January 7, 2012  |   Logic Tutorials, Music Courses, Tutorials

Mastering Audio in Logic – De-essing Vocals with Waves C1 Compressor

As we draw ever closer to the big launch date of our Audio Mastering course featuring Waves plug-ins here is the next in our series of sample tutorials which give you an exclusive taster. There are still a couple of spots left on the opening course which starts on Monday 9th Jan so if you are interested in enrolling you’d better get in there quick! Click here.

What is De-essing?

We define de-essing in audio recording as any technique intended to attenuate or eliminate the excess sibilant sounds (such as s, z, sh) triggered by the human voice. Although this process is usually dealt with during the recording and the mixing stages, it is very common for a mastering engineers to have to address such issue as well.

The simplest tool is a de-esser, this is a dynamic tool which is only working when the level of the signal in the sibilant range exceeds a set threshold. So effectively, this is a compressor with an EQ filter in the side-chain which makes the compressor respond only to a specified frequency range. Dedicated de-essers tend to have only a few simple parameters such as frequency (to select the frequency range) and reduction (the amount of attenuation), although some models have more options.

Some of the most popular dedicated deessers used in professional mastering rooms are the Maselec MPL-2 or and Weiss DS 1.There is also a large number of dedicated plug-ins from various manufacturers that are suitable for mastering such as Digitalfishphones Spitfish, Sonnox Suppressor, UAD deesser, Waves (several models), and many more…

There are other alternatives to using dedicated de-essers, we can use a compressor and insert an EQ filter in the side-chain path. Some devices such as the Waves C1 (demonstrated in the video below) has a filter module, which can be used for Sidechain EQ and therefore act as a de-esser, and more.

De-essing in mastering

Although inserting a de-esser across a stereo mix is never the first choice of a mastering engineer, it is a relatively common technique as sibilance in vocals tend to be exaggerated during the mixing process with the use of EQ, compression and reverb for example. Additional gain boost of the high frequencies during mastering will also emphasize that problem.

Voice sibilances tend to be in the frequency range of 2 kHz to 10 kHz and often around 5 kHz, which is that range our ears are the most sensitive to. Because of this we need to be extremely careful how we approach the reduction of sibilance as too much attenuation will have a major impact on the high mids of a mix. Not all de-essers are equal, and it is important to make sure that you use the best device you can. A good de-esser should not only sound good when in action but should also be transparent when no gain reduction is applied.

When sibilances are strong, a de-esser will not be able to resolve the problem on its own and the mastering engineer will often use a combination of de-esser and EQ to tackle any excessive top end.

In this video, we demonstrate how we can use the Waves C1 compressor as a de-esser to help reduce the amount of sibilances on a lead vocal.

The Audio Mastering course has been developed by JC Concato (Mix engineer: The Cure, Erasure, US3) and Doug Shearer, with contribution from top industry professionals, Jim Lowe (Producer, engineer: Stereophonics, The Charlatans) & Bunt Stafford Clark (Mastering engineer: Thom Yorke, Manic Street Preachers, Aloe Blacc). The aim of the course is to help you understand the role of the mastering process, develop/tune your ears, learn about EQ techniques, compression, limiting, as well as advanced techniques such as mid/side processing and multiband dynamics, and much much more. Each week you’ll master a choice of tracks yourself and get 1-2-1 video feedback (DVR) on your work from your tutor. Courses start: 9th Jan, 5th March, 30th April 2012

We’re pleased to be running the course in association with the fantastic Waves plugins but the skills you absorb can be applied to any mastering software or hardware.

“Mastering is one of the most important stages of the production process and we’re delighted that Point Blank have gone with Waves as their plugins of choice”

Gilad Keren, Waves Audio CEO

Keep up to date with all of Point Blank’s news, tutorials and giveaways by subscribing to our Youtube channel, or following us on Facebook and Twitter… and if you have something to say about this post, start the conversation with a comment below. Thanks!

Video Transcription:

Hello. I am Doug Shearer. Welcome to this preview of Point Blank’s Audio Mastering course, featuring Waves plugins. I have mastered records by [inaudible: 00:12], Kasabian, Jamelia and others, and I have worked in some of the top mastering studios in London. We are going to show you how you can achieve professional mastering results, yourself. You will learn about EQ, compression, limiting, loudness, and advanced techniques such as mid- side and multi-band compression. We will also show you how to prepare your music for professional release. Here is a preview of what you can expect.

OK. The De-essor, we can use the C1 compressor as a de-essor because it has a sidechain EQ function. If we open it now, you will see there are various options for C1. We want the C1 compressor SC, or sidechain. We can also de-ess with the gates version, the full Monty. For today, we are going to use the sidechain one.

First of all, on the EQ section, we want to enable Look Ahead. Just above that, on EQ mode, we switch that to split mode, and you see the EQ has changed there. The red filter in the diagram is what we are interested in. What we really want is a band pass. We will either be using a de-essor band pass or a low cut, but we are going to start with the band pass. Generally, we do not want to affect the whole range of audio, we want to go straight to the problem and just affect that and nothing else, so a band pass is our friend in that respect.

If we play some audio. We suppress sidechain on the monitor section and we can hear the filter base, we can hear what we are affecting. We just scoot around here and find the problem frequency, where is the most problematic essy sounds. It is starting to get more, 5 or 6k, lovely. Let us try even higher, there might be something more going on there. I think between 6 or 7 is the most active area. Let me try and park our EQ at about 7. Let us go back into audio mode on the monitor, and then we can start dialing in some compression on the compressions controls.

Normal controls that you are familiar with from using the compressor. Let us have a ratio of 4, more or less, and bring the threshold down. We got a fast release and attack going on. We want the compression to be moving really fast, to capture those fast energetic sounds. We are probably looking to create about 4 to 6 DBs maximum gained reduction, otherwise, you are going to start really gutting the voice and sounding like it is lisping. Let us overdo it to hear what that sounds like.

You have got to strike a balance, obviously, between too much essing and just a [inaudible: 03:39] sound. Often, like many things in mastering, a little bit goes a long way and a couple of DBs really makes it sound just fine. This on its own is not going to solve the problem of the tracks, so we will make an improvement here, and then we are moving on. We will probably EQing elsewhere and doing other things. That job is done, that is fine.

Obviously, listen to the rest of the track. As we know, lots of different sounds inhabit the same frequency ranges, so the same points as are essing in the voice. We might have snare drums, cymbals, high hats, and top-end of guitars. All sorts of instruments are present in our frequency range affecting, so just double-check you are not doing something unpleasant to those other instruments.