A common trick among artists is to take tracks of digital origin and to process them in the analog domain to give them an “analog” flavor.
The idea is to utilize cheap used analog gear and cheap digital synths you can find on Ebay to produce awesome analog sounding tracks, without having to break the bank.
One of the cheapest way to ‘analogize’ your digital synth / VST synth tracks is to process them using analog filters. Two of the cheapest ways of doing this are:
1-Use an analog filter bank or filter unit.
A cheap and great unit i use is Electrix’s Filter Factory. This unit is no longer made (since Electrix sadly, went out of business) , but you can still find them used on Ebay. The Filter Factory has a pair (Stereo) of analog Low Pass / Notch filters, one LFO + buzz (overdrive), but it has plenty of manual controls (and MIDI) to give you many different sounds. This unit not only can be used with various synths, it has features made for live performance, such as phono inputs for DJ decks, tempo tapping button for the LFO speed, 4 LFO waveforms, an envelope follower and can be controlled via MIDI.
Another good and cheap analog filter is the $50 Korg Monotron, which has a real VCF analog Korg low pass MS-20 filter on board. The unit itself has a stereo jack where you care route your audio directly to the filter!
2-Use a bass envelope follower filter.
You can borrow a trick from Parliament / Funkadelic’s bass player Bootsy Collins and process your synth tracks through an envelope follower filter such as the Electro Harmonix Qtron. This pedal can be purchased used on Ebay and has various Low Pass, Band Pass, High Pass filters that can be used with a variety of sounds, not just bass. The Low Pass filter is not as deep as the Electrix Filter Factory’s 4 Pole mono filter, but it can give wonderful results, and it is especially effective in bass synth tracks. This is one of the best envelope follower units ever made.
To complete this article, i did a little experiment with a used, lowly & cheap digital Yamaha TX81Z, a four operator FM synth, which can produce some great analog-like tones due to its ability to use different waveforms as operators (as opposed to the holy grail of FM synths, the Yamaha DX-7 which only uses sine waves)
i ran the TX81Z through the Filter Factory, the Electro-Harmonix Qtron and to complete the experiment, i ran it though, what is considered to be one of the best sounding digital emulations of analog filters, the FabFilter Volcano 2
This is what the original TX81Z sounds like playing the Odyssey..1 patch
You can find out how to download this TX81Z patch and many others by checking out our TX81Z editor librarian review
Below is what the same piece of music sounds like processed though the Electrix Filter Factory. The first part of music is processed though the envelope follower and the rest of the music is processed though the LFO matching the tempo. The filter’s frequency was changed manually. Believe it or not, the resonance of the filter was nowhere near the upper limit of its range.
The next test is what the piece of music sounds like processed though the Electro-Harmonix Qtron’s Low Pass filter with me changing the frequency manually.
Next is what the Filter Factory and the Qtron pieces sound when mixed together in Ableton Live:
A quick look at all the recorded tracks in Ableton Live reveals that the Filter Factory ‘decompresses’ the sound by adding some wild dynamic variance to the recorded music via filtering and filter self-oscillation.
Just for kicks i tried to re-create the settings for the analog envelope followers in Fabfilter Volcano by using one ‘Extreme’ filter just set to the point of self-oscillation and by manually changing the filter’s frequency.
and this is what it sounds like:
Althought Fabfilter Volcano2’s filtering can probably pass for an average analog filter unit and despite the fact that this filter software can do things that would be impossible in an analog filter, i still couldn’t really get it to match the Electrix’ Filter Factory’s crazy self-oscillation and sound or the Qtron’s envelope following.
Maybe i need to play around with Fabfilter Volcano some more, maybe i haven’t mastered the software yet, but it seems to me like there is really no match for the best analog filters, at least not yet..
When i listen to the Filter Factory + Qtron mix, I can’t tell the original synth sounds came from a digital synth… maybe you can?
for the money, i think you will be better off buying some cheap, used, real analog filter units on Ebay and using them in your tracks, instead of spending big bucks on virtual analog synths.