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How to Make Vocals Sound Analog

If you want to make your vocals sound more like an analog recording, use analog emulation plugins or use an EQ to mimic the frequency response of classic analog gear. Furthermore, only use processing that was available at the time, for example, use plate or chamber reverb emulation.


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Easiest Way to Get Analog Vocals

If you want an easy way to achieve an analog sound, use a tape emulation plugin and drive the input while compensating for the gain changes with the output. This will impart harmonic distortion, soft-knee compression, and make other subtle tonal changes indicative of classic analog recordings.

Let’s listen and notice how easy it is to achieve this sound.

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Emulate Slower Tape with EQ

If you’d prefer not to use a tape emulator, you can use an equalizer to emulate the frequency response of slower-moving tape. For example, I could use a high-shelf filter and dip the highs by 3dB, then subtly boost my lows and low-mids.

Let’s listen and notice how this EQ softens the vocal and makes it sound slightly classic.

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Use Advanced Tape Emulation

Similar to chapter 1, we can use tape emulation to create analog vocals, but utilize advanced settings to achieve it. With Satin by U-he, I’ll lower the tape speed to 15ips, introduce mild asperity which is dynamic stereo noise, and introduce an encoder to give the highs a classic sound.

I’ll also drive the input, but use auto-make-up gain to keep the current volume. Let’s listen and notice how the mild distortion, equalization, and compression are all occurring to our vocals.

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Use Modulated Saturation

Saturn 2 lets you create envelopes and oscillators to dynamically affect your distortion. For example, I can distort my mid-band of frequencies, while introducing envelopes to my crossovers - as a result, the frequency range of this band will dynamically increase, and so too will the distortion on the band.

This is just one example of hundreds, where you can make program-dependent distortion, and emulate various forms of analog equipment. Let’s listen and notice how the vocal becomes more distorted during louder passages.

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Plate or Chamber Reverb

If you want to keep your vocal sounding analog, it’s best to use reverbs that were around in previous generations of recording. For example, plate and chamber reverb were popular at the time, so let’s emulate both, starting with presets and altering some settings where needed.

Let’s listen and notice how both plate and chamber reverbs give the vocal a classic quality.

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Combining Free Saturators

If you’d prefer not to purchase saturators but still want your vocal to have an analog sound, try both Saturator by Softube, and PreFET by Accentize. Both of which are free saturator plugins that when used sparingly, can create a great analog sound full of subtle distortions.

Let’s take a listen and notice how much these free plugins alter the dynamic range, frequency response, and total harmonic distortion.

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Starting with PreAmp Emulation

If you’re starting a vocal chain, use a preamp emulation first to achieve analog tonalities before subsequent processing. I’ll use a Neve emulation to accomplish subtle distortion and maybe even a little bit of equalization to make it seem like the vocal was run through its circuit.

Let’s listen and imagine this effect as the foundation for a more complex chain.

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Using Analog Emulated Delay

Similar to the emulated reverb we discussed in chapter 5, we can utilize analog delay to make the vocal sound as if it’s from a previous generation. I’ll use an emulation of the Roland Space Echo to mimic temporal processing from the 1970s and 80s.

I’ll sync the delays to the host BPM, and combine both reverb and delay. Let’s take a listen to it.

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Emulating Classic Microphones

On occasion, I’ll use an EQ to mimic the frequency response of classic popular condenser microphones. For example, if I wanted to emulate the U87, I would use a response in which 60Hz and below is dipped 6dB, 500Hz is boosted a half dB, and 9.5kHz is boosted before attenuation.

The response of your microphone will need to be kept in mind when doing this since odds are it won’t be completely flat either. Let’s take a listen and notice the subtle changes the EQ makes.

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Emulating Classic PreAmps

Similar to our last chapter, I can use an EQ to mimic the response of a classic preamp - for example, I could emulate a Neve 1073 with some very subtle dips to the lows and highs. Or an API 512 with boosts the lows and highs, and a slight tilt filter.

It’s not perfect by any means, but it’ll get you closer to the sound of these preamps. Let’s listen and notice the differences between 1073 and 512 preamp emulation.

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Make Pro Songs
The #1 Audio Engineering Membership That Makes Your Mixes Sound Like
Professional Songs Even If You Have No Previous Experience