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Advanced Vocal Chain


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Full Chain Overview

The chain we’re looking at today is the chain I use on personal projects - some of it may seem excessive and it probably is, but I find I get really good results. It starts by attenuating resonance, sibilance, and other unwanted frequencies then move to saturation and compression.

Then we get into temporal effects like a slapback reverb, crosstalk emulation, and then stylized, longer reverb. The chain ends with another de-esser, and subtle Gullfoss equalization.

We’ll look at each insert individually and explain why it’s being used, but first, let’s listen to the full chain.

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Soothe 2, then Weiss De-ess

Soothe 2 removes excessive resonance and sibilance - I like to use it first to avoid amplifying these with other forms of processing. I’ll use moderate settings, like a low to medium depth to ensure I’m not attenuating too much - I also focus the effect on the mids.

From there, Weiss De-ess performs really transparent compression to my high end, to smooth the sound and avoid excessive sibilance later on. Feel free to replace this de-esser with whatever one you like to use.

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Dynamic Subtractive EQ

After attenuating resonances and sibilance, I want to shape my sound a little more and get to choose exactly what I attenuate. I’ll take a close listen to my vocal and gradually cut whatever I want less of - sometimes, I’ll use a low-pass filter around 12kHz.

This gives the vocal a vintage sound - or maybe I’ll dip some of 300Hz to clean up the vocal a bit. I almost always use a high pass filter up to about 80Hz.

Where relevant, I’ll make the bands dynamic to make the dips program dependent and feel a little more natural. Again, use whatever plugins work well for you, but this is the EQ I typically use.

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Saturn 2, FET Accentize

With everything controlled, I’m going to add harmonics and subtle compression to my signal with Saturn 2 and FET by Accentize, but use whatever plugins you want for this stage. With Saturn, I may stick with the basic settings, or add in some modulation to more closely emulate analog equipment.

I almost always use oversampling to avoid aliasing distortion. With Accentize I simply dial in the effect. It’s a free plugin, but the sound is great in my opinion.

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Opto Peak Down Compression

I like to use optical compression on my vocals for a smooth and thick sound - I find I only need about 3 to 6dB of compression, but this will definitely depend on your vocal recording. I like soft-knee for an analog sound, and a sorter attack to capture the vocal quickly.

Then I’ll use a longer release of about half a second to smooth the vocal. I keep auto makeup gain on just since it helps with gain staging, but some engineers prefer this off.

Lastly, I like to use 2x oversampling, just in case the compression is causing distortion that would result in aliasing. Ultimately this will make the compression sound more like analog equipment if this is the case.

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Slapback Reverb

Slapback reverb is similar to slapback delay, but it’s a little subtler since the reflections are defused. I use a reverb time of only about 100ms and then blend in the effect with the wet/dry so that it thickens the vocal without being too noticeable.

If your reverb utilizes an EQ section or modulation,mix these in to taste, but I prefer a brighter, more modulated sound.

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Stylized Reverb & Crosstalk Emulation

Next, I want to combine a couple of effects - I going to use a stylized reverb, by which I mean one that’s longer and serves more of a creative purpose than a practical. This can, in all honesty, really be whatever you want, or what sounds good to you.

I like medium length reverb that focuses on the mid-range and has a little modulation to keep it interesting.

Then I’ll insert a crosstalk plugin - which blends the left and right channels to create mild expansion. These are kind of hard to come by - you might find a cross-talk function in a tape emulator, but I recommend CanOpener by GoodHertz.

Let’s listen to what these 2 plugins added.

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Weiss De-ess

Another de-esser may be overkill at this point, I don’t know about you, but I really can’t stand the sound of aggressive sibilance. Since Weiss is so transparent I don’t mind the additional compression - it lets me control the top end of my vocal without adjusting previous processors.

Also, I enjoy the sound of running processing into a compressor -it’s subtle but has a distinct sound that I enjoy more often than not.

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Subtle Gullfoss EQ

Gullfoss is an interesting plugin that dynamically adjusts the frequency response of the incoming signal - in a way that can’t be manually replicated. I find works well at the end of my chain since it subtly corrects every small mistake I either couldn’t hear at first or couldn’t control.

Subtle settings work best since the effect can quickly become aggressive in my opinion. I also like that it gives me these simple macro controls, like brightening to tilt the response of my vocal without it sounding overbearingly bright or dark.

Let’s listen to the full before and after of the chain.

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