Sound Design: 7 Steps to Create a Crispy LoFi Snare from Free Plugins
Step 1: Designing Snare using a Default DAW/Free Synth Plugin
We need a way to generate a sound in order to shape our snare. Ultimately, the synth plugin you use shouldn’t matter as long as it has a triangle waveform and a noise toggle (which thankfully most DAW default synths do in 2020). Because Presonus’s Studio One (link here) is my native DAW I’m using their native synth, Mai Tai.
First thing you want to do here is ensure all FX are turned off on your synth plugin/VST if they have FX within the synth itself. Secondly, as pictured in the final synth settings below we’re only using 1 oscillator here set as a triangle wave. We’ve also brought the pitch of this triangle waveform down a bit to give it an “oomph” while also messing with the envelope settings a bit. We want an immediate attack so the snare cracks, but I also prefer a nice tail which gives it a smooth ending. Definitely play around with the envelope to find what you enjoy!
Next point is adding some noise to layer onto the oscillator 1 triangle waveform. Again, the goal here is to find something you really like. We’ve given it a bit more noise here as it compliments the feel we were going for. Lastly for the lofi vibe we’re going to want to roll off some of that high end by using a low pass filter and turning the cutoff a bit until we get a sound we like. If your synth plugin/VST does not have a filter in it, any EQ plugin will do as it’s just a simple low pass technique.
Example of raw synth snare
Step 2: Adding Some Drive & LoFi Glitter
Now that we have sound to work with lets get to the fun stuff! This next part is the only place I use a paid VST/plugin, but what I use is not critical in anyway just adds a nice analog modelled overdrive taste. The plugin is named Britson by Sonimus (link here). This is a console emulation plugin modelled after the classic NEVE 8014 console (as an someone who uses it on every channel in my mixer I can’t recommend it enough).
As pictured below, I’ve slightly increased the drive into the Britson about ~5-6db while tapering off some of the low end (high pass filter) and once again cutting some of the low end (low pass filter). Lastly, I have the “FAT” button enabled which to my ears makes seem like a bit more crunch when overdriven. Again this is not mandatory
Example of raw synth snare ran through Britson plugin by Sonimus
After adding some overdrive from Britson, we’re using a free plugin from Airwindows called, “BitGlitter” (link here) This is a free plugin I don’t hear enough about online. Yes it’s very simple, but it just adds a ton of texture to the sound you’re applying it too. All we did here is simply add some of the “Glitter” effect while leaving the input, output, and Wet/Dry knobs at their default positions. If you don’t get anything else from this article I hope you take some time to review a great free resource in what Airwindows has put together!
Example of designed snare using BitGlitter
Step 3: Grab that Compressor!
Any default DAW compressor will get the job done here. Again, as I’m using Studio One I’m using their default compressor Fat Channel (which I also think sounds incredible and is very versatile). What I’m doing here is using the pretty aggressive compression setting with the “All” button selected as this particular compressor emulates the classic UA 1176 (read more here). We’ve moved the input knob until we see a reduction of 3-5db while also setting the attack time very quick so that it compresses once the snare is played. We then adjust the output to get the volume at a level close to where the pre-compressed sound was.
Example of designed snare utilizing the FAT Channel Compressor
Fun fact: Although we have an “All” button today, in the 60-70s the engineers would actually push all the buttons in and it was seen as a trick that was not intentially developed by the UA team when creating the 1176. The rest is history, that aggressive compression is on countless hit records across the globe spanning decades of music (read more here).
Step 4: EQ with an Extra Side of EQ, Please!
Now this may seem a bit weird, but we’re going to use 2 instances of an EQ back to back. We’re using the default EQ plugin within Studio One, Pro EQ although any EQ will do!
In the first EQ we’re going to significantly boost the mid lower range (~250hz) while also boosting the high end (~7khz) and rolling off some of the low end with a high pass filter (use your ears here!). Personally, 250hz is my favorite area to boost in the kick because I often find that’s where you hear a lot of the punch. As a note of caution, if you go too low you’re gonna get some lower end/bass tones which may interfere with your kick/bass later on.
Our second EQ is going to serve one purpose which is to tamper down the low and high ends that we just overemphasized. I know this might be counterintuitive, but it’s just gives a unique tone I enjoyed.
Example of raw synth snare ran through Britson plugin by Sonimus
Example of designed snare with EQ #1
Example of designed snare with EQ #2
Step 5: Bring on the Bit Crusher!
Now Bit crushers get a bad wrap, and I get it. When emulating the limitations of analog hardware through digital processes people are rarely satisfied. I will go out on a limp and say I love the simplicity of adding a bit crusher on certain samples and having the ability to dial it as I feed the need too.
Here it should be no surprise we’re using Studio One’s BitCrusher plugin. This gives us that grainy feel similar to the Airwindows BitGlitter plugin we used previously although with more options and flexibility. Again, this all comes down to your taste so use to your liking! Anyways, we’re using the 12 bit rate depth with the downsample turned up a bit and some light overdrive. We’re then using the “Clip” on the right hand side to reduce the clipping that is occuring while also reducing the gain.
Example of snare ran through the Bitcrusher default plugin by Studio One
Step 6: Some more Low Pass Filtering & Izotope Vinyl (Surprise?)!
As if lots of bit crusher and aggressive compression isn’t enough! As we near the end it’s time to add some more filtering and vinyl sprinkles! We’re again using a free Airwindows plugin named Lowpass 2 (link here) although any EQ will work as all we’re doing here is rolling off any high ends that the compression/bit crusher brought back.
Example of snare with the high ends getting rolled off via a low pass filter
Lastly, what’s lofi without Izotope Vinyl (link here)? Here we’re keeping it simple and cranking up the “Wear” and “Dust” settings while adjusting the year knob to 1970. We also have a slight increase to “Mechanical Noise.” Furthermore, because this is a snare we have the Mono switch hit. The result is some lofi goodness!
Example of snare getting processed with Izotope Vinyl
[Optional] Step 7: Add Reverb
Reverb is something I enjoy on my drums, particularly snares, although if you wish to keep the main snare sample dry than skip this. Here we’re just using another default plugin from Studio One named Open Air. No magic here just a preset I found and tweaked a bit.
Final snare sample with reverb!
Sure is this the most time efficient process? No. Does it often give you the most unique drum samples that will make your drum patterns stand out based on how you’re design? Yes. For creators looking for that unique edge when developing their sound being able to design and craft instruments and drums you have a sizable competitive advantage.
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