Using Processors and Effects in Your Home Studio

Using processors and effects, how compressors, gates, reverb, delay, and more can help your recordings.

In addition to your microphones, DAW/console, and room, an essential part of any home music studio set-up is your audio signal processing gear. From the dynamics control of compressors, limiters, and gates to the effects processing of reverb and delay, these tools are integral to producing a professional-sounding audio product.

For an inexperienced engineer, the precise functions of these effects can be somewhat mysterious, and the overuse of plug-ins and outboard gear is commonplace – even among the pros. Understanding how audio processors like compressors and limiters function, and knowing how and when to use effects such as delay and reverb, will make you a better producer and help to enhance the sound quality of your recordings.

De-esser
Ultimately, the de-esser was designed to specifically reduce the significantly louder – and uncontrollable – “ess” sound made by some vocalists (hence the name), but it can also be handy on an acoustic guitar and other instruments with a lot of high-frequency content. It basically works the same as a compressor: there’s a threshold control, a ratio control, and a usually a parametric EQ selector so you can target the frequency with the sibilant sound.

“For some vocalists, when they make an ‘ess’ sound, it’s the loudest thing you’ve ever heard,” remarks producer/engineer Jon Marc Weiss, “but if the first thing you do is reach for your de-esser, you’re making a huge mistake. First, try to fix it by adjusting the microphone’s angle. A 10 degree horizontal offset to either side of the vocalist can make a huge difference. Also, the distance between the vocalist and the microphone, and in some cases changing to a different microphone, can fix the problem. I’m not one to try and ‘fix it in the mix.’ I try to capture the best signal possible to avoid having to over-process tracks later. I hear de-essers overused a lot – even on professional recordings. When you overuse them, you can start losing too much high end.”

Flange Effect and Chorus Effect
In addition to the time-based effects like reverb and delay, there are a host of modulation effects that have remarkable histories and owe their existence to the creativity and determination of pioneering engineers, artists, and producers. As there are so many different effects, and the use of them such a matter of taste, genre, and musical personality, we won’t endeavor to explore things like ring modulation, tremolo, etc. – but a brief study of the origins of flange and chorus gives insight to the original techniques that today’s digital processors are trying to emulate.

Flange is named after the flange effect on a tape machine. In order to achieve a flange effect in the days of analog (think of the vocals on Queen’s “Killer Queen”), you’d have two tape machines right next to each other, queued up to the same exact spot. You’d press play on both, and then put your finger on the flange of the second machine so you literally slowed down the tape on the second machine, then you let go, then slow it again to achieve that flange effect.

Chorus effect is similar, though not as dramatic. With a chorus effect, you have the two tape machines with one running just a few milliseconds after the other.

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