Q. What’s the best way to add a subtle vinyl effect?

Published in SOS January 2010
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I'm trying to figure out how I would create a really old‑style, warm‑sounding distortion/crackle on a string motif for an intro to a song I'm writing. I'll be using East West Quantum Leap Symphonic Orchestra for the actual string loop, and I want to create a sort of 'AM radio' feel for it. That's easy enough to achieve using various EQ techniques, but I also want to give it a really subtle '60s record‑player crackle — something that's there if you know what you're listening for, but not so 'in your face' as to sound cheesy or clichéd. I was wondering if there are plug‑ins that can do this. I fear I may have to break the bank again...

Here are three plug‑ins you could use to add simulated vinyl noise to your audio tracks without breaking the bank: Izotope's Vinyl (left), Retro Sampling's Vinyl Dreams (far left), and Steinberg Cubase's bundled Grungelizer (top).

Via SOS web site

SOS contributor Mike Senior replies: There's no need to break the bank for this, because there are actually a few different freeware plug‑ins that provide the kind of thing you're after. One of the best known is Izotope's freeware Vinyl plug‑in, which is available for both Mac and PC. The advantage of this one is that you get a lot of control over the exact character of the vinyl noise you're creating: not only can you balance various different mechanical and electrical noises, but you can also choose the decade you want your virtual vinyl to hail from and how your processed audio is affected by disc wear. The downside of this plug‑in for me, though, is that it doesn't seem to output some of its added noises in stereo, irrespective of how I set up the controls, and a lot of the character of vinyl noise, to me, lies in its stereo width. To be fair, though, the 'dust' and 'crackle' components seem to be stereo, and stereo was, of course, only really in its infancy in the '60s, so this might not matter to you. Indeed, collapsing the whole signal to mono might be a useful way to 'date' the string sound itself. If you're running Steinberg's Cubase, the built‑in Grungelizer plug‑in provides a similar paradigm to the Izotope plug‑in, albeit with a simpler control set. However, all the added noises from this plug‑in appear to be in mono too.

For stereo vinyl noise, check out the freeware plug‑ins from Retro Sampling (www.retrosampling.se). Both Audio Impurities and Vinyl Dreams can overlay vinyl noise, although you only get wet/dry knobs, so you're stuck with the preset effect. That said, if you set up the plug‑ins on a separate channel in your sequencer, you can dramatically adjust their character with EQ to make them seem less obtrusive — a combination of high‑cut and low‑cut filtering usually works well for me. If you want a smoother vinyl noise (less of the Rice Crispies!), you can also slot in a fast limiter or dedicated transient processor to steamroller spikes in the waveform.

These processing techniques also allow you to get good mileage from the vinyl noise samples that periodically crop up on sample libraries. I've been collecting vinyl noise samples for a while, so I can tell you that there are good selections on the Tekniks Ghetto Grooves and Mixtape Toolkit titles, as well as on Spectrasonics' original Retrofunk collection. I've also turned up a good few examples in general‑purpose media sound‑effects libraries, if you have anything like that to hand.  

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