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How to make a lo-fi dictaphone recording and use it in your DAW

(Image credit: Apple)

An old-school dictaphone recording can provide a pleasing, lo-fi edge which contrasts nicely with the more ‘produced’ elements in a track. Let’s try it with some piano chords…

(Image credit: Apple)

Step 1: We’ve set our dictaphone to record and captured some upright piano chords and some isolated, higher notes. We could plug in a USB cable and transfer these directly to our DAW, but we’re adding a second layer of lo-fi, by recording them via a mic and preamp, as played back through the dictaphone’s speaker.

(Image credit: Apple)

Step 2: We mute the original dictaphone recordings and set up the Una Corda piano instrument within Kontakt, recording the same two piano chords we captured via the dictaphone. These are captured at 120bpm, whereas the dictaphone recordings were made without a tempo in mind.

(Image credit: Apple)

Step 3: We duplicate the original audio track and copy the dictaphone recording down to it. We then chop the two chords and place them alongside the Una Corda parts. We place each chord on its own track, so that it can fade smoothly as the next chord takes over.

(Image credit: Apple)

Step 4: Next we select the short, scuffly piece of audio before the piano chords are recorded. This rustling is a series of rapid-fire short audio spikes. We use Logic’s Flex Time algorithm to ‘quantise’ these, which means each spike is moved to the nearest 16th note. This produces a rhythm, which we repeat at the start of each bar.

(Image credit: Apple)

Step 5: We isolate the two single piano notes recorded after the chords and assign them to an audio track each. We select a short piece of each note and loop the audio file, using Equal Power Crossfades between each slice. We then add EQ and a long reverb to turn these notes into ‘pads’, which are panned to alternate sides.

(Image credit: Apple)

Step 6: We add two more details. A similar scratchy rhythm from the end of the file fills in the gaps between the main rhythmic figure. And we also use the ‘beep’ from the start of the dictaphone recording. We check its pitch against the piano and transpose it to the root note, stretch it and add a long reverb.