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Mixing:  Annoying trebly sss's in vocals

08-Aug-03 (Jiggity)
08-Aug-03 (SpeckO)
08-Aug-03 (inocybe)
08-Aug-03 (Dr. Whammo)
08-Aug-03 (krylenko)
08-Aug-03 (nubilee)
08-Aug-03 (Dr. Whammo)
08-Aug-03 (nubilee)
08-Aug-03 (Jiggity)
08-Aug-03 (Giant Robot)
09-Aug-03 (Giant Robot)
11-Aug-03 (nubilee)
12-Aug-03 (The Real MC)

Original Message
Jiggity.... Annoying trebly sss's in vocals (08-Aug-03  01:56AM )

- What can you do to get rid of loud "sss" noises in vocals? Our bassist has a great, full toned voice, but he's got lispy S's. We tried cutting the treble, which worked, but blurred the rest of the voice. Is there an easy way to isolate the loud, ear-ringing ssss tone at the points they happen and compress them? I'm curious about synth lines in another track sent through this strange filter that made it sound cool, but at certain higher frequencies, it resonates very loud and kills the mellow vibe of the song by giving you a headache. It only happens a few times, but again, cutting those frequencies in EQ destroys the tone. Is compression the answer?


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SpeckO.... Re:Annoying trebly sss's in vocals (08-Aug-03  03:35AM )

- A de-esser does what you need. It is basically a frequency dependant compressor which compresses primarily the area of roughly 2-6 khz, which is where you will find you harsh sibilance in most vox.

I'm going to try to explain the filter thing as best i know, though someone else may be more adept at explanations...........

If you crank resonance up on a synth, then you will find that by sweeping the filter cutoff , you will find some notes louder than others. The resonace will boost the volume of the point of the filter roll-off , making it louder, giving you that classic resonant filter sound. you may find that this point is louder at various intervals up the scale, as the cutoff and resonance is directly related to pitch and volume, and thus is dependant on where the cutoff knob is, and what pitch note you are playing.

i've found the better the filter, the less you can go wrong with ugly sounds. Some of the VA's and soft synth plugins make a pretty ugly sound at some intervals when the filter resonance is cranked up high. It seems to happen much more with digital filters, though many are getting better at modeling the analogues thee days.

If someone said to me I had to use all digital synths for a project, I'd still say "please! can I have an analogue filter, or at least a good VA one like the Virus. filter?" Otherwise the compromise is, back either the volume or the resonance down a bit: If you have high volume, you may need lower resonance. If you crank your reso up to get some lovely harmonics going on, then you may find the volume needs to come down significantly.

Otherwise, compression could be your best bet, as it will make those harsh bits less loud, and the nice bits louder (assuming the harsher bits are actually louder than the nice bits!)

G'Luck with it all


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inocybe.... Re:Annoying trebly sss's in vocals (08-Aug-03  05:18AM )

- Compression can be your answer here, although you'll need to experiment a bit to get it right.. Basically you have a frequency that's annoying, but EQing it out affects the whole signal. You only need to lower the volume at certain points in time.

De-essers will help you in getting rid of the vocal sss.. if you don't have a de-esser ready, you can use a compressor with sidechain just as well to do it, providing you have a mixing desk capable of handling basic routings. Here's how.

1. You'll need 2 channels of the same output. So use an aux or whatever on the desk to dubble the channel up so you have 2 Identical channels.

2. Send one channel through a compressor, and route the output of the compressor in the mix, as normal.

3. Send the second channel to the sidechain of the compressor. Don't route it through the mix (you need to be monotoring it, but you don't need it on the recording, it's there to drive to compressor)

4. Now EQ the sidechain compressor in such a way to you heavelly accentuate the irritating noises. (cut all the rest, boost the right frequencies..) If you have a parametric EQ (doesn't even need to sound good) use it!!! you can boost and cut as much as you can (+15/-15bd).. if everything goes right you'll only hear the sss sounds or resonance peaks of your track..

5. Simply adjust the compressor to your liking.. depending on how succefull you were with the EQ part settings will vary. But a high compression ratio, with a medium attack and fast release seems like a good place to start.

You'll now hear that the compressor will start to compress only at the moments the squeeling sounds occure, driving their volume down. Basically this is how a de-esser works as well... so .. but that's all in one box..


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Dr. Whammo.... Re:Annoying trebly sss's in vocals (08-Aug-03  09:58AM )

- There are some cool ass de-essers that work by phase-canceling the offending fequencies instead of compressing them... my boss used to have a few at our studio, but they gone now... DAMN!

Dr. Whammo

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krylenko.... Re:Annoying trebly sss's in vocals (08-Aug-03  10:06AM )

- inocybe is dead on; however -

go to and get Spitfish - it's a compressor set up as a de-esser, and it's brilliant. i had to de-ess vocals for the first time last night, and Spitfish made it dead simple. no need for signal routing or a compressor with a sidechain.

it can sound unnatural if you go overboard, but then so can anything.

the other digitalfishphone plugs are great too, and they're all free!


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nubilee.... Re:Annoying trebly sss's in vocals (08-Aug-03  03:10PM )

- De-esser. Sheesh.

Don't bother with a bunch of unnecessary crap, just get a good vocal processor. Take the hiss out of S's.


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Dr. Whammo.... Re:Annoying trebly sss's in vocals (08-Aug-03  03:16PM )

- Unneccesary crap you say? Wouldnt a vocal processor be unneccesary if all you want to do is De-ess a vocal track? If you have a compressor with a sidechain, and an eq unit - thats all you need. Hell, some compressors even have a de-esser mode. Its a very old tried and true technique - like gating, or ducking.

Dr. Whammo

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nubilee.... Re:Annoying trebly sss's in vocals (08-Aug-03  03:43PM )

- Most good vocal processors will encompass a full range of things, such as a vocal-eq, compressor, gate, de-esser, and usually a few other tricks/gimmicks. You can buy one thing that does it all, or conversely spend thousands on separate pieces of gear. To each his own, but..

Sounds like he needs a way to de-ess, and there are just do many good vocal processors now, it only makes sense to me to get something that will do everything in one box. Do they even make stand alone de-essers, doubtful or rare.


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Jiggity.... Re:Annoying trebly sss's in vocals (08-Aug-03  06:21PM )

- Processing/ computer plugins sound pretty scary. Does the RNC have a sidechain? It'll be easy to isolate the hissing, and it's on the shopping list anyhow. What kind of prices do good processors run at, and are there any analog units?


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Giant Robot.... Re:Annoying trebly sss's in vocals (08-Aug-03  07:27PM )

- There are some cool ass de-essers that work by phase-canceling the offending fequencies instead of compressing them... my boss used to have a few at our studio, but they gone now... DAMN!

Seems like you could do this yourself if you tried by multing the track, isolating/emphasizing the offending freqs, flipping the phase, and bringing the second track up to taste, though I haven't tried this- maybe I should give it a shot. If I do I'll let you know. I have tried negative sidechain compression (which is sort of what this is) in a different context before, and it seemed to work well. Remember to compensate for plugin delay on a DAW if you try this, and running the mult through multiple levels of soft clipping seems to get a softer less phasy sound.

Does the RNC have a sidechain?

It does.

The Waves de-esser plugin seems to work ok, but gets all phasy and funky sounding when it's working hard- probably not the best solution if drastic measures are needed. Also I've had good results with one or two narrow bands of a multiband compressor like Waves C4 with the low/mid bands in bypass, which is essence what most de-essers are. If you have the time, you can automate out the esses in a DAW as well using simple volume automation. One more solution that works well is setting a full range compressor to super fast attack/release and setting it with eq'ed sidechain inputs to clamp down in the entire signal once the eq'ed sidechain reaches the threshold. Which is kind of the same as volume automating the ess out if you think about it.

The last trick to get things more natural sounding if you're working with say, a single vocal track is to de-ess the track but NOT the reverb send, so the 'verb send will still have ess sound. This may or may not sound better than a straight de-ess depending on the material.

Nubey you've got to be kidding.

Hey Jiggity, have you tried different mics/ techniques when tracking vocals, or is nothing working? Because since ess sounds are pretty much overload/distortion, it is much better to nix the problem at the source rather than try to fix the recorded signal. Good luck in any case.

Giant Robot

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Giant Robot.... Re:Annoying trebly sss's in vocals (09-Aug-03  01:11AM )

- List of analog de-essers, since you asked:

DBX 902, Drawmer MX50, Manley Voxbox has one, Valley 415, SPL de-esser, Orban 424A, BSS DPR901, I'm sure there are a few more out there-

One of the most popular is the DBX 902, and it's not too expensive, between $100-200 I think. The one in the Voxbox is pretty good too, I've used it on occasion.

Giant Robot

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nubilee.... Re:Annoying trebly sss's in vocals (11-Aug-03  07:43PM )

- I'm never serious, unless I'm dealing with serious new-bies as they need the help; you chaps have some cognitive ability or at least enough to unravel my usual drivel so...


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The Real MC.... Re:Annoying trebly sss's in vocals (12-Aug-03  02:18PM )

- Take a compressor, run his vocals through it, then run his vocals to an EQ and plug its output into the compressor's sidechain. Boost the sibilance frequencies (4-12Khz) in the EQ and wala - instant de-esser. The compressor will be more sensitive to sibilance.

The Real MC

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