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In this installment of Foundations of Audio, author Alex U. Case explains the fundamentals of delay and modulation effects and how to apply these effects, technically and creatively, to improve the sound of a mix. The course covers adjusting individual parameters such as delay time, level, and feedback; working with long delays to create echoes, enhance groove, and add support; using delay modulation for chorus and doubling effects; and dialing-in spectral effects from delay, such as flanging. This course also includes Get in the Mix (GITM) sessions for both Avid Pro Tools and Apple Logic Pro. Exercise files are also included with the course.
Our discussion of delay parameters so far has covered level, delay time, and feedback. A lot of effects can be built with just these parameters alone, but more cool features await. Another common parameter in delay devices might be a bit surprising at first, a low-pass filter. Low-pass filters attenuate high frequencies but allow the low frequencies to pass on through. Utilizing the low-pass filter to reduce the high frequencies in your delayed signal can be effective way to create the illusion of distance for elements in your mix.
It can help to push your track back deep into the mix away from the listener. In addition, attenuating the presence range of the delayed signal, the mid-frequencies, can help prevent some delay effects from cluttering the mix and distracting your listener. In this way, the low-pass filter helps us fit more pieces into the mix without things getting too crowded. A potentially distracting delay effect can settle neatly into a full mix with just a little bit of this low-pass filtering. Many types of delay effects I'll be covering in this course benefit from having some of the high-frequency content of the signal tamed.
Fortunately, the low-pass filter is a common part of many delay effects and is a clever, stock feature in the delay processors we'll be using. Now let's discuss the last of our five delay parameters, the polarity switch. This switch turns things around a bit for interesting results. Take a look at this simple waveform. Reversing the polarity simply reverses things vertically. The part of the waveform above the line is now mirror imaged below. And the below-the-line portion flips up with the exact same shape to a position above the line.
Have you ever seen the woofer and a loudspeaker move? Music hits and the loudspeaker cone snaps forward and back. The sounds we hear come from the motion of that speaker cone which vibrates very quickly back and forth, forward and back from 20 to 20,000 times per second or more as it reproduces the music. When the loudspeaker reproduces a kick drum sound, that sound might begin with the woofer cone moving towards you only to move back and forth repeatedly. Polarity reverse swaps the motion of that speaker cone. Reproducing the same kick drum, the woofer with the polarity reversed would first snap back away from you only to vibrate back and forth.
If you want the sound of a kick drum or a piano or a vocal to be reversed in this way, hit the polarity reverse button. On its own, it's not a particularly audible change. But when your delayed signal is interacting with other signals in your mix, interesting things start to happen. You'll find times when a polarity reverse is particularly useful, and later in this course when we look at the tonal impact delays can have through cone filtering and through flanging, you'll hear this in action. The polarity reverse switch lets us shift the spectral impact of the effect to different frequency locations.
The need to reverse the polarity of the delay effect is common enough that it too is a standard feature in delay processors. Input/output level, delay time, feedback, low-pass filter, and polarity reverse, these are the basic building blocks of a delay processor. Knowing how to work with these parameters prepares you to use not just your processors but pretty much any delay unit you'll ever encounter.
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