Along with reverbs, delays and echoes are a big part of adding a sense of space to tracks. In Ableton, you can pick between several different plugins that create delay effects. We’ll be exploring one of the most interesting and most powerful of them, Echo, and showing how you can use it to give some old-school character to your tunes.
Echo vs Delay
You’ll have noticed a few different options in Ableton for delay effects. The most basic of these and the simplest to use is just called Delay. This does a perfectly good job of creating repeats of the sound and giving a sense of space or creating a rhythmic effect but there might also be times when we want something a bit more colourful.
The Ableton Echo plugin gives you the ability to create some of the sounds found on vintage echo machines such as the Roland RE-201 Space Echo. You’ll have heard these echoes on all sorts of classic tunes from Pink Floyd and Radiohead to dub reggae greats like King Tubby and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry.
Overall, they have a more characterful sound and a big part of the enduring appeal of these old units is the way that the repeats of the note are each altered and warped. Due to the way they were built from magnetic tape heads and had built-in preamps, they would add a bit of grit and warmth to the sound – even if you just want a clean tone. Once you started really messing and modulating with these machines, you’d unlock a whole galaxy of weird, spaced-out effects.
So how do we get some of this old-school cool in our tracks just using Ableton’s Echo?
Let’s have a look at the controls.
- On the left, you’ll find the controls for the lengths of the repeats. You can the left and right sides individually or they can be set together with the little chain button in the middle. You can also set whether these are synced to the tempo of the track or not with the sync button.
- The input control changes the gain of the input signal going into the echo effect. If you start to push this beyond zero, you’ll notice that it will overdrive, like those old units. By pressing the D button next to it, you’ll get extra drive out of it.
- Feedback controls how much of the output is being fed back into the input of the echo and this changes how long the echo effect will last. This can be pushed past 100% to create some really weird sounds.
- On the right, there's a separate control for echo’s best friend – reverb. You can change how much reverb you want with the reverb control, how long it lasts with the decay and whether it goes before or after the echos.
- Stereo will control how wide the output signal is. At 0%, the signal is mono and if you push it above 100%, you’ll get an exaggerated stereo effect.
- Output will allow you to adjust the gain of the output signal
- The dry/wet allows you to change the mix between the echos and the dry unaffected signal.
Pretty standard stuff for a delay plugin. In the middle is where things get more interesting. There are three sections to switch between where you can find more options to shape your sound.
This is the default view for the plugin and the first thing you’ll notice is an interesting visual representation of the echoes. Think of it a bit like a tunnel that you’re shouting down and hearing the sound echoing back.
Underneath this is an EQ that allows you to shape the tone of the repeats and echoes. This is especially useful if you’re using echo on things like basses where you might want repeats of the notes but none of the low-end in the echoes that will muddy the mix.
The second tab is where you’ll find all the controls that you can use to modulate and warp your echo sounds.
You can choose from a number of different waveforms, including random noise, and see a visual representation of each. You can also change the rate of the modulation and whether or not it's synced to the project’s tempo.
Once you’ve got that sorted, you can choose what you’re modulating and how much modulation you want to use. There are options for the delay time, the filter and the wet/dry mix.
This third tab is where you can start to add some of that vintage charm into your sounds
The gate allows you to control the threshold at which echo activates so that only signals above a certain level will trigger the delays.
Ducking essentially does the opposite of this and will lower the level of the delays when the input exceeds a certain threshold.
Noise will, as you might expect, add extra noise to your sound like you would get with the old analogue gear. By adjusting the morph control, you can change the sound of this noise.
Wobble will add in some of that jittery modulation to the delay time that the old echo machines would have. You can control how much of this you want and use the morph control to change the type of modulation this is emulating.
Want to learn more about how to use amazing creative effects in Ableton to add an extra dimension to your tracks? Check out our class with Ableton Certified Trainer Poppy Roberts where you’ll learn even more about Echo and many more of the best effects in Ableton.