February 01, 2017
You’ve got a balanced drum mix that you’ve spent hours EQing and compressing to perfection. Every ghost note peeks through, every kick punches you in the gut, and there’s a nice, glossy sheen on your overheads making the cymbals shine. But then you toggle back to your full mix and realize that despite your efforts, something is still missing. Maybe it’s time for saturation to step in.
Saturation is a commonly misunderstood tool. A lot of engineers sneer at saturation, looking at it as a masking technique. Those engineers are missing out on one of the most powerful processes available though, and one that can make the difference between an average mix and a great mix.
It’s easy to understand why saturation ends up with the bad rap sometimes. Saturation plugins are extremely easy to use, and because of that they’re commonly labeled “simple” or “limited”.
If you saw what was going on under the hood of most saturation plugins, you’d understand just how wrong the stigma is.
Saturations use advanced algorithms and techniques to add density and weight to your drums. More powerful saturation plugins like DF-XCITE let you set the amount of saturation in a multi-band environment, and toggle between different modes to create a unique sound.
It would be too easy to just call it magic, right? Saturation is very subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) distortion applied to audio signals in a specific way to achieve a certain sound. It’s actually carried over from the hardware world, where we commonly hear of engineers driving their preamps or other gear harder to create saturation.
In the plugin realm, it’s the same concept but without the extra processing. We’re imposing harmonic distortion on our source audio to create a “sweetened” sound. We’re dialing in power and presence that didn’t exist before, or at least wasn’t noticeable. For drums in particular, we’re controlling the punch without affecting the dynamic elements that we work so hard to dial in with EQ & compression.
The end result? A vibrant, full-sounding track with increased perceived loudness and a presence that’s hard to be reckoned with.
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