PreSonus Blog

Make Bass “Pop” in Your Mix

Bass has a tough gig. Speakers have a hard time reproducing such low frequencies. Also, the ear is less sensitive to low (and high) frequencies compared to midrange frequencies. Making bass “pop” in a mix, especially at low playback levels, isn’t easy.

Fortunately, saturating the bass can provide a solution. This type of distortion has two beneficial effects:

  • Adds high-frequency harmonics. A bass note with harmonics is easier to hear, even in systems with a compromised bass response and at lower playback levels.
  • Raises the bass’s average level. With light saturation, the bass has a higher average level. But this doesn’t have to increase the peak level (fig. 1).
Figure 1: The top image is unprocessed bass, the lower image uses saturation. Both are normalized to the same peak level. The lower image’s “thicker” waveform indicates a higher average level.

Most bass lines use single notes. So, unlike guitar, saturation doesn’t create nasty intermodulation distortion due to notes interacting with each other. Even with saturation, the bass sounds “clean” in the context of a mix.

The Star of the Show: RedlightDist

Although tape emulation effects are popular for saturating bass, RedlightDist (fig. 2) is all you need. Setting Type to Hard Tube and using a single Stage produces an effect with bass that’s almost indistinguishable from tape emulation plugins. (The Bass QuickStrip tip also includes the RedlightDist, but the preset uses the Splitter. This simpler tip works with Studio One Artist or Professional.)

Figure 2: Suggested initial settings for the RedlightDist with bass.

How to Optimize the Input Level

The saturation amount depends on the input level, not just the settings of the In, Distortion, and Drive controls. The Distortion and Drive settings in fig. 2 work well. At least initially, use the In control to adjust the amount of saturation. If the highest setting doesn’t produce enough saturation, increase the level going into the RedlightDist. If you still want more saturation, increase Drive.

Hearing is Believing!

Make sure you check out these audio examples, because the way RedlightDist affects the overall mix is dramatic. First, listen to the unprocessed bass sound as a reference. All the examples are normalized to ‑6 dB peak levels.

The next example is the saturated sound. But the real payoff is in the final two examples.

The following example plays an excerpt from a song. The bass is not saturated. Listen to it in context with the mix.

The final example uses saturated bass in the song excerpt. Listen to how the bass stands out in the mix, even though its peak level is the same as the previous example.

By using saturation, you can mix the bass lower than you could without saturation, yet the bass sounds equally prominent. This offers two main benefits:

  • There’s more low-frequency space for the kick and other instruments.
  • Having less low-bass energy frees up more headroom. So, the entire mix can have a higher level, without needing to add compression or limiting.

RedlightDist is a versatile effect. Also try this technique with kick—as well as analog, beatbox-style drum sounds—when you need more punch and pop.