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Using de-essers to eliminate sibilance

From: Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools

Video: Using de-essers to eliminate sibilance

Sibilance or the hard S sound of a vocal can be overwhelming and especially bad with certain singers when they are recorded with a less than optimal mike choice. This challenge is so prominent in the recording world that a specific type of dynamics processor was developed to tackle it called a de-esser. So what is a de-esser anyways? Essentially, it's a frequency dependent compressor, in other words, the compression or reduction in level is triggered only when a specific frequency breaches the threshold.

Using de-essers to eliminate sibilance

Sibilance or the hard S sound of a vocal can be overwhelming and especially bad with certain singers when they are recorded with a less than optimal mike choice. This challenge is so prominent in the recording world that a specific type of dynamics processor was developed to tackle it called a de-esser. So what is a de-esser anyways? Essentially, it's a frequency dependent compressor, in other words, the compression or reduction in level is triggered only when a specific frequency breaches the threshold.

In the case of a de-esser, it is generally set up to react only to the high frequencies of a vocals s or shh sounds or other harsh or brittle sounds, like poorly recorded cymbals. Master engineers will even use it on a bad mix sometimes. So how does it work? Well, because only a specified range of frequency is going to trigger the de-esser, in the Digirack De-Esser Dyn 3, we have the frequency definition, which is going to be that center frequency where the worst S sounds occur.

And then we have a range control which controls how much attenuation is going to happen when that frequency breaches the threshold. The way that this actually works is internally the de-esser has a side chain which routes a filtered off section of the signal that's boosting the specific frequency. So whenever it gets excited, it tells the de-esser to turn on. Now the best way to set up this de- esser is to start with one of the presets. You have some for male and female Ss. The listen mode lets you listen to the built or side chain that's triggering the de-esser so you can find right where that S is at its worst.

So what I'm going to do is solo up the track and find a section that has a lot of S sounds. There is one here right in the middle of the pre-chorus. Let's listen to this and I'll bypass. (Male singing: I woke up just in time, with chills...) So he says, I woke up just in time with chills. There is two Ss there. This wasn't recorded with a poor mike choice and Joshua doesn't have a lot of sibilance on his vocals but we are going to put on there just to kind of cut it out a little bit.

It's going to really help on those smaller laptop speakers and ear buds that are really going to pronounce that S effect. So I'm going to listen. (Male singing: I woke up just in time, with chills...) And I might even select just one of those S sounds. (Male singing: ...sss...) And just go through these frequencies. (Male singing: ...sss...) And where do I think it sounds the worst, or where the S is most pronounced in the frequency range? Once I find that, I can turn Listen off.

Then I can go through here and adjust the range to control how much attenuation happens when it excites the de-esser. (Male singing: I woke up just in time, with chills darting down my spine.) Now you want to be careful with the range control because if you use too much, especially when you turn the high frequency only off-- With HF Only on, it only attenuates the high frequencies of the signal. With this control off, it's going to attenuate everything equally and what you can actually do is give someone a lisp if you put the range down.

So let's listen to that. (Male singing: I woke up just in time, with chills darting down my spine.) I definitely don't want to do that unless I'm trying to play a joke on Josh. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to go back that range off a little bit and I'm going to turn the high frequency button on there. This is just going to kind of help bright the Ss very gently. I'm using a very gentle range setting here. Now depending on the vocalist or where you are using it, you might have to be a little bit more aggressive with your de-essing, and I have actually had situations where it's so bad that I have opted to use automation, volume automation, which I'll talk about in another chapter, to reduce the hard S sounds rather than using a de-esser.

So that's sort of more of a manual way using the volume automation. Now again, you can use this on other things besides vocals, so like it works great on really harsh sounding cymbals. You might want to set the frequency range up a little higher and you can even use them on entire mixes. Sometimes it can get a little shrill, especially if you are doing sort of a mastering task and you have got too much high end in a stereo mix, you kind of want to tame out a little bit. I'll also use de-essers in this mix here, if I recall the 100 memory location.

I'm using de-essers occasionally on my reverb returns. Now reverb returns especially plate reverbs and really bright reverbs, can really accent that sibilance in a mean and nasty way. It can kind of really get bright in the tail of that plate reverb. So I put a de-esser before it hits the reverb to kind of attenuate that. And I might do that a little bit more aggressively on the reverb return because I'm not so worried about giving the reverb return a lisp or anything like that.

So again, use de-essers to reduce sibilance but try other ideas too. Try volume automation, if when you are recording you find that the singer has a lot of sibilance coming into the mike, the best thing that you can do is maybe choose another mike, especially if you have access to other mikes because that can make the biggest difference in terms of being able to use a vocal track.

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This video is part of

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Mixing and Mastering with Pro Tools

77 video lessons · 9159 viewers

Brian Lee White
Author

 
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  1. 14m 50s
    1. Welcome
      1m 12s
    2. The past, present, and future of mixing
      6m 20s
    3. Strategies for mixing and mastering
      5m 38s
    4. Using the exercise files
      1m 40s
  2. 40m 24s
    1. Mixing "in the box"
      5m 9s
    2. Setting up the studio: Speakers and acoustics
      13m 12s
    3. Staying organized: Effectively prepping the mix
      10m 50s
    4. Managing system resources during mixdown
      11m 13s
  3. 41m 39s
    1. Introducing the Pro Tools Mixer
      2m 24s
    2. Understanding mixer signal flow
      3m 42s
    3. Using inserts and plug-ins
      7m 4s
    4. Working with plug-in settings
      5m 1s
    5. Using sends and creating FX returns
      6m 55s
    6. Submixing with aux tracks
      4m 30s
    7. Using groups while mixing
      3m 46s
    8. Using master faders effectively
      8m 17s
  4. 21m 11s
    1. Conceptualizing the mix and making a plan
      7m 45s
    2. Using volume and pan to balance the mix
      11m 18s
    3. Knowing when to process: Mix problems vs. mix solutions
      2m 8s
  5. 1h 3m
    1. Understanding the mechanics of sound
      3m 53s
    2. Learning the basics of EQ: Frequency-specific level control
      4m 29s
    3. Using DigiRack EQ III
      16m 3s
    4. EQ strategies in mixing: Corrective vs. creative
      7m 18s
    5. EQ workflow example 1: Kick drum
      5m 39s
    6. EQ workflow example 2: Filtering loops
      5m 10s
    7. EQ workflow example 3: The "telephone" effect
      3m 7s
    8. Mixing tips and tricks for EQ
      17m 36s
  6. 1h 15m
    1. Understanding dynamics and dynamic range
      2m 1s
    2. Working with dynamics processors
      2m 57s
    3. Using the DigiRack Dyn III compressor/limiter
      10m 6s
    4. Balancing and shaping track dynamics
      3m 19s
    5. Using gates and expanders
      9m 22s
    6. Using de-essers to eliminate sibilance
      5m 47s
    7. Dynamics workflow example 1: Vocals
      10m 0s
    8. Dynamics workflow example 2: Drums
      9m 29s
    9. Mixing tips and tricks: Dynamics
      11m 37s
    10. Building parallel or "upward" compression
      7m 53s
    11. Reviewing dynamics concerns: How much is too much?
      3m 28s
  7. 47m 48s
    1. Using time-based effects to add depth and width
      3m 22s
    2. Using DigiRack D-Verb
      14m 27s
    3. Using the DigiRack delays
      9m 18s
    4. Mixing with reverb
      7m 59s
    5. Mixing with delays
      6m 19s
    6. Mixing tips and tricks: Creating mix depth
      6m 23s
  8. 18m 8s
    1. Working with the Creative Collection
      9m 8s
    2. Building distortion and saturation
      9m 0s
  9. 37m 33s
    1. Understanding automation
      4m 10s
    2. Recording real-time automation moves
      7m 6s
    3. Viewing and editing automation
      10m 17s
    4. Automating plug-ins
      7m 36s
    5. Automation strategies for mixing
      8m 24s
  10. 29m 31s
    1. Understanding the characteristics of a great mix
      7m 2s
    2. Working to reference tracks
      4m 35s
    3. Avoiding some common pitfalls
      7m 50s
    4. Building healthy mixing habits
      3m 36s
    5. Crafting your mix from start to finish
      6m 28s
  11. 1h 5m
    1. Understanding mastering
      4m 15s
    2. Bouncing the mix
      7m 9s
    3. Working with general mastering strategies
      8m 50s
    4. Using limiting and compression to maximize track level
      10m 57s
    5. Working with multi-band compression
      7m 9s
    6. Understanding sample rate, bit depth, file formats, and dither
      7m 30s
    7. Using Pro Tools for CD track sequencing
      10m 11s
    8. Compressing audio for the web
      9m 41s
  12. 44m 51s
    1. Tips for evaluating plug-in processors
      6m 51s
    2. Using EQ plug-ins
      5m 35s
    3. Using dynamic compression plug-ins
      11m 3s
    4. Using reverb and delay plug-ins
      10m 46s
    5. Reviewing additional plug-ins
      10m 36s
  13. 57m 18s
    1. Effectively using saturation/analog style effects
      13m 40s
    2. Setting up side chains
      7m 5s
    3. Master buss processing
      5m 34s
    4. Creating and using mix templates
      6m 54s
    5. Surround mixing
      6m 22s
    6. Dealing with plug-in delay and latency
      6m 26s
    7. Drum sample replacing
      11m 17s
  14. 32s
    1. Goodbye
      32s

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