Using a variety of audio effects in your studio is one of the best ways to add interest and unique twists to your mixes and productions. There are lots of different types of effects that can be used in whatever way your imagination can think of.
Some effects can be used to add depth and space to a sound or mix, whilst other effects can be used to create strange and weird sounds and textures. These effects are available in effects units and VST plugins, as well as other types of plugins like RTAS or Audio Units.
Trying out different effects, both during recording and mixing, is one of my favorite ways of spending time in the studio. I find that hours of time can just fly by when I’m playing around with different settings and combinations of effects plugins.
How Audio Effects are Used
These days, audio effects units and plugins are mainly used in the send/return arrangement, where the main signal is sent to the effects unit or plugin via a send on the input channel, and the effected sound is returned to another channel (or channels) on the mixing board.
The delay effect (often seen as digital delay line, or DDL) can be used in two main ways:
- Add depth and space
- As a rhythmic effect
Delay times between 15-35 milliseconds (ms) are used to artificially create the effect of ‘doubling‘, which means an instrument or vocal can be made to sound like there are two or three sources of sound instead of just one. This can help to widen and thicken the soundof a vocal or an instrument, and is a common studio trick.
Delay times of 35 ms or greater are long enough that you hear the delays as separate sounds (after the main sound). These sorts of times can add depth to a sound in a similar way to reverb, and delay of this type should be used in small amounts – if used in large amounts across many different instruments, the mix can easily become too busy and suffer from a lack of space.
I often use an equalizer to roll-off the low frequencies of the delayed sound, and sometimes the higher frequencies too, to help the effect blend smoothly into the overall mix.
There are many interesting audio effects that can be created using delay, one example would be the following:
- If you want to get an up-front, pop vocal sound, you could use a stereo delay with a delay time of around 10-20 ms. Then, use a pitchshifting effect to slightly detune the delayed sound (you should also use lots of compression on the main vocal channel).
- You can then combine the two signals – the main vocal channel will be panned centrally, and the stereo signal from the delay unit will be panned to the left and right.
Automatic Double Tracking (ADT)
ADT is very commonly used and creates the illusion of a multi-tracked vocal or instrumentwhen there is actually only one signal. It’s mainly used on guitar or vocal recordings to help spread a mono source into stereo.
One of the easier ways to achieve the effect is to use the following:
- Pan your mono source hard left or right
- Send a copy of the signal to a delay unit or plugin via the channel’s send
- Use a delay time of 50-200ms (in time with the track produces the best effect)
- On the delay unit, turn the feedback down to zero
- Bring a mono return from the delay unit/plugin into another channel and pan it to the opposite side of the original
Flanging occurs when delay times of 10-20 ms are used. Inside the flanging unit, the output is then fed back into the input (with the ‘feedback’ control), which further exaggerates the effect. The sound is also modulated by a low-frequency oscillator (LFO).
It’s sometimes used subtly on vocal tracks, at levels that aren’t immediately noticeable or audible. Flanging is most commonly noticed when guitarists use it to create the “airplane taking off” effect that can be heard in many rock tracks.
Phasing is similar to flanging in the world of audio effects. It happens by using a delay time of 2-10 ms, which helps to create a different type of sound. This delayed signal is then modulated by an LFO.
This effect usually comes from a mixture of pitch-shifting and subtle phasing. It’s commonly used by guitarists to add depth and richness to their sound. Delay times are usually between 20-50 ms, with some LFO modulation and panning across the stereo field. Feedback is kept at zero.
One of the most fun and interesting things you can do as a producer in your studio is to experiment with different effects, and I’d highly recommend you spend lots of time doing it.
Unique sounds can be discovered by trying out different combinations of the various audio effects available to you, as well as by tweaking all of the different parameters that each effect has. There really are no limits to what you can try and to the sounds you can discover.