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Quick Tip: Add a Sense of Distance with the Free Proximity Plug-in

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I came across Tokyo Dawn Labs' & Vladg Sound's free Proximity plug-in the other day and wanted to do a quick write up about it as it is (as far as I know) a completely unique concept, and one that could prove valuable in countless mixing situations.

What Is It?

Proximity is described by the developer as a 'distance pan-pot' which emulates the subtle auditory cues we use to determine the distance of a sound source from our ears. Sound is a physical phenomena and is subtly affected by many different factors at varying degrees depending on distance. These factors all impart sonic artefacts which are necessary in the experience of natural sound. 

 Proximity takes several of these factors into account and emulates their subtle effects. They are:

  • Delay of signal due to speed of sound
  • Gain loss due to distance
  • High frequency absorption due to air
  • Stereo width change based on distance
  • Microphone behavior change based on proximity of sound source
  • Reflection to dry signal ratio based on distance.

Distance

The module itself is comprised of two basic areas. The left deals mainly with distance settings, while the right handles the types of factors Proximity will deal with. The two most important controls on the distance side of things are the original distance knob (top left with distance scale) and the main fader (center with dB scale).

The two are closely related, in that the original distance knob sets the virtual distance of the sound source to the listener when the main fader is set to 0. Adjusting the main fader will not boost or attenuate the signal as most would expect, but will move the virtual listener closer or further to the sound source in order to attain a boost or attenuation in gain by the set amount.

The Units buttons globally switch between metric and imperial values within the plug-in, while the Channels buttons allow the user to choose which channels will be affected. The Fine Tune knob adjusts the distance between the sound source and listener in detail, and the three fields at the bottom give information on the final emulated distance values.

The Effects

On the right hand side we have six different effect models which emphasize the distance effect. They each have a bypass option, as well as (in all but one case) two different model types.

  • True Delay creates a delay according to the speed of sound and will delay the signal at a ratio of 1 second per 340 meters of distance. It is also responsible for pitch change consistent with the doppler effect when distance is modulated.

  • True Gain simply creates a gain change relative to distance and equal to the value of the main fader.

  • The Air Absorption effect employs an algorithm which emulates high frequency signal loss due to the effects of air on a sound wave. The effect can also be reversed to give a high end boost when the main fader is set above 0. Type A uses a shelving filter while type B uses a low pass filter for a stronger effect.

  • The Stereo Width effect modifies the stereo spectrum respective to distance through mid/side processing. Type A simply boosts or attenuates stereo gain respective to distance while type B splits the signal into two frequency bands and increases the side level of frequencies above 11kHz for positive gain values and decreases side level of frequencies above 500 Hz for negative gain values.

  • The Proximity effect is similar to the air absorption effect, but acts on the low end. It emulates the low end bump which would be recorded on a closely mic-ed sound source. Close settings result in low end gain, while distant settings result in low end cut. Type A is more subtle while type B provides a more pronounced effect.

  • The Reflections effect adds early reflections in relationship to distance. The greater the distance, the more reflections are audible. Once again, type A is a more subtle setting than type B.

Finally, at the bottom right there are three basic modulation controls where the LFO shape, speed and depth are determined. The depth control is somewhat interesting as its values are distance units (as if the listener or sound source were moving forward and back) rather than percentages as most LFO controls tend to be.

Wrap Up

Overall, the strength of Proximity is in its subtlety. I have found it works best in instances where I want to create a more subconscious movement or interest without being obvious. 

There is definitely some room for improvement in terms of sound quality (thinking of the reflection effect), but it is still version one, and it is also free, so I can't really complain. Head over to Tokyo Dawn if you are so inclined and check it out for yourself.

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