There’s a time for using effects processors in a careful, considered manner… and this ain’t it! Going lo-fi lets you go wild with settings, insane effects chains and combos of sonic interactions you’d never normally try.
Not a guitar player? No matter - grab a bunch of effects pedals and cram your synth’s output through them. Is your vocal-processing plugin gathering virtual dust? Then whip it out and process your bassline with it!
Plus, techniques like compression can be pushed much harder, giving side effects you’d never discover normally.
The great news is that you don't have to pay a penny to get involved in some lo-fi action; check out some of these absolutely free processing plugins and you'll see what we mean…
This simple but effective freeware plugin has a four-mode quantiser that feeds into a waveshaping stage, before funnelling the signal through a high- and low-pass filter for broad tone-shaping. Input/Output levels can be balanced, and there’s a Dry/Wet mix for parallel processing, too. Digital distortion, bitcrushing and sample-rate reduction effects are forever associated with chiptune, so this is a must for PC and Mac users.
By forcing signals hard through a compressor, you’ll obliterate any sense of natural dynamics and induce a ‘grabby’, pumping squeeze that will magnify and bloat the original signal. Audio Damage’s iconic freebie, Rough Rider 2, is a terrific tool for doing just that.
Subtlety ain’t the aim of the game here, folks – call up this one when you need to assert your dominance over dynamics in a way that’s wholly unnatural and ‘lo-fi’.
Dutch techno producer Legowelt is known for his aggressively lo-fi tunes, and Ableton Live users can get some way towards that sound by downloading his Smackos Tape Station, a custom-built Live Rack that can be downloaded for free from his site. Comprising two parallel chains, each loaded with Live devices, Smackos Tape Station emulates “a woolly cassette tape sound recording on a rather smugdey-headed cassette deck from c.1981”.
While you’re there, check out Legowelt’s other freebies, like the Smackos 808 Simulator, a Drum Rack of beefy TR-808 sounds; Smackos Amiga 909, a bunch of TR-909 drums printed from floppy disc; and Clapernicus Clap Synthesiser which is, yes, a clap instrument.
iZotope’s free virtual vinyl tool is a perennially essential download for anyone looking to funnel in-the-box signals through retro mechanics. Use the Year button to choose a particular era, dial in pitch instability, and mix in just the right amount of dust artefacts and scratches. Plus, you can use its Spin Down button to emulate the effect of someone slowing down turntable playback, DJ-style.