Many of us never touch a de-esser. Of all the plug-ins at our disposal, it's the one that we would normally only reach for when we're in trouble.
The scenario usually runs like this: we're faced with a vocalist who sounds fantastic in real life, but everything changes when they sing into a microphone.
Each time they pronounce words with an 'S' in it, the 'S' sound leaps up in volume and they sound like a hissing snake.
The same occurs with the sound of the letters 'T', 'F' and even 'Ch'. It's not that they can't sing; some singers just sound a little hissy in front of a mic.
You try reducing the high frequency content of the vocal with an EQ, but the result is just a dull-sounding vocal and the sibilant noises still leap out!
What you need is a de-esser - a plug-in or hardware unit that dynamically reduces a particular band of frequencies whenever it detects that there's too much of those frequencies passing through.
These units are a godsend in a session, but they can be problematic - if set up badly, they can reduce your vocal take to a lisping mess, but reduce the de-essing and you're very often back where you started.
Finding a happy medium is extremely time-consuming, not to mention frustrating. Enter Eiosis, who have produced a new plug-in that hopes to solve these problems.
By giving the user a large amount of control over the de-essing effect, they hope to remove the problem of overly sibilant vocals once and for all.
Installation is simple but you'll need an iLok for authorisation. I'm pleased to report that the E2 De-esser installed on my MacBook Pro without fuss, and survived the AU validation process in Logic 8 too.
I ﬁrst tried the E2 De-esser on a collection of spoken word recordings I had made for a podcast where I was annoyed with the sound of my voice.
Unfortunately, the best vocal takes had occurred when I was far too close to the microphone, so there were all sorts of hisses and clicks that would distract the listener. I suspected that this was going to be a tough challenge.
However, as soon as I inserted the E2 De-esser I discovered a fantastic vocal sound hidden beneath.
Up to this point, I had attempted to control the sibilance in my recordings by automating a high-cut EQ, dipping the amount of high-frequency content whenever I thought the listener could hear the sound of my teeth!
This was a fairly successful approach, but by simply using the 'male speech' preset, the E2 De-esser instantly corrected all the failings in my microphone technique, with no tweaking required!
The result was brilliant: smooth de-essing without any telltale 'lisping', dulling of the sound or changes in level. I was stunned by the fact that with just two clicks of a mouse I had completely eliminated the problems with the audio.
The same applied when using the E2 on some troublesome singing takes. I chose a recording from a singer whose vocal sound I had frequently struggled with. I simply loaded the 'female singer basic' preset and I was done.
Getting very excited, I wondered what magic the E2 De-esser could work on backing vocals.
A common problem for engineers who are recording novice singers is that the sibilance in backing vocals can be thrown out of sync by bad timing on the part of the singer.
I've spent many hours retiming backing vocal parts to avoid this 'smearing', but how about de-essing the parts instead?
I'm pleased to report that I managed to achieve smooth yet bright BVs with no fuss, and no need to reach for Melodyne.
Taking this approach to backing vocals had never occurred to me before, but it's a working practice I'll certainly return to.
The E2De-esser can be used for creative sound shaping as well as purely corrective tasks.
The plug-in comes supplied with a bunch of presets designed to mangle your drum sounds in ways that are difﬁcult to describe in words.
I'm not entirely sure when I would use these effects, but it might be just what you're looking for to bring some extra colour into your mixes.
The E2 De-esser is a superlative solution to any engineer's ongoing problems with sibilance. It's easy to use, installs with no fuss and, crucially, once it's inserted in your track, you set it up and forget about it.
That's something I haven't found in any other de-essing units - software or hardware.
If it sounds like I'm heaping great praise on this plug-in, it's because I'm genuinely excited that this is a one-stop solution for troublesome vocals, and it's something that will save me a lot of time and frustration over the coming months.