Distortion Isn't an Effect (It's a Tool) January 27, 2015 14:09

In fact, it's one of the most powerful and versatile tools in the studio:

  • It can be a compressor and EQ at once.
  • It can add harmonics to the signal that weren't there in the first place.
  • It can compress things in ways that are more complex and musical than a simple compressor. (Magnetic components like tape and transformers exhibit hysteresis, where the amount of gain reduction is "held" for a while after the signal goes below the threshold. You know what else exhibits hysteresis? Ears.)
  • It can compress things while making them "louder" at the same time.

If what I'm saying sounds new or controversial, it's not. Engineers have been using distortion as tone-crafting tool since there were records to be made. For most of recording history they had no choice--every piece of gear in the studio distorted the sound in some way.

So they used it to their advantage: running the tape hot to compress the drums, cranking the console preamps to add grit to the guitar, going crazy with the compressor to make the vocals hairy, etc.

Today, however, most of our gear is so clean the only distortion we're likely to hear is digital clipping. In other words, most digital recording setups are missing an entire category of tools that engineers 30 years ago took for granted.

That's why we created the Colour platform: to make it possible to add a wide range of distortion flavors to your setup without building a whole analog studio. If you're new to Colour, check it out below. It may just be the distortion tool your studio needs.