Saturation is a phenomenon in audio music production which is praised by many audio engineers and music production enthusiasts in general. It can easily turn a lifeless mix into something outstanding. Nevertheless, it can ruin the mix if you use it too harshly. In recent times we have the opportunity to use software plugins which mimic saturation color of some high quality and expensive hardware devices. Therefore, in the next tutorial, I will show you the benefits of using the saturation on individual tracks in the mix as well on the master bus.
Let us start by listening to a short sequence which I made in our own SoundBridge: DAW. The sequence contains all the essential elements of more or less full track and we will apply the saturation on the bassline, synth sequence, and the master bus.
~Full mix – Unprocessed
Adding saturation with U78 Saturator by Audified
For the purpose of this tutorial, I have chosen to use a quite new software plugin on the market named U78 and designed by Audified.
This particular plugin is a Valve based plugin modeled on the circuitry of the famous vintage German U73b Compressor allowing saturation of an exact band.
U78 Saturator gives you a chance to color the precisely selected band with the circuitry of U73b Compressor. Try it on the bass, drums, and vocals, but you can use it basically on any audio source as well.
So, let’s start by adding a fresh instance of U78 on the bassline channel within SoundBridge: DAW and check its interface.
As you can see, the interface is looking pretty straightforward. The knobs and overall design is borrowed from the original hardware unit. Let’s go over its parameters to better understand their functions.
- Gain – adjusts the input gain of the saturation circuit. (The higher the settings, the richer the sound that can be achieved.)
- HiPass – sets the cut-off frequency of the high-pass filter, which comes before the saturation circuit in the signal path. (The range is from 30 Hz to 800 Hz – turn the knob to a minimum to turn off the HiPass filter.)
- LowPass – sets the cut-off frequency of the lowpass filter, which comes before the saturation circuit in the signal path. (The range is from 1 kHz to 8 kHz – turn the knob to the maximum to turn off the LowPass filter.)
- Tone – controls the U78 Saturator’s unique tone filter. (Lower settings produce darker sounds with more low-frequency content; conversely, higher settings result in brighter, sparkling sounds.)
- Mix – controls the dry and wet signal ratio. (The dry signal is delayed to match the wet signal path latency to prevent phasing issues.)
There is also a dial knob in the left corner of the interface which deserves more attention.
The software model works with real voltages, the same as in the circuit of the original device, related to the dB scale but the digital signal processing in the DAWs works with the digital full scale known as dBFS. Therefore a calibration parameter is added to relate the digital scale (dBFS) with the analog scale (dBu).
Furthermore, one sets the calibration to work in the proper operating range of the Saturator effect. Be careful when working with this parameter. I suggest setting this parameter to headroom you use in your recordings or headroom of your audio interface. The default setting is –9 dB and it loads every time you load the plugin. However, the calibration value is overwritten by the value from the DAW project (when the calibration is changed explicitly and saved with the project). You can also change the default value in the settings menu.
After initial explanations of the U78 parameters, we can move to some practical audio examples. First, we will hear the difference between unprocessed bassline, synth sequence, and the master bus. Then all of these processed with U78.
~Bassline – Unprocessed
~Bassline – Processed With U78
~Synth Sequence – Unprocessed
~Synth Sequence – Processed With U78
~Master Bus – Unprocessed
~Master Bus – Processed With U78
Download the project here.