Dictaphone Simulation

The sound of a dictaphone is known as one of the most lo-fi sounds of them all: filled with lovely hiss, flutter, saturation, wow and arbitrary pitch glitches. Me love.

The sound of a dictaphone can be used as an aestetic choice, listen for example to Hannu or this old Atlastop improvisation:


I own a dictaphone and now and then use it to re-amp and produce lo-fi effects. But I wondered if I could create a plugin preset that simulates the effect. So that is what I did today!

Here’s the result (yes you can download the plugin preset at the end of this post!!):

First of all I recorded a small guitar phrase on the dictaphone for us as a reference. So here is the real dictaphone deal:


Of course I also recorded the same phrase with my Zoom H2 for a sample to be processed. Heres the guitar as it “really” sounds:


I then began prototyping my plugin preset using ableton plugins. Firstly I added an EQ and with the reference track I adjusted the EQ to peak around 1.74 KHz and cut everywhere else. Then an autofilter to simulate slightly eq change over time. For saturation I of course used abletons saturator and Dynamic Tubes. There was no real way of simulating the wow and flutter effect with native ableton effects, so I used the freeware AirWindows Flutter and Vibrato (Unfortunately mac only). The last and important part was to simulate tape hiss so I recorded a loop of hiss from the dictaphone and plugged it into ableton looper. There you go – a Dictaphone simulation! Here’s the H2 sample processed with the dictaphone plugin:


No bad, huh?!

Download Live Set (with preset)

The above Live set has some requirements:

Unfortunately the plugin preset has som downsides:

  • Mac only (If you’re using a Windows PC you might want to check out the Wow and Flutter plugin)
  • The Flutter and vibrato effect has a delay, so you cannot really use it as a live effect
  • To get the hiss you have to press play on the looper – and unfortunately it’s not possible to save the plugin as a instrument rack because looper does not save the hiss sample

If anyone have ideas to fix the above please bring’em on!



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5 Responses to Dictaphone Simulation

  1. Martin says:

    Pretty interesting and useful post since I have all the required bits 🙂
    Not sure I’d call it a plugin though…. more of a prototype.

    But a dictaphone simulation would be a great plugin to have… maybe it could even simulate the pitch effects of shaking the dictaphone?

  2. Rasmus says:

    Yes, I thought of the term ‘plugin’ right after posting it, but I didn’t bother to change it. Actually what I have made is simply an ableton live PRESET.

    But it was more the perception of building a plugin…I should really begin checking plugin development tools…

  3. Haukur says:

    dis is great Rasmus. Lets take it to the park 🙂

  4. Martin says:

    It is really great!…. I’d really love this as a plugin. Would be very useful

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