PreSonus Blog

That Vintage Airy Sound

…as in, 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love.” Back in those days, to minimize tape hiss, noise reduction compressed and increased highs when recording, then expanded and reduced highs on playback. Many recordings of that era enhanced the highs on some tracks (especially vocals) by using noise reduction when they printed to tape, but then they didn’t “undo” the sound on playback. Once you’ve heard that sound, you’ll recognize it—a present, bright, yet not overbearingly trebly sound.

You may remember the “cassette,” a primitive form of audio recording invented over half-century ago, and intended for dictation. If so, you may also remember that when you turned off noise reduction, the cassette sounded brighter and more present. It’s the same principle.

How It Was Done

The early days, “studio standard” noise reduction was a broadband unit that applied the noise reduction process in four separate bands. The “hack” was to disable two of the bands, and use only the high bands (basically, shelving EQ around 3 and 9 kHz) to compress and increase highs.

But the reason why this worked so well is because lower-level, high-frequency signals were compressed the most. The higher the level, the lower the compression ratio. This is why the treble increase wasn’t overbearing when you used noise reduction to enhance the highs. Amazingly, we can obtain a very similar effect with stock plug-ins.

How to Do It

We’re not constrained to trying to sound like the original hardware unit, so we can optimize our approach for musical applications in Studio One instead of noise reduction with tape recorders. The Multiband Dynamics plug-in is well-suited for the “more-compression-at-low-levels” trick (fig. 1).

Figure 1: These Multiband Dynamics parameters give the fabulous airy sound. Only the High band is active. Everything else is muted.

As the curve shows, there’s a lot of compression at lower levels, but as the input gets higher, the ratio approaches 1:1. That’s exactly the effect we want. A maximum Knee setting makes for a smooth transition along the compression curve.

These are not necessarily the optimum settings for your application, so feel free to experiment. My intention was to create settings that avoided having too much or too little of a compression curve.

The Mix control determines the amount of the effect. Note that the Low Threshold, High Threshold, and Ratio controls all interact. The settings shown (which are also used in the downloadable preset) worked for me and give a pretty obvious effect. For something more subtle, set the Ratio to 3.0:1, and the Low Threshold to around -63. As to the preset, after downloading, import it into the Multiband Dynamics, or just drag it on top of the plug-in’s interface.

Anyway, hearing is believing, so listen to the audio example. I’ve added a fair amount of the effect so that it’s obvious. In a full mix, you might use less. The following audio demo alternates between an unprocessed version and processed version. The sounds are choir, 12-string guitar, vocal, and piano. I dug up a scratch vocal with loud sibilants because it really gets the point across—the sibilants are not more pronounced in the processed version, even though the overall sound is much brighter. Also, the piano is interesting. The portions with soft dynamics still have increased brightness, but the brightness doesn’t get out of hand when the dynamics hit hard (which even when unprocessed, are brighter anyway). You can hear the music these came from at

Vintage Airy audio example

So download the preset, drag it to your Multiband Dynamics, and…be happy you didn’t have to buy a piece of hardware to get this sound!

Download the CA_Vintage Airy preset here!