We may not associate lo-fi sounds with expensive, high-end gear, but tracking down just the right vintage of cassette player or scoring a forgotten classic in a yard sale can still set you back a considerable amount of time, money, and studio space. Thankfully, the REAKTOR User Library is home to a broad array of virtual options for the producer seeking abrasive sounds and degradative signal-processing tools. Here, we’re showcasing some of its most gloriously gritty effects and instruments, put together by some of the REAKTOR community’s leading lights.
So whether you’re all-in on lo-fi or just want to inject a bit of roughage into an overly clean dance, hip-hop, or pop track, we’ll bet there’s at least one Ensemble for you among the five favorites we’ve selected here. And, provided you own the full version of REAKTOR, they’re all absolutely free.
From developer James Peck – known for his vibey range of Community Ensembles, including the similarly-angled VHS Audio Degradation Suite – this retrofying “tape-like” effect keeps things simple, with just two controls to negotiate. The Noise knob dials in tape noise, gated by the input signal, while Age adds wow and flutter, and applies low-pass filtering and compression, for that ‘knackered tape’ sound. Convincing electromagnetic saturation is a must for lo-fi production, and MRX90 delivers it in style.
Solar Loop Echo
Jörg Holzamer’s imaginative take on the legendary Roland Space Echo ‘inverts’ the original design so that the playback head and three record heads effectively move around the tape loop rather than vice versa. The crux of the concept is that the speed of each head and the length of the tape loop (from 0.1 to 10 seconds) are independently adjustable on the fly, enabling all sorts of wild temporal and directional manipulation; and there’s plenty of degradation available via the Saturation, Wow, Flutter and Wear parameters.
Geared up primarily for ambient production but eminently viable for lo-fi transformation using, for example, some of the effects in this list, Christopher Scholl’s generative REAKTOR Blocks patch is a self-propelled synth to lose yourself in. Heavens Bells’ architecture comprises four separate elements – sequenced chord, lead and bass parts, and a noise generator – that merge in a mixer section for balancing and muting; and carefully considered modulation dovetails beautifully with the baked-in randomization to keep things intriguing and unpredictable. Of course, the exposed Blocks parameters allow for endless customization, too, making this a versatile and inspiring source of textural and ambience layers.
Described by creator Peter Ball as a “proof of concept rather than a particularly complex plugin”, this one is aimed at making your source material sound like it’s being played back underwater. Whether or not it’s wholly successful in that specific regard is a matter of opinion, but what can’t be denied is that the filtering, feedback delay tail and stereo modulation brought to bear by Waterlogged come together as a unique sound design effect that any lo-fi producer should have in their locker.
Our second entrant from James Peck is a three-oscillator subtractive synthesizer with a wealth of lo-fi-orientated features built in. The synth itself boasts morphing analogue oscillators with FM, PWM, and integrated subs; resonant low-pass (with 14 types) and non-resonant Butterworth high-pass filters; three envelopes and two LFOs – but it’s the effects that define Bluewave’s character. The dedicated Tape Warp module provides tweakable wow and flutter; the Noise section mixes in hiss and hum, as well as looping ‘Beach’ and ‘Mall’ ambiences; and the bit-crusher and adjustable oscillator drift are the icing on the vintage cake. An evocative and organic-sounding instrument that excels at chords and pads for chillwave and other sun-bleached styles.