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What is a De-Esser? How to Create A Clean Vocal Mix With The Help of One

wavmonopoly May 26, 2022

A De esser is used to reduce the presence or attenuate harsh frequencies and tame sibilance created when vocals pronounce phrases with letters S, Ess, T’s, C’s, and F sounds. De essing will not remove all of the high frequencies, but it will take out the harshness in your vocal mix by reducing these unwanted frequencies. You can think of it as an automatic compressor with a narrow bandwidth: It’s designed specifically for high frequencies and cuts down on harshness while boosting the overall level of your vocal track, making it cleaner and easier to listen to.

I find that one of the most overlooked steps happens to be applying the de esser properly so hopefully after reading this article you’ll know how to create a clean vocal mix with the help of one.

How are De essers used in music? And Tips and De essing techniques

  1. Manual De esser or Dynamic EQ
  2. Choosing the right frequency range
  3. Wide band de essing vs split band de essing
  4. De ess your reverb and other audio effects (Distortion, Exciters, etc)

Manual De essing

Automate your De Esser

In order to de ess manually we much first find and grab each part that has sibilant frequencies and attenuate the vocal track by simply isolating the clips and lower the clip gain or we can draw in gain automation to de ess the sibilant sound.

manual deessing using automation

Dynamic Equalization

Now the only disadvantage of manually de essing is it takes a lot of time and we know when mixing vocal recordings, time is everything. But another extremely effective is to use a dedicated de esser plug in or a dynamic equalizer (Dynamic EQ). I like the De Essers from Waves Audio as well as the Nectar De Esser from Izotope, because there plugins are straight forward and get the job done.

Selecting the Right Frequency Range is Everything

One of the most important aspects of deesing is selecting the right frequency range. Selecting the right frequency range can be different for each vocal recording, depending on a variety of different variables like the singer’s voice, the type of microphone used, and the distance between the mic and the singer.

To get your de essing in the right range, the sibilance of a males vocal will usually be located in the range of around 3000 Hz to 7000 Hz, while female vocals will have more sibilance in the range of 5000 Hz to 9000 Hz.

Every De esser plugin has a parameter where you can select a frequency you want to focus on to reduce sibilance.

Now some singers have a more naturally sibilant voice than others, so when using your de esser make sure to use your ears to spot where those sibilant consonants are in your vocal track.

Wide band de essing vs split band de essing

When using a de esser, you may come across wide band de essing and split band de essing. Wide band De essing is the process of reducing or removing harsh frequencies from a signal that spans the entire frequency range, while Split Band De essing only attenuates those specific frequencies which are causing the sibilance.

The benefit of the wide band de esser is that it is a one-stop shop and can be more efficient because it’s not as specific to certain frequencies. However, the downside is that you may end up removing some of the good frequencies along with the bad ones.

Split band De essing on the other hand, is more precise because it only attenuates those specific frequencies which are causing the sibilance. The downside is that it can be less efficient because you may have to use multiple split band De essers if the harsh frequencies are spread out over a wide range of frequencies. So its always best to way out your option to see which method works best to attenuate the sibilant frequencies.

Wide band deesser and split band deesser

De Ess your reverb and other audio effects

Many times when we add effects that we are sending to our vocal tracks, it can introduce some sibilant sounds in a specific frequency range in which we have to get rid of. Let just say you have a bright lead vocal recording and you introduce a reverb and now the reverb is introducing ambient problematic frequencies that sound harsh, using a de-esser on reverb would be reducing sibilance for a more natural sounding effect. Same if we are adding an exciter to another vocal recording, use a de-esser to tame those harsh sharp consonants to allow the exciter to bring energy to the human voice before the sibilance occurs.

4 Step Guide to Using a De-Esser

Step One: Find the most sibilant parts

When using a de-esser, before anything you want to find the most sibilant parts of your record. We recommend playing the record all the way thru and take notes or use markers to keep track of where you hear those esses, shhh’s, chh’s and other sharp consonants thru out the song. And when you find them, place them on a loop so that we can focus on those areas while using our de-esser plugin.

Step Two: Find the Problematic Frequencies

In oder to properly use a de-esser, we must first isolate the problem frequency. De essers usually have a frequency range selection knob, so finding the problematic frequency is as easy as moving the selector until you find the right frequency. Now depending on how severe the sibilance problem is, sometimes we may need to boost or attenuate that frequency by using the De esser’s gain knob to better identify it.

Step Three: Adjust the threshold (Sensitivity)

Set the threshold of your de-esser plugin to the point where it’s only de-essing the problem frequencies that you’ve isolated. You don’t want to De ess the entire vocal track because that can lead to dulling of the vocal recordings, as well as make them not as prevalent thru the mix. Which isn’t what we want, with using a de-esser, you only want to take out all unwanted sibilance.

Step Four: Adjust the strength

Now that we’ve found the right frequency and set the threshold, it’s time to adjust the De esser’s strength. This is usually done by a percentage value or in decibels (dB). Depending on how severe the sibilance problem is, you may need to increase or decrease the amount of de-essing that is taking place.

A simple rule of thumb is to start with the strength levels low, and slowly start bringing it up until you hear the vocal recording aggressive consonant sounds start to attenuate and soften out. And always keep in mind that most de-esser plugins now how meters to help visualize the attenuation taking place.

Step Five: Always Use Your Ears. Listen, Listen, Listen.

The most important thing about using a De esser is to always use your ears. By constantly listening to the changes that are taking place, you can better hone in on what frequencies need attenuating and by how much. And as we said before, it’s always best to start with lower settings and slowly bring up the gain until you find the perfect de-esser sweet spot.

Conclusion

If you take anything from the article, the De-esser is a powerful tool that can help reduce or tame unwanted sibilant frequencies in your vocal recordings. By following these simple steps, you’ll be on your way to properly De-essing your vocals and achieve a more natural sounding effect and a cleaner mix overall.

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