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Getting that Vintage Vibe

The Telephone Effect


I've gotten a lot of requests over the years to make a section of a recording sound very "lo-fi", almost as if it's coming over the telephone or being listened to on an old transistor radio. I've used this effect a few times when mixing records, including the latest record from Ten High. It's a cool effect, and when used in Pro Tools or any popular multitrack software, you can have limitless options for automation and blending. Let's take a look at how to do this.

The Idea

The Telephone Effect gets it's name from how a noise -- typically a voice -- sounds over a lo-fi telephone connection. Yes, I know cell phones, Skype, and Vonage sound pretty good, but we're talking about something lo-fi, like an older, analog telephone system. A standard telephone transmission and receiving system has very frequency response, and very limited dynamic range. In order to imitate this, you need to take a two-part approach to the audio. You'll need to use an EQ plug-in to limit the frequency range of the audio itself, and you'll need to use a compressor plug-in to crunch the dynamic range.

Let's Do It

To start, we need to EQ. Put an EQ plug-in on the channel, or use a VST plug-in when working within a two-track editor. You need to bring down the frequencies on the low and the high end, and bring up the mid frequencies. Start by taking out everything below 400Hz, and then reducing everything above 2Khz. Then, if you have the option, make a narrow bandwidth notch of about +4-6db at 500Hz.

If you've got a good compressor, add it as well. You want to start compressing early, at around -20db, with a ratio of at least 4:1. You can change this to your liking, though. If you've got it, adding some light distortion from whatever plug-in you have and like best will give you some extra effect. And there you have it!

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