Hate those p-pops and breath noises? So do I, especially when I’m being paid the big bucks for voiceovers and have to edit the pops out by hand. Granted, the Pauly pop filter is a fantastic solution—it’s the best pop filter I’ve ever tried—but its $300 price tag is pretty daunting. And no matter how hard you try to control pops at the source, sometimes those pesky, problematic pops work their way into a track anyway. So, it’s time for a do-it-yourself pop filter project. And because it’s virtual, this one doesn’t involve taking panty hose and stretching it over a hanger. Instead, we’ll stretch the Pro EQ into being a virtual pop filter.
The key is creating an ultra-steep cutoff frequency that kills the low frequencies, but lives below the range of the voice so it doesn’t thin out the vocal. The easiest way to create a steep cutoff is with multiple sharp notches (Fig. 1). There are four notches, all with a Q of 12 and a gain of -24 dB. Frequencies are 130, 140, 150, and 160 Hz.
Figure 1: Use notch filters to create a super-steep low frequency slope.
Now we need to get rid of the low frequencies. Enabling the Low Cut filter helps, but if we turn it up too far, it starts rounding off the slope, which makes it not as steep. A slope of 48 dB/octave, with a frequency around 90 Hz seems about right (Fig. 2).
Figure 2: Adding a Low Cut filter starts carving away at the low frequencies.
That’s better, so it’s time for the coup de grâce—the Low Frequency Shelf stage. This gets rid of the remaining low frequencies, while still keeping the insanely steep slope (Fig. 3).
Figure 3: The Low Frequency Shelf completes the virtual pop filter.
However, note that the Low Frequency Shelf is also the key to versatility. By increasing the Q, you can add a low-frequency “bump” that’s just above the cutoff frequency. This adds extra depth, and a deep kind of vocal resonance that still keeps the p-pops under control.
Of course, every voice and mic is different, so you may want to edit the parameters somewhat. To preserve more bass, drop the frequency of all filter stages by 10 Hz and see if that helps. Conversely, if the p-pops are still too prominent, raise the frequency of all filter stages by 10 Hz until you hit the desired response…or if you’re impatient, use 20 to 30 Hz jumps.
In any event, you now have a super-steep low cut filter that can remove plosives, wind noises, most breath noises, earthquake sounds, and even the rumble from those pesky UFO flyovers—you might be surprised at just how effective this little project can be in banishing pops from your life.
This isn’t a joke—there really is an envelope-controlled flanger hidden inside Melodyne Essential that sounds particularly good with drums, but also works well with program material. The flanging is not your basic, boring “whoosh-whoosh-whoosh” LFO-driven flanging, but follows the amplitude envelope of the track being flanged. It’s all done with Melodyne Essential, although of course you can also do this with more advanced Melodyne versions. Here’s how simple it is to do envelope-followed flanging in Studio One.
As with any flanging effect, you can regulate the mix of the flanged and dry sounds by altering the balance of the two tracks.
Note that altering the Pitch Deviation parameter indicates an offset from the current Pitch Deviation, not an absolute value. For example if you drag down to -10 cents, release the mouse button, and click on the parameter again, the display will show 0 instead of -10. So if you drag up by +4 cents, the pitch deviation will now be at -6 cents, not +4. If you get too lost, just select all the blobs, choose the Percussion algorithm again, and Melodyne will set everything back to 0 cents after re-detecting the blobs.
And of course, I don’t expect you to believe that something this seemingly odd actually works, so check out the audio example. The first part is envelope-flanged drums, and the second part applies envelope flanging to program material from my [shameless plug] Joie de Vivre album. So next time you need envelope-controlled flanging, don’t reach for a stompbox—edit with Melodyne.
The previous tip on creating a dual-band reverb generated a fair amount of interest, so let’s do one more reverb-oriented tip before moving on to another topic.
Studio One has three different reverbs—Mixverb, Room Reverb, and OpenAIR—all of which have different attributes and personalities. I particularly like the Room Reverb for its sophisticated early reflections engine, and the OpenAIR’s wide selection of decay impulses (as well as the ability to load custom impulses I’ve made).
Until now, it never occurred to me how easy it is to create a “hybrid” reverb with the best of both worlds: using the Room Reverb solely as an early reflections engine, and the OpenAIR solely for the reverb decay. To review, reverb is a continuum—it starts with silence during the pre-delay phase when the sound first travels to hit a room’s surfaces, then morphs into early reflections as these sounds bounce around and create echoes, and finally, transforms into the reverb decay—the most complex component. Each one of these components affects the sound differently. In Studio One, these components don’t all have to be from the same reverb.
THE EARLY REFLECTIONS ENGINE
Start by inserting the Room Reverb into an FX Channel, and calling up the Default preset. Then set the Reverb Mix to 0.00 and the Dry/Wet Mix to 100%. The early reflections appear as discrete vertical lines. They’re outlined in red in the screen shot below.
If you haven’t experimented with using the Room Reverb as a reflections engine, before proceeding now would be a good time to use the following evaluation procedure and familiarize yourself with its talents.
Now that you know how to set up different early reflections sounds, let’s create the other half of our hybrid reverb.
THE REVERB DECAY
To provide the reverb decay, insert the OpenAIR reverb after the Room Reverb. Whenever you call up a new OpenAIR preset, do the following.
There are two ways to make a space for the early reflections so that they occur before the reverb tail: set an Envelope Fade-in time, an Envelope ER/LR-Xover time, or both. Because the ER/LR control is set to 1.00 there are no early reflections in the Open AIR preset, so if you set the ER/LR-Xover time to (for example) 25 ms, that basically acts like a 25 ms pre-delay for the reverb decay. This opens up a space for you to hear the early reflections before the reverb decay kicks in. If you prefer a smoother transition into the decay, increase the Envelope Fade-in time, or combine it with some ER/LR-Xover time to create a pre-delay along with a fade-in.
The OpenAIR Mix control sets the balance of the early reflections contributed by the Room Reverb and the longer decay tail contributed by the OpenAIR reverb. Choose 0% for reflections only, 100% for decay only.
There are other advantages of the hybrid reverb approach. In the OpenAIR, you can include its early reflections to supplement the ones contributed by the Room Reverb. When you call up a new preset, instead of setting the ER/LR, Predelay, Envelope Fade-In, and Envelope ER/LR-Xover to the defaults mentioned above, bypass the Room Reverb and set the Open AIR’s early reflections as desired. Then, enable the Room Reverb to add its early reflections, and tweak as necessary.
It does take a little effort to edit your sound to perfection, so save it as an FX Chain and you’ll have it any time you want it.
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It’s convenient that Studio One has three significantly different reverbs, but none of them has separate decay times for high and low frequencies. This is one of my favorite reverb features, because (for example) you can have a tight kick ambiance, but let the hats and cymbals fade out in a diaphanous haze…or have a huge kick that sounds like it was recorded in a gothic castle, with tight snare and cymbals on top. Also with highly percussive drums, sometimes I’d like a little more diffusion than what’s available so that reflections aren’t perceived as discrete echoes, but rather, as a smooth wash of sound.
So let’s build the ideal Room Reverb for drums (other instruments, too). There’s a downloadable FX Chain that provides a big drum sound template, but note that the preset control settings cover only one sound out of a cornucopia of possible effects. Once you start modifying the reverb sounds themselves, as well as some of the parameters in the Routing window itself, anything’s possible.
ROUTING AND MACRO CONTROLS
Here’s the FX Chain routing.
Splitter 2 provides a Normal split. One split handles the dry signal, while the other goes to the reverbs. Splitter 1 does a Frequency split, with one split going to a single Room Reverb dedicated to the low frequencies, and the other split going to two Room Reverbs in series for the high frequencies. The Split point (crossover frequency) is set around 620 Hz, but varying this parameter provides a wide variety of sounds.
You might wonder “why not just feed two reverbs, and EQ their output?” EQing before going into the reverb gives each reverb more clarity, because the low and high frequencies don’t interact with each other in the process of being reverberated.
The three Mixtool modules provide mixing for the dry, low reverb, and high reverb sounds, as represented by the first three Macro controls. The other controls modify reverb parameters, but of course, these are only some of the editable parameters available for adjustment within the Room Reverb.
HOW TO USE IT
Here’s one option, although I don’t claim that it’s necessarily “best practices” (suggestions are welcome in the Comments section!).
Start with the Dry, Low Verb, and High Verb controls at minimum. Bring up the Low Verb, and adjust Low Verb Balance and Low Decay for desired low end. Then turn down Low Verb, bring up High Verb, and adjust its associated controls (Hi Verb Balance, Hi Verb Decay, and Hi Verb Damping). With both Low Verb and High Verb set more or less the same, go into the Routing section and vary Splitter 1’s crossover frequency (the slider below Frequency Split). After finding the optimum crossover point, re-tweak the mix if necessary.
Finally, choose a balance of all three levels, and you’re good to go.
WHAT ABOUT THE REVERBS THEMSELVES?
For the default FX Chain preset, the Low Verb has a shorter delay than the High Verbs, but still gives a big kick sound.
The reason for using two Room Reverbs in series for the high reverb component is to increase the amount of diffusion, and provide a smoother sound.
You want fairly different settings for the two reverbs so that they blend, thus giving the feel of more diffusion. There’s not really a lot of thought behind the above settings; I just copied one of the reverbs and changed a few parameters until the sound was smooth.
Incidentally, three Room Reverbs requires a decent amount of CPU, so there are switches at the bottom of the Macro Controls to enable the “eco” mode for each reverb. Choosing eco for the low frequency reverb impacts the sound less than choosing eco for the two high frequency reverbs.
IT’S A WRAP
Download the FX Chain and check out what this FX Chain can do—I think you’ll find that when it comes to reverbs, third time’s a charm.
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Unless you have exceptional vocal control, some vocal or narration phrases will likely be softer than others—not intentionally due to natural dynamics, but as a result of sketchy mic technique, running out of breath, or not being able to hit a note as strongly as other notes. Using compression or limiting to even out a vocal’s peaks has its place, but the low-level sections might not be brought up enough, whereas the high-level ones may sound “squashed.”
A more natural-sounding solution is to edit the vocal to a consistent level first, before applying any compression or limiting, by using phrase-by-phrase gain changes that even out variations. The advantage of adjusting each phrase’s level for consistency is that you haven’t added any of the artifacts associated with compression, or interfered with a phrase’s inherent dynamics. Furthermore if you do add compression or limiting while mixing, you won’t need to use as much as you normally would to obtain the same perceived volume and intimacy. A side benefit of phrase-by-phase normalization is that you can define an event that starts just after an inhale, so the inhale isn’t brought up with the rest of the phrase.
Ready to tweak that vocal to perfection? Let’s go.
Note that if audio continues before and after the Bend Marker so the Bend Marker can’t land on silence, Studio One generally handles this well if you place the Bend Marker on a zero-crossing. But if an abrupt level change causes a click at a transition, simply crossfade over it by dragging the end of one event and the beginning of the next event over the transition, and type X to create a crossfade. Adjust the curve for the most natural sound. In extreme cases, fading out just before the click and fading in just after the click can solve any issues.
So why not just do this kind of operation in the Arrange View? Several reasons. First of all, the Edit view is a more comfortable editing environment. But also, sometimes detecting transients will place the Bend Markers accurately enough that all you need to do is split and change levels—it’s much easier than doing a series of splits in the Arrange view. And if you count keystrokes, clicking to drop Bend Markers that define where to split and doing all the splits at once is easier than clicking and splitting at each split. Finally, while in Edit view, you can take advantage of the Bend Markers to adjust phrasing.
While this is a highly effective technique (especially for narration), be careful not to get so involved in this process that you start normalizing, say, individual words. Within any given phrase there will be some dynamics that you’ll want to retain—never lose the human element.