How to Make Audio Sound Distant?

Let's say that you are working on a scene that involves a war between two groups that is about to happen. The leader of one of the groups screams “Attack!” from like 100 feet away from the opposing group and starts attacking with guns and canons. Read this article on,"How to Make Audio Sound Distant?" to know more.

Now if the audio gives you the impression that it sounds like 1 foot away instead of 100 feet, it would instantly kill the scene and ruin the immersion. But if the audio sounded distant enough to simulate the exact environment, the experience would’ve been way better and natural. 

To achieve this natural feeling and immersion, you have to simulate a wide environment by properly editing the audio and make it sound distant. And Making audio sound distant is something that even many experienced sound engineers struggle with.

In this article, we will break down the principles of distant-sounding audio which will help you to understand the process better and try it on any of your preferred DAW platforms.

How to Make Audio Sound Distant: Different ways of achieving it

In general, there are three types of audio frequencies. These are: low, mid, and high. Toying around with the frequencies is the most effective way to simulate distant sound if you have a specific and fixed audio sample to work with.

This becomes much easy if you understand how the audio frequency and the equalizer works. There are also effects such as delay, reverb, and echo that adds extra details and make the distant audio sound much better and natural. 

In many professional production houses and audio studios, they have specifically designed recording rooms called ‘acoustic chamber’. Acoustic chambers were usually built inside basements in the form of complex mazes. These acoustic chambers were equipped with numerous microphones and speakers in different places and angles so that they could pick up and reproduce accurate reverbs.

The different mics picked up audio of different distance information and the audio producers could pick the most suited audio. However, getting access to such acoustic chambers is a huge deal and the chances are very less. But there are many other ways that you can achieve distant-sounding audio by some recording hacks and tuning eq as well. 

There’s a technique called ‘worldizing’ which you can use to make them sound more distant. What you need to do is playback a pre-recorded audio or the audio that you want to sound more distant through speakers in a room and re-record it.

You need a very quiet room with almost no ambient noise and a high-quality studio-grade microphone for the job. In this article, we are going to talk in-depth about these techniques and know about implementing them in any DAWs.

How to Make Audio Sound Distant: Pick the environment you want to simulate 

Distant-sounding audio is totally dependent on the environment you want to reproduce. The goal is not only to make the audio sound distant but also to make it fit for the appropriate environment and the surroundings.

The same sound coming 50 meters away in a ballroom would be significantly different from a sound coming from 50 meters away in an open field. So the environment is extremely important in this regard and you need to simulate it accordingly. 

Identifying through frequency: Simulating a sound is nothing but tricking our brain to think that a sound is coming from a certain distance. And there are two fundamental factors that make our brain think in such ways.

Usually sound travels through air and the frequencies become weak gradually. But the frequencies do not weaken in the same ratio. That means some frequencies weaken faster than others. And usually, the higher frequencies weaken faster than the lower and the mid.

Moreover, the lower frequencies get weak comparatively slower than the other frequencies. So the typical sound signature of a sound coming from a further distance contains weak highs and comparatively strong lows which makes our brain perceive it as a distant sound.

And if this is replicated by tuning the equalizer and applying certain audio effects, it can trick our brain to think that it is coming from far away.  

Identifying through reflection: Another fact is that sound usually gets reflected and bounces with the surface of nearby objects which is known as ‘reverb’. Usually, the frequencies of reverbs are scattered and distorted which our brain can identify as distance indicators.

When a sound is produced from a close source, it's clearer and suppresses the reflected sound. The distorted sound seems to be quiet compared to the original sound. But when it comes to a distant sound, the reverbs are more audible and the louder they are, the distant our brain thinks it is. This can be replicated as well by using effects such as echo and reverb. 

The reflection of sound can vary from place to place. When it comes to open fields, there’s little to no scope for the sound to bounce back so in this case, the “identifying through reflection” wouldn’t be applicable.

To simulate such an environment, “identifying through frequency” seems perfectly fit here. On the other hand, when it comes to hills or even a hall room with plenty of objects, there will be plenty of objects to reflect the sound where “identifying through reflection” would be applicable instead of “identifying through frequency”.

Note that the reflection of a confined room will be significantly different than a wide area. 

How to Make Audio Sound Distant: Adjusting EQ 

If you want to make audio sound distant, adjusting EQ is a very effective method which was also mentioned above. There are some tricks that you can follow to achieve the distance you are looking for.

Pick a high shelf filter and tone it down to -6dB. Then in the EQ, slowly tone it down from 20 kHz until you hear a significant difference in the lower frequency becoming low. Play with it to find your desired sound. 

You can also make the sound muffled to make it sound distant and even simulate the source sound so that it sounds from a different room. This can be achieved by applying a simple EQ curve. The trick here is to tone down the higher frequency or removing it. Generally, distant sounds contain weak higher frequency and that is the goal. You can also achieve it by using low pass filters which filter the higher frequencies and lets the lower frequencies through. 

Reverb

Using reverb is also a great method. Reverb makes distance sound more natural and accurate. For this, you need to pick a decent reverb plug-in that will make your work easier. Play around with the mix to find the optimal reverb effect for the audio sample you are working with. The mix includes wet and dry balance that determines how the original sound will appear as.

The lower mix or dry mix will sound more closely compared to the higher mix or wet mix, which will sound distant which you want to achieve. So adjust the wet/dry balance according to how distant you want it to sound. 

You can also tweak the pre-delay settings if you want to add more depth to the sound which you want to be distant. Pre-delay indicates the time period between the original sound and the reflections produced by the surrounding objects, precisely the reflections that reach the ears of the listener in the early stage.

And in terms of pre-delay, lower settings sound further where higher settings closer which is the opposite of wet/dry mix. Pre-delay determines the distance between the sound source and the furthest point of the field. As an example, if you are at a certain point of a hall room, not the center.

If you make a sound, pre-delay will determine the distance of the sound between you and the wall that is the most far away from if you. 

The pre-delay settings are measured by the time where the unit is ms (millisecond). 1 ms indicates a 1-foot distance. So if you want to simulate a distance of 100 feet, you need to set the pre-delay settings to 100ms with a mix setting of something around 10%.

And if you want to simulate a distance of 10 feet, set the pre-delay settings to 10ms with a mix of settings of something like 50% or slightly below. Note that mix settings above 50% won't give a good simulation of distance and might sound artificial as well. The more you play around with these settings with the idea provided above, you will be able to achieve the sweet spot and make it sound distant as you desire. 

Final words

Achieving the desired distant sound is not easy by any means. But understanding the distance mechanisms will enable you to tweak around with the settings in any DAW platforms and experiment with different types of sound.

By applying the methods in this article, you will be able to make any audio sample sound distant. Through trial and errors, you will eventually get better and reproduce accurate distant sound.

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