4 Ways to Use Distortion In Pro Tools

As someone that lives and breathes those heavy distorted guitars and vocals, I'm usually at a loss to describe why I actually like it and why I don't. Distortion is a wild beast, a collection of added harmonics into your already awesome signal. Why would you use it? apart from it making everything sound better, it increases a signals harmonics to give it a more present feel in a mix. 

I use distortion on guitars, bass drums and even vocals. that's right vocals! the use of parallel distortion can bring your vocals right up front within your mix. Today I've used sine waves and a previously recorded bass track to demonstrate the many ways you can use distortion through a sound source. Here are 4 ways you can fuzz up a sound.

 

#1. Sine Wave Digital Clip

First up I distorted a sine wav at 1kHz by increasing the gain of the track by 20.3dB. This created a clipping of the signal which is mostly undesirable when distorting an instrument that begins with many more harmonics. In this case it didn't make me feel that uncomfortable because I was simply introducing more harmonics into one frequency. When you do this on a vocal, it will cause sounds that could only be desribed as audio hell.

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Clipping a 1kHz sine wave added harmonics that doubled in speed as they approached 3kHz. This is interesting from a mix perspective, that if you keep raising the gain of your instruments, you may be pushing out harmonics from other elelments of your track. 

Sine Wave Gain Distortion 

Sine Wave Gain Distortion 

#2. Sans Amp Harmonics

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The Sans Amp increased the mid-high frequencies and added extra detail in the highs. The result was a more pleasant sounding harmonic distortion. The harmonics seem to boost then drop as they follow the intervals down from 1kHz to 10kHz and just drop out after 10kHz. 

Sans Amp Distortion

Sans Amp Distortion

#3. Bass Compression Distortion in DAW

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Adding gain to the compressed 202Hz sine wave added some random harmonics that didn't seem to follow any progressive increment of speed or octave. I was really interested in how wide the bandwidth on some of the harmonics was, and could only thing that it must be because of the slower travelling waves found around 200Hz. There is still a huge spike at 1k, but the frequencies being affected the most are mostly around 200 to 300Hz

Compression test from 200Hz distorted the mid frequencies  

Compressor Distortion @ 202Hz and Level Boost

Compressor Distortion @ 202Hz and Level Boost

#4. Using a Real UA-1176 to Distort a Bass

As you can see by the waveform comparison below, both the compression and rarefaction have been warped by the circuitry of the UA-1176. On close inspection, only some of the rarefaction waves are being crushed. 

Top Bass | UA-1176 - Bottom | Bass DI

Top Bass | UA-1176 - Bottom | Bass DI

OG Bass

OG Bass

BASS Recorded through a UA-1176

BASS Recorded through a UA-1176

The extra harmonics made this bass track a lot more detailed and I can see why it is used as a method to get the bass more present in a mix. Creating all of those high- frequency harmonics really makes it sound edgier and in your face. 

In conclusion, this day has been full of discovery, and my love of the distorted realm has grown. I've demonstrated 4 clear ways you can drive your sounds through a DAW and one with external hardware. I would say my distorted UA-1176 bass is the favourite by far. Try some of these out for yourself, it's amazing how many ways there are to fuzzify your beautiful sounds.