Posts Tagged ‘ Chorus ’

Using chorus to increase stereo width

Just a quick tip today – use chorus to make a sound extremely wide without changing the character of the sound. A simple digital chorus is often ideal for this – the one that came bundled with your DAW or a basic freeware plugin should be fine.

Use these settings as a starting point: 100% wet, 0% feedback, LFO rate below 1Hz, Depth 100%, Delay 0ms. You might also need to set the relative phase of each LFO to 180 degrees – this will make sure the left and right LFOs are cycling out of phase with each other. To reduce the pitch modulation, reduce the LFO speed.

Using a chorus like this is a little like using a Haas delay (delaying one side by less than 50ms) to increase stereo width. It’s better, however, because the chorus’s relative delay is constantly changing (whereas a simple delay is fixed). This means the illusion of direction (the Haas effect, caused by short delays) is changing, rather than static. This is more pleasant and less distracting to listen to.

I do this most often with pads and background synths when I want them to be ultra-wide – especially in situations where the source sound is mono. I’ll even use it when a stereo sound is already very wide but the left and right sides are too different for my taste, I’ll collapse the sound to mono and the re-stereoise it using a basic 100% wet chorus.


6+ ways to get bigger bass

This is about basslines, not (necessarily) the frequency range. The bassline is the harmonic foundation of a track. A solid mix often needs a solid bassline. So how do you get there? How do you stop your basslines from sounding weak or flabby? Here are some techniques to consider:

  • EQ. This is the big one. A lot of the time, EQ is all you need. The trouble is, each situation is different. I can’t tell you where to boost and where to cut without hearing your track. Because EQ is relative, the right settings depend entirely on the sound of your bassline and the direction of the mix. Pay close attention to how the kick and the bass interact. In some cases, it makes sense to have a bass with character voiced above a deep kick; in other cases it makes sense to have a deep bass voiced under the kick. Good monitoring is crucial here, because you’ll have to balance the tone across a wide range – sometimes all the way from subbass up to the top of the mix. And most lower-budget monitoring environments are pretty bad at accurately representing the critical range from the bottom through the lower mids.
  • Layering. You can’t boost what isn’t there. Often a bass sound will have a great character in the mids but doesn’t have a solid bottom end. Similarly, it’s common for a bass sound with a solid bottom end to be missing character in the mids. By layering two complimentary bass sounds, you can have the best of both worlds! Be careful though – effective layering can very easily take over the whole mix. When layering bass sounds, it often helps to filter the layers. For example – an upper layer that adds a lot of character in the mids may have a weak or inconsistent low end. By using a high pass filter to cut out that low end, a lower layer can be much more focussed and provide a stronger sound. Similarly, it often makes sense to use a low pass filter or dramatic EQ to take the mids out of the lower layer so that the upper layer can punch through more effectively. Lastly, don’t forget to pay attention to the relative levels of each layer. Often a mix needs one layer to be dominant – the other layer(s) usually can be much quieter and still provide enough definition and size.
  • Saturation. This is a magic trick for making almost any sound bigger – not just bass. When using saturation, it’s important to keep in mind that you don’t need much for it to be effective (unless you’re going for a fuzzy distorted bass). A little bit goes a long way. Also, different saturation tools respond very different to bass. It’s often useful to have several different options. Some saturation tools will rob you of low end, others will get too fizzy. A technique that often works well is to mix a saturated version of the bass with the original clean version, and to apply a low pass filter after the saturation. This will avoid the high end fizz produced by some saturation tools, and will often thicken up the lower mids.
  • Stereo width. Simply, wider sounds are often perceived as being bigger. It’s important, however, to find the right balance – too much stereo widening will reduce the body and foundation of the sound. It often makes sense to widen the mids and/or top end, while keeping the low end narrow.
  • Chorus / unison detuning. Similar to stereo widening, the use of chorus and unison detuning can make a sound bigger. And again – the balance is in using enough to make the sound bigger without reducing the body and foundation. Applying chorus or unison detuning to the mids and/or top end will avoid the bottom getting washy.
  • Sidechain compression. This is a popular technique – especially when triggered with the kick drum. This allows the bass to be louder when the kick drum isn’t sounding. By making the kick and bass take turns, the overall low end of the mix can be more consistent and powerful. It’s a distinctive sound, however, and isn’t appropriate for all kinds of music – particularly when the bassline has a distinctive rhythmic pattern. If in doubt, try it out.
  • Bonus technique: Bass amp / cabinet. Amp sims aren’t just for guitars! Processing a synth bass with a simulated bass amp can provide a dramatic tonal change. Saturation/overdrive and compression are also often included as part of the package. This technique isn’t subtle though – don’t reach of an amp sim if your bass is already pretty close to what you want. Amp sims are great when you have a weak or lousy bass that needs some major transformation. The sound of the cabinet can also help keep the energy of the bass consistent across a wide range of notes – this can be handy if your bassline is melodic or jumps around a lot.
  • Bonus technique: Compression. I think compression on synth bass is overrated. Most synths can be set up to provide a consistent level and punchy envelope without compression. Where compression shines, however, is on electric (or even acoustic) bass when performed by a musician. When working with recordings like this, applying the compression first will make the sound more consistent and help later processes – especially saturation.

With these techniques and some practice, you should have no trouble getting your bass to support the rest of your mix.


Alternatives to reverb

Reverb adds two properties to sounds – diffusion and depth. While there are many ways of changing the balance between diffusion and depth, there are times when a more extreme approach is required. Reverb may not be the best solution if a sound needs a lot of diffusion but very little depth, or a lot of depth but very little diffusion.

More diffusion, less depth

Diffusion is a way of blurring a sound, reducing its sharpness or distinction. A sound may need to be diffused if it needs to be pushed to the background or to fit it into a mix that is generally quite diffuse. This might need to be done in a way that doesn’t add depth if the background of the mix requires a lot of clarity or if the mix is meant to be very shallow.

In these situations, processes such as chorus, microshifting, slap delay or even true doubletracking can be appropriate.

  • Chorus diffuses the sound by adding a copy with constantly-changing pitch and timing. This can be appropriate if the sound will benefit from the added movement and the constantly-changing pitch is not distracting.
  • For situations when the movement or pitch modulation are not appropriate, microshifting might be a better solution. This is commonly implemented as a pitch shift of a few cents down on one side of the stereo space and a pitch shift of a few cents up on the other side of the stereo space. This can give a very big sound that stretches across the stereo space, but doesn’t have the modulated sound that chorus adds, and doesn’t have the added depth or tail that reverb adds.
  • Slap delay is shorthand for any quick delay with a delay time roughly between 30ms and 150ms. The delay time should be determined by the nature of the sound – the delay time and level should be set so that the delayed sound blends smoothly with the original sound. Slap delay can be useful when a sound needs less diffusion and more depth than chorus or microshifting, but not as much depth as a reverb might add.
  • True doubletracking is a process of using two  different takes of the same part being played simultaneously. The natural, human variations between the two takes will make them slightly different – different enough to create a different sound when both takes are combined. This is a popular technique for guitars and vocals because it can be used to create a very big sound while still sounding much more natural than applying chorus or microshifting.

Depth, no diffusion

Depth is a sense of distance – particularly a distance between the foreground and background of the mix. A shallow mix will have very little distance between the foreground and background, a deep mix will have a lot of distance between the foreground and background. Usually sounds are pushed to the background by adding both depth and diffusion, but in some cases it is useful to add depth without diffusion. A mix might need to be very deep, but also very sharp and clear (which would require diffusion to be minimised). In other cases,a mix might already be quite diffuse, and depth has to be created by using more obvious means (because regular reverb would be lost in the general diffusion of the mix).

In these situations, delay is often the most appropriate tool. Longer delays (>150ms) should work best. When tuning a delay for depth, rather than rhythmic complexity, it’s often worthwhile tuning it by ear instead of snapping to the song’s tempo. The sense of depth will come from hearing the echos between the notes. This may be difficult if a tempo delay is causing the echos to be perfectly timed to sound underneath foreground elements (so that the background echos are masked by the foreground elements). Making the delay more audible by tuning it in between tempo times will also allow the delay to be at a lower volume. This will enhance the sense of depth in the mix.


Using chorus, phaser or stereo imager

Choruses create a “doubled” sound by adding a delayed copy of the sound. The delay time is very short (usually less than 40ms) so it blends with the original sound (and doesn’t sound like two different sounds). Flangers are a special case of chorus effects where the delay time is usually less than 15ms. To add movement and interest, the delay time is slowly changed. This also changes the pitch of the delayed sound, which helps make the sound richer. More sophisticated chorus effects add multiple delayed copies (also called “voices”) for an ever richer and smoother sound. The downside is that the sound becomes more diffuse and washed out. It can also blur the sense of pitch in the sound. 

Use chorus to widen the stereo image when you want the sound bigger and more diffuse. Don’t use chorus when you want to keep the sound focussed and direct. 

Phasers usually operate by a complex method of using allpass filters to cause phase shifting. You don’t need to understand exactly how it works – just the sound. Phasers add movement by modifying the frequency spectrum, and changing it over time. You might think of it as a complex EQ that keeps shifting and changing. 

Use a phaser to widen the stereo image when you want to sound to stay focussed and direct. Don’t use a phaser if you don’t want to change the tone of the sound. 

Stereo Imager 
This is a broad term that has been used to refer to several different techniques. Some tools widen a mono sound by delaying one side (left or right). I recommend against this technique because it causes the audio to sound like it’s originating from one side (even though there’s equal energy on both sides) and the tone of the sound will drastically change if your mix is collapsed to mono (or if you do any further stereo width adjustment further down the track, such as that in mastering). Some other tools adjust the stereo image by using mid/side encoding to separate the “centre” audio from the “side” audio (which represents the stereo width). They then enhance the side audio which widens the stereo image. Basic tools do this by simply raising the volume of the side audio. More sophisticated tools use EQ to let you control the stereo width at different frequency areas. The advantage of this approach is that it can sound very natural if the original audio is already stereo. 

Use these tools when you have a sound that’s already stereo (such as a stereo recording of an instrument or a complete mixdown) that you want to widen with a natural sound. Don’t use these tools if your original audio is mono (including mono which has been processed by stereo effects).