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Goals and challenges when mastering a track
The most important goals for me when mastering a track are getting the EQ, Dynamics and loudness at a certain desired level.
I like to use analog equipment like tape machines and tube hardware combined with some solid plugins to get the job done.
Most of the time, this works very well for me. But sometimes the desired sound quality is good after this treatment, except for a few problematic peaks in the frequency spectrum.
The first thing to try in those situations is to use a parametric EQ with a narrow Q to tame those peaks. But since peaks are only momentarily present in the signal, using an EQ can lead to unpleasant gaps in the sound. Using de-essers on a master might sometimes work in the high end. But most of them do not work in the lower end of the spectrum. Or they do the job only half way if you have the downmix to work with. So we need a tool that can tame only the unwanted narrowband peaks of the signal, while leaving the rest of the spectrum alone as much as possible. This is where the soothe2 from Oeksound steps in.
Meet the soothe2
The soothe2 is a dynamic resonance suppressor. In short this means that it detects resonances that can be specified by the frequency graph. The detected resonances will be reduced based on the setting of the knobs on the left side of the interface.
In the past I have seen a lot of plugins with messy interfaces and just too many adjustable parameters. This often leads to being quickly distracted by the complexity of the interface. Too busy interfaces are also time consuming to operate. When using the soothe2, I feel that Oeksound has succeeded in merging all adjustable parameters in a clear and well-organized interface.
soothe2 in use
Adjust affected frequency area in delta mode
Put the soothe2 on a track that has resonances you want to attenuate. Then use the delta button to hear the difference between the wet and the dry signal. This makes it easy to tune in to the problem area in the frequency spectrum by using the frequency graph. This works a little like a 6 band parametric EQ. Use this EQ to cut out as much of the signal that you don’t want to be affected by the soothe2. You can also try to boost the frequencies in the area you want to treat. This results in more reduction of that specific area.
Depth, sharpness and selectivity
Adjust the depth setting to determine how much reduction you want in general. Then play with the sharpness and selectivity settings to get a better focus at the problem frequencies. The sharpness setting acts like the q setting on a parametric EQ and the selectivity setting adjusts how selective the process is. More selectivity focuses the processing on the narrower peaks.
The speed settings “attack” and “release” determine how fast the processor reacts to the signal. Higher values of the attack setting for example result in a slower response. So use a higher value if you do not want to affect short transients too much. The response times are frequency-dependent.
You can also try to switch from stereo to mid-side mode. If certain resonances are only present in the mid-signal then put the balance knob to “only mid” to avoid unnecessary processing on the side channel. Change from “soft mode” to “hard mode” if you need more powerful processing. The “mix setting” changes the balance between the dry and processed signal. The “trim setting” raises the volume of the processed signal, for easy A-B comparing between processed and unprocessed sound. And last but not least there is also a sidechain input to use another key signal for the resonance detection.
A practical example
I just had the soothe2 for a couple of days when an onlinemastering client from the US mentioned that the upper mid-range of his track had a bit of a ringing sound in the vocal. It’s the kind of ringing you can also hear in old 70’s/80’s rock music sometimes. I think in those days they used this as an effect to let the vocals bite a little. But not everyone likes this kind of sound. So I was glad they brought this up. The goal was to have a warm sounding master. A ringing mid-range is not what you want when your goal is a warm sound.
Normally I would have used an EQ to fix this, but I did not want to create a dip in the instrumental part of the track at that frequency area. The ringing problem was mostly on the vocals. I decided to see if the soothe2 would help here.
Above you can see how I used the frequency graph. I limited the working range of the soothe2 to the upper mid-range. The delta button was very helpful in finding the exact area that needed treatment. Since the vocals are mono, I decided to use the “only mid” setting of the balance in mid-side mode. So only the mid channel is affected. I noticed that the snare was also affected. I raised the attack setting so it would miss the snare but still would cut the ringing out of the vocal. Ideally it would be better to do the processing separately on the vocal, but since only the downmix was available I had to work with that.
The grey dips in the blue frequency graph of the image above show where the soothe2 is cutting frequencies.
If this was a video you could see this constantly changing in level and frequency. It’s only cutting above a certain threshold that you determine with the depth setting.
In the audio example above you can hear a sample of the actual track I was working with. The track is called “Black Lab – In A Moment”. I would like to thank the producers of this track for giving us permission to use a sample of it for this blog.
Use the “before” and “after” buttons on the right of the waveform to switch between the signal before, and after the soothe2 in the FX chain. You can also listen to the difference between the “before” and “after” audio using the delta button. Listen to this sample with decent headphones or a good speaker system. Concentrate on the mid frequencies of the vocal.
The soothe2 can be a helpful tool in situations, where ringing frequencies in mixes occur. It can be adjusted so it only treats the problem area and only on moments where problems occur. It has a well organized interface that helps in getting the job done quickly. It can be used on individual tracks, but also on the mixdown. So this is a great tool to have for both mixing and mastering.
If you want to try the soothe2. You can download a demo on their website.