This recording tips post originally appeared as “Samplitude Academy – Creating Depth with Samplitude” on Samplitude’s tutorial blog. Reprinted with permission.
When recording in your home studio, it’s possible to create depth when mixing audio tracks. By adjusting the order of the various signals from front to back, you can create depth in your audio mix and make it more transparent. During mixing you can simulate various distances and achieve a placement of the instruments in space. In this way the instruments can be effectively separated in space.
To create a really noticeable sense of depth we can adjust the volume, sound characteristics and room characteristics of each instrument track:
Let’s start with a rough mix of our song. First we can set the volume levels for each track according to how we imagine the spatial relationship should be. The depth effect comes from the natural perception of the human ear which registers loud instruments as close and quieter instruments as far away.
The obvious thing to do here is set the volume of the most important instruments higher than the volume for the accompanying instruments. See figure 1.
Note: At this point you would also position the instruments in the stereo panorama but because this is not very important for the creation of depth we won’t go into more detail here. Audio Sample 1
Spectral Distribution with the Equalizer
Another acoustic law we can use to create depth is the fact that deep frequencies have a larger spatial range than high frequencies. The result of this is that the signal source sounds more muffled as the distance from it increases.
We can use this effect for our mix by cutting the higher frequencies of the instruments that we want to place further back in the mix. We’ll use a flat high-shelf filter for this.
By lowering the high frequencies, these tracks sink into the background and no longer compete against the lead instrument. This gives the mix more clarity and structure. See Figure 2. Audio Sample 2
The reverb amount (“dry” or “wet”) and the first reflections (“early reflections”) of sound in a space play a big role in the perception of depth.
Sounds that are close have a relatively small amount of reverb and the first reflections come long after the original sound. On the other hand, sounds that come from a distance usually have a large amount of reverb and the first reflections are perceived almost simultaneously with the original sound.
The time between the original sound until the arrival of the first reflections is referred to as the “Pre Delay”.
Applying these principles to the use of reverb for depth creation means that instruments with high Pre Delay values and a small amount of reverb will be perceived as close while those with low Pre Delay values and a large amount of reverb will be perceived as far away…
We can start by setting up three AUX busses (right-click in track header >”Insert/Delete Tracks” > “New AUX Bus”) and inserting three different reverb effects: Room Simulator, eFX_Reverb and VariVerb. See figures 3 & 4.
Now we can set up the Room Simulator for the first Send AUX 1 so that it is appropriate for instruments that should be perceived as close.
For this example we’ll use the following settings:
• Preset: Studio & Rooms / Close Room – 1.3s – basic
• Pre Delay: 25ms
• Wet: -94 dB
See figure 5.
For our vocal track we’ll set the Send AUX 1 to 0dB (Unity Gain) and Pre-Fader and adjust the volume of the AUX 1 channel during playback until the vocals sound natural at the very front of the mix. See figures 6 & 7.
Audio Sample 3
Now we can set the sound characteristics for the signals in the middle ground. We’ll set the eFX Reverb in Send AUX 2 as follows:
• Preset: Small Hall
• Mix: 50%
• Pre Delay: 10ms
• Diffusion: 50%. We can use this parameter to simulate the irregular scattering of the sound on walls and other objects. The higher the set value, the softer and denser the effect of the reverb and the stronger it will be in comparison to the direct signal. See figure 8.
For the applicable tracks you can now adjust the Pre-Fader Send AUX 2 starting from 0dB and adjust the volume for channel AUX 2 until the signals are positioned in the middle ground of the mix. See figure 9. Audio Sample 4
Finally we’ll adjust the settings for the sound characteristics of the signals at the very back of the mix. We’ll do this by setting the VariVerb in Send AUX 3 as follows:
• Preset: 17 long hallway
• Dry mix: 0%
• Wet mix: 100%
• EQ low: + 5 dB
• EQ high: -18 dB
• Pre delay: 1.5 m (4ms)
• Diffusion: 87%
See figure 10.
Last but not least we’ll adjust the Pre-Fader Send AUX 3 for the applicable tracks starting at 0dB (Unity Gain) and adjust the volume of channel AUX 3 until the signals are nicely positioned at the back of the mix. See figure 11. Audio Sample 5
Have fun creating depth in your mixes!