Autumn is here: turn the heater up with some analogue warmth

Once more summer appears to have left us and autumn is here. While we at least got some days of sunshine this year, it looks like they’re behind us, but hey, it is the middle of September and there’s always the chance of a brief Indian summer to come. Anyway, while you may be turning up the thermostat in your hall, why not turn it up in your studio with some analogue warmth? Or, failing that, some digital analogue warmth modeling.

Analogue Warmth in AutumnAnalogue warmth again?

Yes. Why not? it seems that the subject (and subjectiveness) of analogue warmth just won’t go away. It’s a strange thing that what we seem to want the most, the thing that provides that elusive ‘glue’ that helps bind all those different strands of your composition together into a cohesive song, is really just various distortions, with a few artefacts that were deemed unwanted thrown in for good measure.

Analogue warmth has been a buzzword for a long time now, and I’m pretty sure you’re all sick to death of hearing about how this particular way of recording added a characteristic 2nd order harmonic distortion, or that this analogue console had a particular degree of crosstalk that just helped mixes sound ‘better’…

You’re probably more interested in how you can you can add analogue warmth to your own mixes. So let’s do that.

Analogue warmth the hard way

The most logical way to start, is probably to suggest some analogue hardware. Something that puts some iron in the signal path. Or nickel I suppose.

If you have a line-level input and a  spare output on your audio interface, i.e., more outputs than you need to connect your studio monitors then you are good to go (although a spare pair would be better!). You should be able to set up your DAW to use external hardware as a ‘plugin’.

For example, Ableton Live has the ‘External Audio Effect’ device, that you simply slot into the device rack and specify the inputs and outputs it should use and get that signal out and back! Other DAWs generally have similar functions.

But what to run that signal through?

Warm Audio ToneBeast TB12 at Red Dog Music

Nothing clean. You’ve got plenty clean processing in your DAW. Channel strips are a good option, but go for something that is made for ‘colour’, rather than something that is designed to be as transparent as possible.

Something like the Warm TB12 Tonebeast (available in our London showroom in Clapham or online) is a great choice: line input, choices for transformer type, amplifier and capacitor circuits and a master output level control so that you can crank the gain for all that saturated goodness, but keep the volume in check. Preamps such as the ART Tube MP studio V3 are also worth trying out for this sort of application.

If you really want to treat yourself, why not take a look at a lunchbox and fit it with the Rupert Neve Designs 542 tape emulator? If you want to check out some of the Neve gear and lunchbox chassis and modules from API, Lindell Audio, SM Pro and others, pop into our London showroom in Clapham and run some signals through it!

At the opposite end of the scale, try running the signal through some guitar overdrive pedals (you might want to put the signal through a reamping box first). Remember, you can always duplicate the track you want to warm up and mix the effected signal back in to taste; just remember to account for the latency caused by a trip out of your computer and back into it!

Analogue warmth the soft way

Let’s be honest, keeping things ‘in the box’ is a bit more straightforward. And cheaper. Doing everything with plugins also means that when you open up a project after working on something else, all the settings are just as you left them, without having to work your way through all your recall sheets!

Variety of Sound Tessla SE transformer saturation simulator

If you search for ‘analogue warmth plugins’, the internet will give you more options than we could hope to list here, but what about some freebies? If you start with the excellent Tessla and Ferric TDS plugins from Variety of Sound you’ll be there or thereabouts. Tube Amp from the consistently reliable Voxengo is another strong contender for a place in your warming-up plugin chain, as is the free version of Acustica Audio’s Nebula3.

As with many mixing tools, differences can be very subtle, but the cumulative effect of some transformers in the signal path here, some tape saturation there can lead to a mix that just sounds subjectively more ‘pleasing’ to the ear.

Of course, you could always just shelve off a chunk of the high-end, add some tape hiss and call it a day!

 

Red Dog Music is the UK’s friendliest musical instrument and pro-audio dealer. Between our 5000 square foot Edinburgh shop filled with an incredible range of products, and a London showroom in Clapham specialising in high-end instruments, dj and pro-audio, Red Dog Music has you covered from north to south and from performance to playback.

 

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Fynn Callum

producer, guitarist, engineer & dj
From indie guitarist to deep house producer via Northern Soul dj; mix engineer, producer and gear enthusiast. Jaffa Cake aficionado.

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