Exploring The Lo-Fi
In a world of digital sounds, perfect audio and zero imperfections, many producers are looking for ways of adding some vintage character, tone and vibe to their digital productions.
This can go from a little tape (link) saturation all the way to current trends that include the ever-present Lo-Fi movement.
In this blog article we’re going to explore a few of our favourite techniques for adding character and grit to often bright, perfect sounds or samples. So if you’re a fan of Boards of Canada or generally are looking to add some fresh colours to the mix, read on my friend.
Tape saturation / Distortion
We previously explored this in our previous blog article on tape machine plug ins but the king of analogue saturation should never be overlooked. From a subtle low-end bump to all out distortion the humble tape plug in should be your first port of call for that lo-fi vintage vibe.
With this in mind we decided to compile a few of our favourite free saturation plug ins:
Low Pass Filters
A key feature of many old records is the limited frequency range. Whether this was due to the recording medium, playback medium or the tape saturation the softness of the tops can go a long way to recreating that old school, lo-fi feel. Try running a low pass filter with a fairly shallow db per octave set. A gentle EQ can do the trick also.
To go even more Lo-Fi try rolling off the bottom also. I’d advise using an EQ for this over a band pass filter to give you more control of the frequency range.
Hiss in a sampler
Often Rhodes and synth samples can sound a little dry. Ryan from the team mentioned a great trick he does where he loads in a sample of hiss into a sampler in Ableton. He then copies the midi from the synth part onto the hiss channel and mixes in the desired amount. The hiss will only play when the notes play giving you that recorded feel. Try adjusting the attack and release settings of the sampler to get the most natural feel.
VHS plug in
This little Ableton beauty does an amazing job of recreating the warping effects of classic VHS recorded audio. Bets thing of all, it’s free as well and asking to be abused.
For all you non Ableton guys out there we also hunted down this great free Reaktor instrument. Check the video below to see what you think.
Simulate wow and movement
If we de-construct the plug in we can see that each individual macro is attempting to replicate the artefacts created by old VHS recorders. By utilising a combination of frequency shifters, chorus, EQ and saturation the results can be quite convincing.
Use a VCR or Old Tape Player
If all of this has got your Lo-Fi juices flowing then why not jump on eBay or head to your local second hand shop and attempt the real thing. VHS players go for tiny amounts now so bargains can be found all over the place. A few tips when using VHS:
- Make sure there is a way of getting the audio both in and out of the machine. Do you need separate cables for going back into your soundcard or adapters i.e RCA – ¼” Jacks.
- Take note of the level coming back. Sometimes the output can be a bit low. We all love a bit of hiss but just be careful if you’ve numerous elements of your track spitting out noise. You can easily overwhelming the listener and your Lo-Fi track can easily evolve into an annoyance.
- Run the original in parallel to keep the weight but add some old grit. Take note of phase.
- Rogue Frequencies: The machine might spit out some weird frequencies so get that EQ ready
- Don’t forget to add a little sticky tape over the safety tab if you’re using a protected VHS. This will allow it to be used as a blank.
- If you are willing to cut a hole in the top of the VCR you can actively press and bend the tape to add those extra fun pitch modulation (Be wary of electrocution)