I have made a recording of a source close to the microphone.

How can I make it sound more distant than it is? Which effects do I need to use for this task?

(I need an imitation of small room. Distance close to 3-5 meters)

I'm using Reaper, but have no ability to use Reaper tag in my question =(

Had google the question, but found nothing =(

  • Note that since this question isn't really specific to Reaper, there isn't a need for a Reaper tag on it. The same tools and process would be used no matter what software you are using. – Todd Wilcox May 30 '17 at 20:31

It depends on what kind of environment you want to reproduce, but there are two main factors that lead the brain to think a sound is coming from farther away:

  • As sound travels through the air, it loses energy, but not evenly across all frequencies. High frequencies are attenuated (become quieter) more quickly than low frequencies. So when we hear a sound that we are familiar with, but with reduced high frequencies, we perceive it as farther away.
  • Sounds reflect off of other surfaces and become distorted when they reflect. When a sound source is close to our ears, it is usually much louder than the reflections of that sound. When the source is farther away, it is quieter and therefore the reflections are more audible. The louder the reflections are compared to the direct sound, the farther away a sound will appear to be.

Note that outdoors in an open field, there are pretty much no reflections, so the second bullet point above would not apply. Outdoors in the woods, there are many reflections, but they sound quite different from reflections in a room. Indoors, rooms are usually small enough that the first bullet point doesn't apply very much, and the second one is more important. Once a space is as large as a warehouse or cathedral, there is some noticeable attenuation of high frequencies.

The distorted reflections are called reverberations or reverb for short. So you'll want to use EQ and/or reverb to create depth.

With EQ, I would start with a high shelf filter, drop it down to -6 dB or so, and slowly sweep it down from 20 kHz until I can hear a subtle drop in high frequencies.

With reverb, the easiest thing to do is to set up a decent sounding reverb plugin and adjust the mix (or wet/dry mix) until you find the right balance of direct and reverb sound. A lower mix, or more dry, sounds closer, higher mix or more wet sounds farther away.

If you want to create a better illusion of distance, playing with the pre-delay setting for the reverb can help. The counter-intuitive thing about pre-delay is that a longer setting sounds closer, and a shorter pre-delay sounds farther. Think of pre-delay as being how far the sound source is the from the farthest wall on the other side of the room. A short pre-delay means the sound source is very close to the far wall.

A rough approximation of delay for distance is that 1 ms is approximately 1 foot of distance. So if you make a space that sounds like a warehouse with walls 100 feet away, you might want as much as 100 ms of pre-delay and a mix of 10% or so to make the sound appear very close, and as few as 5 or 10 ms and a mix of around 50% to make the source sound like it's on the other side of the warehouse. Note that mix settings above 50% can give a special effect but don't sound very realistic, unless you can't hear the direct sound at all (like a sound echoing up from the bottom of a canyon).

More details about the meanings of reverb parameters (which can very widely and confusingly) are here: What do the different reverb parameters mean?

  • I need imitation of small room. Distance close to 3-5 meters or so :) thanks a lot for such detailed answer! – Andrew May 30 '17 at 18:36
  • @Andrew In case it's not obvious, 1 meter is approximately 3 ms. For that room size and distance, I would use a reverb that has a lot of "ping" in it (low diffusion and little damping), a reverb time of under 500 ms, and I'd start with a mix of 25% and maybe zero pre-delay (pre-delay doesn't work as well in smaller rooms). I think 25% is a low mix so you might raise it slowly until you get the right sound. You might not even worry about EQ. Also a higher ER level can sound smaller (with flat hard walls). – Todd Wilcox May 30 '17 at 18:38
  • @Andrew - you might be surprised by how 'small' a 3m room actually sounds - it's going to be more akin to 'bloom' than reverb & can be quite fluttery/springy too, unless you wind up the diffusion. – Tetsujin May 30 '17 at 19:27
  • Are there also changes in the attack? On a purely intuitive level I would imagine the spike of the attack is higher at close distance and proportionally not as high at a distance. – Michael Curtis May 30 '17 at 20:09
  • @MichaelCurtis The perception of the loudness envelope (including the attack) can be changed by a high frequency attenuation, but only a little bit. But reverb balance can definitely change the apparent attack, especially if you can't hear the direct sound and are only getting reverberations, the attack will be "smeared" across all of the little reflections so it can be very different. Using a large sounding reverb and turning the mix up near 100% will demonstrate this quite obviously. – Todd Wilcox May 30 '17 at 20:29

Rather to contradict @Todd Wilcox, a 'near' sound may be caused by proximity effect, the (often beneficial) bass boost caused by recording close to a directional microphone. But you won't lose much treble to distance in a 3-5 meter room. So don't roll off the treble, roll off the bass.

A little reverb will put the sound 'in the room', but beware of getting the typical 'close-mic plus reverb' sound of a solo singer. Even pre-delay may not give the effect you need.

I think your main effort must go into neutralising proximity effect with e.q.

But a lot of my thinking is on the basis that it's a voice you're recording. Is it? 'Bass-heavy, lots of reverb' is a stock vocal sound that gives a certain impression. The same recording method on a non-musical sound might be perceived quite differently. It's all illusion :-)

  • High intensity low frequencies generally don't create the impression of closeness - think of thunder, for example. Having boosted lows on a recording of a human voice in particular, especially without much room sound around it, does create the sound of a person very close to the mic. Rolling off the highs and adding reverb will still make that voice sound farther away, even with the increased low end. The reverb will psychoacoustically dominate the proximity effect. – Todd Wilcox Feb 7 at 21:24

If you want to imitate a particular space, you can use an impulse response, either recorded from a real space or simulated.

You can search around on the internet for a free set of WAV-based impulse responses - here's one from Voxengo (try "Nice Drum Room" or "Small Drum Room" to start).

You hopefully have a reverb effect which can use impulse responses. (In REAPER, you can use ReaVerb: select "Add" -> "File"). Turn the Dry slider down to 0%, and you'll get a slightly distant, indirect result. If you include some of the dry signal you'll get a mixture of the direct and room-y sound.

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