Lo-Fi plug-ins like RC-20* are quite popular, but you can actually get similar results using Ableton Live stock devices. I made a lo-fi rack simulating most of the effects these plug-ins apply, so you can save the 100 bucks and spend them on something more practical, like acoustic panels (or new BVKER sample packs 😜)
In the first part of this post, I’ll go through all the effects, so you’ll understand what they do and how to use them. In the second half, I’ll show you a bunch of tricks to get the most out of the rack. I’d highly recommend reading through the whole thing because those techniques go far beyond your possibilities with RC-20. The only advantage of RC-20 is its variety of noise, vinyl, and cassette samples, but this is something you can add manually, and a similar library might even be planned for another Patreon upload 👀
Speaking of Patreon, the rack is available to download for my Patreons, but if you read through this guide, you can easily create your own one. Nevertheless, getting your support would allow me to spend more time creating similar tools and is highly appreciated 🙏Download via Patreon
The sound demos are based on a free guitar loop I found on looperman.
Chorus – Well, a chorus isn’t necessarily a “lo-fi” effect, but it’s often added to lo-fi sounds because it adds a certain “vibe” to the sound. What a chorus does is basically duplicating the source sound. This duplication(s) is then delayed, pitch-modulated, and spread across the stereo field, which leads to a wider sound. The Chorus macro increases the modulation amount of Ableton’s stock chorus with its default settings.
Wear – Next up is the Wear effect, which is supposed to emulate the volume variations of analog tape. The effect is achieved by using Auto Pan, setting the width to 0, and the waveform to random. The macro controls the amount. Certainly, you can also play with the rate or even increase the width to create a panning effect.
Wow – This parameter increases the amount of slow pitch modulation at the rate of 0.4 Hz, which results in a “detuning” or “drift” effect. The effect is achieved by using Ableton’s chorus in vibrato mode.
Flutter – Basically the same thing as wow, but at a higher rate of 7 Hz.
Crackles – Vinyl records are known for their crackles, which we’re adding using Vinyl Distortion. I also added a high-pass filter cutting the lows after it, which you can remove or adjust to your liking.
Density – Sets the noise density of the crackles.
Bits – Decreases the bit depth of the output, which can be an interesting way to add noise or other artifacts.
Shape – Controls the shape of bit reduction. If cranked up you can usually hear less noise, so you can drive the bit reduction harder.
Samples – Decreases the sample rate if turned down, which results in the effect a lot of producers refer to as “bit crushing”.
Jitter – Randomizes the downsampling process, which is another great way to add noise.
Drive – Unfortunately, Ableton’s distortion effects don’t automatically compensate for their volume changes, which makes it harder to dial in the right amount of drive. When you increase the Drive macro, the volume before the Saturator increases, while the volume after the Saturator is decreased by the same amount. To refine the distortion type, you can change up the Saturator’s Curve, play with the Color settings or replace it with a completely different distortion effect, like Overdrive or Pedal for example.
Cabinet – The Cabinet macro increases the dry/wet of Ableton’s Cabinet effect, which emulates the sound of a guitar speaker. Great if you want to make your source sound like a toaster or something.
Lo & Hi Pass – Steep, 48dB/Octave high and low-pass filters. Again, great to emulate the sound of an old playback device, because they weren’t able to reproduce the full frequency range.
Width – Controls the stereo width. Making a sound mono can make it sound more lo-fi, whereas increasing the stereo width usually raises the reverb, which makes it sound like it was recorded further away.
Output – Controls the output volume to allow a better bypass experience.
Bonus – Another interesting way of adding noise to a signal is Erosion. I didn’t have any macros left and therefore didn’t include it in the rack, but wanted to mention it anyway!
Tips and Tricks
To get the most out of this Lo-Fi rack, there are a few tips and tricks you should know:
1. Tweaking Hidden Controls & Changing The Chain Order
In the previous part, I mentioned some parameters that aren’t mapped to macro controls. In order to access those controls, click on the Show/Hide Devices icon. You’ll now see all devices used to create the rack, which allows you to tweak hidden controls, and change the order of all used devices. Something you can’t do with RC-20 😜.
2. Adding Randomness Using Ableton’s LFO
A feature I love RC-20 for is the option to add “Flux” to everything (which is basically randomness). However, you can get the same effect using Ableton’s LFO.
Let’s try this out by randomizing the Wow rate. First, insert an LFO to the chain, click Map (1) and select the chorus Rate (2). The rate will now modulate from 0 to 100% which is quite extreme and not really what we want.
Set the LFO Depth (1) to 0 for a moment, and you’ll see that the chorus Rate (2) stops at 1.58 Hz. We’d like the rate to center around 0.4 Hz, so we’re decreasing the LFO Max (3) until we reach this value. Now you can slowly increase the LFO Depth again.
To randomize and fine-tune this behavior, you can set the LFO Shape to random, increase the Smooth, add Jitter and adjust the LFO Rate. Awesome, right?
3. Randomize Macros & Creating Your Own Presets
Speaking of randomization, Ableton allows you to randomize all macro values within a rack. This is a great way to come up with new presets, but since there are a total of 16 macros, which can lead to quite extreme settings I’d recommend excluding some macros, or tweaking the mapping, to be less extreme. Here are two examples:
First, the output volume can go from -10 up to 10 dB, but randomizing this wouldn’t make any sense, since it doesn’t have an effect on the sound, and will just lead to big jumps in volume. You could delete the Utility this macro is based on, but this would also disable the Width macro, which is mapped to the same Utility device. Instead, right-click on the Output macro and select “Exclude Macro from Randomization”.
Another example would be the Bits macro, that can go all the way down to 1 (which would completely destroy the sound). To make this macro less extreme, click on the Lo-Fi Rack’s Map button, search for the Bits macro in the list that just popped up, and increase the Min amount to a higher value like 8 for example.
Now that only less extreme settings are possible, the Rand button will be more useful. Once it leads to something interesting, you can tweak it to your liking and even save it as a Macro Variation by clicking on the New button on top of the Macro Variation list.
As you can see, the options you have using Ableton Live stock devices are nearly endless, and you don’t always need to buy the latest plug-in your favorite YouTuber is paid to advertise. Actually, some of those plug-ins can do WAY less than the stuff Ableton is capable off. If you’d like to get my Lo-Fi Rack and enable me to create more resources like this, consider checking out my Patreon, or just make your own rack using the information I provided in this post 🙂