Audio effects in music: shape your sound

The most popular audio effects in music and their impact on sound

Audio effects are modules for sound processing, they assume an existing audio signal and modify it. Effects can completely transform a recording, for example by bending a clean guitar sound into a distorted rock guitar. However, audio effects are also used to add the finishing touches to an instrument recording or to perfect the sound in the mix. Then they work rather inconspicuously in the background, for example by enhancing the sound image with some surround sound. Finally, some sound effects can also be used for audio editing, for example, when combining recordings in a mix that are not at the same tempo or pitch.

Accordingly, there are three ways in which effects are used: as creative effects, as optimizing or refining effects, or as editing tools.

These are the most commonly used effects:

  • Delay (or echo)
  • Reverb
  • Chorus
  • Guitar effects like overdrive or tremolo
  • Time stretching

Below you'll learn what these audio effects sound like and what effect they have in music.

Delay effect: Magic dynamics

Everyone knows the delay effect: with a normal echo, the audio signal is repeated several times and at equal intervals, becoming quieter and quieter until it finally fades away. But this is only the most natural of many possibilities. With some delay effects, the signal is altered during repetition, for example alienated with more and more reverb, filtered or tossed back and forth in the stereo image like a ping-pong ball (stereo delay).

Dreamlike, futuristic or psychedelic atmospheres are created. For some music genres, such as dub reggae, such delay effects are almost style-defining, but they are used in all music genres.

Reverb is also counted among the delay effects. Delay simply means delay, and with reverb, too, the sound is reproduced with a delay, but in the process it is blurred, so to speak. Both effects are generated by the same effect module: a "Delay Reverb", which can generate different types of delay or even reverb, depending on the setting.

Listen to the original

Audio example with delay

Hall effect: spatial sound and tension

Delay and reverb are closely related, both can create a magical atmosphere. Unlike delay, however, reverb can also be used to simulate a natural room environment. This modulates the original dry sound recorded in close proximity to make it sound as if it were in a specific room - for example, a small chamber, a larger room, a church, or a cathedral.

This is less about magic and more about simulating a specific space. The reverberation algorithms are created from carefully measured real spaces. The sound behavior of these rooms is recorded and analyzed, and this is then used to create algorithms for the so-called reverb tails, which are used to perfectly imitate the room conditions, including expansion, ceiling height or the nature of the floor.

Reverb can also be used to create spatiality in other ways. Depending on the effect component, the impression of greater proximity or distance to the sound source is created. Imagine what it sounds like when you are standing way in the back of a church and someone is speaking in the front - you will hear a lot of reverb and have trouble understanding the words. The higher the reverb content in the overall sound, the more distant the sound source appears.

Reverb is a universal sound effect for enhancing recordings. Reverb is mixed into virtually every recording afterwards. In music, the reverb effect is used equally in all genres. But it can also often be heard as a striking creative effect, in extreme forms in the ambient and dub genres, but also in many electro pieces and more generally in remixes.

Listen to the original

Audio example with reverb

Chorus effect: Rich sound and doubled tones

The Chorus effect produces a wide, rich sound. It belongs to the so-called modulation effects, where the original sound is doubled and slightly shifted.

Chorus sounds as if another, similar, but not quite the same tone is resonating and overlapping the original sound - just like a choir. The trick is that the signal is not simply played back again with an extremely short delay, as is the case with the delay, but the sound is also detuned a bit in the process, so that both signals - original and copy - are perceived as two separate voices. Because even the best choristers are never exactly on the same note; there are always minimal differences that make up the experience of polyphony.

Chorus is especially a popular guitar effect and is also often used for bass sequences. The sound with Chorus sounds richer, firmer and full of harmonic oscillations - reminiscent of the typical sound of the 80s, when chorus effects were particularly popular. Guitarists and bassists know the chorus mainly as a small footswitch in a colorful plastic case that lies on the floor in front of the guitarist next to the wah-wah, phaser or flanger and is switched on when needed in a live performance.

Listen to the original

Audio sample with chorus

Guitar effects: Overdrive and tremolo

Guitar effects are generally among the most popular creative effects. Besides chorus, there are also many other typical guitar effects. The most important guitar effect and almost ubiquitous in rock music is the distortion, also called overdrive or distortion. This effect makes the sound wide and rough. A simple harmony of two strings can create a massive rock riff, as in the famous opening riff of "Smoke on the Water", a rock classic from the 70s by the band Deep Purple. If you play this riff on an acoustic guitar, you might wonder how two thin notes can become such a fat sound just by distortion.

The tremolo effect is also one of the guitar effects. Literally translated from Italian, tremolo means "to tremble" or "to flicker". The audio signal seems to oscillate or fluctuate in volume depending on the speed. Unlike the vibrato effect, the pitch remains unchanged. Tremolo is simply a modulation of the volume. The tremolo lever, which can be used to temporarily tension and release the strings on many electric guitars, does not actually produce a tremolo at all, but rather a vibrato that modulates the pitch.

Listen to the original

Audio example with overdrive

Audio example with tremolo

Timestretching: speed up or slow down music

Finally, we introduce an effect that is rarely used for creative effects, but is all the more significant for audio editing. Timestretching changes the playback speed of the audio material. This allows you to speed up or slow down music without changing the pitch. However, a little tact is required. If the speed is changed too much, this can create annoying noise. Music tracks can usually be slowed down or sped up by 15 to 20 percent without causing artifacts.

Previously, the change of the playback speed was always directly coupled to the change of the pitch. In analog times, recordings were stored on a tape, and if you played the tape faster, the recording was sped up and the pitch was raised at the same time (Mickey Mouse effect). Conversely, the pitch decreased when the tape was played back more slowly. Digital editing then made it possible to separate the two aspects. Today, for example, tempo and pitch can be edited independently of each other, using tmestretching or pitchshifting. And if you want to change both in dependence on each other, as before, select the effect "Resampling".

Listen to the original

Audio example with time-stretching 1 (faster)

Audio example with time stretching 2 (slower)

Audio effects in MUSIC MAKER

If you want to try out audio effects yourself, it's best to get the free music software MUSIC MAKER Free. With it you have all important effects available - for your own audio files or your own compositions from included samples. The special feature: All effects in MUSIC MAKER are simple and intuitive, but at the same time of very high quality, because they come from the "big brothers" Samplitude and Sequoia, two official professional programs used in most recording studios or radio stations.

MUSIC MAKER Free is a virtual recording studio for newcomers to the world of music production. It offers all the important effects for audio files and your own music productions, including a mixer full of effects for separate tracks and the overall sound. You can buy additional modules at any time and expand your personal MUSIC MAKER in this way, as you need it, for example with particularly high-quality effect plug-ins from well-known suppliers such as D16 Group or Cherry Audio.

The free program version is not a limited demo, but a full-fledged program with all the basic functions and effect selection you need for music editing and music production. Included in the free version are:

  • Echo (delay)
  • Reverb
  • Distortion
  • Vandal SE, a guitar amp with integrated distortion, chorus, flanger, phaser, delay and reverb
  • 10-band equalizer for sound settings
  • Compressor for more pressure and loudness

Many other sound effects can be purchased in the program's internal store for little money and then used directly in MUSIC MAKER. For example:

  • Guitar effects like chorus, flanger, phaser or vintage distortion
  • Editing effects such as time-stretching, pitch-shifting, and resampling or stereo FX
  • Professional effect modules such as delay, reverb, equalizer and compressors in a wide variety of designs, tremolo, gater, vocal tune, bitcrusher, filter, vocoder, tape machine and much more.

Simply create music: The new Music Maker

  • MAGIX Soundpools: Make your own beats – quick and easy. Electro, Latin vibes, trap, pop, movie scores or reggae – whatever your sound, simply drag & drop to arrange all your loops and samples. All loops are available in 7 different pitches and can be automatically adjusted to your project's pitch.
  • Virtual instruments: All you need is your mouse or a standard or MIDI keyboard to record captivating melodies full of feeling. Easily control software instruments such as strings, bass, guitars, synthesizers and lots more.
  • Recording: Easily record vocals, rap lines, or instruments. No matter whether it's a mic, USB keyboard, drum pad controller or guitar – just connect it and get started!
  • Mixing & mastering: Without any previous production experience, achieve real studio sound by applying intuitive professional effects using easy drag & drop functions. Then, fine-tune for the best results.

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