Hey guys, welcome to our blog. Today we are going to talk about the 10 best vocal processing plugins you can use to process your vocals from Waves Audio. So, the vocal processing would differ from person to person. Understanding the problems that are present in the vocals is the most important task which a lot of people fail to do. Just like how every patient needs a different treatment depending upon the physiology of the patient, not every voice should be treated in the same way. So, let’s get started.
Irrespective of how the vocals have been recorded, whether it was recorded in a professional studio or even in a bedroom studio, you need to understand that there are some common problems, that we face when we are told to clean up the vocal tracks. So, these are the most common problems you’ll come across when dealing with recorded vocal track:
The most common issue while dealing with vocals that are recorded in a noisy environment or cheap gear. Now there are a couple of alternative solutions to deal with this problem. The most common way would be to add a noise gate, which is a dynamic processor and will allow the voice to pass through, only when the audio exceeds the set threshold. But that’s not the only way to go about it.
Plosives are basically the consonants which causes immense bass boost. These include words that usually starts with ‘P’, ‘T’, ‘Ph’, ‘Bh’ or ‘-th’ sounds. The word ‘phone’ would be a good example of how the plosives would sound when you record the vocals. This usually occur, when the artist exhales air directly on the diaphragm of the microphone. A good vocalist knows how to adjust singing position according to the words to avoid these problems. A pop-filter can be placed in front of the microphone to solve this problem. Sometimes, this is also caused if the microphone is kept too close to the sound source causing a “Proximity Effect”.
This is a very common problem that can be caused due to the type and the colour of the microphone which is being used at the time of recording. The microphones are usually coloured due to the type of electronic circuit which is being used inside. The “esses”, usually refers to the sounds which are mostly prominent in the presence or the brilliance frequency band. The presence band, would range around 4Khz to 6Khz and the brilliance frequency band would range from 6Khz to 20Khz. Usually, the sounds which are also called the glitches, for instance, “st”, “ch”, “ss”, either starts or ends with these formants. Again this problem can be fixed at source by the vocalist by tilting their heads and controlling the force while pronouncing the sibilant words.
We may have recorded the vocals perfectly by taking all the measures to deal with the above problem, but some problems cannot be dealt with at the time of recording. Like when you hear a vocal track which sounds too loud at some parts and too soft at other parts. This is one of the major problems of recording vocals or any instrument for that matter.
If the vocals are recorded in an acoustically treated room, this shouldn’t be a problem. But if it has been recorded in a poorly treated room, then a lot of unwanted reflections or the room reverb is also going to get captured which may make the signal sound muddy.
If you would hear the recorded vocals and the vocals in your reference track, there would be a huge difference between the two, obviously. But even after treating your vocals, there is still going to be some difference, since it wouldn’t be exactly of the same color.
Once, we have figured out all of our problems, it becomes very easy to solve them. Like I said, solving is not the problem, figuring out the problems is. The very first thing that we are going to do is apply a vocal tuning plugin, since there might be a slightest chance or a possibility that the vocals may have gone out of key or scale at some points due to the human error. A lot of people think that vocal pitch correction is not something that needs to be done or applied on every vocal track.
Let me correct this huge misconception, even if the vocal tuning is not done in a biblical proportion, it still is being applied on majority of the vocal tracks you’d hear online. Just that it won’t be as much as what T-Pain applies and even that is intentional, because T-pain, even without vocal tuning sounds really good.
Pitch Correction/Vocal Tuning:
So, the pitch correction or the vocal tuning both can be done by a plugin called as WavesTune Real-Time and WavesTune. Now, the differences between the two versions are, in WavesTune Real-Time, you can let the algorithm do the vocal tuning and you don’t have to bother yourself much in terms of correcting the pitch of every syllable. In WavesTune plugin, you have the option to either do this automatically, or do it manually by selecting the pitch of every syllable and placing it on the correct note. Usually, there isn’t much time in the studio, since mostly the studio is occupied with a lot of recordings and the bookings are divided into different time slots. So, the engineer usually doesn’t go about manually pitch correcting, since it takes a lot of time.
In such a situation, WavesTune Real-Time would be the best plugin to choose. All you need to do is select the scale of the music, select how fast the pitch correction applied, then select the note transition time and the correction amount. Now, I won’t be able to dictate settings here, because like I said, different vocals would require different settings. Trial and error method is your best bet.
Not a lot of people are aware of the gain riding or vocal riding plugins but they are insanely good and effective. Basically, a plugin would do manual gain riding for you. Gain riding is a term which is used for volume/gain automation. This is usually done to the audio signal more consistent but ir is also not that accurate when compared to a compressor. So, usually what engineers do is, they apply the vocal rider and then use it to print gain automation.
If there are some parts where the automation has not been done precisely, we can edit the automation points and correct it manually. This speeds up the process and makes it convenient for the engineer to not add any color in the track unlike a compressor, and make the vocals louder in a more natural way.
There are many plugins in the Waves Bundle to look for a gate plugin, but SSL E-channel strip is highly recommended to be used on vocals. The idea is to not to use the entire channel strip but to only use the gate module of the plugin. Usually, the gate/expander is set to expander mode by default and you may have to turn on the gate knob. Trial and error method is again your best bet here as well. Just play around with the threshold, attack and release settings. Usually, the threshold level is kept around -40db to -50 db, but this again depends on the noise floor and the type of vocals we are dealing with.
Waves NS1 is a Noise Suppressor plugin used to remove the background noise from the recorded vocals. Now, don’t expect these to work like magic, with the reduction in the level of noise, you may also have to compromise a bit on the brilliance or the high frequencies. The way Waves Audio has made this plugin is very simplistic and intuitive. There is just one knob to mess around with, again Trail and Error method is your best bet. See if the background noise is getting reduced to a considerable extent while moving the threshold/suppress knob.
There are more plugins from Waves Audio, which deal with noise supression and those are; Z-Noise, X-Noise. The basic functionality of both of these plugins is almost the same, they are expected to eliminate or reduce the noise from an existing track, whether it is recorded vocals or acoustic guitar.
X-Hum is like a high-pass filter which will clear out the low-end rumbling frequencies which might have been generated at the time of recording due to a ground loop (earthing issue), a DC offset or use of unbalanced cables. It uses a series of notch filters to attenuate these unwanted frequencies. The plugin’s functionality is very simple, all you need to do is move the frequency knob to a point where you hear that the low-end rumbling frequencies has been eliminated completely. If you want to hear exactly which frequencies are being eliminated by the plugin, you can select the “Inverse” knob in the bottom right, this will playback the attenuated frequencies only. Select “Audio” to revert to original sound.
CLA-2A & CLA-3A are some of the most well renowned compressors used specifically on the vocals to make it more consistent. Now, you might ask, why this compressor of all the other compressors? Well, the secret lies in the working principle of the LA-2A compressor. This is also called as the optical compressor and the way it works is what makes it quite unique from most compressors. There is an assembly inside this compressor called as “Opto-Coupler”. The assembly comprises of a light bulb and a photo-voltaic cell. The attack and release times of the optical compressor is completely dependent on these light bulbs and the Photo-voltaic cell. Because the light bulb takes a considerable amount of time to light up, the attack time is a bit slower. Also, the bulb would take considerable amount of time to dim out completely once the audio is out, the release time is also gradual.
This makes the compressor less correspondent to the transients, if they were to feed in. Also, the color of this compressor is a lot “creamy” which makes the vocals sound a little thick and also consistent.
In spite of the fact that we have already added a vocal rider in the chain, to make it more consistent, we are still going to use a compressor to make it more consistent and add a bit of color to the vocals. Now, one may ask, which optical compressor to go for, since there are two models to choose from. I’d say, go for CLA-3A, because it has a T4-ELOP, which a different version of opto-coupler. This T4-ELOP, instead of having a light bulb and a photo-voltaic cell, it has a LED (Light emitting diode) and a photo-voltaic cell, which makes it better for instant transient response on the vocals.
WNS Noise Suppressor:
Now, we have already added one noise suppressor plugin, you may ask why do it again? Well, WNS noise suppressor works in multi-band mode to eliminate the unwanted reflections and resonances which may have been captured at the time of recording. You can also use a Multi-band Gate plugin to eliminate the room tone completely, it’s just going to be a taxing job to adjust the threshold of every band and adjust the attack/release parameters. Make sure that you do not overdo this, or else the vocals would sound very thin and muffled. Just use subtle settings, so that we eliminate the noise and the room reverb by using two plugins, NS-1 and WNS Noise Suppressor.
Waves F6 EQ is a dynamic EQ with internal and external sidechain options. Now this plugin is majorly used to remove resonating or harsh frequencies which exists in the vocals. The resonating frequencies are those frequencies which have the characteristics of a whistling sound. The moment we solo out these frequencies, we’d hear a whistle. These frequencies cause a lot of problems and should be eliminated at all cost. If the timbre or the texture of the vocals has been changed and suddenly the vocal sound thin, here, instead of cutting the resonating frequencies all the way down, create a dip of -5db to -8db. That should solve the problem of thinning out of vocals.
Puigtec EQP-1A and MEQ-5 are probably the most well renowned EQs and known for being the most musical EQs. These EQs are used to add a bit of color and to presence in the range of 4Khz to 6Khz. Simply use the high frequency selector knob to select the frequencies you want to boost and then use the boost knob to boost those frequencies. Also, make sure the bandwidth knob is kept in the moderate settings otherwise you’d hear increase in harsh frequencies. This EQ is just used to add color and make the vocals pop out more to stand out in the mix. Also, if you want to experiment, you can increase the boost knob all the way up and use the attenuation knob to get the best results from the EQ. Remember, trial and error method is your best bet here again.
This is the last step in which we are going to get rid of the ‘esses’, in the vocals. Use the threshold and the frequency knob to get the best settings. These are not dictated settings but you can work around “3Khz to 6Khz” range for male voice and “6Khz to 12Khz” for female voice. Use the “ chain” knob to hear what exactly is being eliminated in the audio and the revert to “Audio”. The DeEsser is nothing but a single-band compressor, working only on a specific range of frequencies. The cross-over of this band can be adjusted by adjusting the frequency. Again, trial and error method are your best bet. Also, it is advisable to keep a reference vocal track so that you can easily compare your current vocal track with the reference vocal track.
These are all the necessary steps which the audio engineer usually applies when treating/processing the vocals. I hope this has helped you in a constructive way. A key point to remember is that this blog has only covered the insert processing of the vocals, the time-based or effects processing will be discussed some other time. Also, make sure you add all of these plugins in the same sequence or order which is mentioned in the blog.
The results from the plugins are only going to be promising if you have used proper recording equipment to record the vocals. We cannot promise that the results are going to be astonishing if you’d apply the same vocal chain on a vocal recorded from a Smart Phone. Use conventional recording gears to record the vocals or best, rent out a recording studio to get the best results from the artist.