Monday, 12 January 2015

Refined Combing...

Things don't always go the way you intend. I had an idea for a phaser effect that was driven from a filtered noise source, and the end result was something rather different. Here's the story...

'Phasers' are just comb filters where the notch frequencies are modulated up and down in frequency by an LFO. (My previous Comber effect was nothing more than a few of these in one place.)
The audible effect for typical 'vibrato/tremolo' LFO rates sounds a bit like detuned oscillators, and so can be used as a simple 'chorus' effect (there are other ways of doing chorus effects as well). At slow LFO rates then the effect is more like several resonant filters sweeping up and down, which is exactly what is going on!

But whilst sine wave shaped LFOs are all very nice, there are many other possible alternative waveforms, and repetition can get a bit boring. So my idea was to got most of the way to the opposite extreme from the pure predictability of a boring sine wave and use noise instead. Filtered noise seemed like the right thing, and so I envisaged an array of resonant high-pass, band-pass and low-pass filters, and perhaps some sort of neat GUI control to create a final 'noisy' modulation for the comb filter.
Unfortunately, the end result was not as interesting as I hoped. High-pass filtered noise just gave a rapid tremolo effect, and not a particularly nice or useful one. Band-pass filtered noise was still too busy. The only really useful noise was heavily low-pass filtered noise, containing exactly the sort of frequencies that you would use for tremolo, vibrato or a phaser! After a bit of experimentation, it turned out that I didn't need any conventional filtering at all, and that just a bit of sample averaging (OK, primitive filtering) produced nice random wobbling that sounded ok - but it wasn't anywhere near as impressive as I'd been hoping.

So I wondered if something combining the LFO and the noise was a better idea, and I added a DJ cross-fade type control to mix between the LFO sine wave and the noise waveform. This seemed to liven up the result and make it a bit more interesting and unpredictable...
But then I realised that I had an alternative source of variation, and so I added a second LFO to drive a Sample/Hold circuit that sampled the original sine wave LFO. Sample/Hold circuits have always fascinated me, right from the days when you put high-input impedance op-amps on Teflon PCBs with polycarbonate capacitors and used reed-relays as input sampling switches, all in the analogue quest for long-term voltage storage (and you still got droop over time!). In the digital domain, things are different (and you add imperfections if you want to model the real world) and so a quick bit of M4L'ing later, I had an LFO with sine waves for high sample rates, and repeated complex patterns for lower sample rates. (The S/H samples when the indicator lights up yellow, btw.)
The DJ slider became a 'Randomness' control, and I added a red indicator to provide visual feedback for when the 'Freq' and 'Depth' controls needed to be adjusted (up and down respectively), and Comber V0.3 was born! I hope you find it a more versatile and inspirational effect for your music. 

Comber V0.3 is available, as always, for download from

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