We’ve seen a revival of retro sound during the last years with genres such as Synthwave and Lo-Fi House. They’re characterized by a gritty, lo-fi aesthetic and a heavy reliance on textures with background noise. To implement this type of sound into your tracks, you will need to take a slightly different approach to the mix, as well as the use of some unique effects. In the following tutorial, we’ll demonstrate how to add a retro tone to your instruments.

As usual, we prepared a short sequence in our SoundBridge: DAW. It includes most of the major elements of a full mix, including a piano arp, which we will process. Let’s first hear the full mix and then the piano arp solo.

This is a screenshot of my mix before applying the RC-20 Retro Tone on the piano arp. sound.
~Full Mix – Piano (Unprocessed)
~Piano Solo (Unprocessed)

In order to process our piano, which sounds a bit too clean, we will use an effect called RC-20 by XLN Audio. First, let’s place a new instance of it on the effect rack of the piano arp channel.

This is a screenshot of my mix with the interface of RC-20 Retro Color and default settings.

Parameters for a retro sound

When the RC-20 interface is opened, we can see it consists of a parallel bank of six modules. Each of them provides a unique form of processing. They can be turned on and off separately, and the row of large knobs at the bottom essentially sets the effect amount, with varying functions depending on the module – wet/dry mix, noise level, depth, and so on.

The first effect is the “Noise”, which offers a number of different noise types, ranging from vinyl record crackle to cassette, VHS noise, and much more. The second is “Wobble” and this one modulates the pitch and speed of the incoming audio, much like a classic tape recorder. Next to it, we got the “Distort” module, which, as its name suggests, introduces distortion and offers several modes for it. Moving forward we can see the “Digital” module, which is essentially a Bit Crusher. To the right, is the “Space” module – a reverb/resonator effect. Finally, the last module we see is the “Magnetic”. This module simulates all kinds of audio artifacts which occur when recording on magnetic tape. If you look at the bottom of every module control, you will notice a slider named “Flux”. It simulates organic and non-linear fluctuations under the hood, all customized specifically for each module.

Now, let’s hear how our piano arp sounds with this effect. We’ll hear it solo first, and then in context with the other elements of the mix.

This is a screenshot of my mix with the interface of RC-20 Retro Color and settings I used to process the piano arp sound.
~Piano Solo (Processed With RC-20 Retro Color)
~Full Mix – Piano (Processed With RC-20 Retro Color)

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