How to Make a Kick Sound Huge

How to Make a Kick Sound Huge


If you want to make your kick sound huge, start with additive equalization and then introduce clipping – ideally to the transient of the kick or 808.  From there distortion, compression, air EQ, and some form of maximization and limiting will help your kick sound huge.

Equalize an 808

For the first half of this video, we’ll focus on an 808, and for the second on an acoustic kick.

With an EQ, I want to emphasize frequencies on the 808 into my subsequent processors – I’ll amplify the sub, my fundamental frequencies which for this 808 are the notes B1, C1, and D1.  These 2 filters will really enhance the low end of the 808.

Then I’ll find my first overtone or harmonic, as well as the harmonic above that to bring forward the 808’s tone.   The last 3 filters are also in key, and help amplify the tone, but also increase some of the 808’s transient detail.

Let’s listen to how this EQ improves the low end, while also emphasizing in-key elements of the 808.

Timed Clipping on 808

With this ShaperBox plugin by CableGuys, I’m going to use the drive module to introduce hard clipping. I’ll use the audio as my trigger, and use the window in the middle to emphasize distortion at the beginning of the kick’s transient, before gradually lowering the effect.

Up top to the right, I’ll lower the mix dial to blend in the effect.  If you use this plugin, you might want to try some of the other distortion styles, but I wanted to clip at this point in the chain so that my transients would be augmented.

Let’s listen to how this clipping changes the tone a little, but mainly increases the impact of the 808.

808 Distortion & Compression

Next, I’m going to use this Invigorate plugin by Newfangled Audio to introduce some compression, mild limiting, and overdrive, which can find the right balance with this middle window.  For the level detector, I’ll set a quick attack and release to distort my transients, making them even more noticeable.

For the input tone, I emphasized the lows and highs and amplified just the lows with the output, then I blended in the effect with the mix function.

When we listen, we’ll notice that the lows and mids of the 808 become a lot more powerful, due to the distortion this plugin adds.  I’ll also increase the mix dial for a moment so it’s easier to hear how this processor affects those areas.

Amplifying 808 Air

An 808’s high frequencies are surprisingly important – with this free Air EQ and exciter, I’ll boost the highest ranges of the 808 to emphasize the clipping and distortion added in the last 2 chapters.  This adds some clarity, balances the spectrum, and will help the 808 sound aggressive.

All I’ll need to do with this plugin is increase these 2 functions, and find a good balance between them.

Let’s listen to how the high end of the 808 opens up, and how adding in these highs gives a nice contrast to the low frequencies, making the overall 808 sound bigger.

Maximization & Limiting

This last step may seem a little unorthodox, but I’ve found that this limiter works incredibly well at creating a huge 808. I’ll increase the input and lower the attack and release to cause limiting – these settings will increase the high-frequency range of the 808 by distorting transients.

Then, I’m going to increase the enhance function – this will amplify quieter aspects of the 808, bringing forward all of the details that have been masked by louder parts of the signal.

Let’s listen, and notice how this limiter makes the 808 aggressive and huge sounding.

Then we’ll listen to a full before and after for this chain with gain compensation included.

Transient EQ on Kick

Let’s move on to the kick, starting with this SplitEQ by Eventide – I find this one to be particularly useful since I can use the blue filters to amplify the kick’s sustain and the green to amplify the kick’s transients.  In the low frequencies, around the fundamental, I amplified the sustain.

In the higher parts where we can hear the kick’s click and the beater hitting the skin, I amplified the transients to help these cut through.

Let’s listen and notice how the kick sounds a little bigger in the lows and has a punchier sound.

Hard Knee Kick Compression

Next, I’m going to use this Impressor by PSP Audioware to get a mix between an 1176 and a DBX style compressor – I’ll set super-fast attack and release times to distort and amplify my transients while combining feedback and feedforward compression.  I’ll disable lookahead to retain transients as well.

I’m going to turn off any internal side-chain so that the full signal triggers the compression, and set a hard knee with some auto-makeup gain.

Lastly, I’m going to increase the input and decrease the output to create a mild drive effect – this will amplify some of the kick’s tone and some of the low frequencies sustain.

Let’s listen to how these settings help the lows sound fuller and more detailed, and the highs sound more punchy.

Parallel Kick Compression

I’m going to add some saturation and parallel compression to fill out the sound of the kick and again emphasize transients and punch.  With this Parallel Aggressor plugin by Baby Audio I was able to create these effects in parallel pretty quickly – then blend in the levels in the middle.

With the spank section, I introduce transient expansion and clipping, while removing the lowest frequencies from being processed.  Then in the heat or saturation section, I emphasized the tone or more of the kick’s note, while again keeping the lows from being processed.

Let’s listen and notice how the parallel compression amplifies transients, and the heat or saturation makes it sound fun and aggressive.

Kick Sustain Reverb

If we use reverb that has a longer decay on the lows and sub, we can increase the sustain of the kick – making the keep’s lows super impressive.  I definitely don’t want too much of this effect so I’ll use a lower amount of it.

Also, a short time, under a second works well – as does a little pre-delay and lots of modulation.

Let’s listen and notice how the reverb has a natural sound that increases the sustain of the kick’s lows.

Maximization on Kick

Last up for the acoustic kick, let’s introduce some maximization with this inflator plugin – I’ll use a higher amount of the effect but lower the input to compensate for gain changes.  I found that the 0 curve setting creates a great sound, somewhere between Tube and FET saturation.

Let’s listen and notice how the quieter aspects of the kick become louder, and the mild harmonics that the plugin introduces fill out the overall sound.

Then we’ll do a full AB of the chain we created.

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