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How to Use FabFilter Saturn 2

When using FabFilter’s Saturn 2 it helps to understand how it compresses, creates harmonics, and equalizes the signal before introducing modulation. You can then use Saturn 2’s slider for a drive effect, envelope followed to affect transients, envelope generators to change the ADSR, and more.


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Understanding its EQ and Harmonics

Instead of just doing an overview of this plugin, I really want to start from the most basic and fundamental aspects and build on that, so by the end of the video you understand how to accomplish lots of different things with it.

Let’s start by examining the various distortion types to see what they do - with an EQ curve analyzer, we can see that different distortions have different preset EQ curves. For example, clean tube adds a little in the lows but has a more significant boost to the high end.

Warm tape on the other hand boosts the lows more significantly, and has a bell around 1200Hz, and 14kHz before cutting off the highest frequencies. As you’d imagine, amp emulations will create much more drastic changes to the frequency response.

If we run a sine wave through the processor, and examine the output with an analyzer, we’ll notice each setting creates different harmonic formations - for example, clean tape will create significant odd-ordered harmonics, whereas subtle tape creates the same formation but with lower amplitude harmonics.

Tube settings will create both even and odd harmonics meaning they’ll create a fuller sound due to the added frequencies. Transformers do the same but will create a slightly brighter sound due to the additional high-order harmonics.

I can’t cover every setting, but do some testing if you’re curious and when in doubt just use your ears. Let’s listen to some of the various distortion types and note how they alter the sound.

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Understanding how it Compresses

Let’s quickly look at how Saturn 2 compresses a signal - if we pull up plugin-doctor we can observe how each saturation type alters the ratio, knee, and threshold of compression. These thresholds also change depending on the frequency, due to the pre-emphasis EQ that we covered last chapter.

Another thing to consider is the dynamic’s dial. If we increase it, we’ll notice that the peak down compression stays the same, but, the overall level of quieter levels is increased. Conversely, if we lower it, we get an expansion effect, in which quieter signals are attenuated, but then amplified.

So keep in mind how increasing the drive dial, and varying the dynamics will affect the overall dynamic range of your signal.

Let’s listen to these parameters being affected, and notice how higher drive at a subtle tube setting compresses less than when we use a warm tube setting.

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Intro to Saturn’s Modulation

Modulation is really what makes this plugin special.

Saturn has 6 different types of modulation that you can introduce - the slider is probably the simplest; if we attach it to a function, in this case, the drive dial, a window pops up that lets us determine how much the slider’s value will affect the particular function.

With the positive or negative icon, we can make the slider’s value increase the drive dial’s value, or decrease it.

So let’s say I want the drive to increase, but the dynamics dial to decrease simultaneously - I’ll attach it to the drive with a positive value, and to the dynamics with a negative value.

I wanted to be able to control this with midi, however, I could only get it to work when using Saturn 2 as a midi effect, not when it’s inserted as a plugin.

We’ll cover the other 4 functions in future chapters, but first, let’s introduce modulation with the slider.

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Affecting Transients with Envelope Followers

Envelope followers are probably what I use the most with this plugin - they measure the incoming signal and can be used to modulate various functions accordingly. For example, say I want to saturate my drum bus, but I want the transients to be distorted more to give the instrument some impact.

First I’d create an envelope follower in the modulation window, then I’d switch the type from envelope to transient. I’d keep the trigger as the regular input, but I have the option to affect it with an external side-chained signal. I could then determine the timing of the measurement,so let’s measure the transient as quickly as possible and then give it a 0.1 second release.

If I attached it to my drive dial and play the track, we’ll notice how the distortion is increased whenever a transient occurs.

As you’d imagine, you can link this to any other parameter - so say I want to only distort the highs when a transient hits, I could first isolate the saturation to the higher frequencies, and if I wanted, attach the envelope follower to the frequency crossover to either increase or decrease the frequency range at which distortion occurs - again, according to the incoming signal.

Let’s take a listen to saturation added to drums, with an envelope follower attached to multiple parameters.

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Controlling ADSR with Envelope Generator

An Envelope Generator is similar to the follower, but with it, we can determine the ADSR of a parameter once it’s triggered. Similar to a compressor, we can set a threshold to determine when the ADSR is triggered - then we can change the Attack, Decay, Sustain, Hold, and Release.

We can also change if the slopes are logarithmic or exponential. This effect works better on synths or for creative effects - for example, say I want distortion to increase, hold then quickly drop down - this won’t sound natural but it may have a cool sound.

Let’s try it out so you know what I mean.

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Creating a Basic Drive Effect

This effect is a little simpler but it’s really useful - say I wanted a traditional drive effect, I’d first create a slider and attach it to my input with a positive value, then my output with a negative value. So, when I increase the slider, more signal is being run into saturation.

It’s then compensated for by lowering the output. This creates a slighter more analog sound than simply increasing the drive dial. If I want this to be program-dependent, I could do the exact same thing, but with an envelope follower.

Let’s try it out with the slider for now, and notice how controlling multiple parameters at once can be used to create specific effects.

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Introducing Stereo Imaging with Saturn

One of my favorite things to do with Saturn is introduce stereo imaging - in the output section, I’ll enable mid-side processing. Now I can pan a band, my drive or distortion, or my input or output to the mid or side - if I’m affecting a stereo signal.

So first, let’s create some bands to isolate the distortion into 4 frequency ranges - then I’ll create an envelope follower as I did with the drums in chapter 4. I’ll attach it to the drive and drive pan dials for each band - for the lows and high mids around the vocals, I’ll have the drive pan toward the mid image by using a negative value, making it more centered.

For the low mids and highs, I’ll pan it toward the side image to expand the stereo image in these regions.

Or, if I want a creative effect, I could insert this XLFO. I’ll set the oscillation to a 1/2 note and attach it a band’s overall pan. This will oscillate the imaging between mid and side - and I can determine how it does this by adding and affecting the steps within the LFO.

Let’s listen to this effect, first with the envelope follower enabled, and then I’ll enable the LFO later on.

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Tying Multiple Effects Together

If you want to tie multiple effects together but in a more complex way, I’d recommend trying the XY modulator. Whereas the slider offers 2 main options, either up or down, XY offers 4 - positive X and Y, negative X and Y, Positive X Negative Y, Negative X Positive Y.

So say I want the drive dial and pan to be linked, I could set a positive value on the drive and a negative one the panning to make it more mid-oriented. As I moved the cursor around, we’ll notice how the relationship between the 2 changes.

For a creative effect, let’s link these the same way to my input and output panning, and take a listen to it being modulated.

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Oversampling & Linear Phase

You may have noticed the linear phase and quality functions at the bottom, so let’s briefly discuss those; the quality function is oversampling - either 8x oversampling or 32x with Good or Superb respectively. Linear phase introduces internal linear phase settings to any band crossovers, but not to the EQ or tone.

It also automatically enables 8x oversampling, even though it strangely doesn’t show this in the quality tab.

Oversampling is great when you’re distorting high frequencies - if we run a high-frequency sine wave through the processor and aggressively distort it, we’ll notice fold-back or aliasing distortion. This is reduced significantly with 8x oversampling and almost completely removed 32x.

As for linear phase, this is best used when mastering - it’ll reduce phase cancellation between any crossovers and helps improves the quality when varying the mix dial value.

Although this will be subtle, let’s listen to the processor on a full mix, and enable linear phase and higher-quality oversampling to see if we notice a difference.

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Putting Ideas into Practice

To tie all these ideas together, I want to create a complex effect using everything that we’ve discussed so far - which I’ll explain as I go.

First, I’m going to create 4 bands with 12dB/octave crossovers and select the distortion type that I think sounds best on each range.

I’m going to create a slider, and attach it to the input and output with a positive and negative value respectively to create the drive effect that we discussed in chapter 6.

Next, I’ll switch the processing to mid-side before creating an Envelope Generator. I’ll attach this generator to the output pan of my highest band, with a positive value, so that it expands the stereo image. Then I’ll lower the range slider to make the effect subtler.

Next, I’ll create an envelope follower, and set it to transient mode - then I’ll link it to the drive dials of my various bands, as well as the pan of my bands, using negative values to the pan toward the mid, and positive to expand.

I’ll also slightly increase the dynamic dial on my low mids, and then link the follower using a negative value to bring it back to unity whenever a transient hits.

With an LFO set to a 1/2 note and linked to my crossovers, I’ll modulate the frequency range of my high mid band - causing its settings to dynamically affect frequencies above and below it.

Next, I’ll create an XY controller and link it to some tone dials - I’ll set the Y value to a higher frequency and the X to a lower, using positive and negative ranges respectively. This way I can determine if they both increase or decrease, or if one increases while the other decreases.

Let’s take a listen to this effect with linear-phase and oversampling enabled to reduce phase cancellation and aliasing distortion.

Watch video example


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