EDM Kick Drum Processing using Valves/Tubes

How to use valves/tubes to add warmth and thickness to EDM kick drums.


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Tubes/valves are not just about achieving a rounded and warm texture. Nope. They can be used to apply grit and a certain hardness to EDM drum sounds that conventional eq and compression can’t.

Modern music, being produced and mastered predominantly in the digital realm, can suffer from too much digital clarity and can sound thin and sterile. For this reason alone we look to harmonic distortion processes to thicken, warm and soften digital recordings and one process that is both simple to use and affords lovely results is Valve/Tube processing.

Active gain stage

An active gain stage is another term for an amplifier and the fact that the amplifier raises the gain of the input signal means that there is an element of distortion associated with the process and result. Valves, or tubes, fall into this category. The way active gain stages work are actually not that complex; the output is controlled by the power (via the power supply) that is driven through the valve (grid) by the input signal. The higher the input signal value the more power is driven through the valve via the power supply. This will invariably account for variances, no matter how small, between the input and output stage. Tubes have always been associated with ‘warmth’ because of this process but don’t let this fool you as some poorly designed systems work against you instead of for you.


Generally, the most common valves used are triodes (12AX7) which are mainly used for mic and line level gain stages, and pentodes which are mainly used for amplifier stages. However, this is not set in stone as they can be alternated and used in any system and is dependent on the topology design and application. Triodes tend to produce both even and odd harmonics whereas pentodes tend to produce odd harmonics.

The choice of valve is important when dealing with distortion as the harmonic content is reliant on the type used. Of course, the design of both the circuit topology and powering comes into the equation but I don’t want this to be an epic journey into the world of electronics. I want to simply explain the basic differences between the types of valves and how the gain stages work as you will come across tube/valve selections in some vst plugins and it helps to know what you are dealing with and how the plug-in will behave.

Suffice to say that running any audio into a gain stage device will create its own character at the output stage and whether the choice comes down to using valves, solid state etc is purely dependent on what works best. However, it is important to state that running audio through a solid state device will add its own sonic character onto the output signal and this is why it is common practice to run audio through pre amps and the like. BUT if it is warmth and fuzzy roundness you’re after Valves reign supreme.

EDM kick drums, and predominantly the Roland TR 909 kick drums, can sound hard and unexciting. This can be due to the fact that EDM kick drums are short in duration and are EQ’d and compressed to cut through a busy mix. Quite often depth is missing from EDM kicks due to over-processing and we try all manner of layering processes to add a level of warmth and depth to synthetic kick drums. However, there are processes available that can tackle all these shortcomings and one such process is to use a Valve/Tube processor to add grit, depth and warmth to TR 909 kick drums without losing clarity and focus.

In the video I use D16’s Drumazon (a great TR 909 emulator) to trigger and shape a kick drum. I then use Klanghelm’s SDRR and the SSL X-Valecomp to add girt and depth to the 909 kick drum. I run through the various parameters of both valve/tube processors and explain what settings to use to achieve different textures. I then use the FabFilter Saturn to show you how we can maul a drum kick into interesting new textures. I show you how this plugin works and how best to use it to achieve different types of tube saturation.

Plugins used in this video:

D16’s Drumazon

Klanghelm’s SDRR

SSL X-Valecomp

FabFilter Saturn

LVC Audio Limited-Z

Topics covered in this video are:

  • EDM Kicks and Grime
  • Understanding Tubes/Valves
  • Tricks for maximising the Colour of a sound
  • Pushing the Valves
  • Hitting Saturation
  • Using Drumazon
  • Bleed and Valves
  • Harmonics, odd and even