Everyone loves the sound of a good analog synth. They are noisier, fuller, and warmer. And for some reason, they sound a bit more magical, organic, and real.
In this article, we will teach you eight great ways to make your digital synth sound analog. The tips will range from adding cozy analog noise to your sounds to analog-style detuning for an unmistakable vintage feel.
Let’s dive into the first tip – using vintage compressor plugins that give your digital sounds a dash of extra analog magic.
1. Vintage Compressor Plugins
Vintage compressor plugins are a great way of making a digital synth sound analog. But what makes a compressor plugin vintage? Simple, it's when it's modeled after a classic or vintage type of compressor – which is analog from the start.
The beautiful thing about vintage compressor emulations is that you recreate the analog-style sound quality right from your laptop. The sound is often emulated so well that it’s hard to hear a difference between the plugin and the real deal.
Using vintage compressors can give your synth sounds a warmer, fuller feel with a bit of pleasant saturation to make them come alive.
Here are the best 8 free VST compressor effects.
Analog gear is often noisy. You can get hums, hisses, sizzles, and when you boost it too hard, your sound gets drenched in beautiful saturation. A great way of making a digital synth sound more analog is by applying the same noise to your sound.
There are several ways to go about this. One way is using a synth-like Serum or Pigments 3, which has built-in noise oscillators/samplers. Create your clean digital sound and layer it with some analog-style noise to give it a more real feel.
You can also use audio samples of hardware or vinyl noise to layer your sound to give the impression that the sound is playing from a physical instrument.
You can trigger the noise volume with an effect like the Envelope Follower to make it even more realistic. That way, you can make the noise play when your original sound plays.
3. Flutter And Wow
If you want to create a truly analog feel, you need flutter and wow. The sound distortion comes from irregularities in analog recording and reproduction devices with things that spin. In audio, that means tape machines, turntables, cassette recorders, and the likes.
How do the effects sound? The wow effect occurs once per rotation, targets pitch, and happens when you slow a record down (or if something is off with the record.) It’s a very typical vinyl effect, and you'll know it when you hear it. Flutter is similar but targets the higher frequencies and fluctuates quicker, causing a rougher sound.
Here’s how wow and flutter sounds:
4. Bit Reduction And Downsampling
Reducing the quality of a sound is a great way to imitate older-style analog gear. It’s not that analog hardware sounds bad, but it’s usually less clean than a digital sound. And often, in music production, that’s exactly what you want for a fuller sound.
Bit reduction or a bitcrusher works by reducing the resolution or bandwidth of digital audio data. Or in other words, it lessens its quality, making it sound distorted, worn, and 'older.'
Downsampling works similarly by reducing a sound's sample rate, creating a distorted sound with added noise and grit.
Both effects work best if used minimally, as they can distort a sound too hard if you’re not careful. For some sounds, this can work, but then it becomes more a stylized option rather than an aim to make a sound more analog sounding.
In Ableton Live 11, you can find both in the audio effect “Redux.”
You can also use filters to achieve a more analog-style sound. Obvious examples for filters that make your digital synth sound more analog are lo-fi, telephone, and radio filters. You know, the ones that make your music sound like it’s playing through a 50s telephone.
You don't have to go all-in, though – send your sound to one of these more extreme filters in a bus or aux channel and use a little bit of it. Details matter when recreating analog warmth, and a little bit can go a long way.
The oscillator pitch in analog synthesizers drifts and shifts in a very subtle way. Digital oscillators are typically very clean and perfectly in tune – unless you use modulation to change that.
By subtly automating the oscillator fine-tune or detune pitch of a digital synth sound, you can recreate the qualities of an analog sound.
Again, you don’t want to transpose your sound up and down several octaves. You want very fine pitching with the fine-tune knob – a tiny bit is enough.
If your synth uses two oscillators, you can automate the detuning of both to make them drift offset to each other.
7. Saturation And Distortion
Warm saturation and distortion are classic audio effects that make you think of analog gear. Saturation is a form of soft clipping distortion which introduces more harmonics around a sound. Distortion as an audio effect usually takes a more extreme form – pushing the sound through its limits, like a heavy metal guitar amp.
Tape saturation, in particular, is especially effective to make your digital sound more analog. That’s because it mimics saturation in analog tape recorders, which happens when you push the voltage levels too hard for the tape to record. The result is a warmer, fuller, and grittier sound – unmistakable to pushing analog gear hard.
More extreme variants of distortion can also work great to introduce an analog feel. For the best result, adjust the effect with a dry/wet knob to a minimum or use it parallel on a mixing bus.
Here you can find the 8 best saturation VST plugins.
And if you like free saturation plugins, check out the 8 best FREE saturation VST Plugins.
Chorus effects are a great way to inject more warmth, fullness, and an analog feel into your digital sound. The idea of the effect is that it takes your sound, copies it, and plays several pitch-modulated versions of itself.
Resultingly, you get a wider, warmer, and drifty kind of sound that sounds more analog. This audio effect works great for digital synths that need a bit of a fullness boost.
But watch out. Too much of it, and your sound can get pushed back in the mix. If you’re using it on a lead sound, try using the effect as a send instead.
The analog sound is incredibly sought-after for electronic music producers. And now you know how to recreate the effect and feel right in your DAW.
Thanks to some great audio effects, you can take a robotic, digital sound and make it alive with small tweaks. All you need to know is what defines the analog and vintage character, and you’re good to go.
After reading this article, you will want to make everything sound analog.
Thanks for reading, and see you in the next article.
About the author
Pelle Sundin is a Swedish music producer and writer, active with his chillout project PLMTRZ. He also produces psytrance. When he's not producing, he surfs, skates, and chugs coffee.