Someone asked me this question in the recording studio the other day and I thought I’d write a blog post on it. Modern DAWs have helped beat-makers record at high quality and resolution. Hip-hop however was originally sampled using low quality devices recording devices/samplers which would be considered inferior today in the terms of quality. Often though, this Lo-Fi sound is considered the true sound of early Boom bap Hip-Hop. Here is a quick lesson on how to emulate that Lo-Fi drum and recording sound in a DAW.
You don’t have to go out and buy some old samplers like the SP-1200 or the MPC so get that sound.
Although there are emulations and plugins, people often say that ‘They don’t sound right”. I would argue that “They’re not using it right”. So let me show you how to do it.
The Workflow and Low Bit and Sample Rates Causes the Famous Lo-Fi Sound
The SP-1200 and MPC has low bit depth and sample rates. They also did not have much memory and record for very long. 15 seconds in most models. In order to sample a longer chunk of music, beat-makers would speed up the vinyl records they were sampling which would play them faster and in a higher pitch. They would then lower the pitch in the sampler and get a longer sample and longer recording. A 33 RPM record played at 45 RPM is slightly more than a 5th higher in pitch (7 semitones) so you would lower it by around -7 steps/semitones to get it back to a similar pitch as before.
It is the combination of slowing down the vinyl in the sampler plus the low bit rate of sampler that creates the Lo-Fi sound.
Copy the Workflow
So if you want the same sound, using a plugin is not enough. You must also copy the workflow.
Lo-Fi Plugins & Native Instruments Maschine
The best Lo-Fi plugin by far isn’t even a plugin. It is part of Native Instruments Maschine. Most people don’t know that Maschine can emulate the sound of older classic samplers.
Make any sample in Maschine Lo-Fi by changing the sample engine emulation type.
But this is not enough!
This is where most people stop. But if you want it to sound even more lo-fi and emulate more accurately the workflow of the old samplers. Pitch up your sample, ideally by +7
Bounce down a recording of just that higher pitched sample with the emulation effects on and re-import the bounce back into Maschine.
Now pitch down that Sample by the same amount, ideally -7.
(Note: you don’t have to keep it at it’s original pitch so you can still go higher or lower)
There You Go
It might seem silly and time consuming to do it like this but you’re emulating closer to the process that happens on the actual hardware units which gives you a more realistic sound to the actual units the software is emulating as your not just emulating the sound engine but also how the sound engine was used.
If you want to up the level of authenticity, you can add a vinyl simulation plugin like Izotope Vinyl to your pitched up sample prior to bouncing it out to place into Maschine. Or you could of course sample directly off vinyl into Maschine and then do the process.
Alternative and Additional Method in Maschine
The way I mentioned is very time consuming for short samples and works best for long samples that you wanna slice up. If you want something less authentic but still similar and faster you can just mess with the bit rate and filter settings on the sample in Maschine too in addition to having the sample engine set in the Engine tab. This way you can degrade the sound without having to record the sample in and out of Maschine. This is explained well by a beat-maker on Youtube in This video
That’s the secret to creating Lo-Fi drums and recordings in a DAW. You can use plugins instead of Maschine with similar settings but I like Maschine, especially for Hip-Hop as it emulates classic samplers and can give you that classic authentic old skool sound that would only otherwise be possible by using the old hardware units.
If you just want that vinyl crackle type of sound with a little bit of EQ, you can just use iZotope Vinyl and it’s a quick and easy solution.
You can also use other drive and bit-crusher plugins if you don’t use own Maschine. I like CMT Bitcrusher. You can get that and other free bit-crusher plugins here.
For in person one on one music productions lessons like this, visit myself, Tom Watson at Current Sound in Hollywood, Los Angeles.