How to Use Saturation to Enhance a Mix

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How to Use Saturation to Enhance a Mix


How to Use Saturation to Enhance a Mix

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How to use saturation to add energy and polish to your mix.

Song: Backwoods & Red Wine by Samik The Symphony

– Avid Pro Tools
– Soundtoys Decapitator
– Slate Digital RC Tube Channel


Hey folks, Matthew Weiss here,, Today we’re going to be talking about subtle use of saturation and how you can use that liven up your mix.

So let’s check out this record right here.

[Backwoods & Red Wine by Samik The Symphony]

There’s a couple little things I feel could be improved. One of them is I don’t like exactly how the bass is sitting, it’s sitting a little bit dark, it’s not coming out of the speakers. It sounds a little bit flat. And this tends to be the case with a lot of software basslines. So one of the ways I like to recreate that sort of live harmonic feel is to actually send it out of the computer using — in this case — my Unit Audio summing mixer. Little benefit of this thing is that because it’s open architecture I can use it for other things besides simply summing. So I’m using this to go out of the computer and back into a microphone preamp. I’m using my Avalon M5, which is pretty widely accept as a really strong preamp for bass. I’m turning it way up and then attenuating the signal on the way back out so that it doesn’t clip the input.

[song with and without summing + preamp]

You notice how it feels a lot more a alive in the mix. It seems to naturally just sit better and on top of that it feels like it’s coming out of the speaker a little bit more. That’s because the saturation is creating a natural compression curve. It’s exciting some of the harmonics and dulling some of the top harmonics, so you’re getting a frequency curve that fits better and you’re getting excitement in the harmonic range which makes it feel more alive. Plus the compression gives it more presence. So it’s wins across the board just doing it. Real quick let me just give you an A/B of the sounds in solo.


[bass before summing mixer + preamp]


[bass after summing mixer + preamp]

Aright, now let’s listen to the snare here.

[snare drum without processing]

This time I’m going to use a software distortion box called Decapitator and I’m using it very subtly. Let me pull it up again. I’m just using the A mode. I’m just doing a little bit of drive and I’m matching the output. This is gonna be pretty subtle.

[snare drum with and without sound toys decapitator]

So that’s pretty hard to hear. It’s a slight change.

[snare drum with and without Soundtoys Decapitator]

So that’s pretty subtle, but if you listen to how it feels coming out of the speaker, it’s like when it’s in, it just has a — it’s a little less flat sounding to me. And that’s really what this is all about. I can’t find a better word for it except that it gives it some kind of spark to life and makes it feel more dimensional.

One more use of saturation here on this piano.

[Piano without saturation]

And now with the saturation.

[Piano without saturation]

That I don’t think is too subtle. I think that’s pretty obvious. That is one of my favorite saturations on piano because it makes the top end really come to life. And it’s this Slate Virtual Channel. It’s the RC-Tube setting which is emulating a tube console. And it’s really a tube-y tube type of sound that it’s emulating. Meaning it’s providing a second order harmonic enhancement as you crank it. And as you can see I have the drive up +6. I’m really getting as much drive out of it as it’ll go. And it’s making the tone of the piano feel glossier and brighter and more alive.

What I’m gonna do now is bypass all saturation effects, and I’m going to play the record without any of those saturation effects on, and then I’m gonna play the record with.

[instrumental with and without saturation]

That to me is a pretty noticeable difference. It really feels like the record really just sparked to life. So when you start manipulating tonality in terms of harmonic color, things start coming to life. And while each difference might be pretties subtle, as they add up over the course of a mix, it becomes not so subtle as you can clearly hear. Alright guys, thanks for tuning in.

About 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.

How to Use Saturation to Enhance a Mix

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