Saturation Plugins [Analyzing Mixing Effects]

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Saturation Plugins [Analyzing Mixing Effects]

Hey, guys.

This is Eric Tarr for

This is my second video in a set that I’m
doing to demonstrate some techniques that

you can use to analyze your effects plug-ins
if you want to get a little bit better understanding

of the signal processing that’s going on behind
the scenes.My first video, I demonstrated

how you could use a signal generator plug-in
to create a frequency sweep that you send

through your plug-in, and then look at how
the amplitude changes across the full spectrum.

This kind of technique is great for certain
types of plug-ins that fall under a category

that might be described as spectral processors.

These are equalizers, and I also demonstrated
with the Brainworx refinement plug-in that’s

going to be used to remove harsh information
from the signal.

Well, what does that harsh information really

If you’re wondering, go check out that video
after this one.

So in this video, what I’m going to do is
show you a different way of analyzing effects

that will fall under a category.

Maybe your DAW groups them together as harmonic

These are your distortions, these are your
saturations, these are your harmonic exciters…

Those types of things.

So I’ll show you two plug-ins and compare
them side by side.

First up is the Softube Saturation Knob.

This is a free plug-in that you can get.

It’s compatible with almost any DAW across
many different plug-in formats.

The next one I’ll show you is one by Sonnox
called the Oxford Inflator.

It’s been around for awhile, it’s very popular,
it’s great for mixing, it’s great for mastering.

They each do similar things, but in some ways,
they’re also different.

So hopefully I’ll be able to show you those
things side by side.

Now I’ve seen some videos by Sonnox that they
claim that this is some kind of magic plug-in,

and it makes everything sound better.

Well, hopefully I’ll be able to demonstrate
what exactly that means.

What it’s doing to a signal to make it sound
it better or perform that magic.

So, I’m going to show you first the Saturation
Knob from Softube.

I’ll take you through my basic setup.

I’ll start out with a sine wave signal that
I’m generating over here.

It has a fundamental frequency of 100Hz.

We’ll keep that constant in this case.

We’ll send that signal over here through my
auxiliary track.

I’ve bussed it over here to one called “process,”
and I’ve got the Saturation Knob on here.

Then I’m going to take this signal over here
to my mix buss, where I’ve got the frequency

analyzer going.

So I’ll start out just generating my signal,
send it through here, turn up saturation,

see what happens over here in the spectrum.

[sine plays]

So there’s my 100Hz.

[sine plays; getting saturated]

So, with these distortion, or saturation,
or harmonic exciter style plug-ins, these

are going to take a single frequency signal,
and then distort them, or saturate them in

a way that generates more harmonics.

Now, if we look a little bit closer at what
the Saturation Knob is doing, as I increase

the drive on the knob here, what that’s going
to do is bring in harmonics.

These are going to be at both even and odd
multiples of the fundamental, so if this is

100Hz, you’ll see harmonics that show up at
200, 300, 400, 500…

Most of the way up the spectrum here.

So I’ll show this one again.

[sine wave signal; getting more saturated]

Another thing that you can do to get a better
understanding about what a plug-in is doing,

especially these saturation kind of things,
is to look at the signal – what specifically

this plug-in is adding in.

So, the way you can do this is you can setup
parallel processing chains that are going

to be summed together.

This is my processing one, and this is my

So, what I’ve got up here, if I bring in these
one-band EQs, is I’m going to be just using

the polarity inversion button right here.

So I’m going to have the same thing on both

The only difference is, this one over here
is getting inverted.

So, I can bring in this plug-in, but I’m not
going to be adding any saturation.

So right now, these two things should cancel
each other out when I run them together.

So let me mute this one.

Watch what happens when I bring it in.

It perfectly cancels out this other one right

[sine wave, flipping phase to cancel out]

So you can see, two signals coming together,
but when they’re added, they cancel out.

Now let’s look at when I bring up the saturation
on this side of the parallel processing, what

is added in.

This is the thing that’s new or different
compared to the signal over here.

[sine wave; getting more saturated]

Alright, so there you’re seeing your even
and odd harmonics show up again.

Next, let me move on and demonstrate the Oxford

I can do a similar kind of thing here.

I’ve got both of these.

I’ll bring them both in, and I’ll start out
by muting this one here.

We’ll look at on the Oxford Inflator, it’s
this effect slider that’s essentially the

same kind of thing as my knob in the other

This is basically how you turn the effect
up and down.

So let’s look at this now.

Sine wave.

[sine wave signal]

And bring in the effect

[sine wave saturating]

So here, it’s not as obvious as it was before.

You’re primarily just seeing a single harmonic
that comes in very subtly, and on closer inspection,

this harmonic is going to be the first odd

So if my lowest frequency is 100Hz, the next
harmonic that comes in is an odd multiple.

It’s at 300Hz.

There’s not a harmonic at 200 or 400 right
now, or any of the other frequencies.

So, I can bring this down.

It’s a little bit easier to see when I bring
in the inverse of the signal, where I’m not

adding anything in.

So these signals cancel each other out, but
as soon as I bring in the effect on one of

them, you’ll see what’s being parallel – the
kind of excited signal that’s being blended


So, this kind of Oxford Inflator or harmonic
exciter is basically distortion in parallel,

where you add in some kind of saturated signal.

So let me go ahead and do this here with the
sine wave.

The signals are canceling each other out,
so now when I bring in the effect, you’re

only seeing what’s happening in parallel – the
distortion that’s happening in parallel.

So I’ve got my fundamental, and I’ve got my
harmonic up here at 300Hz.

One unique thing about the Oxford Inflator
is you have this curve knob, which is described

as a way to make things a little bit brighter
or darker, but if I show you what happens

with the single frequency, you have a better
understanding about what the curve knob actually


It’s going to add some other odd harmonics
further on up the spectrum, and then by changing

it’s position, it’s going to change the relative
amplitude of those harmonics to the fundamental.

So let’s add it in here.

[sine wave]

There we go.

Bring it all the way up so we get the curve.

So these are our odd harmonics.

300, 500, 700.

I’m not seeing even ones.

Going the other direction…

The difference is now, the fundamental is
at a lower amplitude when I bring the curve

down, versus when I bring it up.

You can notice a similar kind of thing here
when I send a different type of signal through

the Oxford Inflator.

Let’s go ahead and look at a sawtooth signal
very quickly.

I’ll bring this one in and show you what happens
when I also use the Oxford Inflator here.

When I bring in the effect, you’ll notice
how it’s going to change the relative level

of the harmonics.

When I bring the curve up, all the harmonics
get increased.

When I bring the curve down, it’s a way of
the higher harmonics rolling off.

[sawtooth wave]

So, it can be a little bit difficult to see
what these plug-ins are doing if you send

a complex signal through them.

That’s why for this category of harmonic plug-ins,
I suggest starting out with using a very simple

signal like a sine wave.

It just has a single frequency.

Then, you can look at the harmonic content
that’s being added in by the plug-in.

Hopefully you were able to see that not all
saturation plug-ins are created equally.

In the case of the Softube Saturation knob,
it’s going to create both even and odd harmonics,

whereas the case of the Oxford Inflator, the
even harmonics are not created, so they’re

going to give you slightly different sounds,
and you can use them for different types of


Hopefully this gives you a better understanding
of other ways that you can analyze your plug-ins

in general, depending on what type of category
it is.

Until next time, take care, guys.

Saturation Plugins [Analyzing Mixing Effects] // An analysis of saturation effects. This video specifically covers Softube Saturation and Sonnox Oxford Inflator.

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.

Saturation Plugins [Analyzing Mixing Effects]

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