A De-Esser is an essential tool that can be used in any recording studio, and it is used to help tame as much sibilance as possible whilst recording.
By using a de-esser, you’ll very easily be able to achieve professional results when it comes to the sound quality of your recording, as well as the clarity of the vocals in the recording too.
So, if you want to learn how to effectively use your de-esser, then here are 5 simple methods to effectively use your de-esser to help you get that professional sound on your recordings every time!
What Is A De-Esser?
A de-esser is a highly specialized tool found in most recording studios and is used to try to reduce the audio signal level, whether that’s in part, or in whole, which will then help to lower the sibilance in the vocals, or the other instruments.
This is achievable without having an adverse effect on the sound of your voice, so don’t worry about the possibility of losing any character.
Essentially, if you happen to make use of a sidechain compressor that makes use of sibilance as a key (as opposed to a kick drum), then this is a traditional de-esser.
Typically, a de-esser will mean that both the attack and the release times will be faster than the traditional compressor.
This will help to reduce the vocals’ short fricative transients without having any form of noticeable impact on the audio’s signal, both before and after the sibilance event.
This is a very primitive overview, as the modern plugins and racks of today will each have their own different refinements, and will function differently from one another.
Plus, each de-esser will have its own proprietary settings, as well as different presets designed to cater to specific situations, like dialog, as opposed to singing.
Sibilance – What Is It?
It is worth initially noting that sibilance isn’t an inherently bad thing, in fact, it would sound rather weird if we removed the sibilance altogether.
However, if it is overly present, it can become extremely distracting to the listener, this is because our ears happen to be very sensitive to frequencies in this sort of range, and it can dominate a mix if it isn’t properly attenuated.
So, what is it? Well, a sibilance usually refers to a certain type of harshness that can be present in vocal recordings and is generally considered to consist of ‘s’, ‘sh’, ‘f’, or ‘x’ and soft ‘c’ sounds.
There are a number of reasons why this sort of harshness can arise, whether it’s down to the vocalist’s type of voice, how far they are away from the microphone, as well as the type of microphone used to record the audio.
Other factors can contribute too, such as heavy compression, which can be a problem in the post-processing stage.
Usually, these sibilance events find themselves higher up on the frequency spectrum, which is why they can be so harsh to listen to, especially if you’re listening to music through headphones or a smaller-sized speaker.
So whilst you may have incredibly fancy studio speakers, which makes the sibilance less noticeable, remember that a lot of people use smaller speakers and headphones to listen to their music, you should take care when it comes to removing it.
Methods Of De-Essing
There are many different ways of de-essing, so we’ve compiled a list of the 5 best methods for de-essing!
Whilst not actually a de-esser, using a dynamic EQ can have a fairly similar effect.
A dynamic EQ is typically used as a way of equalizing audio that makes use of some traditional EQ elements, alongside the elements of dynamic control that is usually found in most expanders or compressors.
Whilst it is absolutely possible to use EQ to get rid of the sibilance, it doesn’t sound nearly as good as a de-esser does.
For example, you can usually pinpoint the exact problematic frequency, which will generally land somewhere between 3-10kHz range, from there you can make use of a narrow bell filter in order to attenuate it.
You should be cautious in doing this, however, as you will then remove that frequency from the entirety of the vocal track, which will cause it to sound very weak, or even unnatural.
In order to help remedy this weakness, you will need to make use of some form of automation. But this process can be extremely time-consuming, not to mention boring.
You are able to skip some of this automation gain process, however, which is achievable thanks to the use of de-esser plugins.
The main role of de-essing plugins is to help cut back some of the sibilances that overbears itself on the vocal track.
There are many different VST plugins that are available to be used for exactly this purpose, each with its own varying parameters and its own complexities.
They work by first detecting when the frequency of a sibilant event crosses the preset threshold, and it then goes to work by applying a form of gain reduction to this signal.
In order to do this, you can make use of any stock plugin in all major Daws.
Or if you want to make use of some of the more advanced possibilities that a third party option can provide, then you can opt to use something such as FabFilter Pro-DS, or Sonnox Oxford SuprEsser V3.
Plugins will come in two different types of processing: Wide-band processing, or split-band processing.
This type of de-essing will just pull down the whole signal in its entirety once a sibilance has been detected, which essentially means that it’s an automated form of manual de-ssing.
So whilst it is much harder to tune wide-band de-essing for specific frequencies, it produces much better results in a musical sense.
The option for wide-band de-essing will be found on most plugins, so you should have no problem opting for this method.
Split-band de-essing works a little differently to wide-band de-essing. This is because it instead splits the signal into two parts.
Once you decide the target frequency, the signal is then separated into frequencies lower, and frequencies higher than the target frequency.
Some modern versions of split-band de-essing split the frequencies into three different bands which makes finding the range of the harshness and reducing it much easier.
In conclusion, split-band de-essing is much better at providing a more precise removal of the sibilance, which is known as ‘surgical de-essing’, which helps to prevent volume discrepancies once completed.
To summarize, a de-esser is an incredibly helpful tool that you’ll find in nearly every recording studio, and it helps to combat some of the sibilance which can have an overbearing effect on a vocal track, which in turn causes harshness when listeners hear it, especially when played through a small speaker or smaller headphones.
There are multiple methods that can be used with a de-esser, so it’s all about trying to find the one that works best for you!