Best EQ Plugin For Vocals + Tips & Videos

Best EQ Plugins For Vocals + Tips & Videos

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So you’re looking for the best EQ plugin, the one that does everything better than all the others? 
The simple answer is: There is no such thing as one EQ plugin that does everything best. The perfect EQ consists of a few different types of EQ plugins that complement each other. Here you will learn everything there is to learn about EQ plugins, which to choose, in which situation, how to work with them the right way.

I know you came here to learn about software so I will not talk about hardware EQs at all.

This article is going to give you an overview of the world of EQ plugins. We base this knowledge on our 20 years of mixing and mastering experience. Which plugins are amazingly useful, which have the coolest colors and tones and what plugin to choose in each situation.

The Basics – How Does It Work 

In simple words, two of the biggest factors in the world of sound are Frequency & Amplitude. You can control both of them with an EQ. A boost in a certain frequency will enlarge the amplitude creating a level increase. A cut in a certain frequency will make the amplitude smaller, meaning, the level will decrease. Before you make a cut or a boost, you need to choose the frequency and the Q that you want to work on.

EQ Basic Parameters

  • Boost – Increasing the level of a selected frequency.
  • Cut – Decreasing the level of a selected frequency.
  • Frequency – Choosing which frequency to work on.
  • Q (Bell Width) – How wide or narrow will the selected frequency range be.

Types of EQ

In general, there are three types of EQs. Every type serves a different purpose or a different style of EQing. You would want to have each of every type in your arsenal. That way you’d have maximum flexibility while working on a mix.

Graphic EQ

This type of EQ is divided into different fixed frequencies in fixed ranges with fixed Q’s. Not all graphic EQ’s are born the same. Some have more slides, which means more control, and some have less. Either way, you have only those fixed parameters to work with. 

Parametric EQ

These types of EQs let you choose the frequency that you want to work on and manipulate it in a more specific manner. In most cases, the parametric EQs will come with three bands to work with. On the parametric EQ, each band has a frequency knob and a Boost/Cut knob. Some of them will also have a Q control to control the bell width. This way you can be very specific and “surgical” with your process.

Paragraphic EQ

This idea was brought to us with the digital era. This means that the EQ controls are made with sliders while also having a graphic representation of each band. Practically they are combined and working simultaneously. Plus there are more parameters that can be set.

Filters

Most of the EQ plugins will have Filters. This means that you can cut the higher or the lower part of the frequency spectrum. If you don’t want the bottom range (Basses) of your channel you use the Low-cut, and if you don’t want the higher range you use the high-cut filter. Low-cut is also called “High-Pass” and high-cut is also called “Low-Pass”. 

Two Groups Of EQ Plugins

Digital EQs – Transparent, functional, surgical and accurate. In this group, you will find all the plugins that are usually not based on any hardware replications. These are Paragraphic EQs in most cases. You would use them in situations where you don’t need the extra character to your sound and only want to fix or shape a source. 

Analog EQs – Colorful, minimalistic, gives character and mostly modeled after old known hardware. Every modeled EQ in this group has a different style and a different character. Most engineers use them as artistic tools. Each has their own “thing”. A good plugin company not only models the output stage but every component inside the box to create an indistinguishable replication from the real thing.

Before using any EQ, you must make sure that you’ve recorded the source the right way. In many cases, the best way to EQ a source is just to record it better. Each recording method sounds a little different. The recording process has a few main critical factors. Learn more about recordings here: 

How to make your voice sound better when recording.

Main Factors That Will Affect Your Frequency Response Before The EQ

  • The type of microphone.
  • The microphone placement.
  • The type of preamp.
  • The space in which the recording takes place.
  • Proximity, how close are we to the microphone.

Best Condenser Mic For Vocals (On a Budget)

Gain Staging

This is an important factor in audio production and in the plugins world in particularYou should be aware of the input levels that you’re getting into the plugin. If the levels are too “hot”, meaning too high in level, this will distort the algorithm and prevent the plugin from performing at it’s best. 

Every plugin has a slightly different sweet spot in which it sounds the best, but all the plugins have a distortion point. I shouldn’t tell you how horrible digital distortion sounds.

Best Digital EQs – Group one

These are the sharpest tools in our toolbox. We use them in every production and almost on every channel. These plugins algorithms are mostly based on precision and functionality. Their goal is not to sound like any other EQ, but to be as accurate as it can be.

Best Emulations Of Old EQs – Group Two

It’s warm, It’s tasty, It’s smooth and it’s analog! So these are the best emulations that we believe are really great for coloring your channels with the sweet colors of classic analog gear. These are emulations of old analog EQs. They are built to give you the exact experience of using a real outboard classic EQ. Each emulation’s algorithm is based on a different circuit design and is unique by itself. That’s what gives the plugin its character and “coloration”. Some of those EQs are so authentic that just opening them on the channel without changing any parameter gives a nice subtle effect.

Here’s a list of my favorite vocal plugins. Remember, these are not full reviews, I will not get into all the technical details here. This is only a brief description and my personal experience with these beautiful pieces of software.

7 Best Analog EQ For Vocals

1. Waves Kramer HLS



I found out about this EQ long after I had it installed on my system. I remember opening it for the first time on an acoustic guitar channel. I played with it for a good hour, trying it on several sources like acoustic guitars, electric guitars, bass and vocals. I fell in love with it. First, I have to say that the waves version of it is much more special sounding than the UA version which I also like but never owned it. It gives the vocal channel a rich and sheen quality without distorting or making it harsh. It does add a little noise but I believe it’s a part of its magic. I wouldn’t use it on drums but it is way too good to not include it on my list. So for coloration and adding an analog sweetness and 3Dness to a vocal track, it’s truly amazing.

2. T-Racks EQ 73

This is the T-Racks take on the legendary Neve 1073 console EQ. This is such a beautiful plugin! I almost want to shout it to my screen. It has a place in every production I do. It is brilliant on everything I use it on. Drums, guitars, bass and any other musical instrument and vocals. The T-racks EQ73 is a very musical sounding plugin that adds magic to everything that goes thru it. It is not a surgical tool, it won’t give you that super narrow Q for fixing stuff in your source. I use it mostly for coloration, small boosts, and wide subtle curving out of frequencies. This EQ can give your vocal channel that thumping quality in the lower range, and that edgy high end that will cut thru any mix without even trying, while still sounding extraordinarily musical and expensive.

3. Softube Trident A

Now, this is a weird one. At first, I didn’t know how to look at it, and it always felt a little off to me. The Trident A is considered by many engineers to be a “guitar eq” but allow me to respectfully disagree. This EQ is just amazing on vocals, it is subtle, aggressive and accurate all at the same time. the Softube Trident A is based on the unique Trident A Range console that was first introduced in the early 1970s. Many great albums ware recorded and mixed with that console, quite a few of them are in the rock genre. That’s why this EQ earned its respect among rock producers and engineers around the world. On vocals, it gives a very unique tone, much different from all the others that are more popular. It reminds me a little bit of the API style of coloration and vibe. I get this punchy midrange and “tasty” low end. You can really crank up the low-end slider and it still sounds right and not boomy as expected from extreme settings. The saturation knob gives a smooth and subtle effect, I find myself cranking it all the way up to really enjoy it.

 

4. Waves API 500 Series

This is a whole series of 3 EQs and one compressor. I want to start from the most obvious thing and it’s THE SOUND. These EQs sound like an API! I’m saying “Like an API” because I have experience with the real thing and I know it quite well. If you ask me, the Waves API 500 series is as close as you can get to the real thing. It’s punchy, smooth sounding and it brings things to life. I especially love it on vocal channels. Somehow it brings out all the beautiful tones and qualities in the human voice without making them harsh or two dimensional. It is a parametric EQ so the frequencies are fixed but the 500 give you so many options that you don’t feel the need to ask for more. The algorithm has nonlinear qualities that make you feel like you’re working with the real thing. I also think that Waves had done a wonderful job with the design, which is also very important in my opinion. Although the 550A and the 550B are the more widely used API EQs, I personally find myself using the 560 a lot more. I love how it shines on vocals and lets me color any vocal with those sweet API colors.

5. Waves VEQ4

This is also a part of the V-Series consist of three different plugins, two EQs and a bus compressor. The VEQ4 is based on the Neve 1073. For a long time, I was ignoring this plugin although I had it on my waves bungle. I was using the UAD Neve 1073 and didn’t really pay attention to the Waves version. One day I gave it a chance and everything changed in my little Neve emulations world. I started using the Waves version and never looked back. The VEQ4 is one of the best vocal plugins out there without a shadow of a doubt. I use it on every production on many channels and especially on vocals. It sounds like a Neve yes, but the thing I like the most about it is that it is very smooth. It does not sound like a plugin at all. I love how it handles the high-frequency boosts. Sweet and musical.

6. Plugin Alliance Maag EQ4

This is without a doubt one of the best EQ plugins for vocals on this list. A lot of engineers swear by this EQ. It earned its good name first with the hardware version which came out on the 500 series. This is a very aggressive sounding EQ. I use it every time I want to give something grit and teeth. Especially when it comes to the “Air Gain” knob which is pretty harsh but in a good way. I love to use this plugin for boosting the midrange in vocals. It has very little phase shift, so it’s considered to be a lot more accurate than most EQs out there. Its low and high ends are also aggressive and it is not suitable for all vocal types but when it fits the application, it’s right on the money. In my opinion, the Maag EQ4 is one of the closest replications to its original hardware version. The thing that I love about Maag company is it’s a small family business who manifested its vision and made a very big name for itself. I love how it sounds on vocals that were recorded with dynamic microphones.

7. Waves Scheps 73

Yes I know, another Neve 1073 emulation? Well, this one is special. Not to take from the other 1073 EQ plugins on my list, Waves are getting better and better every year in hardware modeling. The first thing I’ve noticed about the Scheps 73 was that it sounds VERY 3D. I remember thinking to myself “This is on a whole different level!” I would even go there and say; it does not sound like a plugin. It’s totally alive. The most unique feature in the Scheps 73 other than its sound, is the ability to work in M\S on the stereo version. Like all the other analog emulations on that list, the 73 EQ is not built for surgical uses. It’s here to give its brilliant Neve colors, musical midrange, silky highs, and perfect low-end section. The VU meter is also a nice little feature. It’s a known fact that not all the hardware 1073 EQs are born the same. So this leaves a lot of room for the others on the list, but this one is the new cool kid on the block. 

7 Best Digital EQ For Vocals

1. Cambridge EQ UAD

The Cambridge EQ is considered to be a classic EQ in the plugin world. I can’t even count the number of productions I’ve used it on. From drums to guitars, acoustics, synths and of course, vocals. It is a very clean and sharp sounding EQ with great precision and the ability to dig deeper into any problem. It is the perfect sculpting tool. The Cambridge EQ is one of the first plugins on the first UAD card that came out back in the early 2000s. The Cambridge EQ is not just a digital EQ, it also has an analog emulation algorithm. So whether you need to sculpt a source or to give it an analog deliciousness, the Cambridge EQ will do it, no problem, even in today’s high standards.

2. Waves HEQ

If you take away all of my EQ plugins and leave me with only one, it better be the Waves H-EQ. It does it all. It gives you two different analog algorithms, (American and British) and it also gives you one of the most impressive digital EQ algorithm out there. The asymmetrical bell filter is a feature we hadn’t seen yet on other EQs and I already found great uses for it. The Waves H-EQ also features M\S which gives you the option to apply different EQs to mid and side content when working on stereo sources. You also get a great real-time frequency spectrum analyzer with multiple display options.

3. FabFilter Pro-Q2

I always felt that there’s something special about FabFilter products and this EQ is one of the greatest reasons for that. It is the successor to the already amazing Pro-Q. My favorite feature on the Pro-Q2 is not even one you can hear, it’s the frequency spectrum analyzer. It just looks so smooth and nice that It almost makes this plugin sound even better! But in all seriousness, this is a very powerful tool with a really great design. It quickly became my first-choice EQ plugin for acoustic guitars, don’t know why, it just sounds the best on my Yamaha guitar but we are talking about EQs for vocals here, and the FabFilter Pro-Q2 is the perfect vocals EQ. It has a great big design that allows you to easily make the smallest adjustment. The natural phase processing mode lets you make big narrow cuts and boosts without that weird phase shifting effect that you sometimes get on other digital EQs. This sweet EQ is packed with many more great features. The Pro-Q2 and I are going to be friends for many productions to come.

4. Eiosis AirEQ

This piece of great software was designed by Fabrice Gabriel who also wrote the algorithms for many of Slate Digital’s greatest plugins. My first try with the AirEQ wasn’t too successful, I couldn’t get it to work on my system without crashing every 10 minutes so I gave up on the first version and promised myself that we are going to meet again in the future. The most unique feature in this EQ is the names of the frequency bands. The names are a bit tricky to understand, “Earth”, “LoClean”, “Clarity” and such. But Eiosis also gave us the option to name the bands ourselves, which is quite cool. Now, to my ears, the AirEQ has a “smooth” and “deep” sound. It feels as if it’s got more resolution, maybe even an internal higher frequency rate. This, of course, is just my own feeling about it. It has a “Character” slide, the upper end is named “Fire” and the lower “Water”. It controls a few features for all the EQ bands all at the same time; Q width, bell size, bell shape, and gain. It changes the whole character of the EQ in one slide movement which is quite cool. Give it a try.

5. DMG Audio EQuality

This was my main EQ for a very long time. Yes it’s OLD and there are new and better EQ’s coming from DMG today and still, I like the EQuality and I used it on everything. It sounds natural, it looks great and it’s very simple to use. It offers analog algorithm along with a digital one. The DMG Audio EQuality is very light on the CPU when using the digital algorithm. When moving to the analog algorithm it makes the CPU work a little harder and you can feel it on some systems. I like the design and the blue interface is easy on the eye. It always looked to me like the successor of the Cambridge EQ. Other than that, let your ears decide. 

6. Waves F6

Ok another weird and beautiful beast, the F6 combines dynamic abilities along with the static regular EQ behavior. It’s pretty much like a super smart Multiband de-esser which is a great idea. You can activate or deactivate the dynamic properties of this EQ based on where you want it on the timeline. This EQ is not only for vocal, of course, any other source will also greatly benefit from it. In addition to that, the Waves F6 EQ sounds absolutely brilliant and it if you’re open to the new age of plugins and not only looking back, this is definitely one of them.

7. Waves Renaissance EQ

If we’re talking about the new age plugins of today, I want to remind you where it all started. The Waves Renaissance EQ is definitely considered to be a new classic. It was and still is, a basic tool in the toolbox of great engineers all around the world. Although being old and classic, the Waves Renaissance EQ performs better than most of all the new digital EQs out there, and you can test it yourself. This baby has stood the test of time and is still being massively used to this day. The Waves Renaissance EQ is solid, CPU efficient and most of all, it sounds amazing.

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Hey everybody, these tips are personal lessons that I’ve learned over the years and I’m sharing them here with you. You don’t have to follow all of the tips but if you implement only a few of them your mixes will already get so much better. In general, mixing is a skill that takes a lot of time to develop but with patience and perseverance, you can get to a very high level in a relatively short time. Mixing is a long and complicated process, it’s good to have a plan that’ll help you to get the mix down in just a few hours. Get ready to be a much better mixing engineer! 1. Use Groups, Busses, And Folders Prepare your mix before you start working on it. If you have a visually nice and clean project, it’ll make it a lot easier to make it sound good. In most DAW’s you have the option to arrange your project in track folders. For example, all the drums channels in one folder. Guitars, vocals and synths, each group of channels get a folder of its own. This way every time you work on a certain group you keep the others closed. If you can keep yourself and your project organized you’ve already done better then most people. Make sure to send similar content channels to groups and busses on the mixer. It helps you to control their level, automation, and plugins much more easily and it helps you save CPU power. 2. Scenes clapperMost songs, especially pop songs are divided into parts. I call them “Scenes”. Verse, Chorus, B part, Bridge are all different scenes in one song. It’s a lot easier to work on each scene separately. This is how you get stuff done faster and you don’t get lost or overwhelmed by the project. Divide the song to different scenes with colors and markers. When you treat every part of your song as if it is its own little project it’ll be more organized and you will get to the finish line much faster. 3. Start With The Busiest Part Of The Song If you can get this part to sound the way you want it, it’s much easier to get the other parts to sound good. Do This and your mix is at least 60% done. 4. Gain Staging If you make sure to mix in the right levels, you’ve already done a big percentage of the work. Gain staging starts at the recording stage. Make sure your levels are right. That means you have to look for unity gain in every device or outboard equipment you have in your recording chain. Every device, hardware or software, has its unity gain which is a sweet spot in which the device sounds best. It’ll not change the source that much and will sound clean and detailed. Sometimes like with preamps, you would want to stress the device and get it out of its comfort zone. This will give you different sound characters to work with. My recommendation is to only do it if you know exactly what you’re doing and looking for. It’s important to know, as, with hardware, unity gain and sound sweet spots are things you can also find in software. With plugins, never go beyond the digital 0db point, Input and output. Some plugins, usually those which are emulation based will give you interesting sound character if you get them to work in higher levels above their sweet spot. You should try everything, but at this stage, I would recommend going for the cleanest sound you can possibly get. Sometimes you look for coloration in every channel in your mix and you end up losing the focal point of the mix because everything is “colored”, so start clean and simple and go on from there.
 5. Filters Filters are like club bouncers, If you’re problematic, look like trouble, too ugly, too unnecessary, you’re out! Yeah, I know it’s a bad analogy but it makes me laugh and it actually works here. In fact, think about your song as a small club for VIP members only. The more we let in, the more quality we lose. This tip is more for the production stage but it’s definitely true for the mixing stage too. Most channels and sources will come with a lot more details and information that you actually need. For example, if we have a full range stereo piano channel, this channel will take most of the frequency spectrum. It won’t leave a lot of room for vocals, guitars, strings and practically anything that sits on the same frequency range. Again this is also a production thing because it’s important to build the piano part around or with the other parts working with it. Harmonic content can be very domineering and take a lot of important space in the mix. The more you filter out information, the more space you’d have for other elements in the mix. The critical filtering is done in the lower frequency range but the more you high cut unnecessary higher frequency content, the more clean and clear your mix get. 6. Make Room For Air Air is a very important factor in good mixes. Sometimes the more we add to the mix, the more cluttered it becomes. Examples for “Air hogging elements”: Piano, strings, pads, long full range Reverb, and practically any legato or long notes instrument parts. The shorter notes you have in your production, the more space you’ll be able to work with. This depends on the genre. Sometimes you just have to have all those long note harmonic parts in order to achieve the right emotional impact. The thing I love the most about airy productions is that in the mastering stage the air becomes a critical factor for the overall sound and the levels we will achieve. The airy productions are usually sound more punchy, more detailed, higher in levels and more impressive in general.
 7. EQ Curving Things Out As I wrote in the air paragraph, the more you take out, the more space you have for air. It’s the same with EQ. The thing is trying to understand where you want every instrument on the frequency spectrum and curving out or lowering the things you don’t want clashing with other elements in the mix. For example, If your piano plays on the higher register (higher octaves) you can peacefully take out its lower end frequencies. Say if the majority of the piano part is between 600hz and 4k you can lower the level for 500hz to 150hz and make space for the male vocals, electric guitars and whatever you have on that exact frequency range. I will suggest not to cut stuff but only to lower in level. At first, cutting out information from the source will feel like the wrong thing to do, trust me, I’ve been there. Once you click out of solo mode, you hear how clear things become.
 8. Lower The Levels In general, If you don’t get your signal too compressed and too close to the ceiling it’ll be able to “breathe” and be more dynamic. If your channels are not too squashy it’ll automatically breathe new life in your mix. Sometimes you don’t have to do so much, a little filter and eq and that’s it. Trust the process and don’t try too hard to perfect every channel. Keep the peaks of each channel at around -14db more or less and make sure your whole mix peaks at around -10db on the master bus, that’s a good start. 9. Start The Mix On Headphones Yeah, this is a little too out there I know, but keep going. I usually start the mix on my headphones, looking for a place for the different elements in the production. After a quick fiddling with the song and about half an hour of coffee in front of my computer, I see the direction my subconscious is taking me. If you’re using a good per of mixing headphones, you won’t be too far from liking what you hear on your speakers. When you start on headphones, you can easily find the direction you want for the song. It’s just like that somehow, try it. 10. Room Correction With EQ There are two ways to correct or at least try to balance a room with an EQ. There is the new way, using systems like the IK Multimedia Arc System with a special microphone and plugins you put on the master bus and everything goes thru it. The second way is the old school way, this is how I used to do it back in the day. I will tell you here only about the second way of the old school me. Today I use tools to do that and I get much more accurate results but you can still get a pretty good result with the old school way. The Old School Tip:
 So it’s like that, You find a few reference songs that are commercially and professionally mixed, mastered and released, and that are ON THE SAME KEY as the song you’re working on, preferably in the same genre also. You put them on your DAW, put a real transparent EQ on the master channel, hit play and listen to the songs while trying to understand what’s missing from all of them. For example, if you hear any overload in the low midrange in all the songs, it means that you have an acoustic problem in your room in that area on the spectrum. Now you can just take it down a notch on the master EQ. So basically you play with the EQ until all these songs sound good to you. What you did is you adjusted the listening sweet spot to sound like it should for you to get a good result. shouldn’t take more than 3 minutes. Do the same thing with the other songs. Again, a song in the same key and same genre. There will be a little bit of back and forth between the songs to get the exact EQ curve that minimizes the acoustic problems in your room. Eventually, you’ll get there. Switch the EQ On and Off a few times and you’ll understand the effect. Although it is not the most accurate method out there, it’ll get you right in the ballpark. 
11. Listening Modes Ok, this tip originally comes from professional mastering engineers. Look for a plugin that will let you hear your mix in different listening modes. The one FREE plugin I can think of now is Braiworx bx_solo. This is a sweet little plugin you put on the master bus and it lets you hear your mix in the following modes: 
Mono - Left and right channels are mixed into the middle. Sides - Only left and right information, with no center. L&R Switch - Flips the left and right channels. Solo L - Plays only left channel Solo R - Plays only right channel Stereo Width Knob - Widening/Narrowing the stereo image. Listening to the mix in different listening modes can point out problems in the mix, little things you want to change and you had a real hard time finding inside the full stereo mix. It’s like looking at a picture from different angles. It makes it a lot easier to “see” the problems. 
12. Reference Songs This is basic common sense in the world of mixing and mastering but you’d be surprised to know how easy it to overlook this important method. You can work for hours on a mix and after you think it’s finished, you listen to a reference track and you find out you’ve made a lot of progress in the wrong direction. Happened too many times. Every professional mastering engineer will listen to reference songs before and during the process of mastering. A good mix engineer will do the same. This is because our memory is very short when it comes to audio and we can’t really trust it to point us in the right direction. So as I said earlier on this post, you should pick the right reference track for your current project. One of the most important factors for a good reference track is for it to be on the same key as the song you’re working on. Sometimes this is the only reason why you can’t get your mix to sound as good as your reference track. The write reference tracks are on the same key. The same genre, and the same production or at least the same general artistic direction.
 13. Focal Point This is a very known term in the mixing world. Every song has its focal point. This means that there are a few elements in the song that gives it its character. The regular human brain can’t concentrate on more than 2 main musical elements simultaneously. A good producer knows and will work around it. A focal point is usually two or three elements in the song that are making the most impact. Usually, it’s vocals, beat, and harmony. The beat is the groove element of the song and harmony can be anything that plays the chords around the main melody, which is the vocal. Every other element that is not in the focal point you can put farther back in the mix or throw it to the sides. Every good mixing engineer will know to recognize the song’s focal point and make sure it’ll stay in its safe place. Sometimes a producer will give you a rough mix of the song. This is his take on the mix. This rough mix is very important because it gives you a critical glance into his mind. You should take that rough mix seriously if you want to keep him happy. Of course, you can take it farther and make it even better, and that’s your job. But if you already have a rough mix and the producer loves it, this is your bible. 
 14. Take A Break My personal suggestion is to take a break from mixing every 25 minutes even if you don’t feel like it. Just set up an alarm clock on your phone and make yourself take a break. Go out, breathe, restart and come back in. This will keep you mentally sharp and prevent ear fatigue which will allow you to work and stay fresh for literally hours. If you don’t do it, you lose focus, you become tired and your mix will suffer. The tricky thing about is that you don’t really feel tired, it sneaks up on you and you suddenly find yourself with a bad mix. 15. Export This is one of the best things you can do to find things to fix in your mix. I don’t know how it happens but for some reason we are able to hear new things to fix in our mix after we export a file. So you take the file and you listen to it over and over again and you make a list. After you do that, you go back to your project and you do the whole list. Trust me, do this a couple of times during the finishing process. This will save you literally hours. 16. Mix Into A Limiter This one is a personal preference. In my opinion, when you do that you get a sense of how your mix will sound after the mastering process. This changes the whole dynamic behavior of your mix and pushes you to make different and better decisions during the session. Just put a simple limiter on your master bus, L1 style, compress about 3 to 8db and try it. Be careful not to overdo it because you might lose your sense of what’s right for the mix. Every once in a while bypass the limiter and work without it, then come back to working with it. 17. Professional Mastering What Is Mastering A SongSend your mix to a professional mastering engineer with a real mastering studio and a lot of experience and resume. Not only it’ll give you another layer of supervising, but it’ll also take your mix to the best place it can go to after it finishes. Don’t trust yourself with the mastering, it takes years to get good results. Mastering is not that expensive, so most people can afford it, especially if the song is important to you and it has professional requirements and goals. 18. Ask For Opinions Send your mix to other people and ask them for their opinion. Even if it’s not a professional opinion it still has a lot of value. When I was younger, I used to ask my mom what she thinks about my mix and most of the times she gave me real good advises just out of intuition. Try it. 19. Come Back Tomorrow Last but not least... actually this is a very important tip. Usually, when you finish working on a mix you’re so tired, way too deep in the process and had lost almost all of your objectivity. If you leave it today and open it tomorrow with fresh ears, you’d find a lot of small and even big things you’d want to change and improve. Let's be honest, a mix is never finished, especially if you’re a crazy perfectionist like me. But you can definitely make it a lot better if you use the “Come back tomorrow” tip. That’s it. Good luck and happy mixing!

19 Mixing Tips That Will Make Your Mixes Sound Better Today!

19 Mixing Tips That Will Make Your Mixes Sound Better Today!​

19 Mixing Tips That Will Make Your Mixes Sound Better Today!

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Hey everybody, these tips are personal lessons that I’ve learned over the years and I’m sharing them here with you. You don’t have to follow all of the tips but if you implement only a few of them your mixes will already get so much better. In general, mixing is a skill that takes a lot of time to develop but with patience and perseverance, you can get to a very high level in a relatively short time. Mixing is a long and complicated process, it’s good to have a plan that’ll help you to get the mix down in just a few hours. It’s never too late to be a better mixing engineer. 

1. Use Groups, Busses, And Folders

Prepare your mix before you start working on it.

If you have a visually nice and clean project, it’ll make it a lot easier to make it sound good. In most DAW’s you have the option to arrange your project in track folders. For example, all the drums channels in one folder. Guitars, vocals and synths, each group of channels get a folder of its own.

This way every time you work on a certain group you keep the others closed. 

If you can keep yourself and your project organized you’ve already done better then most people. 

Make sure to send similar content channels to groups and busses on the mixer. It helps you to control their level, automation, and plugins much more easily and it helps you save CPU power.

2. Scenes

clapper
Most songs, especially pop songs are divided into parts. I call them “Scenes”. Verse, Chorus, B part, Bridge are all different scenes in one song. It’s a lot easier to work on each scene separately. This is how you get stuff done faster and you don’t get lost or overwhelmed by the project.

Divide the song into different scenes with colors and markers. When you treat every part of your song as if it is its own little project it’ll be more organized and you will get to the finish line much faster.

3. Start With The Busiest Part Of The Song

If you can get this part to sound the way you want it, it’s much easier to get the other parts to sound good. Do This and your mix is at least 60% done.

4. Gain Staging

If you make sure to mix in the right levels, you’ve already done a big percentage of the work. Gain staging starts at the recording stage. Make sure your levels are right.

That means you have to look for unity gain in every device or outboard equipment you have in your recording chain.

Every device, hardware or software, has its unity gain which is a sweet spot in which the device sounds best. It’ll not change the source that much and will sound clean and detailed. Sometimes like with preamps, you would want to stress the device and get it out of its comfort zone. This will give you different sound characters to work with. My recommendation is to only do it if you know exactly what you’re doing and looking for.

“Sweet spot” is a thing you can also find in software. With plugins, never go beyond the digital 0db point. Some plugins, usually those which are emulation based will give you interesting sound character if you get them to work in higher levels above their sweet spot. You should try everything, but at this stage, I would recommend going for the cleanest sound you can possibly get.

Sometimes you look for coloration in every channel in your mix and you end up losing the focal point of the mix because everything is “colored”, so start clean and simple and go on from there.


5. Filters

Filters are like club bouncers, If you’re problematic, look like trouble, too ugly, too unnecessary, you’re out! Yeah, I know it’s a bad analogy but it makes me laugh and it actually works here.

In fact, think about your song as a small club for VIP members only. The more we let in, the more quality we lose. This tip is more for the production stage but it’s definitely true for the mixing stage too. 

Most sources will come with a lot more details than you actually need.

For example, if we have a full range stereo piano channel, it won’t leave a lot of room for vocals, guitars, strings and practically anything that sits on the same frequency range. The more information you filter out, the more space you’d have for other elements in the mix.


6. Make Room For “Air”

“Air” is a very important factor. Sometimes the more we add to the production, the more quality we lose. Examples for “Air hogging elements”: Piano, strings, pads, long Reverb tails and such.

The thing I love the most about “Airy productions” is that in the mastering stage the air becomes a critical factor.  “Airy productions” usually sound more punchy, more detailed, higher in levels and more impressive in general.


7. EQ – Take Things Out


If your piano is playing on the higher octaves, you can peacefully take out its lower end frequencies. I will suggest not to completely cut frequencies out but only lower the level. In general, cutting out information from the source will feel like the wrong thing to do but once you click out of solo mode, you hear how clear things become.


8. Lower The Levels

If your channels are not too “hot” or too high in level it’ll automatically help to keep your sound clean. Sometimes you don’t have to do so much, a little filter, a little EQ and that’s it. Make sure your whole mix peaks at around -10db on the master bus. Leave some room for the mastering process.

9. Start The Mix On Headphones

Yeah, this is a little too out there I know, but keep going. I usually start the mix on my headphones, looking for a place for the different elements in the production. After a quick fiddling with the song and about half an hour of coffee and crazy cats on Youtube my subconscious starts to point me in the right direction.

If you’re using a good pair of mixing headphones and you like what you hear, you won’t be too far from liking it on your speakers, try it. These are some of my favorite headphones for mixing.

10. Room Correction With EQ

There are two ways to correct or at least try to balance a room with an EQ. There is the new way, using systems like the IK Multimedia Arc System with a special microphone or the Sonarworks Refrence 4 with dedicated plugins to put on the master bus.

The second way is the old school way, this is how I used to do it back in the day.
You need two things: A transparent EQ plugin on the master and your ears.

Room Correction With EQ – No Special Tools, Only Your Ears

This method is not for everybody, you have to really trust your ears and have some experience with these things but it worked PERFECT for me so just try it yourself, it’s ok, no one is going to die.

You start with finding a few reference songs that are professionally mixed and mastered, preferably in the same key. Put them on your DAW, throw an EQ on the master channel, hit play and listen to the songs while trying to understand what’s missing from all of them.

For example, if you hear any overload in the low midrange in all of the songs, it means that you have an acoustic problem in your room. Now you can just fix it with the EQ. So basically you play with the EQ until you get a balanced result.

What you did is you adjusted the listening sweet spot to sound like it should. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. Do the same thing with the other songs. I have to say, this is not the most accurate method out there, but it’ll provide a quick little solution for now.


11. Listening Modes

This tip originally comes from professional mastering engineers. Look for a plugin that will let you hear your mix in different listening modes. The one FREE plugin that comes to mind is Braiworx bx_solo. This is a sweet little plugin you put on the master bus and it lets you hear your mix in the following modes:

  • 
Mono – Left and right channels are mixed into the middle.
  • Sides – Only left and right information, with no center.
  • L&R Switch – Flips the left and right channels.
  • Solo L – Plays only left channel
  • Solo R – Plays only right channel
  • Stereo Width Knob – Widening/Narrowing the stereo image.


Listening to the mix in different modes might help finding little problems in the mix. It’s like looking at a picture thru different filters. It makes it a lot easier to “see” the problems.


12. Reference Songs

This is common sense, yeah, but you’d be surprised to know how easy it to overlook it. You can work for hours and hours on a mix only to find out you’ve made a lot of progress in the wrong direction. Happened too many times…

Every professional mastering engineer will listen to reference songs before and during the process of mastering. A good mix engineer will do the same. This is because our memory is very short when it comes to audio and we can’t really trust it to point us in the right direction.

So as I said earlier, you should pick the right reference track for your current project. One of the most important factors for a good reference track is for it to be on the same key as the song you’re working on. Sometimes this is the only reason why you can’t get your mix to sound as good as your reference track.

The right reference tracks are on the same key, the same genre and with the same production or at least the same general artistic direction.


13. Focal Point

Every song has what I like to call a “focal point”. There are a few elements in every song that define the whole production. The human brain can’t concentrate on too many musical elements simultaneously. 

A “focal point” is usually two or three elements in the song that are making the most impact. 
Most of the time it’ll be vocals, drums and harmony. The beat is the groove element of the song and harmony can be anything that plays the chords around the main melody, which is usually the vocal.

Every good mixing engineer will know how to recognize the song’s focal point and make sure it’ll stay in its safe place. Sometimes a producer will give you a rough mix of the song. This is his take on the mix. This rough mix is very important because it gives you a critical glance into his mind. You should take that rough mix very seriously if you want to keep him happy.

Of course, you can take it farther and make it even better, and that’s your job. But if you already have a rough mix and the producer loves it, this is your guide.


14. Take A Break


My personal suggestion is to take a break every 25 minutes even if you don’t feel like it. Just set up an alarm clock on your phone and make yourself take a break. Go out, breathe, restart and come back in. This will keep you mentally sharp and prevent ear fatigue which will allow you to work and stay fresh for literally hours.

If you don’t do it, you lose focus, you become tired and your mix will suffer. The tricky thing about is that you don’t really feel tired, it sneaks up on you and you suddenly find yourself with a bad mix.

15. Export

This is one of the best tips that will help you reveal little flaws in your mix. I don’t know how it happens but for some reason we are able to hear new things to fix in our mix after we create a mixdown.

So you take the file and you listen to it over and over again and you make a list. After that, you go back to your project and fix everything. Do this a couple of times during the finishing process. This will save you literally hours.

16. Mix Into A Limiter


This one is a personal preference. In my opinion, when you mix into a Limiter, you get a sense of how your mix will sound after the mastering process. It changes the whole dynamic behavior of your mix and pushes you to make different and better decisions during the session.

Just put a simple limiter on your master bus, L1 style, compress about 3 to 8db and try it. Be careful not to overdo it because you might lose your sense of what’s right for the mix. Every once in awhile bypass the limiter and work without it, then come back to working with it. Learn more about compression and multiband compressors. 

How to use a multiband compressor like a ninja – 9 tips

17. Professional Mastering

What Is Mastering A Song
Send your mix to a professional mastering engineer with a real mastering studio and a lot of experience. In addition to another point of view, it’ll also take your mix to a better place.

Don’t trust yourself with the mastering, it takes years to get good results. Mastering is not that expensive, most people can afford it, especially if the song is important to you. 
If not, you can skip this one. If you’re new to mastering you can start learning about it here.

>> Best Mastering Plugins

18. Ask For Opinions 

Send your mix to other people and ask them for their opinion. Even if it’s not a professional opinion it still has a lot of value. When I was younger, I used to let my mom listen to my mixes and most of the times she was giving me incredible ideas that didn’t even cross my mind! Just out of pure intuition. It’s cool, try it.

19. Come Back Tomorrow

Last but not least… actually, this is a very important tip. Usually, when you finish working on a mix, you’re so tired, way too deep in the process and had lost almost all of your objectivity.

If you leave it today and open it tomorrow with fresh ears, you’d find a lot of small and even big things you’d want to change and improve. Let’s be honest, a mix is never finished, especially if you’re a crazy perfectionist like me. But you can definitely make it a lot better if you use the “Come back tomorrow” tip. 

That’s it.

Good luck and happy mixing!
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How To EQ Vocals Professionally

How To EQ Vocals Professionally

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Hello, my EQing friends! If you’re looking to learn the basics of professional EQing, stay right where you are because I’m going to show you a lot of cool things that will help you improve your vocal sound by the end of this post! The EQ is like a sharp knife to a decorative salad. This is the only tool that will help you cut and arrange your veggies on the plate like a pro. Now let’s try to understand it from the basics all the way to the pro tips.

First! a quick EQ lesson from the great Dave Pensado

How Important EQ Is?

Although EQ is a very basic tool and one of the first audio tool that was ever invented, it is still to this day, the most important tool of any audio project. I can get a mix to work and even sound fantastic, using only EQ! You can’t say that about any other audio processor and I don’t care what tool it is. That’s how important EQ is.

What is an EQ?

As we all know, in our physical world, audio is made out of different frequencies. The higher the frequency, the higher the tone. The human hearing In general ranges from 20hz to 20Khz. EQ is the one tool we use to boost or cut any frequency on the spectrum and this is the only audio tool that does that. Any other tools that do the same have EQing abilities built into them. For example, with only an EQ we can turn a boomy vocal into a decent sounding one, and a muffled voice into a bright, airy and angelic vocal. The other most important tool in the audio processing world is of course the Compressor. You can learn more about that here >> How To Use a Compressor On Vocals

What Are The Main Uses For An EQ?

Cutting stuff out, adding stuff in, fixing a specific frequency problem, shaping a signal source, giving character to a flat source and even completely change the way it sounds. Much like a sculpting tool for a sculptor. We can take a shapeless stone and turn it into something we recognize and even love.

Where Do I start EQing?

A real audio pro knows that EQing doesn’t start with an EQ but with the recording method at the beginning of the process. In the case of vocals, the first thing we have to think about is what microphone are we using and what character does it have. Learn more about how to make your voice sound better when recording.

In general, Dynamic microphones and Ribbon microphones have a tendency to sound less bright, with an emphasis on the low end and a sensitivity to how close are we from it, it’s called the proximity effect. A condenser microphone in most cases will sound a lot brighter, it will be much more sensitive to every little sound we make and will sound more bright and detailed.

Basic Rules We Don’t Always Follow But It’s Good To Know Them

In most cases of using an EQ, we will cut more and boost less. It’s easier to cut out things from a source than to add things to another one. This will keep the source sounding more natural. That’s the right way to go about it, but as I said, no rules. 

The other thing we always do is filtering. The human ear has a natural filtering system. If you’re a kid with good hearing, you can probably hear all the way from 20 hz to 20Khz and in the top and bottom, you’d have your natural filter. You probably won’t be able to hear above and below that. With EQing an audio source we will cut the head and the tale of any source. 

Let’s say you have a female vocal that rarely goes lower than 100hz, you don’t need the information that’s been picked up by the microphone under that frequency. It’s the same with the top end, we usually cut the super high frequencies because we don’t really hear them and they might interrupt other critical things in the mix.

 

EQ Basic Features

  • Cut – Lowering a selected group of frequencies.
  • Boost – boosting a selected group of frequencies.
  • Low Cut (High Pass)  – Cutting out everything BELOW a selected frequency.
  • High Cut (Low Pass) – Cutting out everything ABOVE a selected frequency.
  • Slope – How many DB’s per octave we cut after the selected frequency point.
  • Shelf – A shelf shape cut or boost at the edges of the spectrum. High shelf, Low shelf.
  • Bell Width (Q) – Determines how wide will be the frequency range we want to work on.
  • Frequency Band or Select – Selecting the fundamental frequency of the range we want to work on.

Different Colors On The Spectrum 

Every area on the frequency spectrum has a different character, I’m going to give you some general guidelines for how to emphasize or to blur a certain feature in the human voice. I’ve made a basic chart just to get you in the right direction.

Low Cut –  Cut from that point and down.

1. Fullness – Boost to give low-end body to a vocal.

2. Boominess – Cut to get rid of low-mid boomy sound and mud.

3. Warmness – Boost to make a vocal sound warmer.

4. Midrange Bite – Boost to make a vocal cut thru the mix.

5. Presence – Boost to give a vocal high-frequency clarity.

6. Air & Details – Boost to give a vocal air and openness.

High Cut – Cut from that point and up.

Dynamic EQ

I won’t go too deep on dynamic EQ’s but I will talk about the basic form of it, and it’s the mighty De-esser. Many times, after boosting a vocal’s high range, there will be some side effects. The Sibilance, high frequencies that jump out every time the singer uses the letters “S” “T”, will come out and poke holes in your eardrums. This is the perfect time to drop a De-esser on the channel and set it up to compress the problematic areas. Usually, it’ll be between 5Khz and 8Khz, depending on the singer.

Mix With Your Eyes

Sometimes using a frequency analyzer can help you find a certain problem a lot faster than if you were using only your ears. A lot of EQ plugins these days has that feature and I definitely recommend using it. 

But be careful, these tools can easily get you deep into the lazy zone and before you know it, you’re trying to make a whole mix with your eyes, and that won’t cut it. Trust me. A frequency analyzer is only a tool that helps to get you in the right direction and the real secret is to work with your ears and with your eyes at the same time.

Bell Width “Q” – How Wide Should It Be?

As a general rule that’s not written anywhere, you want your boosts to be wider and your attenuations to be narrower. Somehow the when you boost with a wide Q it sounds more natural.

Shelf EQ

“Shelving” is a term used to describe a boost or a cut from a certain frequency by the same amount. Shelving is done in the higher or lower edges of the spectrum, this gives it the shape of a shelf. 

Sometimes we tend to use shelving EQ when we want to create a high-frequency boost, but that’s the wrong way to do it. 

If you want to boost the high end of a vocal, it’s smarter and more natural sounding to use a band EQ and just work with the bell width to determine the range of frequencies that will get affected by the boost. That’s how you don’t just boost a bunch of high frequencies that you don’t even hear and your mix is better off without them. Here you’ll find 19 mixing tips that you must have.

Cut When You Need To Boost

Many times we feel the urge to boost the highs to give a certain vocal more air or to make it sound more detailed. But the thing is that when you have a tendency to boost every time you lack some information on the track, you pay for it with sacrificing other precious frequencies on your track. So my suggestion is before you boost the highs, try to cut the lows first. And only then boost the highs accordingly. This will give you a more natural sound. Especially with vocals.

Always Filter

No matter what vocal you mix, you always have two ranges of frequencies you don’t want in your mix. These frequencies are on the edges of the spectrum. This is where we use the filters. A low cut filter on a vocal track alone can save a whole mix. Under a certain frequency, depending on the singer, you’ll only get that low rumble and unnecessary low-end information. It’s the same with the high edge of the spectrum. Take a look at my charts and find out exactly where to place the cutting points.

Sweep For Gold

These next two tips are very important if we want to learn how to eq vocals professionally. Sometimes boosting a specific frequency in a vocal can bring out hidden magic you didn’t even know exists. The way to find this lovely magic frequency is to do a frequency sweep. In most cases, you’ll find this hidden magic spot between 500Hz and 8Khz. How to do a sweep you ask? You just boost a certain band by 5 to 10DB and drag it across the spectrum. In the first sweep, everything might sound cool and you’d want to boost it all, don’t do it. Just pick one spot out of the whole range and give it a touch. Then click the band On and Off and see if you like the difference. If you like it, great! If not, sweep again. It’s ok to not find the golden frequency. It just means you have a well balanced vocal recording and a good vocalist.

Sweep For Dirt

The same as sweeping to find the golden frequency, you can also sweep to find problems in the vocal track. Here the problem can be everywhere on the spectrum. It can be an annoying frequency, a weird overtone that clashes with the song key, or any unpleasant tone somewhere along the spectrum. Again, you boost a certain band by 5 to 10db and you just drag it across the spectrum. If you hear something you don’t like, just cut it. In most cases, a 1 to 3db cut will be enough to balance it out. You might find more than one problematic spot on the track. Do it with as many bands as you need. I usually open a separate EQ instance just to fix the problematic frequencies on a track. But make sure to not get dragged into a “fix fest” where everything sounds like it needs to be fixed. If you do that, you can easily take the life out of a track. If it’s a decent recording, you won’t have to fix more than two or three problematic areas.

Check It On Headphones

Here you can find a lot of information about Mixing On Headphones. If you really want to be on the safe side, double check everything you do on a good pair of headphones. Sometimes an unbalanced room or the wrong monitor can cause us to make faulty decisions along the way, so always double check your mix on more than one reference source >> Best Headphones For Mixing

What EQ should I Use?

Different tasks require different tools. In general, digital EQ types are good for fixing stuff in the vocal track, Finding the gold and taking out the dirt. Every vocal track can use a good surgical treatment with a digital type EQ. For “coloration”, “vibe” and “mojo” on the other hand, it’s much cooler to use an analog emulation type EQ. So I’ve made a list of the best EQ’s that I’ve ever worked with and that I recommend using.
The list >> Best EQ Plugin For Vocals

Practice Practice Practice!

Like with any craft, practice makes perfect. The more you do it, the better you get. With EQ, at some point, you’re not even looking at what you’re doing because your intuition and ears are getting so good it becomes second nature to you. Just keep doing that more and more and the whole EQing process will get almost completely automatic.

Thanks for reading and happy EQing guys.

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How To Use A Compressor On Vocals

How To Use A Compressor On Vocals

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Let me tell you a little secret that most sound engineer will agree on, The best compressor for vocals is a good vocalist! But since we are not talking about vocalists here, I will give you some of what I know about compressing vocals and show you a few of the compressor plugins I work with.

The more I know about compressors the more I do less with them. When we’re beginners, we overdo pretty much everything. I also like to over compress from time to time and use it as an added effect to a vocals track. But it shouldn’t be our default. 

The Hammer

If EQ’s are the sound engineer’s sculpting tool, then compressors are the hammers! Sometimes a good hammer can take a vocal from “ok” to pretty much amazing. Even though I always say don’t over compress anything, the only way to learn what a compressor really does is to over compress things. It’s like putting your hand on the stove to learn that it’s hot and getting to the conclusion you don’t want to do it again. 

What Really Is  A Compressor?

When I was in sound engineering school, I remember my teacher’s (The great Yoram Vazan) first words: “A compressor is only an over glorified volume fader”. This got stuck in my brain and every time I work with a compressor I think about the statement and it helps to remind me of the most basic things about it.

Compressor – How Does It Work?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you the whole preach about the basics that bloggers usually do. All we need to know for now is that a compressor receives a signal and run it thru a few parameters when the end result is a dynamically reduced representation of the source. The compressor’s job is to compress the dynamic range of the signal. That means that it controls the channel’s volume based on a few pre-defined rules.

Compressor Features

These are the most basic features you’ll find in most compressors. Some of them will have more, some less but these are the most basic ones:

Input – The level of input gain goes into the compressor.

Output – The level of output gain goes out of the compressor

Attack – Determines how quick the compressor starts compressing since the signal goes above the threshold.

Release – Determines how quick the compressor stops compressing once the signal goes below the threshold.

Ratio – Determines how many compression will be applied to the signal once it goes over the threshold.

Threshold – Determines the specific spot on the level meter that tells the compressor when to start compressing. In some compressors, the Threshold is determined by the input Knob

Types Of Compressors

All of these compressors do practically the same but each in its own unique way. I won’t get too technical on you but I’ll give you the highlights of each type and go over their sound characteristics.

Optical compressors – (Opto Compressor) These basically work with an electrical light element that determines how much of the signal will get compressed. These have a smooth sound, slow compression and natural sounding behavior. The optical compressors usually shine on vocal tracks. With their slow features and a smooth overall sound, they’ll sound good on almost any vocal source. A good example of an optical compressor is the legendary Teletronix LA-2A, which had almost too many virtual plugin versions. Two of my favorite virtual replicas are made by Universal Audio and Waves. Use an Opto compressor if you want your vocals to sound smooth and natural.

FET Compressors – (Field-Effect Transistor) This is a compressor that uses transistors. Its characteristics are the opposite to the Opto compressor. It’s considered to be fast, flexible, colorful and punchy. The FET compressors are used a lot to control drums and any instrument with fast transients. With vocals, the FET compressor allows very accurate results due to its very fast attack and release. The most famous FET compressor is the classic Universal audio 1176 which a lot of plugins today are modeled after. Use this type of compressors if you need your vocal to be 100% dynamically controlled and full of character.

VCA Compressors – (Voltage Controlled Amplifier) This compressor is based on relatively modern technology. As with the FET compressors, it also gives you control over the attack, release and ratio parameters. The VCA is a versatile animal that can tackle pretty much everything. From shaping a snare sound to controlling a very dynamic vocal. The most famous VCA compressor is the mighty SSL G series Console Bus Compressor which is responsible for a lot of timeless recordings. These behave pretty much like FET compressors but to me, they sound a little less aggressive. So I use them when I want something to be very controlled and without too much coloration and harmonic distortion. This is just how I perceive it.

Variable Mu Compressors – These are tube based compressors. We all know tubes are characterized by warm, slow and colorful sound. This is a very old technology that was first introduced in the 50s. These compressors are commonly used for bus compression although it’s been used for pretty much every sound source we can think of. From breathing new life into electric guitars, squashing a vocal or tightening a whole mix. The most famous tube Compressor is the legendary Fairchild 670 which is maybe the most expensive piece of audio gear today. If you want coloration and vibe, this is the way to go. Most of the Fairchild emulations I had the chance to work with, sounded amazing. So it doesn’t really matter which one you use to give your vocals those majestic colors.

How To Use A Compressor On Vocals

What To Do When I First Put A Compressor On The Vocal Track?

I assume that you already know what each and every parameter does, so when I use the known terms you know exactly what I mean. Now, if you’re looking for rules and guidelines in that particular subject, to be honest, there are none. All I can do is tell you what I personally do and look for when I first put a compressor on my vocal channel. So the first thing I look for in a compressor is the initial introducing of the “character” and how it affects the vocal. Every compressor doesn’t matter if it’s a plugin or a hardware compressor, has a “sound”. Especially the ones which are modeled after the old and legendary hardware units. So I’ll try to give you a basic starting point.

1. LA2AWaves LA2A CompressorIf it’s a classic LA2A for example, I first lower the output and increase the input to hit the compression circuit harder to be able to point out the effect for myself. If I like the effect, I keep playing with it until I hit a sweet spot. With the LA2A most of the parameters are controlled by the level of the source going into the circuit so it’s relatively simple, you just play with it until you reach a sweet spot. 

2. 1176 With FET type compressors, such as the 1176 I start with lowering the output again, increasing the ratio to a high enough spot, and the input until it shows compression on the VU meter. Then I play with the attack and release knowing that I’m controlling the dynamic envelope of the vocal. It’s very important to learn what each an every parameter does so you can look for the change in the right places as you’re playing with the compressor.

3. Ratio – With LA2A type compressors you don’t have a separate ratio knob. You change the ratio by simply increasing the input gain into the circuit. With a 1176 type compressors you start with increasing the ratio. 5:1 is good as a starting point. Always look on the gain reduction meter. This whole thing is just pointing out the obvious because a compressor is a simple device, but it’s important to know what you’re doing because it’s so easy to take your beautiful vocal recording and turn it into pure shit, with a bad compression setup.

4. Gain Staging – Remember, gain staging is one of the most critical parameters for getting a good output out of any audio device. Make sure your input signal sits in a good place around the 75% more or less. This will put you in a safe place, far enough from the noise floor and not too close to the algorithm’s level ceiling where it starts digitally distorting, and we all know how a digital distortion sounds.

In the early years, I used to over think every little change on the compressor. Today the whole process of compressing vocals is much more intuitive and done almost subconsciously while I hover with the mouse over the whole plugin to find it’s sweet spot. All this will come in time as you gain more and more experience.

One Channel, 3 Compressors

I usually use more than one compressor on the main vocal channel. To be exact, I use 2 compressors with a limiter at the end of the chain. So the first compressor handles the heavy duty. The second one is there to round the edges and sometimes to add another color to make the vocal sound a little more 3D and harmonically interesting. The last compressor I use on a vocal channel is actually a limiter. I love controlled vocal channels. This still doesn’t say I compress too much. It only helps me to achieve what I hear in my mind without sounding too processed. This is usually followed by tons of meticulously crafted lines of automation all across the channel.

Digital Compressor Plugins

There are those plugin compressors that are not modeled on any hardware device. Some of them are really good and although digital in nature, they are not lacking on mojo. 

These are some of my favorite digital compressor plugins:

Waves C1 Compressor

I absolutely LOVE this compressor, it sounds great, and it has tons of character. There’s something special in how it handles transients. Very snappy and accurate. as far as dynamics go, I can get exactly what I need with only this compressor alone. I like it on side chain applications. For example, compressing a bass guitar channel that’s being triggered by the kick drum.

Waves Renaissance Compressor

Another amazing digital compressor from Waves?? hey, they’re great, what can I say? This one is even better, visually. Its design is pure genius. The gain reduction meter is brilliant, and it shows me exactly what I hear, which is amazing and not that common. It has a few modes, Electro, Warm and Manual. Each one of them makes the compressor sound a little different.

McDSP Compressor Bank CB303

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This is an ol’ trusty dog. It’s a part of a pack of three different compressors that sound so good! I’m proud to tell you I have a lot of mixes based almost entirely on McDSP plugins. Compressor Bank is one of the most impressive digital compressors I’ve ever laid a mouse on. With all the newest plugins that are coming out each year, I can’t seem to give this old dog up. If there is such a thing as “Classic vintage plugin”, this is definitely one of the few ageless plugins out there. These days its price is so low (No justice) it’s a no-brainer. Just go out and get it!

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5 Best Delay Plugins For Vocals (Videos Included)

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5 Best Delay Plugins For Vocals

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The delay is the ultimate tool for creating space, depth and excitement to any music production. It helps you create dimension around any element in your mix. It does it by repeating the signal one or many times, along with manipulating the repeats in various and unique ways.

One of the best things about delay plugins is that they work in perfect sync with your DAW. There are a lot of delay plugins today and some of them are truly incredible.

Types Of Delay

Tape Delay – The history of delay effects started with the invention of the tape. The signal is being sent to the output and to the recording head of the tape inside the delay box. It is then being reproduced by the playing head a short time after the original signal has been played, which creates the delay effect. The number of recording heads inside the delay box will determine the number of repeats.

Analog/Digital Delay – The first digital delay unit started with a chip called BBD (Bucket Brigade Delay IC). It was originally created to delay signals in the old telephone technology. Over the years the technology got better and found its way to the music world. Years after that, the delay finally arrived to the computer-based music production and it is getting better and better ever since.

The Delay Based Effects Family

There are more effects you can achieve with a delay that does not fall under the definition of “delay”. These effects result from the delay effect playing the repeats a lot closer to the source, few milliseconds, and these are the Chorus, Flanger, and Phaser.

Using Delay To Create A Reverb Effect

A Reverb is practically a delay only with bigger repeats number. Sometimes when using a Reverb on very busy mixes, it creates information overload and gives the feeling of a crowded mix. Here we can achieve the same effect with a delay. The delay is much less dense because the repeats number is a lot smaller. So using a delay instead of Reverb will help you create dimension and space around the mix without overloading it with information.

I found that the most common delay setup is 1/4 note with approximately 5 repeats. It fits most 4/4 productions and it’s always a good starting point. There are absolutely no rules and you should do whatever sounds best to you.

Interface

A good plugin is one that’s been designed with a good interface in mind. The interaction with the plugin, ease of use and intuitive layout are very important factors. A good delay plugin is one you’ll find yourself using for years. My favorite delay plugin is the Waves H-Delay. It’s simple to use, looks great and sounds amazing. Works great for me.

Sometimes you would want to have a fancier delay plugin that will allow you to get much more advanced effects. 

The List

This is my list of the best delay plugins for vocals. I’m not going to give you all the technical information about these plugins, only my opinion, and feeling about them. That’s because all of them are doing pretty much the same thing with each one of them having its own twist. So it’s all about the feeling they give.

Waves H-Delay

I will open the list with my favorite delay plugin the great H-Delay. This is a cool hybrid of digital and analog delay. You can get a variety of different sounds and flavors out of it. The most important thing for me is the interface. It‘s very simple and easy to understand. It comes with a lot of nice presets and it works great on most genres. The H-Delay won’t give you the crazy delay effects that you sometimes here in heavy electronic music, it is more suitable for use in traditional genres like Rock, Pop, Hip Hop, and other simple applications.

Sound Toys EchoBoy
This delay plugin is also a classic in the plugin world, you can hear it on countless productions. What I like the most about it is the interface. It’s simple, very well designed and nice to look at. You don’t have to look so hard for every little feature. EchoBoy also sounds great and it gives you both digital and analog flavors.

McDSP EC-300
Now, this is a special one. If you read my blog you know I have a soft spot for McDSP plugins and the EC-300 is no different. It has the best tape delay I’ve ever heard, It actually sounds like tape and you can’t really say that about all the tape delay plugins. The design is kinda retro and based on an old tape delay machine from the 70s. The saturation knob gives a sweet and musical distortion you can probably hear on other McDSP plugins, although I’m not sure about it and it could be specific for this plugin. Either way, it’ll be a great addition to your spatial effects library.

FabFilter Timeless 2
I can’t tell you I’m dying for FabFilter’s graphic designs but I sure have a lot of respect for them, these guys know their craft. Timeless 2 is their take on quality delay plugins. The best thing about FabFilter’s plugins is that they are very detailed, crazy flexible and sound absolutely amazing. With Timeless 2 you can achieve almost any delay effect you can think of, and I can’t say this about all of the plugins on my list.

Slate Digital & D16 – Repeater
This delay plugin is an absolute beast! not only that it is a very flexible and detailed plugin, but it is also everything you can ask in a delay. The guys at Slate Digital and D16 had modeled 23 delay models to give us every style we can possibly think of. From classic tape machines to oil cans and digital delays. One of my favorite features in Repeater is the Analog modeled feedback circuit which sends all the repeats through a sweet analog algorithm. It sounds like the delay repeats are “melting” into the mix. It‘s incredible on vocals.

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How To Use a Multiband Compressor Like A Ninja – 9 Tips

How to use a multiband compressor like a ninja

How To Use a Multiband Compressor Like A Ninja - 9 Tips

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Everybody knows what is a Multiband Compressor so I’m not going to get too deep on what it is, but I am going to help you use it like a pro.

The thing about Multiband Compressor (MBC) is that it’s like a ninja sword. It’s not the smartest move to start using it until you’ve mastered the wooden sword first.

In this post, you will learn everything there is to know about the MBC- how to use it on vocals, different instruments, and more. It is the perfect tool for controlling and even somewhat automatically mastering a lot of different sources. That’s why it has taken its first steps at radio stations.

Real Quick – What Is A Multiband Compressor?

AudioStreetsYeah, I know I said I’m not going to teach you what it is, but this is only a short section for the new guys. Basically, a Multiband Compressor is a 3 or 4 (or more) compressors in one plugin, spread over the whole frequency spectrum.

Each compressor is working at a different frequency range, giving you the ultimate dynamic control over the channel. You can also think about it as a type of dynamic EQ that allows you to separately compress each and every frequency range.

It’s all About Control

The Multiband Compressor is a great tool for controlling and shaping a simple or complicated source with one tool. For example, if you want to shape and control a vocal channel and you want to surgically compress every frequency band while getting a very specific result, the MBC is the best tool to do it with.

Think about compressing a single vocal channel; You can compress the low range in 5 db to get a very controlled low end while leaving the mid and high bands a little bit more loose. 
It’s an express lane straight to dynamic heaven.

Getting Your Channel Ready For Process

I always suggest starting with leveling the dynamics for the whole channel. Sometimes it takes a little pre-fader automation work or changing the levels for each event on your channel, which is my preferred method.

The goal is to create a stable RMS level for the whole channel and work your way up from there.

After that, I add a regular digital and transparent compressor for a little more control over the dynamic range. This compressor is shaving the top 2 or 3 db- that’s it. Only do that if you feel like the raw vocal is all over the place dynamically.

The Channel Is Now Balanced – Great!

This is the part where you throw in your favorite MBC on the chain. Keep in mind, I don’t suggest going with “The best sounding Multiband Compressor” but with the one that you are most familiar with. This is important.

First, try looking for problems. If you need to, you can open an EQ plugin before the MBC just so you can find problems by easily swiping across the frequency range.

For example, if you find a harsh high mid frequency, you can immediately set up one of the high-frequency bands on the MBC to shave 2 or 3 db’s off of it.
Remember, everything we do with a Multiband Compressor should be done in a corrective manner and very subtly, unless we’re looking for something else other than control.

After that, you can put a regular LA2A or a 1176 style compressor and get an overall processed and controlled vocal. I think I did that on almost every vocal I’ve ever mixed in the last few years.

For me, the trick with multiband compressing is not to overdo it.
It’s best if you use it only to dynamically shape your source and, only then, maybe do some heavy lifting with a regular compressor and a limiter after that if you feel the need for it. When you’re done processing your vocal channel, bypass only the MBC, does it sound like you lost some of its magic? Great, you did a good job.

In some cases, it’ll sound better without the MBC, even after hours of fiddling with it. In this case, turn off your ego and the MBC and move on to the next channel in your mix.

In most cases, a regular good compressor would be just fine.

Color


Now that you have control over the different frequency bands across the whole range, you can use it to shape and create a certain color for your channel. It’s very similar to an EQ shaping of the source but it is more dynamic and alive.

You can create a bottom-heavy guitar sound without crowding the entire low range, or a vocal sound with a nice bright character that cuts through the mix without it being too harsh. You can add in the pretty stuff and cut out the ugly and unnecessary garbage.

Do I Have To Use All The Bands All The Time?

Of course not. As a matter of fact, in most cases, you won’t have to use all the bands because you’d only need to shape and control one or two areas. Let’s say you want the mid-range section to breathe and be free while you do want the low and high ends to be tighter. Easy- go for it.

Multiband Expander

AudioStreetsAs we all know, in most Multiband Compressors you can also expand certain frequency ranges. 

In short, an expander will expand the dynamic range of a source once it goes above the threshold. 

Let’s say you want the high band to be compressed and controlled, the midrange to bite and be more aggressive, while the low mid is compressed and the low end is pumping and kicking you in the stomach- You can do that. It works beautifully with bass guitars, different synth sounds, and with almost any other source, really.

The real secret in expanding is finding the sweet spot for the attack and release. 

Every source needs its own settings and, once you find it, you can make an electric guitar or bass much punchier and help them jump to the front of the mix more easily. On vocals, you can really affect the performance and give it more bite and aggression with the right settings.

It’s important to know that there are no specific settings for each source, you just need to tweak and find it for yourself.

Tip #1 – Multiband Sidechain

This is a cool one- I call this “compressing without compressing”. Meaning, the processed channel will not get affected unless something else covers it. Let’s say you have a cool electric guitar riff that holds the song and you want it in the middle of the song together with the vocal but they are both sitting on the same frequency range and you don’t want them to clash for the whole song, this is what you do.

Step 1
Send the vocal to a parallel bus and the bus to trigger the sidechain in the MBC on the guitar channel, it’s easy to set it up. It’s a little different on each digital audio workstation application but the idea is pretty much the same.

Step 2
Look for the frequency range where most of the vocal sits and set the sidechain on the guitar’s channel right on that same range. Now, every time the vocal plays, it triggers the compressor for that same frequency range on the guitar channel and compresses the guitar without losing it in the parts where there’s no vocal. Lovely.

Tip #2 – Adding Punch To A VocalMultiband Compressor

I can only tell you how I personally do it, Here it is. First, you have to get the overall dynamic of the vocal settled. You don’t want the RMS to get too crazy because you need a steady level going into your Multiband Compressor. So you do a basic compression on the vocal before it goes to the MBC.

Make sure to keep it loose, meaning slow Attack and fast Release. After that, you need to set the bands to expand instead of compress. Usually it’s only changing the Ratio parameter to a positive value. This tells the band compressors to create a boost every time the signal’s going above the threshold.

You don’t have to engage all the bands. You only need one or two, sometimes three.

If you use more than that, the source might break and not be as powerful, if that makes any sense. Most of the “punch” power is located in two ranges: it’s the low mid and high mid. I don’t usually touch the middle of the range, because that is where the natural fundamental is living and I don’t like changing it.

So if it’s a deep male voice, the “low punch” is between 80hz and 300hz and the “high punch” is around 2k to 5k.

Try these ranges as a starting point for every male voice. If it’s a girl, the highs are pretty much the same and the lows are a bit higher- let’s say from 150hz to 350hz. Turn off all the other bands. Now, solo the low band and set the ratio to an exaggerated value like +6db, the Attack on 30 milliseconds, and the Release on 70. This is just to put you in the ballpark.

These parameters will probably change along the way as you’re searching for the sweet spot. Let the vocal play and start lowering the threshold. At some point you will start to hit the point and the meter will show a few db’s of gain each time the threshold is being crossed. It will sound like the peaks are jumping out of the monitors- this is what we’re looking for.

When you finally find the exact timing for the Attack and Release, set the threshold to be a bit higher, and set the Ratio to 2-3 db max, depending on how aggressive you want it to be. Do the same for the High section.

Usually the Attack and Release will have to be shorter because the higher frequencies are faster. This also works great on synth channels, basses, and guitars. I don’t recommend doing it on acoustic guitars, although I’m learning new things every once in a while so never say never.

Tip #3 – Balance A Drums Overhead Stereo Channel

When you record drums, the overhead microphones will pick up more highs than lows. To me, the idea is to get the overhead channel to sound almost like a full range drum set. Yes you can do it with an EQ and leave it there, and you can also use the MBC for a little more dynamic result that sounds a bit more “Alive”. This is how I do it.

I don’t compress before the compressor. I just do a high cut and low cut with an EQ before I send it to the MBC. Now you start with “EQing” with the Multiband Compressor. Yes, you heard right. You can shape the channel’s EQ curve with the gain feature on every band. After you do that, you start compressing a few db’s on every band. Play with the Attack and Release until you like how it sounds. Remember, these are fast sounds, so shorter Attack and Release will get you there more easily.

Make sure to work in solo mode on each band and take your time with it. Remember to be gentle, we are not trying to break the source, only to make it sound a little bit more alive. After you finish processing, try to switch the MBC in and out and look for what it does against just doing the same with an EQ. If you like what you hear better with the MBC, we did good 🙂 Next.

Tip #4 – Shapeing A Rhythm Acoustic Guitar

You’d be surprised to know that acoustic guitar is one of the hardest instruments to mix, let alone record. Of course, you can use an EQ and compressor to process an acoustic guitar, but how about having both of them in the same plugin and work their magic in a much more intelligent and dynamic way? Ok, the truth is that a rhythm acoustic guitar channel is made up of few different processors so the MBC is just a small part of it but still, it really helps the guitar to find its place in the mix.

This is how I do it- I start with an EQ to give it a basic shape and high and low cuts. Then, throw in the Multiband Compressor and start working on the “dynamic shape” of the guitar. You can make an acoustic guitar breathe and move naturally on the spectrum with no sudden peaks or crazy holes in the frequency range.

Let’s take a rhythm acoustic guitar for example. With the right process, you can make it sound like a steady warm acoustic wall of chords that wraps the whole song in sweet harmony. So we use all the bands and we start with the ratio for all the bands on 5db. From there, we start lowering the threshold until we see some compression. At this stage, we can already hear what the MBC is doing to the guitar.

Now, this is a big one for me- although we compress each band separately, I still find it very important to keep the same Attack and Release values on all the bands. If we don’t do that, in some cases the guitar might break and lose it’s energy and drive because we messed with its internal dynamic properties, which we don’t want.

We only want the whole frequency range to be consistent and balanced. With a rhythm acoustic guitar, you’d generally want to have a fast attack and a slow release, Play with it until you find the right timing for your acoustic guitar part. You don’t have to work on each band in solo mode. Remember, the goal is just to have balanced rhythm acoustic guitar across the whole song. When done the right way, it can make a world of difference in the final result.

Tip #5 – Compressing A Ballad Piano

In cases like this, where the piano takes a really big place inside the song, it’s very important to control its dynamics and use it as an emotional ground for the whole song. This is the perfect scenario for using a Multiband Compressor. Again, we are using all the bands here and we start with the main section for the piano which is the low mid to mid frequencies. Most of the energy in pianos is living between 150hz to 2Khz, so we can start there.

As a starting point, we set the Ratio to 5db on all the bands and lower the threshold to see some compression. If the part is consisting of long chords, you want the Attack to be around 50ms+- and the Release to be around 200ms+-.

You should always play with these parameters and not take these numbers as gospel. The reason for that is that every piano has it’s character and unique properties. The main goal here is to find the right inner groove for the instrument and the way it plays. It’s very important to set the Release to the right value. You don’t want the piano to “Pump” out of rhythm or be too lose. You have to look for the right timing.

When working with Multiband Compressor on a piano, you don’t want to stay in solo mode all the time, because you’re EQing and compressing at the same time, so you want to know exactly what you’re getting out of your speakers. Also, make sure that you keep the same Attack value for all bands so you won’t “break” the energy of the piano. As for the Release, here, you have much more freedom because of the nature of the piano.

The lower notes tend to sustain longer and have more energy, so you can try and set the release for higher values.

After you find the right timing for the Attack and Release, make sure to find the right Ratio. I, personally, don’t like to squash the piano too much, so, for me, it’s between 2 to 3db of gain reduction on each band. It is very subtle, but inside the mix it makes all the difference.

Tip #6 – Reduce Bad Frequencies On Acoustic Guitar

As I said in the last acoustic guitar tip, it is one of the hardest instruments to mix, and even the most experienced audio engineers and producers will sometimes struggle with that. Sometimes acoustic guitars can have unpleasant and shrieking high content frequencies, especially when the strings are new. You can fix that with an EQ, but when you just create a hole in the guitar’s natural frequency response you might just lose good information. You want to fix that in an automatic and intelligent way. Of course, the MBC to the rescue.

Usually, these shrieking frequencies are between 2Khz to 8Khz.

Tip #7 – Adding Energy To A Mix

So, it’s going to be very simple. First, yes, this is a mastering tip, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it if you’re not yet at that level. Assuming that you have healthy levels and good balance across your mix: no distortions, no clipping and you’re entering the final stage of the mixing process, throw in your favorite MBC on the mix bus and start here. It might change from genre to genre, but it’ll give you a good starting point. E

ngage only 2 bands, the lowest frequency range and the highest frequency range. Bypass all the others.

Low Band
Set the Cross-over point to 150hz. Set the Ratio to 3db, Attack around 50ms, and the Release at around 120ms. Now, start lowering the threshold in solo mode. Now you see and hear a little compression. If you feel that it’s not enough for you, try increasing the Ratio. Remember, don’t get the threshold too low or compress more than 2 or 3db’s, because you might break the energy for the whole mix. After you get the required compression, increase the gain for the low band in 2db. That should make your lows more collected and controlled.

High Band
This band should range from 2k to 10k. Set the Ratio to 3db. Attack – 3ms, Release 6ms, and start lowering the threshold to see some compression. Once you have reduction, increase the gain in 2 to 3db to compensate. Again, try to play a little bit with the parameters to get the timing right. Remember, it should be very subtle. Bypass the MBC on and off to hear the changes. If you like it, we did good.

Techniques for Mixing with Multiband Compression

Tip #8 – Controlling An Audio Channel From A Video Shoot

Yeah, it’s not a music production tip, but we all do everything these days, and it’s a pretty amazing tip, so I’m not going to leave it out. It’s simple, assuming that you have healthy levels, no distortions, no clipping, and you’re entering the final stage of the mixing process, throw your favorite Multiband Compressor on the channel and engage all the bands. Now, look for the busiest part in your signal and set the ratios on all the bands to 8db. Next, look for the right threshold level for your signal until you start seeing some compression. Do it on all the bands and let it go.

Try to look for unpleasant peaks in the signal and work from there. This is not a steady and repetitive audio source, like music, so it’s all over the place. But it’s enough to have 8db of gain reduction on all the bands, and you already have good dynamic control over the signal. Some MBC’s have an automatic Attack and Release control. This will be the perfect application for that.

Tip #9 – Getting Rid Of Painful Frequencies In Female Voices

It’s a little funny, but some female singers have some kind of an annoying high frequency that makes them unpleasant to listen to, and it might ruin the whole performance. I don’t like to name names, but I think one very good singer that has an annoying high-frequency thing in her voice is Jorja Smith. She is a great singer, but if you listen to her natural voice on her show in Tiny Desk Concert, I couldn’t take more than 2 minutes. It’s just painful.

So what do we do?? Easy! We drop an MBC on that joint 🙂 Usually, the annoying range is right between 3k to 7k.

How do we find it? We first open an EQ on the channel and create a narrow band with a boost of 10db. Then, we sweep across that range to find the painful spot. Once we’ve found it, we set one of the high-frequency bands to live right on this area with a narrow band if possible. This is a good starting point:

  • Ratio – 4db
  • Attack – 50ms
  • Release – 100ms
  • Gain compensation – Increase accordingly

Again, start lowering the threshold to see some compression and go from there. Make sure you’re not overdoing it, because you don’t wanna kill the natural character of the vocalist. It is important to understand that every MBC is working a little differently, so you might get different results on different MBC’s. That is why you should play with the parameters around those starting points to find the sweet spot for your source and your Multiband Compressor.

Fix Muddy Guitars – Great Tips

Always Be Comparing

Don’t forget to compare your work with the work of others from the same genre. It makes a world of difference if you’re aiming to the level of other professionals.

Switch It On & Off

Remember! Always switch the MBC on and off when you finish editing, it’ll give you an overview and let you know if you like the result or not. There will be some cases where it’ll not work, don’t fight it. Switch it off and go on with your mix.

Let’s Wrap It Up

Play with it, have fun with it, tweak for hours until you’re able to use the MBC like playing an instrument. As a matter of fact, this should be your way of thinking throughout your whole musical journey.

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