How to Enhance a Mix with Saturation

Transcript:

Hey folks, Matthew Weiss here. www.weiss-sound.com, www.theproaudiofiles.com. Today we’re going to be talking about subtle use of saturation and how you can use that liven up your mix.

Alright, so let’s check out this record right here.

[Backwoods & Red Wine by Samik]

Sounds pretty good. Honestly if we put it out as is it wouldn’t be so bad. But there’s a couple little things that I feel could be improved. One of them is that I don’t like exactly how the bass is sitting, it’s sitting a little bit dark, it’s not coming out of the speakers. It sounds a little bit flat. And this tends to be the case with a lot of software basslines. So one of the ways I like to recreate that sort of live harmonic feel is to actually send it out of the computer using — in this particular case — my Unit Audio summing mixer. Little benefit of this thing is that because it’s open architecture I can use it for other things besides simply summing. So I’m using this to go out of the computer and back into a microphone preamp. I’m using my Avalon M5, which is pretty widely accept as a really strong preamp for bass. And I’m cooking it. I’m turning it way up and then attenuating the signal on the way back out so that it doesn’t clip the input. And the difference is this.

[song with and without summing + preamp]

After. You notice how it feels a lot more a alive in the mix. It seems to naturally just sit better and on top of that it feels like it’s coming out of the speaker a little bit more. That’s because the saturation is creating a natural compression curve. It’s exciting some of the harmonics and dulling some of the top harmonics, so you’re getting a frequency curve that fits better and you’re getting excitement in the harmonic range which makes it feel more alive. Plus the compression gives it more presence. So it’s wins across the board just doing it. Real quick let me just give you an A/B of the sounds in solo.

Before.

[bass before summing mixer + preamp]

After.

[bass after summing mixer + preamp]

Aright, now let’s listen to the snare here.

[snare drum without processing]

This time I’m going to use a software distortion box called Decapitator and I’m using it very subtly. Let me pull it up again. I’m just using the A mode. I’m not really sure what these different modes mean but they all sound different. And I’m just doing a little bit of drive and I’m matching the output. So this is gonna be pretty subtle but lets check it out.

[snare drum with and without sound toys decapitator]

One more time. So that’s pretty hard to hear. It’s just a slight change. Exaggerate it a little bit. So before.

[snare drum with and without Soundtoys Decapitator]

So that’s pretty subtle, but if you listen to how it feels coming out of the speaker, it’s like when it’s in it just has a — it’s a little less flat sounding to me. And that’s really what this is all about. I can’t find a better word for it except that it gives it some kind of spark to life and makes it feel a little more dimensional.

Alright, and one more use of saturation here on this piano.

[Piano without saturation]

And now engage the saturation.

[Piano without saturation]

Now that I don’t thinks too subtle. I think that’s pretty obvious. Let me do it one more time here. That’s one of my favorite saturations on piano because it makes the top end really come to life. And it’s this Slate Virtual Channel. It’s the RC-Tube setting which is emulating a tube console. And it’s really a tube-y tube type of sound that it’s emulating. Meaning it’s providing a second order harmonic enhancement as you crank it. And as you can see I have the drive up +6. I’m really getting as much drive out of it as it’ll go. And it’s making the tone of the piano feel glossier and brighter and also more alive, so it’s really cool.

Alright, what I’m gonna do now is I’m going to bypass all of my saturation effects, and I’m going to play the record without any of those saturation effects on it, and then I’m gonna play the record with

[instrumental with and without saturation]

That to me is a pretty noticeable difference. It really feels like the record really just sparked to life. So when you start manipulating tonality in terms of harmonic color, things start coming to life. And while each difference might be pretties subtle, as they add up over the course of a mix, it becomes not so subtle as you can clearly hear. Alright guys, thanks for tuning in. Check out the next one when it comes along. Hope you learned something etc. etc. etc. and leave the comments in the comment box and I will certainly answer.

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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  • Andre Ryabchenkov

    Hi Matthew,

    I appreciate the video. I’m just a beginner mixer so I got a lot to learn. I was mixing this one song where the synthesized bass seemed a little flat. I just stumbled across this video and after watching it decided to try the bass trick you showed. I split it into mono and sent it out of my computer into the preamp and compressor. I was able to dial in the right tone in no time and the results blew me away. I got a thick and juicy bass, rich in harmonics that is just right for the song. Thanks for the video! I’ve learned a lot.

    • Glad it worked. That sounds a *touch* different in that I used a unit audio summing mixer to correct for level to use a microphone preamp. HOWEVER, if you used the line in on your preamp that can work as well.

    • Andre Ryabchenkov

      Yeah that’s exactly what I did. I went into the line input but I cranked the the input knob and it sounded like it added more color (I got a Vintech x73i into Purple MC77).

      Actually I was wondering what the summing mixer did for you. So if I understand you correctly it’s for balancing levels in order to go into Mic input of the preamp? Thank you for your time

    • In this particular case I wanted to hit the step up transformer and really crank the amp, so going in mic level worked best for that. It’s horses for courses really. I used a gain stage after the preamp to then attenuate the signal coming back in – so the tone is all from the preamp drive.

    • Andre Ryabchenkov

      Got it. Thanks

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