The phaser effect can be often overlooked in modern music production. However, it deserves a rightful place when it comes to coloring sound. In essence, it filters the audio signal by creating a series of peaks and troughs in the frequency spectrum. The positions of the peaks and troughs of the waveform are typically modulated so that they vary over time, creating a sweeping effect. For that purpose, phasers usually include a low-frequency oscillator. This effect can be applied to a variety of instruments, and in this tutorial, we will use it on a synth lead.

As usual, we have prepared a short sequence inside our SoundBridge: DAW. It contains all the essential elements of a full mix. Let’s have a quick listen to it.

~Full Mix – Synth Lead (Unprocessed)

As we can hear from the audio example above, the full mix sounds fine, but the synth lead is rather dry and lifeless. We will try to add some interesting movement to it by processing it with a phaser effect. For the sake of this tutorial, we have decided to use PhaseMistress by SoundToys, but there are plenty of other alternatives out there so feel free to experiment. To begin, let’s place an instance of PhaseMistress on the channel effect rack of our synth lead.

Phase Mistress basic menu

PhaseMistress’ interface is rather simple at first sight. It does, however, include a lot more parameters to tweak under the hood. In any case, the first thing that meets the eye is the left portion of the interface, which includes four knobs. The first one is the Dry/Wet mix, then a Frequency knob, which together with Resonance, is a part of the LFO in charge of modulation in the effect. The Mod control determines the amount of modulation signal applied to sweep the phaser frequency. Turning it up will change how far the frequency will be swept above or below the center frequency.

Below that we have the Style menu. It allows access to dozens of different “virtual phasing circuits”. Each style has a different tonal shape. Next to this, we can see the Modulation indicator, which serves as a visual reference of the phasing process.

Moving forward, we will see a Rate knob with a button below set to “LFO” mode by default. PhaseMistress includes a number of different modulation options selected using this button. The available modulation modes in PhaseMistress are LFO, Rhythm, Envelope, Random, Step, and ADSR. Once you select the desired mode, you will notice that the layout changes and offers different sets of controls for each setting.

The right section of the interface is reserved for input and output controls with led indicators. Just below these knobs, there is a small “Tweak” button, and when clicking it a whole new menu appears. 

Phase Mistress advanced menu

The Freq Mod knob in this new section determines the direction of the modulation applied to the Frequency parameter. It also defines the maximum depth that can be applied when the front panel Mod knob is turned all the way up.

The Res Mod determines the number of resonant peaks independently on the number of stages. The Res Offset Mod control allows you to modulate the Resonance Offset parameter with whatever modulation source is currently in use.

The L/R Offset knob is a little different, as it allows you to create various types of stereo phase signals depending on the setting.

Here, you can also choose between seven different saturation algorithms, such as Clean, Fat, and Squash. 

The shape editor below is quite handy and allows you to customize the shape of the modulation curve. Below is the Rhythm Editor, where you can also experiment with various rhythm shapes for the LFO modulation.

Settings for phaser movement

As you can see from the picture above, we have set the movement of our modulation to a fairly fast setting: 1/32 dotted. The main shape of the modulation we have set to triangle waveform. Frequency we set around 10 Khz and Resonance at around 40%. The Style we chose is PM 6*9.

All these settings will give us a lot of movement on our synth lead, which will make it more interesting. Let’s have a listen to the processed and unprocessed versions of it.

~Synth Lead – Unprocessed

~Synth Lead – Processed With PhaseMistress

Lastly, we will add a reverb effect with a long reverb time after the PhaseMistress in order to achieve the impression our synth lead resides in a big space.

~Synth Lead – Processed With PhaseMistress and Reverb

Let’s hear how our processed synth lead sounds with the rest of the elements of the full mix.

~Ful Mix – Processed Synth Lead