Effects processing

Sidechain compression

I’ve been tinkering a little with sidechain compression, which is where you use one audio track to trigger the compression on a second track. I’ve been using the Sonalksis compressor since it has this sidechain feature. Alternately, you can use a gate instead of a compressor, so I plan on trying that with the Sonalksis gate plugin.

In electronic music, the most common use for sidechain compression is to compress the bass track whenever the kick drum track comes in. So whenever your kick drum kicks, the volume of the bass ducks down a little, making it easier to hear the kick. This allows you to crank up the volume of both audio tracks without turning the overall song into a big muddy bassy mess.

As a nice side effect it helps subtly lock the groove of the two track together, since they now have something in common. This is mostly what I’m using it for, to get some subtle groove out of these rigid, computer programmed sequences. By playing with the attack and release values on the compressor, you can control how fast the compressor clamps down and lets go, which creates that groove. I am still experimenting with it and trying to find some good settings for each song by ear. Since I’m new to doing this and my brain doesn’t yet know what I “should” be setting things to, I’m just semi-randomly setting things to what sounds good.

The overall effect is fairly subtle, and when done in moderation is one of those things you don’t notice until it goes away. You can see it visually in the picture above by looking at the audio waveforms: the top track is the kick, the bottom track is the bass, the middle track is the bass after being compressed whenever the kick occurs.

The heavy, not so subtle use of this effect is Daft Punk’s signature production technique. Often times they will compress more than just the bass, so you will hear the whole rest of the track compress down whenever the kick hits, which makes everything pump and groove.

I am done with “lemonzen” and “lurp” for now, and put the latest version of lemon up on our myspace page. These songs are sounding pretty good but they will need a few more little tweaks, especially since I started experimenting with sidechain compression at the very end of the mixing process.

I’m trying not to get too distracted by the little things though, so for now I’m going to move on to mixing “laguna” and “bubblepop”. These two songs are the heart of the album, and are where it peaks, so I’m putting a fair amount of pressure on myself to get them right. This has me a little stressed out, but I’m optimistic it will all come together. More on them in a bit.

Effects processing
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Mutronics Mutator

I’m using the Mutronics Mutator filter on some of the laguna drum sounds. Unlike the previously mentioned weirdo Jomox, this one is pretty much your basic standard low-pass filter with cutoff, resonance, an envelope, and an LFO. Like the Jomox, it has two filters that work independently on the left and right channels, so you can get some fun stereo effects. One thing I like is being able to set the sensitivity of the input into the envelope, unlike on the Jomox where you have to actually change the level of the input itself if you want to trigger the envelope differently. I also like how it has left and right knob controls for pretty much everything you’d want a filter to do: envelope amount/attack/decay, LFO amount/shape/speed, cutoff, resonance. It also has nice MIDI and CV control options.

The only problem is that I haven’t really warmed up to the basic sound of the thing. It sounds nice enough I guess, but very clean and kind of boring. To me it just sounds like a regular old lowpass filter (albeit with various handy modulations) no matter how you set it. Which is a good thing in many respects, but is also the sort of sound that these days is easier done with a software plugin. I wish I could put the sound of some of my other filters into this one’s form (rackmount is nice) and controls (knobs for everything). Also, they’ve been discontinued and for whatever reason people really like them and recommend them constantly, so they are fetching a decent amount of money at the moment. In fact, it sells for about as much as all my other filters combined, and I have a decent (maybe even indecent) number of filters. I feel kind of lame and vaguely guilty owning something that is discontinued and rare and expensive but that I’m just not crazy about, and that somebody else would probably love to use. So, when this project is done I will likely sell it and just stick with my other cheaper and weirder filters.

Here’s a demo of a Korg Electribe ER-1 making some bloops that are then run through the Mutator. First four bars just the Electribe dry, then each four bars after that with some different settings on the Mutator. Listen in stereo if possible.

Mutator Demo

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Jomox M-Resonator

I’ve been using the Jomox M-Resonator filter on the rollover drum sounds. The drums were sounding kind of boring so I decided to go heavy on the filtering for one song and throw it on (almost) everything. The Jomox is a weird little box, it has stereo ins and outs and has a pair of standard lowpass filters with envelope followers, so in theory it’s just your standard stereo lowpass filter. But, it also has some weird feedback paths, both within each filter (the traditional resonance can go positive or negative) as well as feedback (again positive and negative) mixed between the two filters.

The result very easily turns into weird distorted feedback madness that does not at all resemble the original signal. In fact on a lot of settings the thing sounds more like an extreme distortion effect than a filter effect. Which is to say, basically, the sort of thing that is fun to play with but not very useful in most musical contexts. So you have to find the sweet spots within all the various feedback paths, and since the two filters are affecting the right and left sides differently you can get some interesting stereo effects. At the same time, turning any knob in the slightest can result in howling, painful feedback, and there is only so much rational thought you can put into predicting what turning a particular knob will do… at some point the thing just kind of seems to do whatever it wants to do. For this reason, I don’t see it as a very useful live box, its just too random and crazy, but it’s a lot of fun to experiment with in the studio.

Hooked up to the Machinedrum, the feedback seems to reinforce the bass and make everything a little more interesting. You do need to pay attention to the input levels, since the envelope that gets triggered by them has a big effect on the results. As long as you don’t overdo it, it can be pretty cool without being too obnoxious. And it can be kind of cool when you overdo it too…

A little Jomox Demo, where I go out of my way not to overdo it. A Machinedrum pattern into the Jomox, first four bars dry, then each four bars with a slightly different M-Resonator setting. I did not include any of the really messed up ones, these mostly sound like a normal filter, with some interesting stereo bits.

Of course you can also just use it to make bizarre howling feedback noises, with or without an input signal. This isn’t really my thing musically, so I mostly avoid those bits, but as I mentioned before it’s hard not to stumble upon them just by turning a knob a little too much. Here’s a Youtube video made by somebody that shows its weirder side.

The last set of three songs is almost done, they have one more cycle of listen’n'revise to go through and then I’ll put them up and move on to the full mix.

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UAD SPL Transient Designer

UAD released a couple new plugins, a transient designer and a bus compressor, both of which I’m trying out as I mix things. I’d rather not buy more plugins right now but these are proving to be extremely useful for the exact things I’m working on right now.

Transient designers basically allow you to re-shape the volume envelope on an existing sound. For example, you can take an existing snare track and make it punchier by increasing the attack of the sound, so that they very beginning of it is emphasized and sounds quicker and snappier. Or you can do the opposite, and de-emphasize the attack so that an overly crisp sound is toned down a bit. With the UAD plug, this is accomplished by just turning one knob, the “Attack”.

The UAD plug also lets you change the sustain of the sound. So if your existing snare track trails off with say an extended reverb tail that you decide you don’t like, you can chop it off by decreasing the sustain value. Or if you want to emphasize that reverb tail and make it more prominent, you can increase the “Sustain” knob. I’d been using the Sonalksis gate plugin to accomplish this on a lot of the drum tracks with some success, now I am trying it using this plug and it’s sounding great.

The cool thing about the UAD plug is that those two knobs are basically all you need to tweak, and the plugin is all sweet spot. This is in contrast to the built in Logic envelope shaper, which also works great but has a million parameters and is easy to get lost in. It is cool to have those million parameters when you need them for a particularly tricky bit of envelope surgery, but 95% of the time you don’t need them and it’s also really nice to have a plug that just does what you want by turning one or two knobs. The UAD plug also just tends to sound “right”, whereas sometimes even with all those knobs (or maybe because of it) the Logic plug just doesn’t do what you want it to. I’d compare the UAD plug to playing with a Roland SH-101 synth, where every sound you make sounds great but you are limited in the sorts of sounds you can make. The Logic enveloper plug would be more like playing with the Alesis Andromeda, where you have every feature and function and option you could ever want but figuring out the synth takes a long time and it can take a lot of effort to get things sounding just how you want even when you are familiar with the synth. I really think that a lot of the appeal of vintage gear is that they spent a lot of time finding the sweet spots for you, limiting what you could do with a very basic user interface, but making sure no matter what you did it sounded pretty good. Newer equipment and most plugins give you all sort of crazy options, which is nice when you happen to need them, but gets in the way when you don’t (again, 95% of the time) and by supporting so many features and options the creators don’t have the luxury of making sure all the paths and positions sound great. That’s my theory at least…

Anyway, I have been trying the UAD plug on lots of drum tracks, especially the ones with older and cheaper analog drum machines that don’t have any way to change the sounds (CR-78, 606, Maestro Rhythm King). It works great. This plug along with some EQing lets me shape the individual sounds nicely, sharpen them up a bit when needed, and then I add a little reverb and throw some compression on top of the entire drum buss to gel everything together. I’ve found it particularly useful on CR-78 and Rhythm King hi-hats and maraca type sounds, which typically sound sort of primitive and weak, as well as punching up things like kicks and snares a little bit.

The plug has proved useful other places as well. For instance I have some synth tracks that sounded good in isolation, but once I started mixing them into the song I realized I wanted them to be in the background a bit more. One method I had been using to do this was to chop off some of the highs, which tends to sit sounds back in the mix a bit. It works, but it can also obviously change the sound a lot, which sometimes isn’t what you want. So I’ve been using the UAD transient plug to de-emphasize some of the attack on these sounds, which accomplishes the same trick of pushing it back in the mix while retaining the original sound. This can also be useful on effects sends, if the echoes or reverb or whatever are too prominent you can stick a transient shaper on the bus too so that all of the effects sounds are still audible but less prominent, and interfere less with the other tracks. Since all of my synth sounds are created with the Nord Modular, changing the envelope a bit can also just make a particular track sound a little different from the others, which is very helpful.

Another use for the transient plug that I plan to try is creating stereo effects by shaping the left and right sides of a sound differently. By de-emphasizing the attack on one side, and making it more prominent in the other, you can get some really interesting psycho-acoustic effects that could be particularly useful on an ambient album.

Finally, I’m planning to automate the plug subtly to emphasize different parts of different tracks during a song. For instance during a chorus things might pop out a little more, or during a solo a particular sound might sound a little sharper and cut through the mix more. This is just another alternative to doing the same thing with volume, EQing, chorus and other automated effects, and is a subtle thing that nonetheless sounds good and is missed once it’s taken away.

I’ll talk about the new bus compressor in the next post, it is (apparently) modelled after an SSL bus compressor and looks like it will be particularly useful for drums.

Anyway, to sum up my review of the new UAD transient plugin… it’s great, and very useful during the mixing stage.

Effects processing
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Moog MuRF Demo

MuRF Demo

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Using Guitar Pedals in a Synth Setup


The Barber Launch Pad, used at the end of the pedal chain before we go back to the mixer.

I promised in an earlier entry to write something about using guitar pedals (which expect a high impedance, instrument level input like a guitar) with synthesizers (which typically have a low impedance, line level output). Here’s something adapted from what I wrote on the Harmony Central synth forums about how we do this, if the tech stuff bores or confuses you (it definitely bores and confuses me) just go to the last paragraph which basically just tells you what you need to do to make it work:

Going in to a guitar effects pedal from an unbalanced line level synth, what you need to worry about is volume/gain. Instrument level signals (what the pedal expects to see) are lower/quieter than unbalanced line level signals (what the synth will output), so some pedals will overload if you feed them something that’s too loud. Try to err a little on the quiet side coming out of the synth by turning down the volume, while still trying to maintain a decent signal/noise ratio. A good approach is to decrease volume until you can’t hear any distortion going through the pedal, and then back off some more. How much you will have to turn down the volume depends on how hot the synth output is, some are louder than others.

As far as impedance mismatch goes when going into a pedal, my personal belief is that it doesn’t matter. Your big worry with an impedance mismatch is when you have a (relatively) high impedance signal going into a (relatively) low impedance input. Doing this will audibly affect the sound, and it is a bad thing. But, with a synth you have a low impedance output going into something designed to handle a higher impedance, the opposite situation from above and not a problem. In general, I’ve read you want to keep a ratio of at least 1:10 output:input, but the higher the ratio the better. Your mixer, for instance will have a 10k-20k ohm input impedance to handle the 600ohm impedance coming from a typical synth. Again, all guitar pedals should have an even higher input impedance than the mixer, so you are fine.

Now, you might make the argument that the pedal is still expecting a higher impedance coming in, and even though the lower impedance from the synth will result in less distortion, maybe the pedal was designed to color the sound in a particular way with that higher impedance signal. The problem with this argument is that guitars all have different impedance outputs, and pedals all have different impedance outputs, so any given pedal can’t be expecting a particular impedance value anyway. Some pedals, like the Moogerfooger phaser, have an output (1000ohm) close to what you’d expect from your synth, others like the Moogerfooger delay (5000ohm) have a higher one. What this says to me is that plugging your Mooger phaser into the next pedal in a chain is just about as “bad” as plugging your synth in to a pedal… which is to say, it isn’t bad (as long as it sounds good to you).

Going out of the pedal might be a different matter! The two pedals I mentioned above, while they both look nearly identical and might be expected to have similar tech specs, would actually have impedance ratios of 1:10 (good) and 5:10 (not good) when hooked up to a 10kohm mixer input. Two very similar pedals by the same manufacturer, but one will work well and one maybe not so well. So, at the end of your pedal chain before you hit the mixer you will want to make sure you have a low impedance output, which you can get by using a DI, or a preamp with instrument inputs, or just always use a particular pedal with a known low impedance output. Again, you always want to go from low impedance output to high impedance input. The mixer’s input impedance was designed to handle low impedance signals, so if the last pedal doesn’t have an impedance output in the 600-1000ohm range you will want to fix that. And if you don’t want to bother looking up specs for all your pedals, which trust me is time consuming and annoying, just always put something there so you don’t have to worry about it. A couple solutions for this:

Boost/buffer pedal: Barber Launch Pad
Preamp with instrument input: FMR RNP

Again, this is just my experience with pedals. I haven’t experimented with using amps (they are probably more finicky) and I don’t run balanced cables… if either of those was the case, I’d want to experiment with a re-amp device before the amp. I did try putting a re-amp between my unbalanced synth and my pedals, honestly I heard no difference and it was just a hassle, so I’ve stopped using it. Your experience may differ. I could also just be doing it wrong! I’m not an EE, I don’t understand all the impedance tech stuff at a deeper level, and most explanations I’ve seen on the subject seem to be targetted more towards EE theory and how to design a circuit rather than how to go about chaining together instruments and pedals and recording them. That said, I’ve tried a number of solutions at both ends of the pedal chain, and this one works for me…

Bottom line: watch your volume going into the pedals, and remember you always want low impedance outputs going to high impedance inputs. The place you most need to worry about impedance mismatches is at the end of the pedal chain, before you go to the mixer or back into an effects rack, because some pedals have high(er) impedance outputs. Putting something like Barber Launch Pad pictured above or a preamp at the end of the pedal chain will fix this problem, and then you don’t have to think about all the technical crap and can just make music.

Effects processing
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Plugins with Mojo

Okay, so previously I mentioned we were using a bunch of external analog effects for this project because digital multi-effects and computer plugins don’t have a lot of “character”. While it’s true there are plenty of cheap plugins and digital rack equipment that will do the job but also sound sort of sterile and lifeless, it’s not true that they all sound that way. And, it’s important to note, sometimes it’s a good thing to be able to put some effects on your tracks without ending up with “character” and “mojo” dripping all over them. Anyway, here are some of the plugins that we plan to use on this project.

First is Phase Two by Audio Damage. This one is cheating a bit because while it isn’t an old vintage analog effect, it was designed to emulate one. Nevertheless, the important thing is that it sounds great, it’s a plugin and we plan to use it. It is patterned after the Mutron Bi-Phase, which is a really cool old phaser that I would love to own if it didn’t cost $1000 on ebay. Audio Damage have a bunch of other great effect plugins, another one that we plan to use on this particular project is Reverence, which is modelled after an old Lexicon reverb module.

Hey, guess what, more digital models of old vintage analog effects! Universal Audio makes fantastic plugins, and in particular they have modelled a trio of old Roland effects that I can’t resist using much too often. The RE-201 Space Echo, pictured above, is a model of an old tape echo that again is overpriced on Ebay, and is also a pain in the ass to maintain since you constantly need to replace the tape and clean the tape heads. I have still come close to buying one on multiple occasions, and probably will be tempted again in the future, mostly because everyone I know who has ever owned one always raves about it. For now, the UA plugin will have to do. Luckily it sounds great, just wish the delay was a liiiiittle bit longer so we could eek out dotted 1/8 note delays at the slowburn 94bpm tempo. The other two effects are both choruses, the SDD-320 Dimension D and the Boss CE-1, and they also both sound fantastic.

The Universal Audio compressors and EQs are the best plugin ones I’ve used. You run things through them and they just end up sounding better. I don’t know why, and I don’t ask, I just run lots of things through them. We’ll be using the Fairchild, 1176LN and LA-2A compressor models, and Cambridge, Pultec and Neve EQ models for all our compressor and EQ needs for this project. UA also has a fantastic emulation of the EMT 140 plate reverb that we’ll be using on a lot of tracks.

This one may look like it’s also an emulation, but it’s actually not! PSP make some great plugins with vintage style and feel and sound, including the Nitro multi-effects processor shown above. Other than the previously mentioned Universal Audio plugins, Nitro has the best software chorus we’ve heard. It also has great filters, can do phasers, delays, flangers, all sorts of stuff. Great plugin! PSP also makes an emulation of an old Lexicon delay that we’ll probably use on the project, and some tube/tape saturation emulations that will come in handy at the mixing stage. Added bonus, they just released the UB versions (finally!) of Nitro and the delays today, so I can use it on my Macbook!

Finally, we have Izotope Trash which we used all over our last EP. This plugin combines distortion, compression, EQ, guitar amp modelling, and delay. We mostly use the distortion and amp modelling parts; once we started using this plugin on drums, we couldn’t stop. We had so much fun putting drum and synth sounds through the amp models that I was tempted to buy a real guitar amp just to run things through it, mic the sound, and re-record it. So far I have resisted the temptation, but one of these days I will probably be weak…

We also have a lot of other plugins that also sound great, and also get a lot of use, but these are the ones we’re going to restrict ourselves to for this project. And even these will see limited, specific use… in general we would like to record everything through the external effects live, for several reasons. First, we want the album to have a live, loose feel, and it’s hard to get that when you have the option of manually automating and tweaking every parameter in your plugin at mix time to make it sound absolutely perfect. Also, we’d like to control the effects in real time along with the synth parts, and hopefully get some sort of synergistic interaction between all the devices. And finally, we wanted the chance to try out a bunch of new and old analog effects and see if they really do sound better than their digital counterparts. The plugins have the benefit of being convenient, consistent, and easy to use, so they won’t be going anywhere even if they don’t “win” the contest. The external effects, on the other hand, are going to need to give us something special to make up for the hassles associated with them. Either way, it will be fun to play with them for a few weeks at least…

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More pedals: Analogman Chorus, Ibanez FL9 Flanger

Two new toys, err, tools arrived today… an Analogman chorus and an Ibanez flanger. Like the Roland PH-1R I mentioned in an earlier entry, they are analog stompbox effects intended for use with a guitar. Unlike the PH-1R, both of these are still in production and were bought new.

The Analogman chorus is a clone of the old Electro-Harmonix Small Clone chorus, as used by, among others, Kurt Cobain. This one is made by a boutique effects pedal builder who also wrote a great book on vintage effects. EH has since re-issued the original box using the same Small Clone name, but now they use some different chips and circuits and it allegedly doesn’t sound as good (of course) as the old version. Eh, whatever, anyway… the Analogman clone of the Clone also has some improvements over the old version, it looks purty, it’s handmade in the good old USA, and chorus is pretty much my favorite effect. So I got one even though they’re kind of expensive. It sounds great and looks cool and I love it already.

Next is an Ibanez FL9 analog flanger. It sounds nice, but it’s fairly polite and clean, and so far hasn’t grabbed me by the throat and yelled “Keep me!” However, it’s important to remember that an effect that sounds very distinctive and noticeable and cool will also usually grow old very very fast when you use it too much, and in some cases if the effect is dramatic enough, too much can equal “twice”. So we’ll see how this one fares through the recording process, how much it gets used, and what it gets used for before deciding whether or not to sell it on. Also important, just like using a synth, it can sometimes take a while to find an effect’s sweet spot. But, sometimes you never find a spot you like within its settings, so eventually you trade it for something else. The most important thing the FL9 will need to do to stay around is find some way to distinguish itself from the digital flanger models we have in the Kurzweil KSP8 and some of our plugins, because currently my impression is that it’s lacking the distinctive character necessary for me to go out of my way to use it.

Ibanez FL9 Flanger demos on Nord Modular synth sounds with some Line 6 Echo Park delay:

FL9 on Lead Synth. Dry, then progressively more and faster flange.
FL9 on Bass Synth. Dry, then progressively more and faster flange.
FL9 on Pad Synth . Dry, then progressively more and faster flange.

You can make flangers sound more dramatic by adding some distortion before the effect. I didn’t do that in these demos, but will experiment with that some more as we record things.

Chorus and flanger are both delay based effects, and are closely related circuit-wise. Chorus is generally used to thicken up a part by adding a short modulated delay or delays to a sound to make it sound like multiple instruments — a chorus of instruments — are playing. A flanger also thickens things up, but is stereotypically used as sort of a special effect: the jet plane whoooosh you hear on a lot of late 60’s and early 70’s music is often a flanger (though sometimes a phaser, as mentioned in an earlier entry). Like a chorus effect, a flanger also works by adding a short delay and modulating it, and you can in fact often make a chorus-like sound using a flanger pedal by setting it on less extreme settings. The flanger effect was invented by the Abbey Road engineers while recording a Beatles album; they played back multiple copies of the same take on the tape reels, and manually slowed one of them down a bit by pressing on the reel with their finger. Later, both chorus and flanger effects were implemented in an analog circuit fashion by using BBD delay chips. These chips have recently gone out of production, and the only currently made mass produced substitutes are some allegedly noisier and inferior chips cranked out from China, which is why many people prefer either older versions of these pedals or smaller run boutique versions that use hoarded remnants of the old chip stocks.

So why are we using guitar pedals for our synthesizer based music? Shouldn’t we be using, uh, synthesizer pedals? Well we would, but nobody makes synthesizer effects pedals. Most synth players use multi-effects processors, which do everything in one box, which is cool, but not always distinctive. You often end up with a jack of all trades, master of none type device. The latest crisp, clean, digital based models always sound great, but also somehow lack… something. Since we are limiting ourselves to using just one synth for this project (the previously mentioned Nord Modular), we decided we would try to get some more variety in our sounds by using a bunch of unique and/or weird effects that have a distinctive character of their own. Since most of those types of effects are currently made for guitarists in the form of pedals, that’s what we’re going to use. We will still be using some rack based effects when they offer a cooler or more controllable alternative than pedals, such as in the case of analog filters, some types of delay based effects, and reverb. But we’ll also be experimenting with stringing together a bunch of random guitar pedals that weren’t designed for our synths and see what happens.

That brings us to the question of whether or not you can even safely use a guitar pedal with a synthesizer. Keyboards run at line level with low impedance, the pedal expects a guitar type signal with higher impedance. We will talk about this more in a later entry, and I am not an expert so don’t take my word for it… but for now, the short answer is yes, as long as you are careful with your volume levels going into the pedal (it most likely expects a lower level than you will be sending into it), and as long as it sounds good to you coming out of the pedal, you’re okay with just plugging in the stompbox directly after your synth just like you would a rack effect. The longer answer involves buying some extra equipment when just plugging it in doesn’t sound good, but we’ll talk about that another time.

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Boss PH-1R Phaser

A new toy from ebay arrived today, an old analog Boss Phaser. Boss is the guitar effects division of Roland, who released several phaser effects in the 70’s under the Roland name, but then decided to switch them over to the Boss brand when the pedals got smaller and cheaper. The oldest Roland branded ones are now very expensive and collectible, and so far I have successfully resisted purchasing any of them, but early Boss pedals can be bought for a reasonable price (around $100) and contain lovely analog circuitry presumably based on the same Roland designs.

You can read more about phasers on here, but note that when an effect is called a “phaser” that usually refers to the all-pass filter version described there, while the time-delay version they describe is almost always called a “flanger”. The two effects can sound similar on certain settings, but the methods they use to accomplish their effects, and the resulting circuits and devices that implement them, are completely different. Without getting into a technical description of what a phaser does, it imparts a sort of psychedelic, moving, whooshing character on a sound that can give it a sort of 3-D feel in the proper listening environment and/or state of mind. We plan on using a lot of phasers for this project, in most cases very subtly so you can hardly hear the effect, but also sometimes in a very much over the top fashion that will scream phaser.

This particular model (the PH-1R) is distinguished from the first compact pedal version that Boss released (the PH-1) in that it has an extra knob to control resonance, and more control is almost always a good thing. The next version (PH-2) added an extra knob/switch to control the type of phasing, but from reviews the general consensus seems to be that the basic sound of the PH-1R is “better” so I got that one instead. More control is still a good thing, but not if you have to sacrifice the basic sound to get it, especially when you are talking about one effect pedal with a specific purpose. The latest version (PH-3) is a digitally modeled phaser and that one apparently doesn’t sound all that great if you are a fan of the smooth analog sound, which I am. I might buy a PH-2 off ebay and compare it with the PH-1R for myself, but I probably won’t bother since the PH-1R sounds great, and I already have several other phasers.

These audio demos contain five snippets each. First, the unprocessed sound. Then all knobs at 3 o’clock, then all knobs at 6 o’clock, then all knobs at 9 o’clock, then all knobs maxed. These are not the best demos because it basically treats the pedal like it has one knob, going from light to extreme. In reality you would want to find the sweet spot for each of the three knobs so that you could get, for instance, a slow but deep and resonant phase, or a faster but shallow and medium resonant phase, etc. The demos do however let you hear the general character of the effect. All parts are Nord Modular, and also include a light delay effect from the Line 6 Echo Park.

demo #1: PH-1R phaser on a lead part
demo #2: PH-1R phaser on a bass part
demo #3: PH-1R phaser on a noise part
demo #4: PH-1R phaser on a pad-like part

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Patching together a tube echo

This is my attempt at patching together a tube echo device, using a Line 6 Echo Park (for the delay), a Thermionics Culture Vulture (tube/valve distortion), a Mutronics Mutator (lowpass filter), a Tapco mixer, and a Neutrik patchbay.

Old school dub producers would create delay feedback loops like this using the send and return busses on their mixers. The Tapco doesn’t have sends and returns, so I improvised by splitting the left and right side of the stereo mixer bus into original and delay lines, and used panning instead of sends to control the amount of echo. The end result is a mono delay with a feedback loop that includes distortion and filter processing, so that as the sound keeps echoing it gets progressively darker (filtered) and warmer/fuzzier (distorted), which gives you the sort of retro feel you get from old tape and tube delay/echo boxes.

The Echo Park actually already has a digital model of this type of effect, but I wanted to see if I could do it better! By doing it this way, I also have a lot more control over the final sound, as I can control the amount of filtering and distortion that happens to each echo. I can also use this same setup and patch in different effects, so that the delays progressively get more phaser or flanger or whatever on them as they echo on and on and on…

Anyway, here’s how it is set up:

The original sound comes in via input 1 on the Tapco in mono. This is the external input to the system.

The left side of the Tapco’s main stereo output goes to the main mixing board, where it’s recorded and/or played over the monitors. This is the external output from the system.

The right side of the Tapco’s main stereo output is connected to the delay feedback loop, which starts with the Echo Park, then continues through the Mutator filter, then through the Culture Vulture valves.

The feedback loop comes back in via input 2 on the Tapco in mono.

A delay effect has two primary parameters: delay amount, and feedback amount. The delay amount determines how loud of an echo you get compared to the original signal. The feedback amount determines how many echo repeats you will get, the more feedback the more times you will hear the echo repeat itself.

With this setup, the amount of delay sent to the loop is controlled by panning the original signal on Tapco input 1. Panning hard left results in the signal going straight out the left main output without any signal reaching the delay loop. As you start panning input 1 towards the middle and right, more signal gets sent to the loop resulting in a louder delay.

The amount of delay feedback is controlled by panning the delay loop signal coming into Tapco input 2. Panning hard left results in no feedback, as the processed signal is only sent out the left main output. As you start panning input 2 towards the middle and right, you get more feedback, too much if you aren’t careful, which can result in distortion at the mixer input.

The gain level of input 2, and the various settings of the processors in the effects loop, will also have an effect on the feedback level.

Within the feedback loop, I have the Echo Park set to do a basic simple digital delay with no feedback. The lowpass filter of the Mutator is set so that it lops off some of the higher parts of the sound, resulting in darker echoes. The Culture Vulture is set so that it warms up the sound a bit, but doesn’t distort. By changing the settings on any of these devices, the feedback loop and the resulting echo effect can get much more complicated and/or chaotic.

Here are some examples of how it sounds:

demo #1: dry unprocessed sound
demo #2: tube echoed
demo #3: lots of feedback
demo #4: heavy feedback and some distortion

Demos
Effects processing
Technical

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