For a truly authentic lo-fi tape sound, you could pick up a cassette deck for as little as £40. If running your whole mix through such a unit may reduce the sound quality more than you desire, try just running some tracks onto cassette, such as the drums or a digital soft synth sound, adding a more subtle amount of cassette vibe into your production.
Pick up some samples taken from revered hardware units such as the Akai MPC-60 or EMU SP1200, adding the sound of classic units without breaking the bank. Or alternatively, if you’re a Maschine user, try engaging one of the ‘Engine Modes’ on the sampler, designed to add a flavour of those vintage samplers.
Bitcrushing or Sample Rate reduction is a great technique for adding a crunchy old school vibe to productions. D16’s Decimort is capable of both sample rate reduction and bitcrushing. It also features a mix control and adept Filter Section, hugely effective when you’re applying such an effect to a group of sounds such as a drum bus, being able to bypass the effect for the low frequency so as not to drive the kick too much.
Another affordable hardware option, pick up an effects pedal and try running all manner of different sounds through for some lo-fi warmth, a distortion or overdrive pedal should do the trick nicely. If you’d rather stay in the box, there are numerous plugin options available, such as Logic’s Pedalboard, which features an array of pedal based fuzz and overdrive effects.
Get the groove
Creating hip-hop or broken beats, achieving the right amount of swing can help to add that lo-fi vibe. A search online should help you find some grooves taken from vintage samplers, which are instrumental to the loose sound and feel of certain genres. Or if there’s a particular song which nails the feel you’re after, import a 1 bar section of the drums in your DAW and extract the groove and save it for later use.