Expander/Gate Plugins [Analyzing Mixing Effects]

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Expander/Gate Plugins [Analyzing Mixing Effects]

Hey, guys.

Eric Tarr here for theproaudiofiles.com.

I’ve been going through a series of videos
where I’m demonstrating techniques that you

can use to analyze your plug-ins in order
to get a better understanding of how they’re

going to work.

I’ve looked at spectral processors, saturation
or harmonic style processors, and also compressors.

Now, in this video, I’m going to look at a
different type of dynamic range processor,

and that’s the expander/gate.

You can use this type of processor for several
things while you’re mixing.

Some people like to use it to remove background
noise, or low level noise in their signal.

Other people will use it to do something that
I’ll call, “envelope shaping,” to change

the attack, decay, sustain, and release of
the notes that are actually part of the signal.

To go along with this, then, I’m also going
to demonstrate a transient designer style

processor that you can use for more overall
envelope shaping.

Let me take you through my basic setup in
my session.

I’ve got a couple of test signals that I’ll
be working with.

I’ve designed them specifically that they’ll
be convenient for analyzing these types of


So, here I’ve got a 1kHz tone where I’m changing
the amplitude.

For one second, it has a constant amplitude
at one level, and then for another second,

it has a lower amplitude.

Now what I can do is set the threshold on
my dynamic range processor so that part of

the signal is above the threshold, and then
another part of the signal is below the threshold.

Then I can see how the processor is going
to respond to when the signal changes amplitude.

So, for instance, I’ve got the stock Pro Tools
expander/gate pulled up here, and I’ve got

it in its basic settings, where it’s going
to be acting as a gate with a very fast attack,

fast release, and fast hold, and I’ve got
the threshold set so that this part of the

signal will be below.

So, I can go ahead and print – this is my
input signal – I’m going to print on this

other track the output, and see what ends
up happening when the signal goes through.

[sine wave plays]

So, as you might expect, the expander/gate
is going to kick in and change the amplitude

of this part of the signal over here, so that
it’s turned down as much as, you know, by

a ratio of 100:1.

So this is a very fast gate that kicks in
right away based on the attack and release


So, let’s go ahead and look, then, if I start
to manipulate some of these things.

So, instead of having a really fast release,
why don’t I elongate this to a few milliseconds.

[sine wave plays]

So, now I have, instead of an immediate, sharp
tail that cuts the signal off, this one is

a little bit elongated.

It has a little bit more of a smooth curve

This can be more dramatic as I change the
release time.

[sine wave plays]

Nonetheless, as soon as this signal drop below
the threshold, the expander/gate is going

to kick in, and it’s going to start to decrease
the amplitude of the signal in a very smooth


To go along with the release then, another
control that can be helpful to use is the

“hold” that’s available at least on this

So, if I change the Hold and elongate this
one to 300 or so milliseconds, watch what

ends up happening to the signal.

[sine wave]

So, with the Hold setting, what it’s going
to do is delay when the gain reduction is

starting to take place.

So, the signal at this point drops below the
threshold, and then the gate will take whatever

amount of time this is – 300 milliseconds
or so – it will hold the signal out without

doing any gain reduction, and then the release
will take over at this point, and have that

smooth curve to do the gain reduction.

Let’s look, then, at the attack control.

What part of the signal this is going to affect.

So, we can increase the attack time to about
60 milliseconds…

[sine wave]


In this case, what has changed from the previous
example was that at the beginning, now we

have a very smooth onset.

In the input signal, the signal – the transient
right at the beginning, the signal is off,

and then all of a sudden it’s on with a constant

Now that I’ve increased the attack time, what
it’s going to do is have a smooth onset.

So this can be useful for trying to do envelope
shaping if you want to take away some of the

transient in your signal so that it doesn’t
have as sharp of an impact right at the beginning,

just decrease – or, elongate the attack
time, and in this case, go up to even 300


[sine wave]

And see how the processor is going to slowly
ramp on.

In this case, the gain reduction is going
to take 300 milliseconds to release, so that

when the signal goes above the threshold,
it’s going to take a certain amount of time

to allow the signal to ultimately pass through
the gate.

So, what I’m going to do then is move on from
this expander/gate and show you another one,

and compare and contrast the settings that
you can use, and also, the response of how

it’s going to work.

So, I’m going to bypass this one.

One of my all time favorite expander/gates
to use is the one that’s on the SSL Channel

Strip from Waves.

I use this all the time for drums and that
kind of thing.

It’s very convenient to have all the controls
there, including the compressor and the EQ

together, but I also like some things about
the way that it sounds.

You have some of the same kind of controls,
and some different ones.

So, I can set my threshold so that part of
the signal is above and part of it is below;

I can change it between expander and gate
here; then I have release time, and attack

time as well.

So right now, I’ve got a fast attack, essentially
as soon as this signal goes above the threshold,

it’s going to allow it to pass through, and
the range I’ve got it at its maximum setting.

So you can look at what the gate is going
to do.

[sine wave plays]

Alright, so this is with this particular release

I can elongate that one.

[sine wave plays]

What you should notice about this, is that
even though I’m just manipulating the release

control, if you remember back to the previous
plug-in when I had to change the release and

the hold independently, for the SSL gate,
what ends up happening is that the release

knob also includes a Hold setting.

So the longer I make the release, there’s
going to be part of the signal that does not

have any gain reduction applied to it, and
then it has the smooth release applied afterwards,

even if I’m not changing that at all in this

So I can speed up the release…

[sine wave plays]

And you can see at the fastest release setting
what that ends up looking like.

Instead of using the gate now, I’ll switch
over to the expander.

[sine wave plays]

So, the main thing here is there is still
going to be part of this signal that ends

up passing through.

So, depending on my range that I end up setting
and the threshold, my release is going to

allow part of the signal to still pass through,
and this is the original amplitude without

any gain reduction.

So let’s look at the settings here.

[sine wave]

Let’s see what the release is going to do.

[sine wave]


So, different characteristics in how it responds.

Last thing to show you then is a slower attack
– what the difference is there.

[sine wave]

So, even if this is the slower attack, you
can zoom in here at the beginning.

Just a few cycles in this signal that get
the amplitude held over.

The gain reduction is held over when the signal
goes above the threshold.

So, even though this processor has limited
controls compared to the expander/gate – the

stock one – it’s very usable, because it
comes as part of a whole channel strip, and

it does some cool things here.

A very simple way to either act as a gate,
or also just as an expander that decreases

the amplitude slightly in this case.

So, let me move on from this one and look
at another one that has its own characteristics

that’s unique in and of itself, and this is
the Valley People Dynamite, modeled hardware

compressor and gate that Softube put together.

So, I’ve got it setup again here with the
threshold so that part of the signal is above

and below, then I have to manipulate release
time here.

There’s no attack setting.

Then I can also change it between an expander,
and then also a gate.

So right now, it’s in the expander setting.

I’ll go ahead and print this one.

[sine wave]

And look at how it’s going to release.

Here, we don’t have a hold setting, but we
have how it changes the amplitude in a smooth


It’s just going to be different from the SSL.

It has a different way of releasing here,
and I could also change the release time to

be longer.

[sine wave plays]

To go along with that, I could also speed
it up.

So this is a much longer release.

[sine wave plays]

And the faster release.

Then, we’ll go ahead and kick it over to the
hard gating, with a ratio it says of 120.

[sine wave plays]


Look at the characteristics of the gate and
how it’s going to change in amplitude and

ramp off.

[sine wave plays]


Very different kinds of curves from being
concave to convex.

All of those things are going to change the
way that the signal sounds, or it will be

perceived, whether this is drums, or bass,
or whatever you’re trying to use it for.

So, let me move on from expander/gates, then,
and bring up another type of processor.

This is a transient designer style processor.

This is the Transient Master from Native Instruments.

Here, you just have two controls: the attack
and the sustain.

This is going to be used specifically for
envelope shaping.

So, this type of processor works pretty well
with this test signal, but I’m also going

to demonstrate it with another type of test
signal too.

I’ll go ahead and print this one here.

We can look at the attack.

So I’ll increase the attack here, and make
sure it doesn’t clip, so I’m going to press

the limit and look at how this works.

[sine wave plays]


So in the case of the attack, right here at
the beginning, we’re going to increase the

amplitude whenever there’s a change in the
signal from going to lower amplitude to higher

amplitude, we’re going to enhance that and
bring up the initial transient, or the initial


We could also do the opposite here if I back
it off.

[sine wave plays]

And now, in a different way, we’re going to
ramp on the amplitude, and make it take longer

for the amplitude to increase.

Another way to look at this would be to use
kinds of signals that are more similar to

what we typically work with in audio.

So, instead of using this stair-step style
signal, here I’ve got one that has a sharp

attack at the beginning, but then a smooth
curve for the decay and the release of the


So, I’ll print this where I decrease the attack.

[sine wave plays]

You can see the result here and how it changes
at the beginning.

Then I’ll go on and show you the sustain.

So, I could do extreme settings here, where
I back the sustain off.

What this is going to do, is the processor
– it’s going to decrease the amplitude of

the signal whenever the signal is already
decreasing in amplitude.

So, let’s look at this.

[sine wave]

So, what ends up happening here is the relative
amplitude of the sustain is turned down so

that it’s perceived as being a shorter note.

Instead of having this longer tail here for
this particular note, the Transient Master

allows you to decrease the length of that,
or decrease the amplitude so that it’s perceived

as being a shorter length.

Converse that then by making it longer.

[sine wave]

And look at the result.

Now, when the signal starts to decrease in
amplitude, the Transient Master is going to

kick in and then actually increase the sustain.

The last thing I want to demonstrate then
was brought to me.

The idea came from one of the viewers here
on The Pro Audio Files.

This guy’s name is Ben Mallet?*** I hope I’m
saying his correct – Mellet?*** But he suggested

checking out the H Comp from Waves, and there’s
always been this knob on here that I was confused

about what exactly it’s going to do.

It’s the punch knob.

In theory, it’s supposed to add some extra
excitement to, or enhance, the transient of

a signal when it’s going to be compressed.

So, I’ve got basic compressor settings already
setup, but what I’m going to do to them primarily

is manipulate the punch.

So let’s go ahead and print a signal with
the punch turned off.

[sine wave]

So you can see how the compressor is going
to react.

It will kick in as soon as the signal goes
above the threshold, and then it’s going to

have its own release characteristics here.

So, what I’m going to do then is increase
the punch, and look at the resulting signal.

How does this compressor change specifically
the transient here at the beginning when I’ve

got the punch turned up?[sine wave]

So, you can see that when the punch knob is
turned up, what it’s going to be doing is

enhancing that transient by essentially elongating
the time it takes for the compressor to kick

in and take over.

So, if I can go back and forth between these,

You can see the differences when I’ve got
the punch on versus turned off.

So, if this is a drum hit or something like
that, it’s going to mean that the amplitude

right at the beginning is larger.

So thanks to Ben Mellet for coming up with
this idea and this suggestion.

I think it helps illustrate just a unique
feature about the H Comp that doesn’t really

show up in other types of processors.

Nonetheless, I hope this video demonstrates
some things, not only about how expander/gates

work, but how you can shape the overall envelope
of the signal.

Whether you’re using an expander/gate or you’re
using a Transient Master style plug-in.

So, make sure to post some comments below
if you’ve got questions or other ideas for

unique ways to use these types of test signals
to understand how your processors work, and

I’ll try and do my best to get back to them.

Until next time, take care, guys.

Expander/Gate Plugins [Analyzing Mixing Effects]

The fifth video in the analyzing effects series. This one covers expander/gates.

More videos on analyzing effects: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLe1lxu8fHox8aWwzqklc-fUvz2-UJMxRF

About The Pro Audio Files

Tutorials on mixing, mastering and producing music in Pro Tools with plugins from Waves, FabFilter, SoundToys, Softube, Sonnox, PSP, Slate Digital and more. Learn how to mix using EQ, compression and effects like reverb, delay, saturation and distortion on vocals, drums, guitar, bass and more.

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