The secret of Saturation

 

Although in many cases a misunderstood process, saturation in music production is something that can really enrich the sound in your mix. It draws back its origins to the time when music was produced and recorded strictly in the analog domain. Back in those days mix and recording engineers had to be really careful with the levels of recorded audio signal fed to the tape machines. If the signal was too low, the type of noise called “ Hiss “ would overwhelm the entire mix.

On the other hand, if the signal was too high the phenomenon known as saturation would occur. Accordingly, this saturated type of sound produced by tape machines quickly found its use in the music production realm, This is because it created a pleasant sound with natural compression and limiting characteristics. Today, we have a huge variety of digital tape recorder emulators available which, more or less, accurately produce the same tape effect.

Here are 4 tips that will help you apply the saturation effect in a more effective way in your mix.

 

1. The use of saturation on drum sounds

 

The mentioned effect can really be applied on wide variety of audio signals. In my opinion, saturation sounds better when applied on certain types of sounds only. Drums are maybe one of best sounds to be processed with it. You can not go wrong with recording  live drums using finest microphones and preamps, but even then they could sound even better with some grit and attitude. Saturation can greatly help with that while not over coloring the original sound of the drums. It will add certain amount of harmonics which sounds pleasing to the ear of the listener. Also it will introduce a bit of natural compression and perceived loudness. You can go extreme with the overall amount of saturation but the best effect is achieved with applying only reasonable, small amounts.

 

2. Warming up those synths

 

Another effective way of using the saturation effect would be by applying it to the synth sequences. So, you can push virtual emulations of the analog synthesizers a bit closer to the original. When used correctly on the soft synth sounds it will add necessary harmonics, grit, bring them more upfront and finally make them louder.

 

3. Effective on vocals as well  

 

You may think that saturation has no place in treatment of the vocals. However, be sure that vocals can really shine after being carefully processed by saturation. By placing the tape emulation effect on the vocal recording and increasing the drive parameter you will instantly hear how the vocal sounds ”fuller”. Moreover, one more useful aspect will occur. Harsh sounds in the vocal recording like “S” and “C” will be softened and therefore sound more pleasant to the ear.

 

4. Using it on the master buss

 

Saturation will find a very useful place on the master bus as well and introduce an analog quality to it. All in all, be very gentle with the amount you apply. If you use it too much, it can ruin your mix and eat up the transients.