An Overview of LoFi Plugins: RC-20 and Lounge Lizard
Intro to XLN RC-20 Retro Color
XLN Audio’s RC-20 was a best kept secret in the producer community for awhile. You either were amazed by the functionality of RC-20 or had no idea it exists, there was really no in-between. Over the last 12 or so months it’s become a staple, go-to plugin within the production community. RC-20 excels in its ability to give an analog-modelled warmth (along with countless other) to any sound you put through the plugin.
I only recently purchased RC-20 on Sweetwater (available here) during the Black Friday sale, and while I’m just beginning to get my hands dirty with it, I’m extremely pleased this far. Let’s take a look!
Official XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color Description
XLN Audio’s RC-20 Retro Color Plug-in supplies you with a huge palette of vintage coloration effects that add texture and life to sterile recordings, enhancing your productions with the warm, inviting, compelling sound of vintage gear. Organized as six modules — Noise, Wobble, Distortion, Digital, Space, and Magnetic — RC-20 Retro Color delivers crunchy, raw distortion and bit reduction that adds grit to kick drums and bass. Pining for the sound of vinyl or VHS? RC-20 does that, too. Its chorus and space FX will make your guitar soar, and its filtering FX are perfect for contemporary club tracks. XLN’s proprietary Flux Engine imparts subtle (or not) fluctuations and instability to all the effects modules, delivering retro analog vibe, warmth, and character.
Intro to AAS Lounge Lizard EP-4
As I’ve stated in a prior post, the piano is the ultimate lofi tool in my opinion. More specifically, the classic Rhodes piano! I’ve tried a number of demos for VSTs that are modelled to emulate the classic Rhodes sound. In my opinion, AAS’ Lounge Lizard EP-4 is the plugin I hold in highest regard. The presets are phenomenal and the ability to tweak countless knobs to shape the sound how you want all in an user-friendly interface it’s been my go-to piano plugin for 2+ years now. Learn more about AAS Lounge Lizard EP-4 here.
Official AAS Lounge Lizard EP-4 Description
Modeled after amazing vintage electric pianos, the Applied Acoustics Systems Lounge Lizard EP-4 is a keyboard player’s dream come true. Not only do you get an entire warehouse of pianos, but you get real-time control over almost very aspect of each instrument. We’re talking physical modeling that lets you tweak hammer hardness, damper noise, tine color and decay, and more. The result is unmatched in it’s realism and warmth. Don’t settle for just any electric piano sound, get the exact sound you really want with Applied Acoustics Systems Lounge Lizard EP-4.
Step 1: Jazz Chords for Authentic LoFi Melody
Time to dive into Studio One’s (available here) piano roll and get creating! To start I’m using a basic 4 bar loop with a single chord played on each bar. Goal here is to give the main chords more of a jazzy feel. Sometimes I’ll use a site such as AutoChords to just get an idea going and tweak as needed. For this chord progression I came across a site (which now I cannot find) after googling, “Jazz Piano Chords” (fancy, I know).
The main chords we’re using here are: Cm7, B7, B♭m7, A7
The Free MIDI Pack download is available here.
After putting together the chord progression, I created a separate instrument track within Studio One with another instance of Lounge Lizard EP-4. This second instrument track was to add a bit of a riff to the chord progression. No science here, really just played on loop until I found something that felt natural.
Step 2: Compression, EQ, Delay, Reverb
Now that we’ve put together a 4-bar loop time to add some general FX to the melodies to shape them a bit more. All the FX we’re using here are default plugins within Studio One. We’re using compression more as a limiter here then a regular compressor. Utilizing Studio One’s Fat Channel compressor (available here), the goal is to get minimal gain reduction (1-3db) while increasing the gain a fair bit.
After compression time to add some EQ using Studio One’s Pro EQ. For the main chords we want the low end so we’ll apply a high-pass filter up to around ~60-100hz. We will also add a 3-5db notch down in the ~5k range so we can leave a bit of space in the high end.
For the riff piano part we’ll apply a similar amount of compression (1-3db reduction) while applying more of the high-pass filter so it doesn’t interfere with the main chords. Here we can cut up to ~200-400hz depending on how thin that makes it sound and whether you enjoy that within the context of the main chord progression. We’re also going to add a 1-4db bump in the ~5k range that we cut in the main chord progression. This bump will add that extra oomph to the high end of the riff and really make it standout.
Finally we’ll apply some delay (Studio One Analog Delay) and reverb (Studio One Open Air). For the delay I tweaked around with the settings until I found something I liked, alternatively for the reverb I circled through presets until I found one. Take a listen below to what the beautiful Lounge Lizard EP-4 sounds like on its own.
Example of Piano Chords with basic FX provided by Studio One
Step 3: “Sad Piano” RC-20 Retro Color Preset
Next up? Well, let’s soak this jazzy piano up with some RC-20! The plugin starts up with it’s Vinyl 1 preset, but given the mood I was going for instead I opted for “Sad Piano.” What are you waiting for? Take a listen for yourself below!
Example of Piano Chords utilizing the “Sad Piano” Preset on the RC-20 Retro Color Plugin
Step 4: Custom “LoFi Tapestry” RC-20 Retro Color Preset (Free Custom Preset Download)
The “Sad Piano” on RC-20 sounds pretty nuts right? Even if it’s not one for your taste you have to admit the results are impressive. What I’ve done for this next flavoring test is start from scratch and tweak until I found something I enjoyed. The custom preset is named, “LoFi Tapestry” and is available as a free download here. The settings to achieve the preset are pictured to the right, and the sound sample is below. Let’s get moving to some spectrum analysis next!
Example of Piano Chords utilizing the custom “LoFi Tapestry” Preset on the RC-20 Retro Color Plugin
We listened to Lounge Lizard EP-4 on its own (which is phenomenal!), with a factory preset from RC-20, and with a custom preset we created. What’s next? Well, let’s see what the spectrum analyzer is telling us (tip: look at the highest line as that is a good representation of the spectrum throughout the 4-bar loop)!
Dry Lounge Lizard EP-4 piano chords with minimal FX
Here we’re seeing a steep fall the higher you go in frequency. Given we did cut some top end off the main chord progression and the Rhodes are known for their body sounds this makes sense. You see a pretty big bump in that 80hz-500hz range where that Rhodes low-mid range lives.
Lounge Lizard EP-4 piano chords with “Sad Piano” Preset from RC-20
In this spectrum analyzer we’re seeing a more tamed picture across the frequency spectrum. There’s still clearly a bump in the low-mid range although it doesn’t fall as steep as you roll to the high end. You can visually see RC-20 having an impact on the sound itself.
Lounge Lizard EP-4 piano chords with custom “LoFi Tapestry” Preset from RC-20
I’m obviously biased on this one, but from a visual standpoint this spectrum looks the most well-rounded. While the bump in the low-mid range still exists the drop in the high end isn’t nearly as prevalent and now seems to be more of a plateau. This is where you can see RC-20 really transforming the shape of the sound visually.
hope you’ve had a chance to see how much fun I have with these two plugins as a combination. I can’t recommend Lounge Lizard EP-4 enough if you’re looking for that classic vintage electric piano sound. The AAS team has a fantastic product here that always inspires when you open it up. The functionality within EP-4 really allows you to get as granular as you want with sound design, that is huge for those of us who are maniacal about controlling every single aspect of the sound. You can find AAS Lounge Lizard EP-4 available here at SweetWater.
Similarly XLN Audio’s RC-20 Retro Color is publicly known as a top tier (formerly secret) weapon within the production community. One you have a nice loop together throwing some Retro Color on it makes it feel so much more “at home”. Another fun thing about RC-20? It has so many awesome presets which means there’s minimal tweaking you have to do in most cases to get the sound you like! If you need to tweak their interface is about as intuitive as it gets and I can’t thank them enough for that. Be sure to check out XLN Audio’s RC-20 Retro Color available here at SweetWater.