If you produce music that uses 808s, it’s essential that your 808s are perfectly crafted to fit your song, and creative enough to stand out.
Crafting your own 808 style is a great way to establish a unique sound as a producer.
Making the leap from dropping off-the-shelf 808 samples into your tracks to being an 808 master is a big jump.
A lot of work and creativity goes into the 808s you hear on your favorite bass-heavy tracks.
And of course, without 808s, trap arms are just arms, and there’s nothing turnt about that (sorry, couldn’t help it).
The key is that top producers have an arsenal of tools to mix and shape 808s that allows them to break free from boring, stock 808 samples.
Luckily for you and me, these techniques are learnable skills that anyone can use once they know what they’re doing.
And with the help of this guide, you can, too.
The goal with this style of processing is to introduce subtle changes that enhance the overall character of you sample.
Note: Headphones are definitely required.
Before reading this post, make sure you’re up to speed on basic 808 processing techniques as we reference concepts such as “multiband split racks” several times in this article. Check out our list of essential 808 tips and tricks if that term is unfamiliar, and then circle back to learn these advanced techniques.
If you’re an 808 pro, read on.
Contents of this article:
- Shaping 808s with EQ
- Adding character with saturation
- Adding character with distortion
- Using stereo processing to enhance ”width”
- Using compression and limiting to enhance “loudness”
- Enhancing 808s to make them audible on laptop speakers
- Octave layering
- Adding reverb to your 808s??
- And finally… a secret processing tip from our sound design team
Note: For the examples in this guide, we use a Lex Luger style 808 with a small amount of added saturation.
Shaping 808s with EQ
The most fundamental processing we can add to an 808 is EQ.
However, before we dig into the details, there is an important distinction to note between different types of EQs: linear-phase vs. traditional.
Traditional EQ works by altering the phase of an incoming signal.
Unfortunately… this can jeopardize the character of a sound.
Linear-phase EQ’s are better for keeping our low end tight and controlled.
When possible, use a linear-phase EQ to process 808s.
Linear-phase EQ on the Fabfilter Pro-Ql
So, that said, let’s get started on processing our 808.
The first thing we want to do is remove a bit of the low end rumble from the 808 sample.
Essentially, we can consider audio information below about 35hz as useless.
Removing this helps clean up the sample, making it clearer and more defined.
As you can see, he uses Ableton’s EQ8 to remove the frequencies below 35hz.
The 808 processing chain used by Brillz on his Clarity remix.
And yes, this is the actual chain that Brillz used.
Next, other than using subtractive eq’in to clean up an 808, we use equalizers to emphasize the 808’s harmonics.
While the fundamental frequency of an 808 is around 40-50hz, the harmonics of the sample (i.e. the frequencies above the fundamental that define its character and timbre) are above that at higher frequencies.
We can use an equalizer to accentuate these harmonics, making them more present.
Let’s take a look at this in action with Fabfilter’s Pro-Q2:
Here we have accentuated the upper harmonics in the 90 hz – 250 hz range.
The change is subtle, since there weren’t many harmonics to “boost” to begin with.
However, the difference is clear, and it’s a great method to quickly adding character to an 808.
Pro Tip: EQ has a more drastic effect on distorted 808s.
Adding Character with Saturation
One of the most important ways to process 808s is with saturation.
This is where we bring out interesting character and tones in the sound, helping define the sample and making it more present in the mix.
Saturation also adds harmonics to make 808s more audible on low quality playback systems, such as laptop speakers or earbuds.
Let’s take a look at a two examples:
Ableton’s Stock Saturator
Off the bat, you may note that if we increase the drive without touching any other parameters, we’ll get a “blown out” 808 sound.
Ableton’s basic stock saturator.
Part of the reason for the “blown out” sound above is we are saturating all frequencies of the 808, including the lower-end frequencies.
The key to using saturation on 808s is only using light saturation on the lower frequencies, with heavier saturation on the harmonics.
To do this, turn the Base knob into the negative range. The further negative the Base knob is, the less the lower frequencies are affected.
Ableton’s explanation of the Base parameter.
To illustrate this, let’s take a listen to the Base parameter in action.
First of, here’s the effect of a Saturator using Medium Curve, with the Base knob unchanged.
Saturator with unchanged Base parameter
With Saturator Base “0”:
Next, here’s that exact same device with the Base set to “-14”
Saturator with -14 Base parameter
Saturator with Base “-14”:
Breaking away from Ableton’s stock plugins, let’s take a look at the popular multiband saturation plugin, Fabfilter Saturn.
This plugin is great because we can isolate specific frequency bands that we apply saturation to.
In the case below, the mid/highs have heavy saturation, with light saturation on low end.
As you can hear, the mids have a much stronger tone, and overall sounds more powerful. One might even say, “boomier”.
Fabfilter Saturn A
With Fabfilter Saturn:
We can also use saturators for a more “destructive” effect.
By destructive, we’re talking heavily altering the character of a sound. For an example, think of the difference in character between a dry guitar and a heavily distorted guitar.
Fabfilter Saturn has a host of interesting saturation presets. Let’s try one of them and see how it alters the character of the 808.
We’ll load up the Saturn preset “Mono Saw Lead Buzzer” on the 808 channel.
This patch leaves the low/mids unaffected, and runs the high frequencies through a guitar amp, adding distortion and noise to the top end.
The noise helps the 808 stand out, defining its presence in the mix.
With Fabfilter Saturn Mono Saw Lead Buzzer:
Using Distortion to Add Color
Alongside saturation, distortion is a great tool we can use to bring out interesting characteristics in our 808s.
Be very careful with this technique, as it’s easy to overdo distortion and ruin the sound of your 808.
For this example, we’ll use two methods: Decapitator by Soundtoys, loaded into a multiband split rack we created with Ableton’s stock effect rack (explained in our 9 Essential 808 Tips article), and Izotope’s Trash2 multiband distortion.
Decapitator gives us 5 different analog modeled distortion units, and is capable of very subtle and very extreme effects. You can use any distortion plugin of choice for this technique in place of Decapitator.
This is to keep the low frequencies intact, while adding texture to the mids (sense a trend here?).
In Decapitator, we’ll add a medium amount of Drive.
The resulting sound is below.
As you can hear, Decapitator adds a good amount of warmth and body to our 808.
Izotope creates outstanding products, and Trash2 is no different.
Trash2 is a powerful multiband distortion unit which allows dual module multiband distortion (i.e. two separate stages of distortion), convolution, and eq’ing all inside one plugin.
We’ll utilize just the first distortion module for this 808 processing.
Inside Trash2, we’ve engaged the Multiband mode, allowing us to use frequency dependent distortion.
We then set the mid band to range from 85 hz through 2khz, resting just above our main fundamental frequency.
Next, check the Clip Control distortion setting, adding a small amount of drive.
Pro Tip: One of the great features of Trash2 its its Mix knob, available on both a module basis and a global basis. This is helpful to carefully dial in the right amount of processing.
Pushing 808s with Limiters
Similar to the saturation and distortion concepts above, we can use limiters to push out interesting tones and harmonics in our 808s.
Limiters are tricky with 808s, as we’ll want to make sure our changes don’t cut the power of the low end.
However, when used correctly, limiters can make some great sounding 808s.
KClip touts Kazrog as “the ultimate loudness plugin”. We’re not sure about “ultimate”, but let’s just say… it’s pretty damn good.
Below, we’ve added 6.4 decibels of gain and softened the knee of the limiter by a bit. Lastly, we’ve adjusted the output to -0.1 db to prevent distortion.
Pro Tip: What’s really useful in this plugin is the ability to shape the clipping mode between hard and soft knee’d.
Jumping back on the Izotope train, let’s take a look at Izotope 7’s Vintage Limiter.
In this example, we’ve slammed the threshold down to -14.0 decibels, and adjusted the Character parameter, which controls the attack and release of the limiter.
Most importantly, we also set the mode to Tube.
Listen below to the effect this plugin has on an 808.
Ozone 7 Vintage Limiter A: Limiter 2
Pro Tip from the author:
I’d like to take a minute to talk about how I found that these limiters sound “pleasant” on 808s.
More than anything, it took a good amount of trial and error, as with nearly everything we do as producers.
The other two modes in the Vintage Limiter sound terrible, but the Tube limiter with a slow attack and release (i.e. slow “Character”) sounds great.
I struggled to get other limiters such as A.O.M. Invisible and Fabfilter Pro-L, two fantastic plugins, to sound great on 808s.
Thus, the moral here is to play around with different plugins, trying weird and unique techniques in the process.
Not everything will work, but you can add the tricks that do work to your arsenal, ultimately making you a better and more unique producer.
And with that, let’s get back to some other ways you can process your 808s.
Adding Stereo Imaging
Whether or not to apply stereo processing to 808s is a contested subject among mixing engineers.
On one side of things, if an 808 has stereo processing, when summed to mono it’s weaker, making it less effective on mono (i.e. club) playback systems.
However, if your music isn’t made for clubs, but rather, for listening in headphones or in a car, mono compatibility isn’t as much of an issue.
Thus, if your music isn’t playing on a mono system, you can apply stereo processing to 808s to generate great effects.
The first type of stereo processing we’ll do is stereo delays using the Haas effect.
The Haas effect is a psychoacoustic phenomenon where humans can’t identify sounds as distinct when played between 1ms and 30ms apart.
In general, this technique is created by playing a mono sound to one ear, with the same sound playing in the other ear with a few milliseconds of delay.
This creates a perception of depth and width, while remaining one cohesive sound.
To set this up in Ableton, load a simple delay onto your 808 channel.
Switch the delay mode to Time, the Dry/Wet to 100%, and the Feedback to 0%.
Lastly, adjust the “delay time” of each signal, which will determine how long the signals in the left channel and right channel are delayed.
In general, the larger the delay, the “wider” the sound.
I find 10ms of delay is a good size.
Further, it doesn’t matter which side we delay and push back.
We could have just as easily set the left channel to a 10ms delay and the right channel to a 1ms delay.
With Haas Effect:
Taking this one step further, we can use our Multiband Split rack to only apply the Haas effect on specific frequency bands, further enhancing the width of our sound.
This also helps keep the lows naturally unaffected.
Below, we’ve only applied a stereo delay to the mid channel, which ranges from 120 Hz to 2.5 kHz.
Pro Tip: We can also use multiband stereo delays on leads as well. Try adding different amounts of delay to different frequency bands
With multiband split Haas Effect:
Each plugin has its own flavor of unique stereo processing.
Let’s quickly take a look at two of these to get a sense of the options you have:
Ozone 7 Stereo Imager by Izotope
Izotope’s Ozone 7 Stereo Imager is a wonderfully designed multiband stereo imager.
Its interfaces allows you to easily change the width of each band.
It also hosts three different spectral analyzers to give you a visual representation of the stereo information in you sounds.
Below, we’ve taken the mid band and increased the width by 67%.
We’ve also adjusted the frequency crossover to grab all frequencies above the fundamental of the 808, which lies around 45 hz.
With Izotope Ozone 7 Stereo Imager:
Dimension Expander by Xfer Records
This free plugin was designed by our lord and savior Steve Duda.
Xfer Records’ Dimension Expander is one of the many free plugins offered by the company, alongside their flagship plugins Serum and LFO Tool.
Essentially, the plugin is combination of a chorus and a delay.
To create a Haas effect, we’ve adjusted the dry wet to 100% and the size to 0%.
With Xfer Records Dimension Expander:
Similar to the stereo imaging concept, we can use chorus effects to generate width, ultimately making your 808 more active and interesting.
Again, we need to be careful about mono compatibility while using chorus effects on 808s.
Also, note that finding the right chorus setting takes some trial and error.
To get started, let’s take a look at Ableton’s stock chorus plugin by applying it only to the mids via our multiband split rack.
Generally, when using chorus on 808s, I find subtle is best.
Below, we’ve set the rate of our chorus to 1.32 Hz and the amount to 1.52 ms, both relatively dialed back parameters.
Lastly, the Dry/Wet is set to 100% and the Feedback is set to 62%
Our multiband split rack with a light chorus effect on the mids.
With Ableton Chorus:
This plugin sounds great, and luckily for us, it’s free.
For processing 808s, we’ve thrown it exclusively on the mid channel, similar to how we used the stock Ableton chorus plugin above.
TAL CHORUS LX on the mids of our multiband split rack.
The plugin itself has a very simple user interface.
There are two different chorus effects we can choose from (I and II). We’ve left the plugin on its default settings.
Tal Chorus LX
With Tal Chorus LX:
Using Enhancers (How to make your 808s sound good on Apple’s earbuds)
One of the struggles producers face today is how to make your song sound consistent and clear across multiple playback systems.
In particular, making your bass “heard” on low quality playback sound systems such as laptop speakers can be difficult.
Sure, if everyone would just listen to music using reference monitors all would be good, but the harsh reality is that 90% of consumers won’t be listening to your music on quality speakers or headphones.
Luckily for us, there are a host of plugins dedicated to solving this, using psychoacoustic tricks to make basses sound louder and more present in the midrange, allowing for them to be heard on low quality systems.
First, let’s take a look at Waves MaxxBass.
Accord to Waves, the plugin “extends perceived bass response by up to 1.5 octaves and preserves the dynamic range of character of the original bass”.
Below, we’ve chosen the plugin’s aptly-named “PC Laptop” preset, which adds harmonics above our sub frequencies.
Maxx Bass’s PC Laptop preset
With Maxx Bass:
Also from Waves, RBass is a producer favorite for processing sub bass.
As explained by Waves, “Renaissance Bass delivers richer, deeper lows that sound great on any system”.
We’ve added it to our 808, adjusting the frequency to fit our fundamental, and using the Intensity to adjust to desired effect.
As we’ll hear below, the sub frequencies are much richer and stronger.
Waves Renaissance Bass
With Waves Renaissance Bass:
We can generate a wealth of interesting effects using the beloved OTT effect on our 808s.
OTT comes from a specific preset for Ableton’s Multiband Dynamics called OTT.
For those of you unaware of the effect, I’ll let Steve Duda explain it to you
All of the settings of OTT are quite visible, and if you want to learn then I would start with taking a close look at understanding the source prior to trying to imitate it.
The main part of the sound is the upward compression (and the tough part to reproduce with a typical compressor) is applying (up to 36 dB but not more) of gain to a quiet (below threshold) signal. this brings up quiet detail (usually high frequencies otherwise unheard)… while also providing the typical multiband compression duty of “ironing” (consistent lows/mids/highs). – Steve Duda
For Ableton users, we can use the OTT Multiband Dynamics preset directly.
Below, we’ve got a tweaked version of the OTT as used in a production tutorial by the producer KSHMR.
After adding it to our 808, we’ve bypassed the effect on the lows and highs, and heavily driven the effect on the mids.
With Ableton OTT:
For non Ableton users, Xfer Records has a free emulation of the Ableton OTT effect.
We’ve added OTT directly onto our 808, leaving the initial settings while turning down the Depth to 37%
Xfer Records OTT
With Xfer Records OTT:
A common technique with traditional basslines is to layer an +1 octave copy on top of the original bass, helping define the original bass while adding more character to the sound.
We can also do this with 808 samples. Let’s take a look at what this might look like.
Using our same init 808 sample, we’ve duplicated the channel.
To make sure their attacks don’t conflict, we’ve faded in the attack of the duplicated 808.
Layering an 808 pitched an octave up over the original.
Leaving the original as is, we’ve added a bit of processing to the new 808 layer.
First, we’ve rolled off the lows at 120 Hz, making sure that the layer doesn’t conflict with the lows of the original 808.
Waves Soundshifter with Hi-Pass
Next, we’ve used Waves Soundshifter and pitched the layer up one octave, or 12 semitones.
We can hear the result below. The tone has drastically changed, as the 808 is much more present in the low/mids.
Waves Soundshifter plugin, +1 octave.
With Octave Layer:
Whenever a mixing engineer says “Never do (blank)”, I take that as a challenge to prove them wrong, the same way as in high school I took personal offense when a teacher said to me “You can’t start this project the night before it’s due”.
Anywho, awkward teen years aside, let’s talk a little bit about reverb and the implications of using it on your low end.
As I alluded to above, many mixing engineers with 100% certainty say to never put reverb on you bass.
However, this steadfast rule came out of the 70s and 80s engineers who were working on 70s and 80s music.
The dynamic and culture of music has changed, as have the rules.
With the varied structure of modern music, adding reverb to a bass is no longer a death sentence.
We can use it to help fill up space and define the character of a mix.
This technique is specifically useful in genres or styles where there isn’t a lot going on.
Say, for example, all you have in a verse is an 808 and a lead vocal.
That’ll leave you with plenty of space to fill in your mix.
Thus, adding a small amount of reverb to an 808 is a reasonable option.
And by small, we mean small amount and small size/decay.
Adding large amounts of reverb to a bass is a quick way to muddy up a mix.
So, let’s look at a few examples.
First, we’ll put a reverb directly onto our 808.
Below, we’ve used Valhalla DSP’s ValhallaRoom reverb.
The reverb is relatively small and dry.
Nonetheless, it adds a small amount of character and width to the sound.
Valhalla Room reverb
With Valhalla Room A:
Alternatively, we can use a reverb on a send to help clean up the sound and reduce the “mud” added.
We’ve taken the same reverb above, added it to a bus, then brought the mix up to 100%.
Lastly, we’ve send the init 808 to this bus. Again, this effect is subtle, yet effective
808 bus track.
With Valhalla Room & Bus:
Pro Tips and Extras
Here are a few other effects that don’t have a home among the other effects above.
The first plugin on our list is the kiloHearts Disperser.
As explained by kiloHearts, disperser “rotates the phases of a signal to create frequency sweeps”.
While the concept is confusing, the resulting effect is transient shaping.
We’ve added their Sub Smear preset to our 808, and the results are below.
With KiloHearts Disperser:
Note: if you’ve made it this far in the article, congratulations.
You’ve made a conscious effort to become a more effective and capable producer, and for that, I applaud you.
Your desire to improve has not gone unnoticed, and as a present, this last trick is perhaps the greatest.
It’s the secret sauce of countless hip hop and trap producers.
Hopefully you’re using Ableton Live, ‘cause if not, you’ll sadly be left out.
The trick is to use Ableton’s Corpus, adding the “Kick Tight” preset (for a detailed tutorial on Corpus, click here).
Corpus is an effect called a resonator, a device that oscillates at a specific resonant frequency.
For 808s, the main two knobs we’ll work with are Tune and Dry/Wet.
The latter is self explanatory, while the former “adjusts the bass frequency of the resonance in hertz”.
Typically, we adjust the Tune to the root note of our 808 sample, as shown below (this sample is in F). As you can hear below, Corpus adds a large amount of weight and power to 808s.
We truly appreciate you reading through this article!
Hopefully you took away a handful of new tricks to try out on you own.
If you have any questions about anything in the tutorial, don’t hesitate to send us an email or comment below.
If you’re a bit burnt out after this post, you should check this article on how to make music as a producer. It dives into 20 different ways to make money as a producer, regardless of the genres you work in.