Easy Telephone Effect for Vocals in Ableton Live (Works in Any DAW)


Thales Matos


Want to learn how to design the Telephone Effect for Vocals? Read this to find out how to easily create a professional-sounding telephone effect, no matter what DAW.

This classic telephone sound never gets old and can imprint a lot of character on your song. 

If you read the entire post (or watch the video above) you'll discover some bonus sound effects.

When to use the Telephone Effect

The Telephone Effect is a technique used in pretty much every style.

And it's so cool because it keeps things interesting: it adds variety for certain phrases in your song or even an entire bridge section.

The effect is even stronger if you use it where it makes sense. That's the prosody in music production: emphasize the lyrics' meaning.

In the example song for this article ("Maybe we'd be together"), I wanted a specific line to sound like a guy telling his ex-girlfriend — over the phone — that certain things wouldn't have happened if she had been around more. 

I felt like it was the right moment to use that effect. If she hasn't been around, the only way to talk to her is probably by calling her, right?

So here's the trick.

How to create the Telephone Effect

To emulate the sound of an old telephone, you have to make your vocals sound bad by filtering some frequencies — using an equalizer with very harsh cutoff curves.

telephone vocal effect equalizer

This is the stock equalizer from Ableton Live, but it works on any equalizer.

Just load whatever EQ you have and band-pass the higher midrange, at around 1.5 kHz — isolating this range.

A simple way to do it with any equalizer is to add a lowpass filter at 2kHz, and then add a highpass filter at 500 Hertz.

telephone effect for vocals EQ8 by Ableton Live

To make it really clear, boost 1kHz. And there you go! 

For the basic telephone effect, it's as simple as that. An extreme filter.

Then play around with these frequencies to fit the effect better in your mix.

Organizing Your Vocal Effects

To keep your project organized, set up a different track just for the bits of vocals that will have this effect.

Alternatively, you can use the same track and automate this effect to turn on and off.

Automating vocal effects

Telephone Effect to distinguish characters and create contrast

Use this effect for a line or two in your song, taking advantage of this sense of call and response that the telephone vocals create.

Especially if you want that line to sound like it's coming from a different character than the singer — even if it's the same singer's voice.

In that case, you could reinforce that by panning differently, making sure it comes from the sides instead of the center — since it's a different subject.

The telephone effect is also used a lot in delay throws, echoing phrases you want to emphasize because it helps them become more noticeable in the mix.

Or it can even be used during the entire bridge section to create contrast.

Bonus Vocal Effects

These are extra effects that will take your vocal productions to the next level and you'll have even more variety in your music. 

Specifically the Megaphone effect and the Lo-fi Radio Effect.

Megaphone Effect for Vocals

Let's turn that telephone effect into a megaphone effect — like you're in a protest.

"This is a protest against VST plugin subscriptions"

The telephone sound is totally dry, with no reverb, no reflections. 

But for this one, just letting some more mid frequencies pass and adding a bit of distortion and reverb or a slapback delay does the trick.

megaphone vocal effect distortion rectifier

It could be any reverb or delay. I use Ableton Live's Echo for simplicity because it does a bit of both — delay and reverb. 

megaphone effect for vocals reverb and delay

A short time like 60 to 100ms sounds great.

A friend of mine once used this effect in a song to create that feeling of going to the circus. Cool.

Classic Lo-Fi Radio Effect, Walkie-Talkie Effect, Police Radio Effect

Now for the classic lo-fi radio effect, walkie-talkie effect, or police radio sound effect.

All you have to do is open up the hi-mid frequencies a little more, around 6 or 7kHz and add more distortion.

Just make the vocals sound very compressed and distorted.

I like to load a limiter, using it as an extreme compressor followed by the saturator, even though it could be done with any distortion or overdrive effect.

lofi radio vocal effect limiter and saturator

I like to compress first to even out the audio before it hits the distortion effect — so it won't just distort the loud peaks and keep the quiet parts clean.

If you want your vocals to be more evenly distorted, it's always good to compress first.

And if that's too harsh for your taste, you can use the mix knob to decrease the amount of distorted sound. Maybe 10% distorted, 90% unaffected sound.

Also, some plugins were designed to recreate that effect, like Izotope vinyl (free).

Now it's your turn

Now you know how to create a telephone effect, a megaphone effect, a lo-fi radio effect — and you even got a free VST plugin.

That's amazing.

But have you ever tried to create a tape stop effect? This one is really fun. Make sure to click the link and learn it too.

Let me know if you have any questions in the comment section below.

If you're interested in pop music production resources, or just looking to hang out with more people who are passionate about it, visit my website.


Thales Matos

August 19, 2022


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