You are on page 1of 6

Signal Processing CHAPTER 14

TIME-BASED EFFECTS
Another important effects category that can be used to alter or augment a signal
revolves around delays and regeneration of sound over time. These time-based
effects often add a perceived depth to a signal or change the way we perceive
the dimensional space of a recorded sound. Although a wide range of timebased effects exist, they are all based on the use of delay (and/or regenerated
delay) to achieve such results as:

Time-delay or regenerated echoes, chorus and flanging


Reverb.

Delay
One of the most common effects used in audio production today alters the
parameter of time by introducing various forms of delay into the signal path.
Creating a delay circuit is a relatively simple task to accomplish digitally.
Although dedicated delay devices (often referred to as digital delay lines, or
DDLs) are readily available on the market, most multifunction signal processors
and time-related plug-ins are capable of creating this straightforward effect
(Figure 14.33). In its basic form, digital delay is accomplished by storing
sampled audio directly into RAM. After a defined length of time (usually measured in milliseconds), the sampled audio can be read out from memory for
further processing or direct output (Figure 14.34). Using this basic concept, a

FIGURE 14.33
Pro Tools Mod Delay
II. (Courtesy of
Digidesign, a division
of Avid Technology,
Inc., www.digidesign.
com.)

FIGURE 14.34
A digital delay device
stores sampled audio
into RAM, where it
can be read out at a
later time.

503

504

Time-Based Effects

wide range of effects can be created simply by assembling circuits and program
algorithms into blocks that can introduce delays or regenerated echo loops. Of
course, these circuits will vary in complexity as new blocks are introduced.

DELAY IN ACTION!
Less than 15 ms
Probably the best place to start looking at the delay process is at the sample
level. By introducing delays downward into the microsecond (one millionth of
a second) range, control over a signals phase characteristics can be introduced
to the point where selective equalization actually begins to occur. In effect,
controlling very short-term delays is actually how EQ is carried out in the digital
domain!
Whenever delays that fall below the 15-ms range are slowly varied over time
and then are mixed with the original undelayed signal, an effect known as
combing is created. Combing is the result of changes that occur when equalized
peaks and dips appear in the signals frequency response. By either manually or
automatically varying the time of one or more of these short-term delays, a
constantly shifting series of effects known as flanging can be created. Depending
on the application, this effect (which makes a unique swishing sound thats
often heard on guitars or vocals) can range from being relatively subtle to having
moderate to wild shifts in time and pitch. Its interesting to note the differences
between the effects of phasing and flanging. Phasing uses all-pass filters to create
uneven peaks and notches, whereas flanging uses delay lines to create even
peaks and notches although, the results are somewhat similar.

15 to 35 ms
By combining two identical (and often slightly delayed) signals that are slightly
detuned in pitch from one another, an effect known as chorusing can be created.
Chorusing is an effects tool thats often used by guitarists, vocalists and other
musicians to add depth, richness and harmonic structure to their sound. Increasing delay times into the 15- to 35-ms range will create signals that are spaced
too closely together to be perceived by the listener as being discrete delays.
Instead, these closely spaced delays create a doubling effect when mixed with an
instrument or group of instruments (Figure 14.35). In this instance, the delays
actually fool the brain into thinking that more instruments are playing than
actually are subjectively increasing the sounds density and richness. This
effect can be used on background vocals, horns, string sections and other
FIGURE 14.35
In certain instances,
doubling can fool
the brain into
thinking that more
instruments are
playing than actually
are.

Signal Processing CHAPTER 14

grouped instruments to make the ensemble sound as though it has doubled (or
even tripled) its actual size. This effect also can be used on foreground tracks,
such as vocals or instrument solos, to create a larger, richer and fuller sound.
Some chorus delay devices introduce slight changes in delay and pitch shifting, allowing for detunings that can create an interesting, humanized sound.
Should time or budget be an issue, its also possible to create this doubling
effect by actually recording a second pass to a new set of tracks. Using this
method, a 10-piece string section could be made to sound like a much larger
ensemble. In addition, this process automatically gives vocals, strings, keyboards
and other legato instruments a more natural effect than the one you get by using
an electronic effects device. This having been said, these devices can actually go
a long way toward duplicating the effect. Some delay devices even introduce
slight changes in delay times in order to create a more natural, humanized
sound. As always, the method you choose will be determined by your style, your
budget and the needs of your particular project.

More than 35 ms
When the delay time is increased beyond the 35- to 40-ms point, the listener
will begin to perceive the sound as being a discrete echo. When mixed with the
original signal, this effect can add depth and richness to an instrument or range
of instruments that can really add interest to an instrument within a mix.
Adding delays to an instrument that are tied to the tempo of a song can go even
further toward adding a degree of depth and complexity to a mix. Most delaybased plug-ins make it easy to insert tempo-based delays into a track, often by
simply pressing a button. For hardware delay devices, its usually necessary to
calculate the tempo math thats required to match the session. Heres the simple
math for making the calculations:

60, 000 tempo = time (in ms )


For example, if a songs tempo is 100 bpm (beats per
minute), then the amount of delay needed to match the
tempo at the beat level would be:

60, 000 100 = 600 ms


Using divisions of this figure (300, 150, 75, etc.) would
insert delays at 1/2, 1/4, 1/8th measure intervals.

Caution should be exercised when adding delay to an entire musical program,


because the program could easily begin to sound muddy and unintelligible. By
feeding the delayed signal back into the circuit, a repeated series of echo
echo echoes can be made to simulate the delays of yesteryearyoull definitely notice that Elvis is still in the house.

505

506

Time-Based Effects

DIY

do it yourself

Tutorial: Delay
1. Go to the Tutorial section of www.modrec.com, click
on Ch. 14Delay and download the soundfile (which

5. Vary the settings over the 1- to 10-ms range. Can you


hear any rough EQ effects?

includes segments with varying degrees of delay).


2. Listen to the track. If youd like to DIY, then

6. Manually vary the settings over the 10- to 35-ms


range. Can you simulate a rough phasing effect?

3. Insert a digital delay unit or plug-in into a program


channel and balance the dry tracks output mix so that

7. Increase the settings above 35 ms. Can you hear the


discrete delays?

the input signal is set equally with the delayed output


signal. (Note: If there is no mix control, route the delay

8. If the unit has a phaser setting, turn it on. How


does it sound different?

units output to another input strip and combine


delayed/undelayed signals at the console.)

9. Now change the delay settings a little faster to create


a wacky flange effect. If the unit has a flange setting,

4. Listen to the track with the mix set to listen equally to


the dry and effected signal.

turn it on. Try playing with the time-based settings that


affect its sweep rate. Fun, huh?

Reverb
In professional audio production, natural acoustic reverberation is an extremely
important tool for the enhancement of music and sound production. A properly
designed acoustical environment can add a sense of space and natural depth to
a recorded sound thatll often affect the performance as well as its overall sonic
character. In situations where there is little, no or substandard natural ambience,
a high-quality reverb device or plug-in (Figure 14.36) can be extremely helpful
in filling the production out and giving it a sense of dimensional space and
perceived warmth. In fact, reverb consists of closely spaced and random multiple echoes that are reflected from one boundary to another within a determined space (Figure 14.37). This effect helps give us perceptible cues as to the
size, density and nature of a space (even though it might have been artificially
generated). These cues can be broken down into three subcomponents:

Direct signal
Early reflections
Reverberation.

The direct signal is heard when the original sound wave travels directly from the
source to the listener. Early reflections is the term given to those first few reflections that bounce back to the listener from large, primary boundaries in a given
space. Generally, these reflections are the ones that give us subconscious cues
as to the perception of size and space. The last set of reflections makes up the
signals reverberation characteristic. These sounds are comprised of zillions of
random reflections that travel from boundary to boundary within the confines

Signal Processing CHAPTER 14

FIGURE 14.36
Controller for tc
electronic System
6000 digital effects
processor. (Courtesy
of tc electronic,
www.tcelectronic.
com.)

FIGURE 14.37
Signal level versus
reverb time.

of a room. These reflections are so closely spaced in time that the brain cant
discern them as individual reflections, so theyre perceived as a single, densely
decaying signal.

REVERB TYPES
By varying program and setting parameters, a digital reverb device can be used
to simulate a wide range of acoustic environments, reverb devices and special
effects. A few popular categories include:

Hall: Simulates the acoustics of a concert hall. This is often a diffuse, lush
setting with a longer RT60 decay time (the time thats required for a sound
to decay by 60 dB).

507

508

Time-based Effects

Chamber: Simulates the acoustics of an echo chamber. Like a live chamber,


these settings often simulate the brighter reflectivity of tile or cement
surfaces.
Room: As you might expect, these settings simulate the acoustics of a midto large-sized room. Its often best suited to intimate solo instruments or
a chamber atmosphere.
Live (stage): Simulates a live performance stage. These settings can vary
widely but often simulate long early-delay reflections.
Spring: Simulates the low-fidelity boingyness of yesteryears spring reverb
devices.
Plate: Simulates the often-bright diffuse character of yesteryears metallic
plate reverb devices. These settings are often used on vocals and percussion
instruments.
Reverse: These backward-sounding effects are created by reversing the decay
trails envelope so that the decay increases in level over time and is quickly
cut off at the tail end, yielding a sudden break effect. This can also be
realistically created in a DAW by reversing a track or segment, applying
reverb, and then reversing it again to yield a true backward reverb trail.
Gate: Cuts off the decay trail of a reverb signal. These settings are often
used for emphasis on drums and percussion instruments.

DIY

do it yourself

Tutorial: Reverb Types


1. Go to the Tutorial section of www.modrec.com, click
on Ch. 14Reverb Types and download the
soundfile.

2. Listen to the track.

Psychoacoustic enhancement
A number of signal processors rely on psychoacoustic cues in order to fool the
brain into perceiving a particular effect. The earliest and most common of these
devices are those that enhance the overall presence of a signal or entire recording by synthesizing upper-range frequency harmonics and inserting them into
a mix in order to brighten the perceived sound. Although the additional harmonics wont significantly affect the programs overall volume, the effect is a
marked increase in its perceived presence. Other psychoacoustic devices that
make use of complex harmonic, phase, delay and equalization parameters have
become standard production tools in the field of mastering in order to shape
the final sound into one thats interesting, with a sonic character all its own.
In addition to synthesizing harmonics in order to change or enhance a recording or track, other digital psychoacoustic processors deal exclusively with the