Lese releases Codec, a freeware audio degradation tool in VST3 and AU plugin formats for digital audio workstations on Windows and macOS.
Codec is a free audio effect that simulates streaming audio compression in the comfort of your DAW.
Degrading the quality of your audio recordings on purpose might seem as logical as deliberately stepping into piles of dog poo while wearing a brand-new pair of sneakers. But, unlike our noses, our ears just love the “smell” of imperfection.
Old audio recording equipment imprinted all sorts of sonic imperfections onto recordings. Subtle analog distortion, pitch inconsistencies, volume variations, and noise are just some of the many audio artifacts of the analog era.
But, our ears are so used to hearing these subtle non-linearities that we perceive them as natural, warm, and nostalgic. No wonder plugins like iZotope Vinyl and Lifeline Console are so popular nowadays.
However, we always talk about using saturation plugins to simulate the imperfections of analog audio gear. But what about bringing the digital imperfections of compressed audio to your DAW?
It sounds easy in theory – use a bitcrusher plugin to reduce the sampling rate and bit depth. The problem is, audio compression isn’t that simple, and you can’t get the same sound using your favorite bitcrusher.
That’s where the Codec plugin steps in.
Codec simulates the imperfections we hear as a result of digital audio compression algorithms. Although these algorithms try to keep the audible compression as stealthy as possible, the results can be wildly colorful when compression parameters are taken to the extreme.
If you’re not 100% sure what heavily compressed audio sounds like, set the Youtube streaming quality to 144p and listen to your favorite tunes. You’ll notice a frequency roll-off in the higher end of the frequency spectrum and reduced detail in the bass frequencies. But that’s not all.
To my ears, heavily compressed audio has this weirdly mellow quality that’s hard to describe. It almost sounds like the higher frequencies are passing through a layer of liquid (and no, I’m not looking at a double rainbow right now).
Anyway, it’s easy to imagine how these compression algorithms could be used creatively in a DAW. How about treating electric piano chords with digital compression instead of vinyl noise? What about taking the edge off a synth bassline with some intentional digital quality reduction instead of tape saturation?
This article is already quite long, so I’ll briefly cover Codec’s interface and let you go test the plugin.
If you’re a fan of pixel art and old-school video games, you’ll love Codec’s retro-inspired GUI. The visualizer at the top displays your audio as a cute pixel animation, and I literally wish I could use it as a screensaver.
You can finetune the underlying compression algorithm with Loss, Bitrate, Bandwidth, Crunch, Frequency, and Width controls. The Loss parameter is perhaps the most interesting one. It controls the frequency of data packet drops that result from a poor internet connection.
If all of this sounds interesting, throw away your tapes and vinyl records, put an MP3 player in your pocket (make sure it has at least 128 MB of storage), and head to Lese’s website to download Codec for free.