Mixing with Stock Plugins
This is the Ask Weiss series, and our first question comes from a lot of people. A question that I receive very frequently is something to the extent of, “Do I feel I could create commercial release ready mixes using only stock plug-ins in my DAW?”
My answer to that is yes and no. So, the no side of that is that I use plug-ins that don’t necessarily have an equivalent in the stock plug-in world. Big example is being Sound Radix Pi and Waves InPhase. There’s just no equivalent that I can think of in the stock DAW universe that does the same thing that those plug-ins do.
In addition to that, some of my choice EQs like the Hoser XT, they have a character to them that there is no exact equivalent for in the stock plug-in world. So there’s really no exact replica. I’m using these things because I like the personality of them a lot of times, and the same thing is true of my hardware. It’s not just the tone curve of it, but also the personality that it’s imparting.
So, the yes side of it is if we’re thinking in terms of scalar quality, which doesn’t really exist – I like to think of quality being the same word as characteristics, but in terms of the overall quality of the stock plug-in world, I would say that it’s very good. It’s surprisingly good. We just don’t give our stock plug-ins enough time and experimentation to take advantage of what they can do.
You see, the thing about stock plug-ins is they’re not designed to do whatever a hardware emulation will do, or with one direct purpose in mind. They’re designed to be versatile. They’re designed to give the entry level guy who just opens up his DAW for the first time and needs to mix a record all of the versatility they need to do that.
Which means there’s pros and cons. Versatility of course is a good thing because of course, you can do more with it, but it also means you have to understand how. Because there’s so many options, we can get lost in the sauce.
Now, let’s take a look at EQs real quick.
Some of my favorite EQs in the hardware world – What I have. I have some TubeTech PE 1Cs. I have Filtek MK3As, I have Clariphonic, and in the software world, I like my Hoser XT and my Kramer HLS. A lot of people like the Neves and various other things.
What these all have in common is that they tend to be wide-band EQs by default. Wide-band equalization. Know it, breath it in, repeat it. It’s a wonderful thing.
Most stock plug-in DAWs do not start wide-band. They start medium band. The Q is usually set to something in the world of 1.5 octaves. Well, we want to go wider than that. Most of the time, think of it as tone shifting rather than equalizing. We don’t need to be doing surgery on everything.
The reason why wide-band equalization is usually better – and not always better – but usually better is for two reasons. One, a technical reason. The ripple effect, which is amplitude distortion throughout the stop band and pass band is more gradual. It’s easier so the ear doesn’t hear it quite so distinctly, and so it just becomes a friendlier sound.
The other thing being because the corner frequency is receiving the most boost, but it’s a gradual boost coming way up over the band, it sounds more like, “Oh, this is just how this thing sounds,” rather than, “Oh, this has been EQ’d because this particular frequency is poking out.” So, it is a more natural, transparent sound most of the time. Set the Qs wider, you might be surprised.
And it’s not just additive EQ, it’s subtractive as well. Wider Qs.
Okay, in the compression world. The same thing is true. The attack and release in my stock Digidesign compressor I believe goes down into like, ten microseconds on the attack, and like, five milliseconds on the release.
That’s super fast. That’s like, faster than an 1176, and 1176s are generally appreciated because of the distortion they create through such fast action. If we want a more transparent, natural sound, my suggestion is slow the attack down. Slow the release down.
Now, you’ve probably tried this before, and heard it and gone, “well, that’s not really that impressive either. I’m not really totally digging that.” The reason being is that to get the same compression action, you probably had to set the threshold lower.
Well, this is where the knee function comes in. The knee function allows the compression action to start a little bit earlier in the amplitude domain, and release a little bit more gradually. So, start with the knee at maybe 4-10 dB. Somewhere in there. More gradual knee, and you might find you don’t need to dig so deep on the threshold.
Now, this does not necessarily apply to every source. Certain sources have very fast transients, where you’re acting within a very short time domain, but most sources – vocals, basses, pianos, guitars… All of these melodic elements, generally speaking, you can go a little bit slower. So slow it down, you’ll get better results.
Now, two things in the world of stock I already mentioned. There’s sometimes no equivalent. The same is true on the other side. There are certain stock plug-ins that I absolutely love. I love the AIR distortions and Lo-Fi and chorusing effects. I love the Digidesign Lo-Fi effect. I think it’s awesome. I think that D-Verb has a really cool, trashy plate sound that’s really hard to find anywhere else.
So, there are things that you can find in your stock plug-ins that maybe there’s no equivalent to in the world of expensive stuff. So, don’t forget to check in there.
Alright, guys. So I hope that this helped answer that question. I know it’s not a very straightforward answer, but very seldom do we get so lucky to have those straightforward answers.
If you or anyone you know has a question, please like this video, and drop the question in the comment box. Include your name. Mention a little something about yourself, like, “My name is Matt. I’m an audio engineer, and my question is…” and Dan and I will comb through, we’ll try to get to your questions, we’ll try to answer them.