Book review: The Audio Effects Workshop

How to explain the different kind of audio effects and how to understand what their use is? Although I learnt a lot by practice, there is sometimes the need for some theory and for experiments. I tried to find a book that matches these two points: good theory and proper practice. I’ve chosen this book, with tracks on a CD for experimentation. Was it really what I was looking for?

Content and opinions

The first three chapters help you set up your environment with your own sequencer. The book tries to be sequencer agnostic, although the author mainly resorts to Sonar or Reaper. So the first chapter defines some terms and install some free plugins that will be used through the book. The second one is about what sound is while the third explains how effects can interact with sound to create something.

Afterwards, the author deals with actual effects. The next three chapters are dedicated to frequency and dynamics effects. The different types of equalization processes and each instrument has specific frequency bands that need to be shaped. As the book comes with several EQ plugins, there is room for tests with the different types of equalization and different instruments. Then the first dynamic effect is noise gate. I think it is one of the effects you have to know how to use fast as it is mandatory for real recorded tracks. There are different levels in the noise gate (it can have side chains, more filters), but the simplest one is easy to use. The tutorial does not handle all the different combinations, only the most usual ones. The compressor chapter is a bit more complex, as compression can be used in different ways. Not only ways has a complete tutorial, but the reader is exhorted to test all of them. There are several “checkpoints” where another audio project is used than the ones in the tutorials. In this case, you don’t have a reference where you will apply the tutorial without thinking, you have to test all parameters and different ways of adding a plugin.

The next three chapters are about time effects. I think time effects are what makes the most innovation in tracks. The first plugins are always on all audio tracks we listen to (with the addition of reverberation, which is the object of the second chapter in this part), but the other are used with scarcity and it makes the plus that surprises the listener (in my opinion). So the first chapter is about delay and chorus. A delay can be very complex (from a simple tap to multi-tap with a spatial aspect) whereas the chorus is something more simple, but nonetheless complex to use. They can add a spatial dimension to the audio track, and as such they must be tuned with care. Reverberation is the subject of the second chapter, and it is one of the mandatory effects (as I’ve said before). The author spends several pages on synthetic reverberation, but I prefer convolution. The reason is that you can exactly specify reverberation you want and need, and the CPU cost is not a problem anymore. Convolution is the future, why spend so many pages on synthetic? The last chapter is about other time effects, like phaser, flanger, tremolo… They will be applied to different tracks depending of what you want to achieve. It’s perhaps the most complicated chapter because you need to remember what all these effects sound like and imagine what they sound like on your work.

Almost all the remaining chapters are dedicated to making all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. The tenth chapter is about effects that used for something different from their usual goal (like deessers) and plugin effects that chain several effects (possibly in the order you want). They are incredibly valuable, although they are sequencer specific or not free (so no tutorials, you have to try by yourself). One of the great benefit of a sequencer over traditional hardware is automation, the subject of the next chapter. The author warns of the different aspects of automation and what you can and cannot do as well as why. A small chapter is dedicated to stereo effects. It is quite short and as the other dimensions are tackled before (delay and reverb), it is strange to have the main dimension’s discussion now. The next two chapters help setting the threads between all the plugins. There is nothing actually new, but the tutorials help testing different serial and parallel combinations. It’s what makes a final mix, and it is properly explained.

The final chapter before the conclusion is about mastering effects. The author provides a guide to check your mix and prepare it for the mastering phase (on your own or by someone else), and then he reviews the effects you will need. There is no discussion on the loudness war, it could have been a good talk.

The conclusion gives you some hints to sort your plugins and choose the proper one, it is something one can easily forget.

Conclusion

With all the tracks and plugins on the CD, the explanations of each effect and then the tutorials (for each effect, even if I didn’t say it), this book is what I expected from a book on audio effects. If you want to know what audio effects are, go and buy the book, you won’t regret it.

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