Using Saturation Instead of EQ

RyanMcQuinn

Grateful Member
Hi Everyone,

I've been mesmerized by the Alan Meyerson video like most of us here. I've googled and googled about using saturation instead of EQ (as he says he does regularly) and have turned up next to nothing. I'm very interested in this secret technique so I'm going to share my thoughts and research in hopes some veterans here can tell me what's right and wrong about my concepts and hopefully shed some light on this mysterious practice. Thanks in advance to anyone who is willing to share.

My working theory is this: In the same way that our brains find people more attractive who have symmetrical faces, our brains also find sounds more pleasing that seem real and authentic. It's like our brains are the customs line at the airport. If a sound can pass itself off as real, we accept it with open arms. The main items on the checklist for admission into our brain country are 1) binaural legitimacy (early reflections and various spacial processing) and 2) harmonic legitimacy (which gets us to the meat of this thread). (If you have more ideas for this checklist, please share!)

Sine waves don't pass the smell test of harmonic legitimacy to our brains. They have no harmonics. only fundamentals, and we immediately identify them as impostors that don't occur naturally in the world. Thus, they sound rather harsh and ugly when they are naked. Once we process them with harmonic distortion, it feels like the sound becomes smoother and more pleasing. To me, this seems amazing. The concept that distortion can create a smoothing sensation seems backwards, but my ears tell me it's true. I chalk this up to the creation of harmonic legitimacy. Our brains say, "Harmonic legitimacy: check!" and voila, the perceived smoothness is actually just the pleasant sensation of our brains deciding the sound is real and more natural than it seemed before.

If this is what harmonic distortion can do for a sine wave, it makes sense why Alan Meyerson would use it to add brain pleasing content to specific frequencies with saturation rather than simply turn these frequencies up with EQ. Enhancing a sound with adding density to the RMS and thus affecting the percieved volume rather than just a volume increase that affects peak and rms together. I haven't figured out how this would pertain to an eq cut yet though...

Today I did an experiment. My theory is that using saturation I can create the type of harmonic realism I seek in such a way that our brains subconsciously appreciate the additional rms/percieved volume harmonic content without it peaking obtrusively (similar to how we mix in early reflections in such a way that we feel them instead of hear them). I created a sine wave (around 500hz and then around 1000 khz) in Reaper and watched it through Izotope Insight as I pushed saturation hard first through Nomad Factory Magnetic 2 (Meyerson referenced Magnetic 1 in the video) and then tried a different saturation, Izotope Vintage Tape. I then did they same for a solo violin part. Honestly, I had meant to use Izotope's multiband exciter (from Ozone 7) instead of Vintage Tape and I forgot due to my rush of trying to finish this experiment while the kids napped. I will report my findings about the exciter when I am able to revisit it.

I found that with saturation i could easily create higher harmonics for the sine wave, but lower harmonics didn't really want to be just created out of thin air that way. Then with the violin, the harmonics were already plentiful and I didn't really find that I could control the frequency with any degree of accuracy. I could make the harmonics more transparent with the tape emulation and they became increasingly louder and more abrasive as I increased to tube/tape, and then tube only, but I couldn't really focus them around a certain area of the equalizer. I regret that I didn't get to the multiband exciter today. I have a hunch I could have had much better supplemental harmonic enhancement in specific frequencies with that plugin. This specific Izotope Harmonic Exciter plugin allows you to do warm, retro, tape, tube, triode, and dual triode, so the coloring options seem plentiful. I will revisit this for sure.

If I can find the breakthrough I am looking for here and become the color eq specialist of my dreams, my next research focus will be on vintage processing. My next theory is that a color eq specialist doesn't need vintage processing (specifically compressors) due to being able to color the sound masterfully through harmonic eq control and then use transparent compression. Additionally, vintage emulations even of channel strips that are supposed to be the canvas for our works of art seem like they should be achievable through deliberate harmonic enhancement. I don't have any experience with these classic pieces of hardware, so the learning curve has been quite steep to wrap my head around why to pick one or another. AND the good ones all cost a lot of money. So I wonder if looking forward toward a better understanding of harmonic manipulation and control is a smarter course for me, rather than spending the countless hours of research, trial & error, and monetary investment chasing vintage processing knowledge where I will never be as good as people who used the hardware for decades.

Sorry for the length of this post. These two questions are the driving force behind my joining the forum. I will be waiting on pins and needles for the experts here who will be so kind as to impart their knowledge first about the issue of enhancing eq perceived volume with saturation and exciters rather than an eq plugin, and then using this skill of harmonic mastery to eliminate the need for certain classic emulations.

Thank you very much for your time.

Ryan
 
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RyanMcQuinn

Grateful Member
I don't think that "harsh" is a appropriate adjective to a sine wave at all
There is probably a much better adjective. I do enjoy synths, however I find a raw sine wave creates unpleasant pressure in my ears. My apologies if my word choice was poor. Any thoughts on the rest of it though?
 

pixel

Active Member
I found that with saturation i could easily create higher harmonics for the sine wave, but lower harmonics didn't really want to be just created out of thin air that way
What you mean by higher and lower harmonics? Saturation can create easily anything from 1st,2nd 3rd (and go on) harmonics.

Btw. Even harmonics sound better for human (perception) than Odd harmonics, that's why some kind of saturation are more pleasant than others for us.
Another thing is it's highly recommended to work in higher sample rate frequency with distortion units as these create sound much more higher than 22kHz which lead to creation of nasty artifacts in lower SR domain like 44,1kHz. So it also can change or perception of how we perceive the result.

I don't remember video with Alan Meyerson but I guess that he talked about using saturation to create harmonics to brighten up channel/instrument: Cello 80Hz-8kHz range) + Tape Saturation to extend it to 18kHz;

Instead of boosting higher freq range with EQ. Because you can't boost something that doesn't exist:

Instead of that you'll boost noise captured with microphone.
If this was his point then it's not mysterious practice at all ;)
 
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RyanMcQuinn

Grateful Member
Thanks very much, Pixel. I think the term I should have used was sub harmonics. I will research odd and even harmonics more. Thanks for that insight. For reference, the Alan Meyerson video is here: From about 50:00 to 52:30 or so is the saturation discussion.

In your example (the pictures you provided are an excellent reference; thank you), you created very high harmonics for a cello with tape saturation. Have you found a type of saturation that works better for creating subharmonics? For example, if you want to add warmth using saturation to a solo clarinet playing in its upper range, what would your process be?
 

Nick Batzdorf

Moderator
Moderator
I haven't read the post yet, but this is what the Aural Exciter is: distortion to make it sound brighter. Marvin Caesar used to rent it to sessions, in fact I'm not sure he didn't rent himself as the operator.

Before that people used to use a Dolby processor as an effect, I think Dolby B.
 

givemenoughrope

Senior Member
Interesting stuff. I've heard the Meyerson interview and read some others. I say whatever gets you there. I'm also attenuating some harsh stuff (specifically an electric cello) with convolution.
 

synergy543

Senior Member
I haven't read the post yet, but this is what the Aural Exciter is: distortion to make it sound brighter.
I think Meyerson is referring to something different than Aural Exciter or Clarphonics. He describes using saturation processors, not to "thrash the sound" but at very minute settings (0.1 as he says). I've been doing this a lot lately too using Softube's free Saturation and PSP E27 and Slate new free offerings. You have to be extremely careful as its very easy to over-do it (particularly with louder dynamics). So it requires some careful listening so that the grunge you're adding is not quite noticeable but you perceive it more as just a "richer sound". I'm sure more mixes will be ruined by using this technique so Alan has nothing to fear in revealing his technique. :)

And just like a good chef, its not the spice you add, but how and when you do it.
 
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RyanMcQuinn

Grateful Member
I'm also attenuating some harsh stuff (specifically an electric cello) with convolution.
Would you please explain this more? It sounds like you are performing a function similar to an eq without using an eq. If so, that fits the thread and I would love to know.
 

mdvirtual

New Member
I've been using Avid's Lo-Fi for years to add low end thickness, so I was interested to hear Alan mention the same plugin. Lo-Fi's distortion parameter has a subtle juiciness when used judiciously, and I'll sometimes roll down the sample rate a bit to tame high end edginess (particularly nice to make synths sound more organic). Never really connected with the saturation a noise params but I know other find them useful.

Lo-Fi is Pro Tools only, but I've recently discovered the Lindell Audio 6X-500 and use it for similar purposes in VE Pro. Its a preamp emulation with nice analog-style saturation and basic EQ and filtering.

I'll reach for these plugins to give a track more presence in the mix, either alone or in combination with an EQ. The distortion tends to round out the dynamics as well, which can be a nice bonus.
 

pixel

Active Member
In your example (the pictures you provided are an excellent reference; thank you), you created very high harmonics for a cello with tape saturation. Have you found a type of saturation that works better for creating subharmonics? For example, if you want to add warmth using saturation to a solo clarinet playing in its upper range, what would your process be?
It was just visual example done quickly to serve as example. It sounded... ok but not good enough to keep it ;)
Actually I prefer to find good samples/audio sources to avoid need to enhance it with saturation that way. Like Synergy543 said it's easy way to ruin sound without carefully listening and experience. Subtle is the word.
Another tip: add saturation on aux/send channel and treat it with eq and other processing to taste.

For few years now I've had no need (thankfully) to generate sub harmonics but I'm aware of plugins for this purpose like Waves LoAir which seems to be minority on the market. Most of the time 'low end enhancers' work as first 3 harmonics generators, not to generate sub harmonics.
To add warmth the most easy way is to boost 1-3dB lower spectrum of instrument. Ideally 200-500Hz which can be impossible with clarinet playing in its upper range. Other trick is to layer or simply add another instrument to compensate lacking warmth. This is where composition is also part of 'mix'.

Alan mention Soundtoys Decapitator which is excellent plugin. I used it even on master channel in electronic music projects and this plugin need really low signal because otherwise it distort a lot. Highly recommended one of the best distortion plugins on the market. He said about low end in this plugin: it's Low Cut knob which is simple hipass filter (with high Q when 'Thump' is switched on)
 

givemenoughrope

Senior Member
Would you please explain this more? It sounds like you are performing a function similar to an eq without using an eq. If so, that fits the thread and I would love to know.
Not a whole lot to explain but ok...
I run an electric cello direct through some eq, an impulse response of an actual cello body (or violin body depending on what I'm going for) at about 80% wet, then through Flux Spat. Results vary but yes the convolution does act as an eq and sort of just clouds the signal a bit...which is fine since its a piezo pickup heard direct which is very harsh.
 

sleepy hollow

unconsciously incompetent
I run an electric cello direct through some eq, an impulse response of an actual cello body
I remember you talking about that in another thread (probably a year ago?), and now I'm wondering if you've done some further experimentation since that. Could you post a snippet of the cello sounds you're gettin'? It'd be awesome to hear what the IR does to the piezo pickup.
 
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RyanMcQuinn

Grateful Member
Thanks so much for all the insight and angles on this so far. This has been wonderfully enlightening.

I ran an experiment to try to color a clarinet as we discussed. The clarinet plays in its mid to upper range. The hypothesis was that I could use saturation to color between 200-500hz in such a way that rms content will increase at a more rapid rate than peak content and in a more pleasing way than with EQ. Keep in mind, I would not typically do this in a an orchestration. This is strictly for the purpose of experimenting with coloring.

I think the hypothesis was supported but I am concerned if my perception of the sound is too biased.

Here are the audio samples I've tested:

There are three:
1)EWQL Hollywood Woodwinds Solo Clarinet dry with nothing done to edit it besides minor mod wheel movement while recording.
2)Same recording but with this saturation applied:
Izotope Exciter.PNG
3)Same recording with no saturation, but I used the EQ Matching feature of Ozone 7 EQ to achieve as close to the same sound as I could:
EQ Comparison With Matching.PNG

Also, here are the statistics of the dry clarinet:
Clarinet No Sat Audio Stats.PNG
and the saturated clarinet:
Clarinet With Sat Audio Stats.PNG

Based on the differences between them, I can see I've increased the rms Total Loudness more than the peak volume.

After EQ matching the dry clarinet, I think I find the sound of the saturated clarinet more pleasing than the EQ'ed clarinet, but maybe I am too biased. What do you think? Keep in mind I tried to make it a subtle change, so the biggest difference I can tell is how the pressure makes my ears feel more than the actual sound.
 

pixel

Active Member
Example with exciter is easily audible, with Match EQ it's very subtle. So yes exciter seems to be better tool for that purpose.
Personally I'm not fan of Matching EQ anymore [10 years ago I did whole album mastering with it :blush: 5 years ago I redo it with normal EQ (matching EQ as guide) and now I'm avoiding it totally].
 
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RyanMcQuinn

Grateful Member
Example with exciter is easily audible, with Match EQ it's very subtle. So yes exciter seems to be better tool for that purpose.
Personally I'm not fan of Matching EQ anymore [10 years ago I did whole album mastering with it :blush: 5 years ago I redo it with normal EQ (matching EQ as guide) and now I'm avoiding it totally].
Thanks for all your thoughts on this, Pixel. When using saturation/exciters as an aux channel and mixing in parallel, how much do you distort the sound? I know with ny comp, you really compress it and with reverb, it's 100% wet, but I've never heard what the common practice is in this scenario.
 

pixel

Active Member
No recipe. Consider this as sound design/development. It all depends on your ears ans what you want to achieve.
I use this for other elements than orchestral instruments where I have no restrictions like synths, guitars etc etc - it's always experiment :)
 
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RyanMcQuinn

Grateful Member
No recipe. Consider this as sound design/development. It all depends on your ears ans what you want to achieve.
I use this for other elements than orchestral instruments where I have no restrictions like synths, guitars etc etc - it's always experiment :)
So I remixed an orchestral + drum kit track that I made a while ago. With your advice in mind, I created a parallel processing track with Izotope's multiband exciter. The goal was to add some of the balls that you get from heavy guitar. I bussed the instruments that are meant to have the heavy guitar vibe to this aux track and appropriately named the track "Balls"! I used trial and error to get a low-mid band that I liked, set the distortion pretty high, and mixed the track fader in pretty low. I'm pretty pleased with the result!

I'm very excited that I've found a way of adding color anywhere I want in the spectrum in a way that increases rms more than peak level. More so, the different types of distortion available give so many options. I'm not sure if this is quite what Alan Meyerson does, but it seems impactful and I really feel like I can exercise more control and emphasis with coloring.

This is the first thread I've started here. Thank you ALL for your thoughts and advice. Pixel, the back and forth with you in particular has been great. It feels wonderful to join this community :)