Audio engineers love collecting boxes, objects with dials, lights and knobs that transform your sound. There is a joy in plugging your sound into one side of the box and being surprised by what comes out the other side, always asking that question: “what will it sound like if I run it through this?”
I still remember the first effect I ever got my hands on, a beaten up old Boss Flanger. I put every sound I could through it, pianos, voices, synthesizers, most of my first year film soundtrack – it was extreme … It sounded horrible and wonderful at the same time.
A new and shiny Boss Flanger – the one I had didn’t look this clean.
Today in 2020 we have an almost endless choice of little boxes to process our sound through thanks to the digital virtual recording studios inside our computers. So, below, I will attempt to give a quick guide as to what you can access and what you can do with it.
Pro Tools Effects
If you haven’t done it yet, download and install the effects bundle of 115 effects plugins that comes with your Pro Tools Ultimate software.
Go to the Avid website, log in, and navigate to Account (in the left hand menu bar)> My Products> Pro Tools Ultimate (click the arrow)> Products Details and Download Links> show (click the blue arrow). Download from the Pro Tools Plug-ins list
Or… You can also go to your Avid Link app on your computer. Navigate to Products> Protools Ultimate> Included Apps and Plugins (click on the blue text)
There are far too many effects here for me to describe – if you want a list of what they all do go to this link here, otherwise take a look at my quick description of a few of the more useful effects below.
The typical Pro Tools Digirack Compressor comes with every version of Pro Tools.
The Dyn3 compressor is the standard compressor found inside Pro Tools. Using it you will find all the standard controls – Threshold, Ratio, Gain etc. the controls that I talked about in this lesson. The Dyn3 has a very clean sound with no surprises and is a great tool for many applications.
It has become fashionable in recent years to emulate famous old bits of studio equipment. Equipment that in years past audio engineers have enjoyed using are now replicated in our virtual recording studios. Often these old style effects are flavored or “colored” by adding harmonics to your audio to give you that old time feel. Most of these “vintage” effects find their home in music mixing, but there is no reason you can’t use them in the more creative parts of your film mix.
Avid’s BF-2A – a digital emulation of the famous LA-2A Compressor
The LA-2A is a famous old compressor and so popular that plugin effects creators have created many, many emulations of it. Avid’s version is called the BF-2A. This compressor has few knobs, don’t worry about ratios and thresholds – its super simple to use, want more compression? Just turn up the knobs! A lot of people love using this compressor on voice – so try it out on a voiceover sometime.
If you want to know more about the real LA-2A try this link here.
The 1176 Limiting Amplifier is another famous old piece of studio equipment brought to life in Pro Tools plug-ins as the Purple Audio MC77.
A bit like a combination of a normal compressor and the LA-2A. You don’t get to choose the threshold, but you do get to choose everything else.
Then there are some modern clean compressors that are not attempting to sound like older equipment, they shouldn’t add harmonics, but are designed with easy tools for a fast workflow (or at least thats the idea). These are typically the kind of effects you will reach for most of the time in film mixing.
The Pro Tools EQIII is the standard workhorse equalizer in Pro Tools. It features 7 EQ bands with familiar Gain, Frequency and Q controls and a handy little graph to see what you are dialing in.
Quick EQ trick demonstrated on a snare drum, press ctrl shift with the EQ window up.
Want a weird old style EQ? What the LA-2A is to Compression the Pultec 1A is to EQ. Emulated over and over by various plugin creators, the Avid version is the Pultec EQP-1A. The EQ takes some knowledge to use – its got a really weird EQ curve with some really strange controls – however it does sound nice (I like to use it on drum mixes). Check out the other Pultecs in the Avid collection if you are curious about weird old time EQ.
Lana Del Rey: The Queen of modern reverb.
Reverb is an atmosphere effect. Its a method of putting your audio into an environment, giving it a sense of place, telling the listener where you are – a bit like a huge wide shot in a movie. the technology of creating reverb in a studio is still an evolving technology so it is useful to break the different kinds of reverb into eras.
The simplest kind of reverb is to put your sound into an echoey room with the microphone not-too-close to the source (the source could be an instrument or voice you are recording, or a speaker playing back the sound) and record the source. Using this method is time consuming but can be very effective – have a listen to the recent records of Alt-J, (the version on Spotify is better – the music video has extra stuff added) most of the reverb Alt J use is created by placing microphones at vraious distances to the instrument. It creates a wonderful natural open sound.
Vintage Reverb: – 1950’s – 1970’s
Mechanical spring and plate reverbs were the studio tools of this era, just think about the music of The Beatles….
Digital Reverb: 1970’s – 2000’s
Digital processing allowed increasingly complex algorithms to alter audio signals. These reverbs sounded pretty horrible at first, but the technology really took off during the 1990’s as computers increased in processing power.
The DVERB is the standard digital reverb inside Pro Tools.
Convolution Reverb: 2000’s onwards
This is where cutting edge reverb technology stands today, and would be the choice of reverb to use in most films, for example check out this…