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Watching TRON for the first time, thanks Netflix for being so nice, I noticed that during the first stadium fight (thats as far as I am right now) there seems to be this nice bite of distortion. It seems like most of the sounds even the taiko drums in the music are given a little bit of distortion. This distortion sounds really sweet though, something like harmonically pleasing. Any way to recreate this effect in a DAW without using a nice overdriven tube amp?

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D16 sounds amazing together with a bass boost –  user6630 Oct 7 '13 at 8:09
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10 Answers 10

Hook up your spectrum analyzer and start playing with EQ and Waveshaper chains. I'd hope any DAW provides at least those, fruity does and it's cheap if some other package doesn't.

I personally like to pre-EQ for bass and slight higher-mid boost -> Waveshape with a sharp rise, a fall, and finally a mellow rise to create some nice dynamic transient harmonics -> Finally post-EQ to clean out that extra bass and make sure the timbre is crisp and bright.

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I am very interested in distorted sounds and did some research, testing on it, to get pleasing sounds. Here are my tips to get better distortion:

  1. Dont overdo compression. It might sound great when you turn the knobs, but on the next day it might be just to much.
  2. Mix Dry Wet when you want a gentle distortion.
  3. Roll of low frequencies before distorting. Everything under 200 Hz sound very bad if distorted to much.
  4. Mulitband Distortion plugins like fabfilter Saturn are very helpful to distort full range sounds.
  5. Tape emulators like Kramer Tape sound very pleasant.
  6. Boosting small frequenzy-bands via a eq before distorting a signal gives interesting sounds.
  7. Boosting between 200 and 500 Hz gives a gnarly distortion.
  8. Boosting 2-4khz by a huge amount (20-30dB) before distorting gives a hollowed out, very transparent distortion effect.
  9. Distorting sounds with a lot of movement in it frequency spectrum will often create a muddy outcome. Distorting sounds with clear steady harmonics give best results.
  10. Distorting send effects like reverb chorus or phase often gives more pleasant results than distorting the original sound.
  11. Distortion often creates unpleasant noise tails. Control them with gates.
  12. Extremely distort a sound in parallel, then flip the phase. THis can result in some new type of distortion.

Hope these help.

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There's a lot of great distortion plugins out there now. Seems like just about every company's got one. I've been partial to SoundToys Decapitator these days.

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Check out the D16 plugs, decimort or devastor for distortion / bitcrushing? Or a crunchy comp plug like the Puigchild? Or, for saturation, one of the new tape emulations from Waves or UA? Your options are endless!

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As MickLH points out, waveshaping is generally thought of as a good way of emulating analog type distortion effects. As waveshaping is level dependent you can get more distortion the more you raise the signal, a rough emulation f how real electronic circuits work (yes, I realise it's more complicated than this in reality). Start with a curve a bit like in the image, but perhaps not quite as extreme, then tinker with the shape. Small notches can add some interesting higher pitched harmonics for a bit of buzz. You can also split up your signal into low-mid-high and shape each individually, ie multi-band waveshaping - huge potential there.

If you've not played around with this I really recommend it - much more satisfying and flexible than just grabbing an off the shelf distortion and being limited to its particular tone.

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McDSP Analog Channel is a nice one for quickly winding in some heat.

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I've had pleasing results before from just using the Sansamp PSA-1 in Pro Tools. I added some small crunch to a drum bus track for a hip-hop project and it really helped bring out the beefy sound.

I've also used it for sound design purposes when I was designing a missile take-off. There are plenty of harmonic distortion plug-ins, but for me personally the PSA-1 is a failsafe.

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any modelled compressor at extreme settings (0ms attack) and mixed in parallel will give you a bit of crunch. for "bite", look at the valve models.

you can even use some plugins in a way they're not "meant to", e.g. Logic's tape delay at 0 delay, 0 feedback, lowered threshold for distortion..

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I really like the FabFilter Saturator. It gives you the ability to mix the original signal in with the saturated signal inside the plugin and it is a multi-band saturator. I've also gotten good results with Waves Master Tape, Lo-fi, BX Saturator, GTR, and Waves H-EQ. I usually always run my saturation in parallel so I can blend it in with the original.

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Parallel distort and saturate with multible distortion plugins instead of cranking all the knobs to 11 from one single plugin.

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