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What are de-essers? How do they tame harsh sibilant sounds?
Learn the difference between wide-band, split-band, and dynamic EQ based de-essing.
Here are the 7 best de-esser plugins you can find!
Attention attenuators! Are you looking to swap, upgrade, or invest in your first de-esser? Well, you’ve come to the right place at the right time. After twiddling with the stock de-essers of some of the major DAWs, I still wasn’t satisfied with the results.
While some of them are stellar, they still pale in comparison to specialized third-party options. You see, in the past decade, de-essing VST plugins have come a long way. Many have even transcended their conventional role to redefine how mixing engineers handle sibilance.
We are now in the modern era of music production. We love to dip our tracks in the sweet, sweet nectar of additive EQ and compression in the high frequencies. Therefore, we need a workflow-friendly solution to tame sibilance if we want to sweeten the upper frequencies.
What Are The Best De-Esser Plugins?
Personally, I’m chasing a super clean sound, and an intelligent algorithm to tame any unruly sibilance. The FabFilter Pro-DS ticked all those boxes, and why it’s my number 1 choice for the best De-Esser plugins out there. For budget-hunters, look for deals on the Waves R-De-Esser. If money isn’t an issue, check out the Sonnox Oxford SupResser.
With that out of the way, I’ve covered the whole gamut of price range and features to help you zero in on the best plugin to add to your collection…
FabFilter’s plugins have rightfully gained a solid reputation for highly functional plugins. Pro-DS continues this trend of pro-grade performance with a user-friendly interface. On account of its transparent sound, versatility, and ease of use, it has my vote for the top de-esser on the market.
FabFilter Pro DS Review
Some of you might be accustomed to the ‘hidden’ advanced features of Fab-Filter plugins. Well, for a change, the ProDS main page displays everything on offer. This includes a wide-band and split-band mode as well as modes optimized for ‘single vocal’ sources or ‘all-round’ sources such as cymbals or full mixes.
The elegant-as-ever UI feels at home for FF vets. The intuitive controls make de-essing a simple two-knob task, albeit with an impressive degree of control. Frankly, the ease of use and clever interface design is a notch above the competition, at least in my opinion.
The ‘Audition’ feature is based on two sliders to help you set the range where the sibilance detection occurs. A flashing colored band lights up whenever a sibilant event takes place.
The intensity of the flash is indicative of the amount of sibilance. Holding down the ‘Audition’ button plays back the selected frequency range in the signal. If you hold down the headphone button, it only plays the occurrences detected during playback.
Another standout feature is the ‘look-ahead’ function. While it might cost some latency, it can apply de-essing up to 15ms before the sibilance occurs. It can be helpful for events when you want to catch fast, harsh transients or similar problem frequencies.
Between the two modes, external sidechain, plentiful parameters, adjustable stereo link, and mid/side options, this can readily become your go-to de-esser for mixing and mastering projects.
FabFilter’s ProDS is an all-round workhorse that delivers a remarkably transparent result in both modes. The visual aid, the clean UI, and the full frequency and optimized versions can handle anything you intend to throw at it. Since the Pro-DS is such an ‘all-rounder’, this is the one that gets my vote (and money).
As a part of Waves’ highly regarded Renaissance series, R-DeEsser does a great job of removing harshness from vocal and non-vocal sources alike. It is the most affordable plugin on this list and also quite light on computer resources. Yet, this does not mean that its quality doesn’t live up to the rest.
Waves R-DeEsser Review
R-DeEsser lets you select between Wide and Split modes, with the Split mode further giving you the option to use a highpass or bandpass filter to get 2 or 3 bands respectively.
A helpful display with all the bands and their crossover points make it easy to visualize exactly where problematic frequencies are and how heavily they are attenuated.
Among its standout features are its phase-compensated crossover filters and adaptive threshold. Its low latency and footprint mean that it’s also well suited for use while tracking instead of just during mixing.
Setting it to bandpass mode extends its functionalities beyond just de-essing as this allows the user to precisely control frequency buildups anywhere in its working range from 1 kHz to 16 kHz. A Range control lets you limit the maximum attenuation to prevent unnatural artifacts.
It is also supplemented with an impressive collection of presets designed by top industry professionals. This is indicative of the overall user-friendly design and ease-of-use in other Renaissance plug-ins.
Waves is no slouch when it comes to stability and performance. The R-DeEsser is easy-to-install, user friendly, and easy on the resources. It may not square up to the giants in this category, but it can get the job done without latency, lag, or even a user manual. This one is the definitive budget pick.
If you want immaculate control over your de-essing, or need a VST tool that can expand beyond just de-essing, the Oxford SuprEsser V3 is perfect for you. You can get it either as a standalone plugin from Universal Audio or as a native plugin. Either way, it is a feature-laden monster that is as precise and versatile as they get.
Sonnox Oxford SuprEsser V3 Review
First off, the V3 does come with some heft in the price tag and a learning curve. Compared to the Pro-DS, it has little-to-no use as a ‘set and forget’ tool. Nevertheless, if you’re committed to quality, there is no denying that any time/effort you put into it is worth its weight in gold.
The SuprEsser V3, at heart, is a dynamic equalizer that features the standard array of de-essing modes and options to solo the sibilance. It features a large display that shows the range, threshold, and real-time waveform as the sibilant reduction is applied.
A wet/dry mix knob is a thoughtful addition to blend in some unprocessed signal to taste. Unlike most other de-essing plugins, the SuprEsser V3 can work on the entire frequency spectrum, ranging from 20Hz to 20,000Hz.
This opens it up to more uses like removing plosives or disturbances in lower frequencies. The ‘Advanced Controls’ button presents options to edit detailed parameters like the attack and release controls of the compression applied. This ensures that your vocal tracks sound nice and smooth.
Another standout feature is the ‘Auto Level Tracking’, which dynamically adjusts the amount of gain reduction applied to the sibilance per the volume of the incoming signal. For example, if a vocal track is louder in the chorus than the verse, SuprEsser V3 will adjust the threshold accordingly so that the de-essing isn’t too drastic.
Overall, the SuprEsser V3 is the VST I turn to when I want surgical control with no coloration whatsoever. It shines on individual sources and doubles your bang for buck once you get a hang of the ‘listen’ section.
Sonnox gave FabFilter’s Pro DS a run for its money but fell a step short on the UI and simplicity. The SuprEsser, however, boasts of a bag of clever tricks that make it capable of dynamic equalization, de-popping, and all kinds of uses outside the realm of archetypal de-essing. It is intuitive, easy to use, and feature-laden. Throw your greatest nightmare at it – V3 can handle it.
When Oeksound launched Soothe (the first edition), it quickly became a favorite among major industry producers. With Soothe 2, Oeksound gives us two killer new modes in a decidedly more versatile version with half the latency and CPU load of the original.
Oeksound calls Soothe 2 a “dynamic resonance suppressor“. I concur, but also think we should call it a cheat code that is part dynamics processor and part spectral shaper with a good measure of EQ capabilities.
Oeksound Soothe 2 Review
In itself, Soothe 2 is an extremely powerful tool contained in an aesthetically pleasant EQ-like UI. It is designed to find and eliminate harsh frequencies from the audio with primary controls in the single digits.
Once you define the frequencies where processing must be applied, Soothe 2 intelligently detects resonant points and attenuates them by adjusting to their shifting frequencies.
Heck, in most cases, you can drop it on the track and twiddle the ‘Depth control’ knob until you like what you hear. For more advanced endeavors, the ‘Soft’ and ‘Hard’ modes can get the job done.
As a dynamic compressor, it eliminates harshness across the entire spectrum in a more musical and precise way than conventional de-essing. Much like a compressor, you can dial the sharpness, selectivity, attack, and release.
The five parametric bands of the dynamic EQ can eliminate multiple areas of ‘harshness’ without affecting the rest of the audio signal. From subtle and transparent to reactive or precise, Soothe 2 can tame sibilant vocal tracks, boomy bass, piercing synths, and everything in between.
Note: This VST plugin is not backwards compatible. If you own the first edition, you may want to keep it for continued work on old/existing projects.
It would be unfair to call this a de-esser plugin because it is so much more. If you loved the first edition and/or are willing to adopt a different approach to de-essing, Soothe 2 is widely applicable, highly flexible, easy to use, and – most importantly – highly addictive. I would call this a ‘must-have’ if I hadn’t already said that about its original avatar at some point. I guess that makes this the ‘must-have upgrade’ – at least for those who can afford it.
The HOFA IQ-Series DeEsser packs a high-quality harshness reducing tool in a compact interface with a modest price tag. The VST plugin features 4 distinct processing modes: wide, dark, peak, and an innovative BUS mode to control a selectable frequency range.
HOFA IQ-Series DeEsser Review
The “Wide” mode provides the standard wide-band de-essing that we’ve already outlined in sufficient detail. The “Dark” mode is a split-band de-essing mode with a wide high-frequency reduction range geared towards taming overly bright vocals.
If you enjoy an intuitive plugin, you’ll dig the simplicity of its interface. A single slider at the top sets the threshold value. On either side of it, we have controls to set input gain, set the de-esser mode, activate external sidechain, and access presets.
Two large sliders below it can be used to easily select and visualize the target frequency range. The gain reduction being applied is displayed in real-time within this window so you can set the slider where the gain reduction is most prominent.
The scrolling waveform of the source signal is displayed during playback, with all the segments where the de-esser is triggered being highlighted in orange. At the bottom is a meter measuring the amount of gain reduction being applied. On either side, we find controls for fine-tuning the threshold, soloing the sibilance events, and setting output gain.
HOFA IQ-Series DeEsser’s four modes and speech recognition algorithms do a bang-up job to de-ess your vocal tracks. It is a fantastic plugin that can dive deep into any situation that calls for heavy processing without sounding unnatural.
This collection contains 2 Analog Code plugins that emulate both the classic single and modern dual band versions of SPL’s analog hardware de-essers - considered by many to be the very best in professional recording.
The original SPL single and dual-band hardware de-essers are nothing short of studio legends. And, Brainworx has created two emulation plugins that seek to closely model the classic hardware with the addition of mid-side processing.
Brainworx SPL De-Essers Review
As our old school readers would agree, the analog hardware de-essers were all about ‘character’. If that is what you are after, you’re in luck. SPL’s VST plugin is all about precision without sacrificing the natural character of audio.
This collection features 2 Analog Code plugins. The single band version features an ‘S-Reduction’ knob, while the dual-band version provides more flexibility with 2 knobs for ‘High Reduction’ and ‘Low S-Reduction’.
The UI follows the footsteps of the original hardware with a few features unique to the plugin such as an A/B switch and an M/S Stereo mode. Performance-wise, the plugin performs incredibly well even with little-to-no user-defined parameters.
As with the original hardware, it automatically detects sibilant frequencies and applies compression to a very narrow band around them. As for the result, only the harsh frequencies are cut down, leaving the rest of the signal untouched. This enables the sound to retain its natural character even when heavily de-essed (high reduction).
Brainworx SPL De-esser also features distinct processing for male and female voices, optimizing the sibilant detection for where they’re more likely to occur in each kind of voice. The presence of A/B comparison helps you quickly audition two different settings.
If you have any qualms about versatility, I’ll put your fears to rest. I used it on hard-panned overheads, backing vocal tracks, and even finger noise from acoustic guitars. In many cases, the side mode did a great job of taming events without affecting the center elements.
There is something about SPL De-essers that I can only articulate as ‘more musical than the rest’. In many applications, almost everything is handled automatically by the plugin, without compromising on the sound quality. All you’ve got to do is set the amount of reduction. Is it the best de esser? Maybe not. It is, however, refreshingly simple and a highly valuable mastering tool.
Right off the bat, the interface feels well-designed and intuitive. It consists of a sleek waveform display wherein the detected sibilant events light up in green. An audition button near the Focus control lets you listen to and tune the target frequency range.
The crux of ERA’s processing is handled by three parameters: Focus, Shape, and Processing amount. ‘Focus’ helps select the target frequency where the sibilance is to be tamed. ‘Shape’ determines how gentle or sharp the frequency range selection and reduction is.
Setting it to ‘soft’ applies a smoother slope (a wide curve) that yields a satiating natural response. ‘Sharp’ applies more drastic changes (think tight curve) that are ideal for precise edits. The ‘Difference’ button lets you hear just the detected sibilance.
The Processing amount determines the overall amount of de-essing to be applied. It is worth mentioning that the de-essing remains smooth without any blatant artifacts even when the setting is cranked up.
Much like the rest of the VST bundle, the ERA De-Esser Pro is a no-nonsense plugin with a beautiful interface that delivers great results. The plugin also provides a good visual aid with presets and A/B comparison that is a handy feature. Overall, it is among the most straightforward and affordable options to accomplish smooth de-essing results very quickly.
Accusonus ERA De-Esser Pro is currently available with a subscription to the ERA Bundle Pro for a monthly fee.
In an ideal world, sibilance ought to be eliminated at the recording stage. You know, the ‘good sound source’ spiel. That’s all fine and dandy until you run into a vocalist with an incredibly sibilant voice. Mic choice and placement will only get you that far. Sooner or later, you’ll need a reliable de-essing plugin to sort this out in the mix.
We all know that there are many ways to skin a cat, but manually de-essing is undoubtedly the worst way to do it. Save yourself some time and energy with these plugins! At this point, hopefully you’ve found a few new tools to help de-ess and de-stress your mixing woes.