Arturia Tape Mello-Fi by Sound-Guy
Tape MELLO-FI from Arturia
Arturia make some very complex and comprehensive tools such as Pigments 3.5 and Efx FRAGMENTS previously reviewed on these pages, so Tape MELLO-FI seems rather simple by comparison. And it is simple to use and has a single purpose – to emulate the lo-fi effects of a sample tape player such as a Mellotron. But it has some fun tricks in its repertoire.
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What is It?
Tape MELLO-FI (Mello-Fi from now on) was introduced late in 2021 and is based on the Mellotron tape FX of the Arturia V Collection, except it is an audio processor plug-in you place on a DAW audio track rather than an instrument itself. It can subject your audio from subtle to extreme degradation that a tape-based player can impart. It includes both a preamp section with electronic colouration and a tape section providing mechanical imperfections. And it has more tricks than the V Collection Mellotron.
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Mello-Fi has one control panel, no hidden windows or advanced panels. There is the usual Preset window above the main panel and a few settings available in the lower frame for tape catch-up mode, stereo width, bypass, undo/redo, and a history window (described below).
The main panel has three sections: the left panel is a preamp section with a Drive control, a Tone control and Noise control. Even with Drive at its minimum setting the preamp section imparts some harmonic distortion that depends on input level (higher levels produce higher harmonic distortion) – I measured about 0.1% THD at my nominal input signal level, mostly odd harmonics, particularly 3rd and 5th. Turning the Drive knob up can create moderate to heavy saturation, again pretty much all odd harmonics – using a nominal input level, I measured 0.5% THD with Drive at 50% and 9% THD with Drive at 100%. The button below the Drive knob is not an on/off switch, but is a boost control that pushes the effect dramatically. With boost “on” the above conditions yield 0.25% (Drive at 0), 2.5% (Drive at 50%), and 30% (Drive at 100%). You can definitely hear 30% THD!
The switch below the Tone knob is an on/off switch and when “off” the frequency response of this section is ‘flat’, 20 Hz to 20 kHz. When “on” the frequency response is reduced to emulate tape with a band-limiting effect. At any tone control setting the low frequency response falls off at about 24 dB/octave below 100 Hz, and frequency response above a few hundred Hertz changes with the Tone setting as shown below.
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The Noise control adds band limited white noise to simulate tape ‘hiss’, and is also shaped by the Tone control.
The middle section contains the Tape effects with an animated view of tape moving over a playback head and an animated view of a flywheel with a rubber drive band. The tape head view is only for looks, but the flywheel actually can be slowed down and stopped, either by clicking on the wheel, or clicking the start/stop control below the flywheel. This operation is described in one of the very useful built-in tutorials.
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Note that with the window to the right of the stop/start button, you can select how fast the tape comes to a complete stop, in six steps from ¼ bar to 8 bars (synced to your DAW tempo). Using this with 4 or 8 bar settings can stretch the stop time way out and create a really impressive frequency drop as the tape slows. You can also automate the start/stop button and sync slowdowns to specific moments in your production, even using it as a rhythmic device.
To the left of the flywheel are four knobs to control Flutter, Wow, Wear and Mechanics. Flutter is a fast pitch variation while Wow is a slower “seasick” sound. Using small amounts of each can yield some effective motion to a sound element while high levels may make you seasick! Wear emulates tape degradation and at high settings can get very “bad”. The Mechanics control adds motor noise and transport sounds of a Mellotron, and this sound also slows down when you stop the flywheel!
At the far right are output controls for gain (Output) and a Filter which provides either a low-pass or high-pass mode – at 12 o’clock there is no filtering while counter-clockwise from 12 o’clock provides a low-pass filter and clockwise from there, it’s high-pass filter. In each case this provides a shelf type response with the cut-band reduced by about 40 dB when the Output is at 0 dB. This is illustrated in the plots below which show the frequency response for both high and low pass modes with the Output gain set to 0 dB and the Filter settings at 50% and 100%. Note the nearly flat yellow-green line is the response with the control at 12 o’clock. Combining both the Tone control and the output Filter can provide a wide range of tonal adjustments.
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The lower right of the GUI has the tape catch-up mode, stereo width, bypass, undo/redo, and history windows mentioned earlier. Tape catch-up mode has two settings, Instant (sound returns to normal speed immediately) and Fast-Forward (sound returns to normal speed over a time interval which creates a momentary speed-up effect). The Stereo Width window provides simply on or off, and when “on” adds slight differences in the Wow and Flutter settings
between the left and right channels which creates a wider stereo image if you have Wow and/or Flutter values set above zero. It’s a “fake” stereo effect, but can even spread a mono signal out to the sides. Again, Mello-Fi is intended to create low fidelity effects, so fake stereo fits the plan!
Finally, Bypass is exactly that, undo/redo are also just what is labelled, and the history window that can be opened using the three small bar icon is really nice, keeping track of everything you’ve adjusted in a session.
Supported in Win 8.1+ (64bit) using 2.5 GHz or higher CPU with 4 GB RAM and 2GB free hard disk space. Apple requires Mac OS 10.13+, 4 GB RAM, 2.5 GHz or higher CPU or M1, and 2GB free hard disk space. Requires OpenGL 2.0 compatible GPU. Available as VST2, VST3, AAX, and Audio Unit. I used Mello-FI in REAPER and Studio One in a PC Audio Labs Rok Box PC (64 Bit Windows, 4-Core Intel i7-4770K, 3.5 GHz, and 16 GB RAM). Latency appears to be constant at about 4 msec. CPU usage measured under 0.5% per instance. RAM use was measured at about 100 MB per instance.
Arturia continue to deliver fun and useful tools. Tape MELLO-FI certainly falls in the fun category and it is very useful for many “serious” tasks such as beefing up bass and drums, adding “space” to vocals and keys, and producing vintage lo-fi sounds for individual tracks, buses or mixes.
Easy to use, one-stop Lo-Fi processor with both electronic and mechanical degradation modes.
Great tape-stop effect with the unique fast-forward tape catch-up mode adding an effective glitchy bounce.
You can use DAW automation to control all Tape MELLO-FI’s controls.
Both Undo/Redo and History window to track any adjustments you make in a session.
The Tutorials mode is very informative and can help you quickly understand any function.
Not really. Tape MELLO-FI does what it promises well.