Recording synths and sounds from amps/speakers

Hey y’all,

Enjoying my time lately experimenting loads with effects, recording techniques, using my mixer aux sends for creative purposes. Watching some “Show us your junk!” episodes on YouTube, I realize it’s completely standard practice for recording studios to mic amps for recording - obviously coming from recording bands (guitars) but also used on synths.

Around here it’s not common because I guess it’s not necessary the way our electronic music setups usually work - running line level and/or in the box. But are there people that use miced-amps as a recording technique anyways?

Curious just out of interest and for the sake of exploration! I - and maybe most of us - have basic stuff around that we could use: as long as you have some mic lying around. Speakers/monitors anyone will have.

Tried a first experiment tonight. Don’t have the experience or knowledge to analyse the results completely. But I feel it carved some of the harsher tones away, resulting in a rounder sound. Plus I had loads of fun tuning the volume, bass and treble knobs of my Bluetooth speaker whilst the recording on my Zoom recorder was running. Perhaps I’ll find a cheap guitar amp in a thrift shop some time, is that recommended for synths?

Curious what else it does to your sound. Plus curious to learn about the potential pros and cons and practical uses especcially for our type of instruments. Curious to hear, ideally keeping the tips within the realm of gear people already have or can cheaply afford!

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I’ve messed around with it before but it’s been a while.
In essence it’s just like doing it with guitar or bass. You add a ton of factors into the equation (room sound/ verb, mic placement/ angle/ distance, amp/ speaker/ mic flavor, just to name a few). This can all be a massive headache or it can be perfect for your needs, either way it’s worth experimenting with. Read an article or two about micing speaker cabs to familiarize yourself with the basic concepts and you’re off to the races.
Guitar practice amps can be blown easily with bass sounds, well their speakers can anyway. Guitar speakers are highly efficient within a somewhat narrow frequency band. You might get more mileage from a cheap little bass practice amp since it will handle lower frequencies. However, running a minimoog through a marshal stack was not uncommon back in the day.

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Re Marshall amps. Thats what i ran my Octave Cat through in the early 80s. Blew the room to pieces.

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I have a great time running synths and samples through my little Mesa Boogie. The 5-band EQ really helps tame the bass so I don’t shred my speaker, there’s a million options for tone shaping too

I’ve been experimenting with audio exciters recently for re-amping and recording. If you haven’t seen these yet, they act like a contact speaker, causing whatever they touch to vibrate and act like a speaker. They’re pretty remarkable when you start playing with them. I have one stuck to the back of my acoustic guitar with some magnets and I’ve spent a lot of time recently resampling drums and lead lines through it. Everything that goes through it sounds boxy and woody, neat.

So yeah, audio exciters are a cheap and easy way to start playing with experimental reamping. Mesa/Boogies too.

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I don’t have much experience with guitar amps and the like, but I still do some really ghetto reamping once in a while on a stem, or a sample loop. Turn up my speakers, place a microphone somewhere and record, then maybe carve out some emerging resonances.

Reverse, record, reverse can be fun too! I even got extra fancy once and processed a sample – with Python, for extra precise control – to have some pitch wobble. Reamped the sample in a rather reverberant spot and then applied the exact inverse pitch wobble to the recording. This made the reverb of the room drift up and down out of tune very nicely.

I’ve always dreamed about having an echo chamber on an aux send though :tongue:

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Those are really cool. I’ve never heard them called audio exciters though, is that a common term for them?
I scored a huge one at a garage sale recently. It’s powered by a 250 watt amp! It’s from a movie theater where it was installed (as part of a system with many others) under the floor as part of the sub bass system. I haven’t been satisfied with the results of my experimentations yet but it’s fun to play with. Honestly the smaller ones are more practical/ versatile.

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Exciters might be a trade name for them, I’m not sure. A transducer might be a more general term then? Dayton and a few other brands refer to them as exciters.

That 250w one sounds like it could cause some damage, fun. The little ones are pretty practical too like you said. I’ve had them on instruments, building materials, trash. It feels like using physical filtering and distortion.

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Totally. That’s exactly what’s happening. I’ve been experimenting with some other ways to do that recently. I’ve always loved that stuff.
Whatever the case, “exciters” is a good name for those things, it gets the idea across nicely. I’ve always called them transducers but that’s way too broad a term, lots of things are transducers that don’t do anything even vaguely similar. I’m going to have to look it up now. Haha.

I’m a big fan of getting the air molecules moving around in an actual space. There’s a lot of sonic variety and interest to be had by choosing amps, speakers, mics, mic placement and pre-amps. I don’t often re-amp things, preferring to take my chances on the initial recording, mainly because I can tweak the patch to suit the process. It demands a lot of foresight and conviction though - you have to know ahead of time how this is all going to fit in a mix, because it’s difficult to go back once you’ve recorded a complex process.

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I’ve been meaning to do this for years! I remember reading the band Battles reamps a lot of their synth sounds through guitar and bass amps.

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I’ve had some success with “re-amping” just with my studio monitors and a collection of crappy mics. I bought a few weird ones from a second hand shop some years ago that were intended for dictation machines and the like. Dreadful sounding and very distinctive. Great for parallel processing or layering drums.

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&

So is re-amping the same, except not mic-recording the live playing but recording it via an amp later-on? That might be a nice first step; it seems there’s more room to experiment that way instead of needing to nail it in the live moment.

Yesterday I recorded some new takes. This time I put my Zoom directly in my speaker, and a cheap mic about a meter away going into the second channel of my Zoom. Not sure if it’s also because of the cheap mic, or that it’s because of the distance, but it recorded way less bass, and obviously more room reverberations, so it was great to layer the two in GarageBand and adjust their levels in relation to eachother to listen for differences it delivered

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Indeed, re-amping usually describes sending an existing track through a speaker and then miking it up and re-recording it. You could also, say, route a signal out of your DAW and back in via hardware pre-amps, processors, etc. I’ve used these tactics for a variety of projects, for example:

  • I have routed a clinical-sounding digital synth recording through an amp w/ distortion and then miked up the results with an SM57 through a tube pre.

  • I’ve used the old trick of sending a lifeless sampled snare track to a little speaker sitting atop a snare drum and then miking the underside of the snare to add more ‘rattle’ every time the snare sounded.

  • I’ve often routed tracks to an external powered monitor (or two) sitting in an empty reverberant room and then recorded the signal to a new track for ambience. Real reverb is awesome!

  • I was given the task of mixing an album that was all done in Reason. Despite the band’s excellent singer, the recorded vocals sounded thin. I routed all of the vocal tracks through hardware pres, good compressors, and vintage Eventide units to add a classic micro pitched sound. Sure I could have done it with plugins, but the hardware guaranteed the character I was after.

  • On that same album, I routed many of the synth and sampler tracks through vintage hardware synth filters, adding modulation and movement. None of these tracks employed speakers or mics, with the possible exception of miking an ARP 2600 speaker (I can’t remember if it was that was done for the same project)

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