TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 27 Signal Processing – Effects Processors

Over the last few weeks we’ve considered EQ and Dynamics. This week and next, we’ll cover the fun part of signal processing – Effects.

One of the best things about the top music recording software programmes – Pro Tools, Logic Audio, Cubase, Cakewalk and Digital Performer – is that they often include several signal processors like EQ, Compressors and Effects within the programme.

In addition, there are usually many more optional plug-ins available. Click here to see a selection of plug-ins for Pro Tools.

Again, I’d just like to say that TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group do not benefit from ‘promoting’ Pro Tools, we just happen to think it’s a great programme. And if you work in the music business, especially in America, you’ll know it’s probably the most popular programme used by pro studios and musicians alike.

Most instruments and voices are best recorded in a relatively dry acoustic environment. This approach then allows you to add effects afterwards. Effects are added to recordings to make them sound more natural if too dry, or supernatural to add a special or unique sound quality.

Top – Insert Signal Path, Bottom – Send/Return Signal Path.

In the mix and/or recording stages, signal processors can be used in either a send/return or insert mode. Some like EQs, Compressors and Gates are more suited to an insert signal path. Whilst reverbs and echoes are best used in a send/return path.

We will cover signal paths in more detail in a later blog.

So let’s look at a few of the more common/popular effects processors – reverb, delay, chorus, flange and pitch shifting.

Depending on the size of the acoustic environment and the types of materials in walls and ceilings, sound will exhibit a variety of reverberations. Modern day reverb units simulate various size and types of rooms. Allowing control over a number of different parameters.

Reverberant Sound Is The Collection Of All The Reflected Sound In A Room.

Reverb is probably the most used effect in music. At the recording stage you don’t normally want to have too much natural reverb with your recording.

Any effect added in the recording which resides on the same track as the instrument, cannot be removed later. Which is why it is desirable to record quite dry (that is, not too echoey or reverberant) and then add the appropriate amount of reverb, or any other effect, later.

Providing your room is quite dry, you could choose to record your instrument on one track and any reverb you add (whilst recording) to another. That way, the player can hear (in his/her headphones through foldback) the clean signal along with the effect, whilst the two signals are kept separate on your recorder.

I remember in the early 1980’s when I worked at a facility called Molinare in London’s Soho, we used to add reverb by sending the signal to a speaker down in the basement (the room was very long, the walls were brick and stone – very reverberant) and pick up the speaker output and resultant reverberations on a microphone at the opposite end, which then returned to the studio. We also used the classic Lexicon 224.

A Classic Reverb Unit, The Lexicon 224 Digital Reverb – Almost Defined The Sound Of The 80s. Used By Many Top Names Including, Talking Heads, Vangelis, U2 and Peter Gabriel.

There are many parameters for reverb. The main ones are algorithm, diffusion, decay, predelay and high and low cut filters.

The Algorithm is where you choose the type of reverb you want for your recording. Most good plug-ins can simulate a variety of room sizes. From concert halls to small rooms, as well as different types of mechanical reverbs like plate and spring reverb.

Diffusion influences the reflections’ density in the reverbed sound. The density describes how many reflections are present in a given time. More reflective rooms lead to higher diffusion. If you want to simulate a less reflective room use a low diffusion setting.

Decay is the length of time (measured in seconds) the reverb lasts. A large hall or church setting will have a longer reverb time than a small room, like your room at home.

Predelay represents the time (measured in milliseconds) between the start of the sound and the beginning of the reverb. Dialling in a slight predelay separates the reverb from the original sound, which helps to give the impression of a bigger space. Predelay times tend to be between 10 to 50 ms.

Hi and Lo Cut Filters give you control over the rate at which high and low frequencies decay. Usually, low frequencies will decay longer than high frequencies. So by having a separate setting for each, you can achieve some degree of control over the sound to make it more natural.

Pro Tools D-Verb Plug-In: One Of Several Plug-Ins Provided Free With Many Pro Tools Setups, Has Settings For Hall, Church, Plate And Various Sized Rooms.

When using reverb, as with most effects, try not to overuse it. If you use it on all your tracks your recording will sound like a wash without any distinction. Use sparingly and wisely. Drums can often benefit from having just the snare reverbed.

Typically, the larger the room the longer the decay. Sometimes a small room with a long decay can produce a more interesting result than a large room with a short decay (or vice versa).

If you have a stereo sound source, you could narrow the stereo width and add reverb to just one side. This can work well on some guitar parts.

Or try a short plate decay on a lead vocal. This can help it stand out in the mix.

The Lexicon Pantheon Reverb Plug-In Emulates The Sounds Of Many Legendary Lexicon Digital Reverbs.

If you have never used a particular reverb unit or plug-in before, spend some time getting to know the parameters. Experiment with different room sizes, types of room and decay times.

Next week we’ll continue looking at more effects processors – delay, chorus, flange and pitch shifting.

Any questions? Drop us a line or call us – for TCM Music Group contact details, click here. And if you find this blog to be useful, you could subscribe to it and tell your band mates too.

Explore posts in the same categories: Music, Recording Artists, Recording Studios, Sound Recording

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  1. […] various types of EQ (graphic, parametric), dynamics (compressors/limiters, expanders/gates) and effects (reverb, echo, chorus etc). So feel free to refer back to these earlier blogs for more […]

  2. […] various types of EQ (graphic, parametric), dynamics (compressors/limiters, expanders/gates) and effects (reverb, echo, chorus etc). So feel free to refer back to these earlier blogs for more […]

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