Kim Lajoie's blog

Microshifting

by Kim Lajoie on June 16, 2014

Microshifting is a way of using a pitch shifter to thicken a sound. The pitch shifter is set to shift by a very small amount (usually less than a third of a semitone). Usually the pitch shifter adjusts each side of a stereo sound by a different amount – for example, the left channel might be shifted down by 15 cents and the right channel might be shifted up by 15 cents. Sometimes a very short delay (less than 50ms) is also added to the pitch shifted signal.

When the stereo pitch shifted signal is mixed with the original sound, the sound becomes thicker and wider. This is sometimes used on vocals or lead instrumental parts (such as guitars or synths) as a way of making them bigger without using backing harmonies or longer reverb/delays. In a way, it simulates a unison recording (where the same part is played three times and all three takes are layered). Microshifting has an unique sound, however, because the degree of pitch shift and delay is constant, whereas a unison performance will result in constantly-changing pitch and timing differences.

Microshifting is often used as an alternative to reverb in situations where a sound needs to be more diffuse but without the wash from a reverb tail. Because microshifting has a distinctive sound, it won’t be always be appropriate. It’s used commonly in pop music – especially modern energetic pop which often does not have much reverb. The best way to decide if it’s useful for you is to simply try it.

As a side note, many pitch shifters have a much wider range of control, and also have a feedback feature. This allows them to be used for outrageous special effects.

-Kim.

2 thoughts on “Microshifting

  1. Kapitano says:

    How is this different from chorusing?

    IIRC, a chorus unit is a delay whose length is controlled by an LFO, ranging from c25 to c100ms. A phaser is the same, but with a delay between c5 and c20. Is that right?

    Compare with (micro)-shifting, where the pitch is changed, as opposed to the signal delayed. *But*…

    1) Isn’t this the same as flanging?
    2) why can’t a pitch shifter also be controlled by an LFO?

  2. Kim Lajoie says:

    Hi Kapitano,

    Microshifting and chorusing are similar in overall effect, but very different in how they get there.

    Chorusing and flanging achieve their pitch shifting through resampling. As a result the depth of pitch shifting is exactly proportional to the speed and depth of the LFO that modulates the delay time.

    With microshifting, the pitch shifting is achieved through granular synthesis. the depth of pitch shifting is completely independent of the delay time or the LFO. And yes, an LFO can modulate the pitch of a microshifter.

    Also:
    Generally, a delay between 0ms and 30ms creates flanging and 30ms-100ms creates chorusing. That 30ms threshold isn’t exact though – it’s based on perception and may vary based on the nature of the sound being processed.

    A phaser is different to chorusing and flanging. Phasers use all-pass filters to modify the phase of the signal without changing the frequency response. This modified signal is then mixed with the dry signal.

    Hope that helps!

    -Kim.

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