5 Minutes To A Better Mix: Vocal De-Esser – Part 21 of 31

| 5 Minutes To A Better Mix, Audio Example, Mixing, Plugins, Pro Tools, Tips, Video

Sometimes the best mixing decision is the one that no one will ever hear. Today’s tip is one such example. Those annoying sibilance “s” sounds will make your mixes sound amateur and you’ll be doomed before you even start, no matter how awesome the rest of the mix sounds.

Start De-Essing Today!

If you aren’t already using a de-esser plugin for your vocals then starting today you should always strap one on. There’s no excuse. This one simple plugin is easy to use and will get you one step closer to delivering a pro sounding mix. Trust me on this one.


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13 Responses to “5 Minutes To A Better Mix: Vocal De-Esser – Part 21 of 31”

  1. Tom aka Dadooz

    Do you actually use the de-esser at the end of the chain? Would it be better to use it before other compression to attenuate those freqs down before they get emphasized by the compressor?

  2. bolenti

    Helllo Graham,
    Thank you for this wonderful set of videos, you’re doing an amazing job here.

    I have two questions pertaining to de-essing, should I be using it systematically on any recorded singer’s voice? In what order it’s more appropriate I use such plugin after the compression and the reverb or before?

  3. Jason

    Awesome as usual, Graham! I’ve been really enjoying your 31 days series. It bothers me a bit when listening to my vocals through a de-esser. By the time I get it set to where the sibilance is pulled back, I sound like I’m singing with a lisp. Am I being too heavy-handed? Tweaking the wrong knob? Maybe I don’t have the right frequency dialed in? Can you help?

  4. Martin

    @bolenti: too much De-Essing may lead to lisping-like vocals, so I wouldn’t use it on every singer, especially not during recording as you probably won’t be able to undo it.

    As to the order, I’d place the De-Esser *before* the reverb. Listen to George Michael’s “Jesus To A Child” to get an idea why – personally, I can’t listen to this track because the reverberated sibilants drive me crazy (I still hope that the mixer used this as an effect and did not forget to switch off the De-Esser’s “listen” mode in the reverb bus).

    Unless you have to face a lot of sibilants, your compressor adds a lot of colour or you want to compress very “hard”, the order of De-Esser and compressor shouldn’t really matter.

    But as in most cases, listen to your ears instead of other people – and don’t be afraid to experiment!

  5. It's a Me!

    You won’t have to worry about the order so much if you’re using aux sends. Send to a reverb and/or delay bus and all your plugins will happen first. Failing that, I generally do it like this:

    Reverb or delay

    That way you can affect the level en masse, then correct it with EQ, and THEN take out the esses (don’t EQ after a de-esser, because you can undo part of what you did) and then take that “finished” signal and run it through the reverb or delay.

    I’ve tried playing with the order, but putting the EQ before the compressor can make for an unnatural sound, and putting the reverb through the de-esser can really cut off the “air” of the reverb sound.

  6. Dave King

    I’m working on a mix right now in which I was using a de-essor, however comments came back to me that the vocal was lacking high-end sparkle. When I removed the de-essor, the high=end sparkle appeared. I think that unless there really is an ess-ing problem, it’s best not to use the de-essor because it can make the vocal get a little dull. Agree?

  7. Gregg Juke

    Yeah, you’ve got to be careful with de-essing. If it’s overdone, the lisping thing is a standard artifact. Ever wonder why a lot of those Donald Fagen vocals have that funny lisping sound, but he doesn’t seem to talk that way? The magic of over-de-essaying…


  8. João A. Santana

    Hey Graham,
    This serie of videos it’s very nice and it’s being very helpful to me and how it’s the name of the song that you use for the examples for this first serie of 5 min to better mix videos. I heard so much times parts of this that i wanna hear this complete once to see the thing


  9. Esol Esek

    Too much de-essing may be a pitfall, but coming from a dude who was an idiot for not considering this mandatory until today, I have to say thank god for de-essing! It just resolved a bunch of instinctive discomfort I was feeling, and I thought I could EQ down the major S, but nope, this is critical.

  10. Gary Denham

    I just recently began using the dresser myself and WOW. I sing a lot of tenor stuff and as I mix my stuff fairly bright to emulate my favorite pro mixes, it unfortunately also brought out any hints of piercing intonation that existed. While it still sounded really good thanks to my TOFT mixing console, it wasn’t perfect for radio consideration. It wasn’t even about “s”‘s for me. It was about softening the vocals in a bright mix without muddying them. I love my toft board bUT with no “Q” adjustment option, everytime i deharshed the vocal on the board, it ended with me ducking the life out of it as well… .and after 2 straight days of being dumbfounded, the WAVES de Esser combined with an SSL Channel strip (set to the factory default “lead vocal”) setting fixed my problem…but it was mainly the de esser. The strip merely fattened the vocal with the expander. I do run the de Esser harder as the strip counteracts PART of its work, but the end result was smooth silk for the singing parts and crisp intelligible vocals on the grunge/scream parts. I cannot imagine working on any other track without this mighty tool!

    Yaaaaay! Lol

  11. Jez

    Thanks for this. Tried it and here’s my challenge. I sent of my tracks for mastering and it became apparent I have an “essing” problem. I tried mic placement, distance etc etc but it turns out I have gaps between the front 4 teeth that causes it.

    The De -essing plugin improves it a little but I have started using Automation on HF on my EQ. But it’s delicate. To little and I get “Ssscarssss and ssstripesss” to much and it turns into “car and tripe”.

    Also almost imperceptibly, it does as another commenter states, take the life out of it a little. I also to my cost found that I use a lot of alliteration with “”Esses” in my lyrics so there are a lot of them “In dreams she holds roses and hopes life’s not hopeless”. See what I mean?

    Is the Automation on HF the best approach in addition to a De-Esser or are there other techniques I can try?


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