SPL De-Esser Collection Review
Arghhh! The blessed vocal track is just about perfect. The tracking went well, the latest take is free of “pitchiness”, mic placement and EQ are bang on. You apply tasty compression by dialling up your favourite ’76 and 2A just right. That sweet vocal EQ couldn’t be better.
Then your ears are no longer being romanced – they’re raped by one of the recording vocalist’s most lethal foes – sibilance.
Nasty, in-your-face, brash, piercing SSSsibilance. You try the well regarded VST’s from yesteryear, you try EQing, you try a couple of current payware DeEssing offerings, but then the vocal ‘air’ is lost and the vocal track is very ‘flat’. . . . and at last, you find yourself carefully editing by hand in Wavelab, Sound Forge or Acoustica Premium.
It isn't any fun – editing out plosives and/or sibilance “by hand”. It’s time consuming and can result in audible editing clicks when the resultant editing is processed within your DAW. Sibilance has been the bane of many an engineer’s existence. Actually, nasty, piercing SSSs just plain suck!
Wouldn't it be just wonderful if there were a way to easily remedy sibilance with just one or two knobs, and keep the quality of a vocal track intact?
Guess what!? There is . . .
The $199 SPL DeEsser Collection plug-in can be properly reviewed with one, simple word. “Necessary.” If I were to end this review right now, without typing another letter on the page, the review could be considered complete. This set of powerful, specialized plug-ins is a worthwhile investment for any serious home producer. Nevertheless, it’s no fun to be a professional writer and not actually . . . write. *Smile. Stay with me. I promise, I won’t keep you long, but I really am very excited to share my experience and findings about the SPL DeEssers Collection with you. *Quick Note: Until July 15th, 2013, this plug-in is on sale for only $149.
SPL’s DeEssing hardware is respected by professional audio engineers all over the world. SPL’s DeEssing technology is arguably one of the more transparent and effective of any sibilance-reducing blueprint to date. It is to the small studio owner’s great advantage that this same technology has been encapsulated in cross-platform plug-ins. Finally, the average home recording enthusiast has high-grade, professional sibilance taming within moderately affordable grasp.
SPL’s DeEsser technology is highly effective and inconspicuous because it is based on extremely narrow, and dynamically changing, frequency band monitoring. Unlike typical DeEssing, which is much wider band centric and reliant upon compression algorithms, SPL’s DeEssers remain unobtrusive and ‘natural’ sounding. I can testify that the company’s claim about this module being highly effective without negatively affecting the original character and timbre of a vocal track, to be true.
When I was eight years old, one of my front teeth was accidentally broken while playing hockey. I never did get it replaced. I admit it, I’m a big ol 200(+) lb. wuss - I’d rather look like Alfred E. Neuman, than face the evil dentist’s chair. Fortunately for me, this missing tooth business has never really been a terribly obvious facial feature (or failing, as it were.) Unfortunately, as a Gospel singer, that silly missing tooth does cause me to pronounce my “Esses” too strongly. I haven’t a lisp, but I do have a “S” “sysfunction”. I've had to battle this sibilance blithe all my life. Trust me you, buddy, when I first got my eager digits on the SPL DeEsser plug-in, I knew that I was a prime candidate to either substantiate or disprove their product claims. Praise the Lord and PAss the sHURE sM58 mic – my esses are finally tamed!
Installation and Authorization:
Grumble, grumble, grunt. Rant. Stomp. Mutter. I hate nasty ol’ C/R and dongle protection. I like digital watermarking and serial protection. *Bro. Charles scowls.
All Plugin-Alliance plug-ins are protected with Call Response protection. Now to be fair, Plugin Alliance is not some willy-nilly outfit that I expect are going to close up shop and scamper away any time soon. I would also like to mention that a customer is free to activate and deactivate licenses on a per need basis. Any Plugin-Alliance plug-in can be activated on up to three devices at a time. This is a very fair and manageable method of copy protection.
For those who ‘prefer’ dongles, any run-of-the-mill USB stick can be registered as a ‘device’. You see, a company can’t be any more fair and considerate than this. As regards current anti-piracy methods, Plugin-Alliance is a shining example of “Don’t punish the paying customers.” HEY! All you developers using dongles and C/R, this is the way to do it. Major KUDOS to Plug-in Alliance.
It should also be duly noted that Plugin-Alliance offer bundle savings at all times, even when they aren’t offering a sales campaign. The more items you purchase at a time, the greater the savings.
The downloadable installers serve as both demo versions and are easily unlocked once the product has been paid for and authorized. The unlocking or “authorizing” is completed by pointing the plugin to your downloadable license file. This is always found in the customer “MyPlugins” area of the Plugin-Alliance web site.
The knobs respond somewhat abruptly to mouse movements; however, once you get accustomed to them, this isn’t much of an issue. I’m actually very willing to forgive this GUI foopah, because the sound quality is so very, very fine. Generally, I find that simply clicking on the desired potentiometer designation is the most reliable way to manipulate the controls. Dragging the mouse and trying to “turn” the knobs is somewhat unreliable and the knobs can respond erratically. Just sayin . . .
It is interesting that while keeping the “Ctrl” key depressed while clicking, will cause the knobs to switch between “Zero” and the most recent detent position.
Both the Classic DeEsser and the Dual Band DeEsser plug-ins faithfully represent their hardware forefathers. The plug-ins incorporate the color schemes and general design features of the SPL hardware DeEssing units.
Operations & Control:
These blessed little gems are so easy to manipulate, I’m only filling in space here . . . lol.
While using the standard “one knob” DeEsser, the single “S Reduction” knob is gradual and predictable. Large, easy-to-navigate on/off buttons engage the mode of the utility; whether male or female, and M/S or typical stereo. There are “A/B” buttons provided, allowing the user to save and switch between two separate settings.
The M/S mode is handy for the engineer who needs to relax sibilance artefacts in an already “stemmed” stereo mix. This mode separates the “Mid” (read center) audio information so that the “Side” stereo instruments are not adversely affected by DeEssing. While this is not a best practice, it can certainly save a troubled mix.
SPL’s Dual Band DeEsser offers the perfect blend of user-adjustable control whilst remaining “idiot proof”. (Hey, don’t blame me . . . IDG publications earned many millions with their “For Dummies” books *Grin.) With this module, the user is provided separate lower and upper band DeEssing. If either of the bands is used individually, it remains independent of the other. However, while used in tandem, they interact with each other, with the amount of Low Band DeEssing directly influencing the Upper Band’s activity.
Both of these plug-ins share common qualities, but of course, there are subtle differences. The Classic DeEsser is hardcoded to use a center frequency of 6.4 kHz while the “Male” mode is engaged. The “Female” mode is set to 7.2 kHz.
The Dual Band version features a “Male” mode operating with a Low Band center frequency of 6.4 kHz, and the “Female” mode operating at a center frequency to 7.6 kHz. The Dual Band DeEsser utilizes a 3khz bandwidth for its Upper Band frequency, which is centered at 11.2 kHz. Both of these plug-ins are extremely effective and unobtrusive due to their dynamically-intelligent sibilance monitoring. This is most definitely a major WOW factor.
In a word - effective. This handy-dandy little gem is one of my favorite DeEssing plug-ins. I had hopeful expectations while considering some other DeEssers, but the SPL folks have produced a strong contender. I am absolutely thrilled that a vocal track can retain much of its presence, air, and definition; even when aggressive “DeEssing” has been applied. I was recently enlisted to prepare a simple video and 45 second radio voiceover announcement for a recent Gospel music event in my city. The voiceover turned out quite well, with nice “big”, round vocal tone, but the nasty ol’ Esses, were like usual, much too pronounced.
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In order to make effective use of the close-mic proximity effect needed to reproduce that “Big Voice” announcer tone, unwanted, harsh sibilance became very difficult for me to reduce. That is of course, until I whacked SPL DeEsser on the track. Whoa! What a magnificent difference this set of attractive, easy-to-use plug-ins made on the voice-over track. I was now able to keep the “Big Voice” sound of proximity exploitation, *and crisp, clean ‘air’ to enhance enunciation. 5 GOLD STARS awarded to SPL.
On musical vocal tracks, these plug-in shine just as brightly, if not even more brightly. I can tweak a vocal track’s EQ to achieve a modern, crisp sound, before or after compression, and I no longer need to be concerned about sibilance artefacts. This applies equally to both male and female voices. The dynamically-changing frequency band monitoring that is creatively programmed into the SPL DeEssers must be experienced to be appreciated. Even when aggressively applied, a vocal track remains true and accurate to its original timbre. I am hugely impressed.
In many cases, the standard “one knob” Classic version will more than suffice. There are times, however, when the added control of the dual-band variant will yield even better results. In the past, I’ve always had to resort to EQ “sweeping” techniques to try to isolate specific sibilance ranges and determine the best span of operation. With the SPL “Dual Band” DeEsser, it’s silly-simple to dial in GREAT sibilance-taming quickly and efficiently . . . without any time-consuming EQ sweeps and ‘trial-and-error’ methods.
Choose a mode: Male or Female. Turn the Upper and/or Lower bands off or on. Twist dials. Listen. Done.
SPL even helps beginners turn into mix-engineer “rock stars”.
Ahh, the beauty of refined DSP programming code. ‘Tis a blessed thing indeed, to have such a powerful, effective tool, and not be heavily taxed by a demanding, unforgiving governor for having said tool. These wonderful agents of vocal-track care, sit gracefully and gently within your DAW and require no more than a pauper’s portion of your system’s CPU and memory.
I want to emphasize that I award 4 out of 5 Stars to SPL for this magnificent set of DeEssers. Upon first glance, these plug-ins may seem to occupy a fairly expensive retail space; however, the worthy results they can produce are appreciable. The SPL Dual Band hardware DeEsser retails in the USA for $399. With this price in view, the software counterpart suddenly becomes much more affordable; all things being relative. I suspect that any serious engineer (professional or enthusiast) will greatly appreciate these tools whenever transparent, inconspicuous sibilance-taming is required. One of the “polishing” touches that take a decent mix up into the Pro category are even, well-balanced vocal tracks, free of piercing “Essess” or “PPoPPing Plosives”. SPL DeEssers most certainly take care of the former.
Brother Charles is a freelance writer, Gospel music artist and minister. Charles had been a professional touring musician during the nineties; working primarily as a lead guitarist in the Canadian country music industry. Brother Charles is also involved with music production and quality home recording.
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