Pro Audio Files

7 Favorite Plugins for Mixing Vocals

Getting the vocals right in a mix is kind of everything. Even if everything else isn’t perfect, if you nail the vocals, you’re still doing ok and the artist will be reasonably happy. On the other hand, even if everything else is perfect, but the vocals are a touch off, it’s going to stick out like a sore thumb and you might lose the gig. Of course, we strive to get everything right — I’m just stressing the point that vocals are the one element you have to absolutely nail.

My approach to vocals changes based on genre, based on what sound I want — and I experiment with plugins and gear all the time. But there are some plugins I keep coming back to that one would see in a lot of my mixes.

1. FabFilter Pro-DS

FabFilter Pro-DS is easily my go-to de-esser.

For a long time I was actually automating sibilance by hand because I didn’t like the graininess that I got from all the de-essers I tried. FabFilter Pro-DS in wideband mode is as good as automating by hand.

The split band also sounds great and works well on taming harsh tones that can show up around 3 kHz, not just sibilant tones higher up.

2. SoundToys EchoBoy

I spend an inordinate amount of time designing my ambiences, particularly on vocals. It’s not uncommon for me to have three to five delay throws that I automate between throughout a record. EchoBoy gives me the versatility to create a number of delays — from subtle ambience around the vocals to overt effects.

I can do very tight delays for rap vocals, smeared “pa system” delays for rock vocals or highly diffused and spread delays for pop. Basically, I feel like I don’t have much limitation outside of my own creativity.

3. Klanghelm MJUC

I’ve tried a lot of different compressors for vocals, and while there’s a number of hardware pieces I love, I haven’t found too many in the software world. Oddly enough, the one that I keep coming back to again and again is the Klanghelm MJUC, which is one of the least expensive options available.

It’s super versatile with a great tone. It’s transparent enough to not distinctly change the tone, but just colored enough to give the voice a little extra magic. I can’t imagine a genre where this compressor wouldn’t work. And even if I were using some of my very expensive outboard, I would still likely be using this compressor as a parallel return.

4. Waves MV2

There’s usually a point in my mix where I love my vocal sound, but I just want it to be a touch fuller and a hair more forward. This is where Waves MV2 is my finisher. The Waves MV2 has a “low level” limiter which does something really interesting.

Instead of taking level above a threshold and attenuating, it takes level below the threshold and turns it up, keeping the louder signal exactly where it is. This effectively brings the vocal forward without actually turning it up louder. Even setting the low level up to just 2 or 3 adds a distinct amount of body to a vocal.

5. Avid Lo-Fi

Surprisingly enough, the stock Avid Lo-Fi plugin makes this list. Sometimes a vocal comes in too clean to really stand out in the right way. I use very subtle amounts of Lo-Fi to add grit to a vocal or shift the tone ever so slightly darker.

A very common use is for vocals that have a boxy low-mid. I want to get rid of the boxiness so I EQ out the cruddy low-mid, but then I’m missing body in the vocal. I use Lo-Fi to bring some of that body back. Sometimes a touch of distortion also helps the ear find a sound in the mix, so it’s also a good tool for getting a bit of presence in the vocal without having to make EQ changes.

6. Lexicon Vintage Plate

This one is close. I use a lot of different reverbs for a lot of different vocals for a lot of different reasons. And most commonly, I use my hardware Bricasti, but if I had to pick only one reverb to have for vocals in the box, I’d go with the Lexicon PCM Vintage Plate. With this reverb, I don’t believe I’d ever run into a vocal that I couldn’t make sound incredible.

7. Boz Digital Hoser XT

There’s a number of EQs I use on vocals. I use the FabFilter Pro-Q 2 for surgical stuff pretty often. I use Waves Q10 for background vocals very frequently. But if I had to pick one that I use more than anything else, it’s probably the Boz Digital Hoser XT. It’s punchy like SSL-style EQs, but broader band like API-style EQs, which kind of makes it the perfect vocal EQ in my book.

If the vocal is recorded fairly flat, I love pulling in a bit of “larger than life” smile curve with the broad low and high shelf, and then tightening things up by getting rid of any boxy or harsh tone using the two bell bands. It’s a process I do very often.

Bonus: PSP B-Scanner

A lot of Pop and R&B vocals benefit from a bit of chorusing/modulation. It gives them some tonal movement, texture and a sense of spread. My favorite choice for this process is the PSP B-Scanner, and I don’t believe this is at all what PSP intended for the plugin. But damn if it don’t sound sexy tucked under a vocal 12dB down.

Now, I didn’t list this in the primary seven  because I don’t believe this plugin would work well for Rap or Heavy Rock. I can’t exactly call this one a “favorite” for everything, but I had to at least mention it.

If I had nothing other than these plugins listed, I don’t believe I’d have any restriction in mixing any vocal, from Top 40 Pop to grimy Punk-Rock. I’d be happy as a pumpkin in a pumpkin patch, and I’m pretty sure that’s not even a real expression.

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is a Grammy nominated and Spellemann Award winning audio engineer from Philadelphia. Matthew has mixed songs for Snoop, Sonny Digital, Gorilla Zoe, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development, 9th Wonder, !llmind & more. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com.


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  • Joel Isaac Pizarro

    Hmm , interesting you mentioned MJUC cuz I experienced the same thing. It would awesome if you could do a video explaining how you use it on different vocal material. THANKS FOR THIS INFO

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