Making retro, lo-fi, vintage, analog tape style sounds (like Boards of Canada)

Let's Make Analog Tape Sounds!

(video transcribed below)

Hey everyone, how's it going? It's Kevin here from and today I'm going to show you how to make a sound like this:

Essentially we're making an old style VHS sound and reminiscent of retro, lo-fi, perhaps. 

The sound you are hearing is from the Ambient Chillout Collection called Old VHS and we're going to start from scratch.

We're going to recreate it using a sine wave. A lot of Boards Of Canada sounds and groups like Rival Consoles and Tycho get a lot of their sounds from this idea.

We're going to just grab a couple sine waves and get this started.

One major technique to get lo-fi sound real quick is add in some noise. Noise represents kind of a lo-fi tape quality. So we've added some noise and the next step will be to add some pitch movement; that's incredibly important for this kind of sound.

We're just going to grab an LFO and put it on oscillator 1 and 2 and we're going to play with the rate. Usually for the lo-fi stuff I don't synch to BPM or anchor it to the DAW. Instead just let it kind of free flow in the background around one cycle per second or so.

We're going to have to fine tune the amount of detuning so you can kind of minimize that here. So just a little bit of movement in the pitch so it goes in and out of tune classic. 

And the other thing will be maybe not so obvious is to take a second LFO and apply it to the tuning as well. Let's just do it to this layer right now. I'm going to turn this one down. 

Okay so course 2 needs a little more sensitive so again we have to go to our matrix and we're going to have to reduce that quite a bit. Okay and the key is with this one to emulate a tape you know they would warble in and out. 

Let's say around 30 hertz or so. So in some ways we're doing like a light FM here. We're taking a faster LFO and modulating the pitch and it gives this really kind of ominous old sound. 

See too much, too little. But just a touch of that in there it adds this kind of unstable you know quality kind of like a VHS tape would have. So those are two main ingredients. The other thing to get going quickly is distortion. 

And I like to do ones that either get it in that low -fi state like down sampling or zero squared like bit crushing. So we're going to try a bit crusher because we're trying to make it sound as old as possible 

and I'm going to high pass it a bit so you get that kind of crunchy high pass bit. Okay and it's too much so we're going to mix that out. So see we're starting to get some of those characters of a tape machine or VHS to be 

specific. Other things I did was I was trying to add some movement to that sound with sync oscillators and a little bit of AM from the sync to oscillator. Okay so syncing will allow you to kind of bring in some different harmonics from what 

was a sine wave. In fact let's listen to that by itself. You know you can get some lovely harmonics even from a sine wave that's been doubled up on itself or something like that. Now when that kind of thing is turned down but it's doing AM amplitude modulation on 

this sine wave. See the difference? You get some extra harmonics. Some are actually lower in frequency here. I'll show you this readout here if it'll stay open. See we're actually adding in some low end stuff which you may or may not like. 

Like however if this were in the beginning of the song say something like. It might be cool to have that low end information, otherwise you might end up high passing in a bit or not doing as much AM. So I'm going to make that move with another LFO. So the amount of amplitude modulation, the way I did it before was kind of just picking 

a random shape here or two. Again, a little randomness, a little bit of extra movement here and there that's not related to your tempo would probably be a good way to go for these sounds because that's the 

retro way, right? A little unpredictable. Even an extreme amount is kind of nice. And then notice when you play with this you're going to get different timbres. Even though it's turned down, it's modifying B. 

Okay, next we're going to filter. We're going to add a little bit of either cut away those lows if you don't like them or maybe band pass to focus on the mid range a bit. Oh, got it turned B on. 

So oscillator B's in there. This comes into your tastes. You know you can click this mix knob too and you get like a volume instead of just mix. So you can kind of gain stage it into the effects stage. 

Alright, now let's add our effects. We put distortion which is crucial. But these effects I'm going to put secondary and they enhance the width, you know, like a small dimensional delay here and also a little bit of unison. 

Compressions probably going to help us out get that lo -fi saturated quality here, especially at a high ratio. You could also multi -band it but it's going to bring out this distortion incredibly. 

Have a listen. Okay, so I'm not going to necessarily do that on this patch. Okay, the other things are tonal shaping and with course we can add a little width, just a touch perhaps. 

We could also get some of these highs and maybe lows accentuated, some reverb. And then another little trick is to grab the reverb filter. Okay, it's going to kind of add a lot of resonance at a frequency here that we choose. 

Maybe mix that out a bit. I'll put the reverb last I think. Here we go. Now just a little release time. You can play with the attack, give it a little time to get going. And you're off. 

Let's hear it. Alright, I'm finding it to be a little too horribly so we're going to go in here again and adjust some of these. Okay, I'm also going to bring some of those highs back here so let's actually use the mix instead of the level.

There we go. Hopefully you found that useful. How to take some of the LFOs and add some unique movements to pitch. Utilize your filters and effect sections with noise to enhance a kind of simple waveform or enhancing.

It's a little bit of an additive process in that you start with a simple waveform and you keep adding on these types of movements and modulations.