Lo-Fi Sessions

In a world of digital sounds, perfect audio and zero imperfections, many producers are looking for ways of adding some vintage character, tone and vibe to their digital productions.

This can go from a little tape saturation all the way to current trends that include the newly formed 'Lo-Fi Movement'.  Although it's greatly argued that you can't gain 'analogue warmth' from a VCR this often isn't the preferred character that we're looking for.  

In this blog article we’re going to explore a few of our favourite Lo-Fi production techniques for adding character and grit to often bright, perfect sounds & samples.  So, if you’re a fan of Boards of Canada or generally are looking to add some fresh colours to the mix, read on my friend.  These Lo-Fi mixing techniques can be applied to a range of sources so there's something for everyone below. 

Tape saturation / Distortion

We previously explored this in our previous blog article on tape machine plug ins but the king of analogue saturation and Lo-Fi production goodness should never be overlooked.  

From a subtle low-end bump to all out distortion the humble tape plug in should be your first port of call for that lo-fi vintage vibe.

With this in mind we decided to compile a few of our favourite free saturation plug ins:

Voxengo Tube Amp - A great free little tool for adding some old school grit to those loops.  Lo-Fi feel guaranteed. 

ToneBooster Reel Bus - A stunning little tape emulator which sticks with the Lo-Fi mentality of costing zero pounds but with great results and bags of character.  

Softube Saturation Knob - One dial, one job and my goodness it does it well. 

VHS Image Blog Post

Low Pass Filters

A key feature of many old records is the limited frequency range.  Whether this was due to the recording medium, playback medium or the tape saturation the softness of the tops can go a long way to recreating that old school, Lo-Fi feel.  

Try running a low pass filter with a fairly shallow db per octave set.  A gentle EQ can do the trick also.

To go even more Lo-Fi try rolling off the bottom also.  I’d advise using an EQ for this over a band pass filter to give you more control of the frequency range ensuring you can dial in the perfect amount of vintage vibe.  

 Roll of the tops and bottom for that extra Lo-Fi feel.

Roll of the tops and bottom for that extra Lo-Fi feel.

Sampled Hiss

Often Rhodes and synth samples can sound a little fake and digital.  Ryan from the team mentioned a great trick he does where he loads in a sample of tape hiss into a sampler in Ableton.  He then copies the midi from the synth part onto the 'hiss' channel and mixes in the desired amount.  The hiss will only play when the notes play giving you that recorded feel.  Try adjusting the attack, filter and release settings of the sampler to get the most natural feel that matches the Rhodes or synth samples envelope.

 Hiss in Ableton Live's sampler triggered by midi.

Hiss in Ableton Live's sampler triggered by midi.

VHS plug in

This little Ableton beauty does an amazing job of recreating the warping effects of classic VHS recorded audio.   Best thing of all, it’s free as well and asking to be abused.  Included in the Ableton Rack is a collection of Lo-Fi sounding FX including frequency shifters, chorus and tape machine inspired saturation.  

You can download the Afro DJ Mac VHS Emulator from Here

For all you non Ableton guys out there we also hunted down this great free Native Instruments Reaktor instrument.  The options within this plug in are endless plus they contain some of our favourite preset names to date.  Check the video below to see what you think.  This plug in has to be the digital king of Lo-Fi mixing techniques.  

The Reaktor VHS plug in is available from Native Instruments and can be found Here

Simulate wow and movement

If we de-construct the plug ins used we can see that each individual macro is attempting to replicate the artefacts created by old VHS recorders.  

By utilising a combination of frequency shifters, chorus, EQ and saturation the results can be quite convincing.

Why not try combining these effect and see if you can't build your own VHS inspired plug in chain?

Use a VCR or Old Tape Player

If all of this has got your Lo-Fi production juices flowing then why not jump on eBay or head to your local second hand store and attempt the real thing.  VHS players go for tiny amounts now so bargains can be found all over the place.  A few tips before you jump in though: 

  • Make sure there is a way of getting the audio both in and out of the machine.  Do you need separate cables for going back into your Soundcard or adapters i.e RCA – ¼” Jacks.
  • Take note of the level coming back.  Sometimes the output can be a bit low.   We all love a bit of hiss but just be careful if you’ve numerous elements of your track spitting out noise.  You can easily overwhelm the listener and your Lo-Fi tracks can quickly evolve into an annoyance.

  • If the sound coming back is too thin try running the original in parallel to keep the weight but add some old grit from the VHS.  Take note of phase, timing and clashing frequencies.  An Eq might be needed to help the two signals fit together.  

  • Don’t forget to add a little sticky tape over the safety tab if you’re using a protected VHS.   This will allow it to be used as a blank otherwise you won't be able to record over it.  

  • If you are willing to cut a hole in the top of the VCR you can actively press and bend the tape to add those extra fun pitch modulations.  A fun and recognisable feature of any Lo-Fi piece. (Be wary of electrocution)


So there it is.  The world of Lo-Fi revealed.  As always, any questions feel free to get in touch and good luck on your Lo-Fi quests!

The Touch Loops team! 

Touch Loops