Reverb smoothing using a De-Esser

Advanced techniques on manipulating and smoothing reverbs using a de-esser.

Dynamic Processors


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It goes without saying that when you need to treat sibilance in vocals a de-esser is the best tool for the job. BUT a de-esser can do so much more than just tame sibilance. It can be used creatively to shape sounds and effects and in this technique tutorial I show you how to use a de-esser to smooth out a reverb effect when using it with vocals. It is important to understand that we are not de-essing the vocals, we are de-essing the reverb effect.

Before we can explore this wonderful technique let us have a little jaunt into the world of de-essing.

De-esser

One of the biggest problems facing producers who process vocal takes is that of sibilance.

Sibilance refers to the harsh consonants, notably ess and eff, that are exaggerated due to either the singer’s voice or delivery (sometimes getting too close to the microphone can exaggerate sibilance). The microphone is merciless in picking up sibilance and taming these nasties can be a nightmare if you don’t know how.

The process of taming or controlling sibilance is called De Essing which makes perfect sense as what we are trying to do is to de-ess, ie, remove the sss or attenuate it. Quite often the producer will manually search for sibilance and use volume automation to attenuate the sibilant frequencies. However, this can be time consuming and quite laborious and in these instances we prefer to use a dedicated de-esser. The de-esser is designed specifically to treat sibilance in vocal recordings.

The problem with treating sibilance is trying to locate exactly where it resides in the vocal waveform. Sibilance invariably can cover quite a wide band of frequencies and I have often treated them from 4 kHz all the way to 12 kHz. Additionally, you need to be careful not to attenuate too heavily as the process can suck the life out of the band of frequencies being processed: remember that we are attenuating a range of frequencies and not individual frequencies.

How to use a de-esser

With a de-esser we need to first specify the range of frequencies we want to process and we are given two parameters to play with; the start of the range and the end of the range. This is referred to as the bandwidth. Once we have the range selected we need to use the threshold feature to determine at what point we want the de-esser to start to attenuate the frequencies. We then need to shape the behaviour of the de-esser by using the attack and release functions and finally we need to determine by what amount we want the frequencies attenuated; this is often referred to as reduction or range.

Ok, so we now have a handle on what a de-esser is and how it works – how is this relevant to the technique I use? Well, the answer is we use the de-esser as an insert effect and place it direct after the reverb effect and use it to filter sibilant frequencies from the reverb and NOT the vocals. The vocals are used to target the sibilant frequencies and once the sibilant frequency range has been found we can use it as a startup template for the reverb de-esser.

The beauty of this technique is that the vocal take’s sibilance is kept intact but the sibilant frequencies are removed from the reverb effect leaving the vocals to sound crystal clear without the horrible reverb sibilant side effects you hear on poor vocal productions. The filtered reverb acts like a wall of smoothness that the vocals cut through.

In the video I explain what a de-esser is and how to use it to target and treat sibilant vocal frequencies. I then show you how to create a startup de-esser template for the reverb effect using the existing vocal sibilant frequency range derived from the vocal take. I show you the process I use for finding the exact frequency range to use and explain what settings to use for the best results.

Plugins used in this video:

Melda MReverb

Steinberg DeEsser

FabFilter Pro Q2

FabFilter Pro DS

Topics covered in this video are:

  • Using a de-esser in place of a Filter/EQ
  • Pitfalls and best practices
  • Advanced studio technique for de-essing clarity
  • Vocals and de-ess values
  • MReverb and smearing
  • Locating the correct biting point
  • Using bandwidth de-essing