Bob Clearmountain is a pro, even when it comes to de-essing. Of course he has made some beautiful sounding recordings and mixes. He’s also into the “what works, works” approach, so he doesn’t get all that revved up about stuff like exotic outboard gear or magnetic tape. Anyway, back to de-essers. He stated in a couple of different interviews that instead of using dedicated de-esser units, he would rather just roll his own. It involves an SSL console, multing the (vocal) track to next channel. He pushes up 7kHz on it, and rolls off everything else below. He then routes that channel into itself through the activated dynamics section with the compressor, creating a loop that way. Voilá – a fast, side-chained high frequency limiter. In other words, a de-esser, but with more control than usual.
Do it in your DAW
So how do we realize that in a DAW? The sure-fire way that ought to work is the following.
- Copy your original track (whatever you want to de-ess) to a new track. This is because in some DAWs, multiple back and forth sends don’t seem to work. So just copy the track.
- Put a good EQ plugin on the 2nd track and boost the above mentioned 7kHz to the maximum. You can fine tune this step to your needs, with using bell filters, high-pass (or even low-pass, if that’s what you want). Make sure that you roll-off everything below that point (and above, too, if that’s what you’re after). You can monitor this clearly by listening to this track soloed. With the 7kHz example, it has to sound thin and ball-less, so use narrow Q for the boost.
- Put a good, fast compressor plugin on the original, 1st track; one with an external side-chain input option. Set both the attack and release times to fast. As fast as they go. SSL or 1176 clones work really well in this role.
- Send the 2nd track into the side-chain input of the compressor on the 1st track. Make sure that it’s a pre-fader (post effects) send. This way you can turn down the fader on the 2nd track so it won’t be audible, yet it’ll be doing its job.
- Listen back to how it works; dial in the threshold on the compressor if it’s taking off too much or too little.
More than just a de-esser
With a little tweaking you’ll quickly be able to make your perfect de-esser that are tuned exactly to your projects. It also works for anything else that needs frequency dependent compression/limiting.