Monday, March 25, 2013

Basic types of audio effects plugins

(I'm writing this article as part of the Introduction to Music Production course on Coursera.)

In a digital audio workstation (like Logic, Reason, Pro Tools, etc.), there are many different audio effects that can be applied to tracks. These effects can change sound in almost any way, and there are countless plugins to choose from! Today, we're going to take a look at three of the main categories: dynamic, delay, and filter effects.

Dynamic plugins affect the amplitude of a sound. Basically, they function like automatic volume control. This includes compressors, limiters, expanders, and gates, among others. This is what the "Compressor" plugin in Logic looks like:

Compressors are used to reduce the volume of the loudest parts of a track.

Delay effects have to do with the propagation of sound. They play slightly modified sounds back at a slight delay, which can have a variety of effects, like simulating the sound in different physical spaces. Delay effects include plugins like reverbs, delays, phasers, flangers, and choruses. This is "Space Designer," one of the reverb plugins in Logic:

Space Desiner is a powerful reverb plugin, it can make a track sound like
 it's in a tiny room with hard walls, or a massive concert hall.

Filter plugins affect timbre, and allow you to really shape the sound. Filter plugins include low pass, high pass, and band pass filters, as well as parametric EQs and graphic EQs. This is the "Channel EQ" plugin in logic, which is a graphic EQ:

EQ plugins allow you to change the gain at different frequencies, which
changes the timbre of the sound.

Hopefully this gives you a slightly better idea of what sort of effects plugins there are! I've only mentioned some of the more common plugins, a few that I haven't talked about are pitch shifting, time stretching, robotizing voice effects, 3D audio effects, overdrive, distortion, and bit-crushing  There's a lot to explore, so get busy!