people would say to our faces, "I don't believe what you're doing is real." So in 2018, a year before we launched, we went to NAMM; we bought a booth, we had our robotic equipment, and we just showed everyone. That was our opportunity to start talking to manufacturers and lay the groundwork.

I would imagine this is a great “try before you buy” opportunity, especially if you're considering dropping thousands of dollars on a piece of gear. How receptive are manufacturers and retailers?

There’s some disruption around the psychology around buying this stuff; some manufacturers have totally embraced it, and have begun sending us stuff. Others are on the sidelines, wanting to see where this goes. Some of that is them being polite to their retail chains; they don't want to corrupt people who have been working hard selling stuff for them.

We get emails all the time that are like, "I connected to the SSL Fusion, I used it twice, I love it. I bought one." It allows you to truly shop for equipment—not just read reviews and watch YouTube videos, but actually use it, from your studio, with your monitors, with your music, and spend time with it until you feel, "Yeah, that's the one that I want."

Folks working in lower-budget home studios don’t have the resources to buy a bunch of unique outboard gear; this seems like an affordable way for them to expand their sonic palette in very specific ways.

You're correct. The SSL Fusion is a good example; that's a, "I want to saturate my drums, or my whole mix, or whatever, with a lot of stuff” piece of gear. A lot of people, when they want to use a $4,000 mono compressor, they're not going to spend $4,000 on that. They're just going to access it in the cloud whenever they need it.

My value equation that I tell people is, whatever your budget was for buying hardware this year, instead of buying one single piece, think about what you would get if you spent that another way. You get our whole rack of equipment, right?

It's such a game changer for home recordists, just the notion of hybrid home recording.

We get mails from people, and there are two types of celebrations that we get. One is, "I've never heard analog gear; this is the first time in my life. Now I see what everyone's talking about. It sounds so much better than all of my plug-ins.” And there's the other person who says, "I moved into the box five years ago, 10 years ago." Some of these people are veterans. "Fifteen years ago, I stopped using all that expensive stuff. But your service has allowed me to go back and use it again. And wow, it really reminds me of how good it is." Nobody has ever used our service and said, "I don't think it sounds good."

No one's like, "I hate the sound of an 1176."


What are the implications of adding robotics to vintage or “quirky” gear?

Think about it: You've eliminated the recall issue. You can store your own presets. You don't have to deal with patching, so if I want to use the 1176 on the bass, then I want to move it over to the vocal, then I want to move it over to the snare drum, I’m just dragging our plug-in over and doing it. In a real studio, you're in the patchbay every time you do that. Those are all momentum killers if you're trying to move fast. It truly does make it easier than if you had it right there in your studio.

Are you exploring reverb?

Yes. In the studio I work in, Rarefied Recording in San Diego, a couple of years ago, the owner bought a plate reverb. And for me, it was the first time using a real plate reverb. It was like, "Whoa, that's what a real plate sounds like? That's better than 900 plug-ins I've used." We have big dreams of actually measuring chambers, too, like with the Capitol Records Building in Hollywood. Why couldn't we go measure that and then go build one and have a chamber in the cloud?

Have you considered things like reamping that maybe aren’t so set and forget?

The biggest challenge of reamping is that you need to isolate each amp, and that's expensive build-out. I will tell you, though, that there is some technology around streaming that we think that in a couple years will let us be able to basically play through it in real time. I think that that's probably coming.

I guess you could even go into a place like Abbey Road or Sun Studios and rig up the board, if you're that ambitious.

I think what is more likely is we will pull two channel strips out of a console, and then you'll have those available, and maybe they'll be from a famous studio. We have things like tape machines. I can see us going down the preservationist route. A whole sector of our business is just classic vintage equipment. There's a lot of people who own this stuff, and they're not really getting a lot of use out of it. Why not monetize it?

Tell me about working with engineers and studios to provide access to their gear.

This year, we're going to be offering at least one and probably two mastering rigs. In our current system, you can grab any piece of gear you want and order and re-order it in a chain. These will be fixed sets from a specific mastering engineer who can say, "This is my rig. You can connect to it and master your stuff through it." So analog mastering rigs are coming.

You would go to our service and you could choose “pop rock number one” setting from “famous mastering engineer number one,” and it would go through his or her rig, and then you'd be able to tweak a few things, be like, "Oh, that's too bright." Or, "I want more bass," or whatever; tweak a few things and print it and you're done. I feel very confident that that's going to sound better than most digital services.

Your system works on reservations and credits. I dropped a few credits on a compressor and had it on the mix bus within seconds.

As a credit holder, anything that's available, you can just connect to the server and start using it. If you know you need to do something to your song at a certain time, you can reserve that gear; or you get to be improvisational with it.

The people who know what they want to do get an incredibly high value.

They're like, "I'm going to run my vocal through a Pultec." They connect to the Pultec. They know roughly the settings, they have their presets. They use this thing for five minutes, it ends up costing two bucks, three bucks.

This seems like a great way for students to learn about gear that they don’t have at their school but might encounter in a studio.

Most students are in the box, but then when you do get a good gig and you get to go work in the studio, you're looking at a bunch of gear that you've never touched before. Personally, I would feel so much more confident going into the studio, knowing I've already connected to all those things.

If I’m an artist who’s invested in recording, I could make the most of expensive studio time by getting familiar with gear ahead of time.

Yeah. In talking to different producers and engineers, and mastering engineers, part of their motivation is, “I would love it if my artists would run their bass through an 1176 before they send me the stems, using your service.”

One of the things I find really intimidating as a creator is that when you record a dry vocal through a mediocre interface, with a medium-quality mic, it sounds so far away from what a record sounds like. But if you take that and you hit an 1176, an LA-2A, and a Pultec, and you maybe use somebody's famous presets, suddenly your voice sounds way more like a record. It boost your confidence and makes you feel more excited about the whole thing.

We're not trying to tell anyone what's right or wrong. We're not saying plug-ins aren't good. I personally can't finish a mix without plug-ins. I obviously think it's valuable to use analog gear, but why don't you connect and decide for yourself? You finally get a chance to really hear this gear and see what you think.

Special offer for Gearspace members: use code “GEARZ” for one free gear reservation!

Visit Access Analog now: