We’ve all heard that annoying hard “s” sound that happens when a vocal track is recorded with a less-than-optimal microphone choice. That high-pitched irritation is called sibilance and it can be found on all kinds of vocal tracks, whether your recorded voice is singing, or speaking words for a podcast or a book on tape. This challenge is very prominent in the recording world, and for anyone recording an individual with a natural accentuation or particular penchant for emphasizing words that contain the letter “s,” a de-esser can be a welcomed friend of the ears.
Also known as a frequency-dependent compressor, a de-esser is made specifically to only compresses certain frequencies that we want it to reduce in volume, and does not compress the rest of the track’s frequencies. For vocal tracks, this usually occurs in the frequency range between 6-8 kHz. When the de-esser compresses the particularly offending frequency, it leaves the rest of the frequencies in the signal alone, which maintains the natural sound of the original performance.
Knowing how to dial-in the settings on a de-esser is paramount to achieving an improved sound without affecting your vocals in a negative way. In contrast, it is also important to know that pushing the parameters of a de-esser too far can actually result in the creation of even worse sounding “s” frequencies, to the point of giving the vocalist a lisp. While admittedly this can be a great practical joke, it’s likely not an effect you’d like to present to the world on a serious recording.
Besides vocal tracks, other material with high-frequency content can also benefit from the use of a de-esser. For instance, hihats and crash cymbals can produce sibilant frequencies. Using a de-esser to control those frequencies can help to balance the drum mix and make the overall mix sound more appealing.
In his tutorial from chapter five of the Pro Tools Mixing and Mastering course, author Brian Lee White explains in more detail the functionality of a de-esser and demonstrates how it can be used to tweak both vocal and cymbal tracks.
For more training on Pro Tools, check out Pro Tools 10 Essential Training, Audio Mixing Bootcamp, and our Foundations of Audio courses that include our innovative Get In The Mix Pro Tools session files.
Suggested courses to watch next:
• Pro Tools 10 Essential Training
• Music Editing for TV and Film in Pro Tools
• Pro Tools Mixing and Mastering
• Foundations of Audio: Compression and Dynamic Processing