Mixing With Saturation Why You Need It

if you've been making music or mixing for a while you've probably come across the term saturation but for a beginner saturation can often be difficult to understand for grasp because unlike something like EQ it can be really difficult to understand what it's actually doing to the sound how you can control it and also where to use it I'm Michael and in this video I'm hoping to help you feel a little bit more confident with saturation and I've got loads of audio and video examples to show you what it's doing and also where you can use it in your mix be sure to wear some headphones or listen on some studio monitors just so that you can really feel the difference the saturation is making to the audio in this video I'm focusing on tube and tape saturation but there's loads of different types of saturation they all have their own special qualities and characters so let's start with a little bit of context about what saturation is and where it came from when it comes to audio saturation is referring to the sound heard when an analog recording device or medium such as tape like a tape machine or a preamp or a console is driven to loud sound like too hot of a signal and the audio starts to distort and break up but unlike digital distortion or digital clipping where it hits zero and then it just starts cracking it sounds terrible usually the way that audio breaks up in the analog domain sounds really nice and really pleasing there's loads of different characters to this saturation so there's harmonics that are added and I'll demonstrate this in a moment there's Distortion there's fluttering there's sort of compression all sorts of stuff changes with the sound depending on whether it's tape saturation tube saturation or another form of saturation all of these distortions and characteristics are all due to the imperfection of that recording medium but it just so happens to be that those imperfections actually sound really good to the human ear depending on what source is used on the reason this happens is due to the medium that it's being recorded on so for instance with tape you pass a magnetic medium and the reason that breaks up and distorts differently to digital Distortion I'm not going to go into in this video but I'm just gonna demonstrate the sound of it so let's start with an example so in this case I have a free saturation plugin on the to the screen I have a frequency analyzer on the right and I'm driving a pure sine wave into this as you can see there is just one single tone but as I increase the saturation amount these upper harmonics are added to the sound the more I turn it the laund of these harmonics become until the distortion occurs this is often why saturation sounds so pleasing it can fill out a sound and really make it feel rich and full saturation is also used in sound design where you can make things really heavily distort but for this tutorial let's just keep things simple that example was on a pure sine wave but saturation can be used on anything and the more complex the source the more complex the saturations and harmonics that will be added will become so if you're using this on a full drum kit or on a piano it's not going to be adding a harmonic to just one tone it's gonna be adding harmonics to everything which is gonna make things sound really really full and this is where we come across the word warmth and this is the word that plugin companies or pretty much anyone trying to sell you anything in the audio world is throwing around like crazy recently the idea is that digital is all zeros and ones all the conversions are too perfect and it sounds sort of flat and lifeless and cold and that the analog has vibe mojo it sounds warm and full and it's wonderful marketing because if you have to pick between warm and cold you know what you're gonna pick do you want a hot coffee or do you want a cold coffee do you want a hot dinner or do you want a dinner that's been left out for two hours and it's just cold and mushy unless it's ice cream we're pretty much always going to choose the warm option but this warmth sounds different to everybody it's a really loose term some people use the word weight some people say warmth some people say thick or or fuller to some people this means that the top-end residents moved out a little bit but to others it means that the bottom end is more round or the mid-range is just more full in general so it means something different to everyone but no matter what it means to someone it usually always sounds good this warmth is great when you're using a saturation plugin lightly to just add a little bit of fullness or thickness to a sound like a synth pad or an ambience but let's hear a few examples where I'm going to drive it a little bit into the distortion so the first one's gonna be on a drum kit and I've summed it all into one channel and I'm going to saturate the whole kit with the tube saturation plugin I'm also controlling the gain into and out of the plug-in I'll explain why in a moment now it has simple controls but the red dial in the middle is controlling the intensity here how the saturation really fills up the sound and makes it more bold it has almost a 3d quality with the saturation [Music] the only problem is that you need to gain stage properly so if the signal going into the plug-in is too low you can turn that intensity dial all day and really nothing's gonna happen it's never going to reach the right sort of sweet spot for the saturation to occur and on the other hand if you feed the plug-in far too loud of a signal it's going to distort right away and you're not going to be able to control it and this is what confused me when I was first starting out and it didn't understand gain staging so I have a video about gain staging which I will link here and in the description it's really quick and simple and it should make sure that none of that stuff happens and that you have control over the saturation the second example is on a drum kit again but this time it's in the context of a mix I'm going to be using a combination of tube and tape saturation and you can hear how the saturation really makes it cut through and play with the other instruments a bit more the snare and the hi-hat are more exciting and the low-end starts becoming a little bit bigger this is only using those two types of saturation and it's not using any other EQ or compression [Music] because of the way the saturation behaves it's almost as though I have eq'd and compressed it in a sort of special way but I never actually did any of that stuff it was all just shaped using that saturation the tricky bit can be matching the right type and amount of saturation to the right source so if it was on an acoustic guitar for instance I don't think I'd want to be booming out the low end and really distorting the top-end like I had on those snares so if it was on an acoustic guitar I might want a more smooth source or subtle type of saturation and this is where you're just going to experiment with lots of different types of saturation whether this is from an analogue piece of equipment or whether it's from a plug-in you're just gonna have to test these out yourself because they all sound very different and like I mentioned earlier using it in a subtle way on atmospheres and pads can really enhance the track even if you're only using you know a small amount ten or twenty percent on each track so just turning the dial a little bit on each track the difference it makes over a whole mix can really start bringing things to life there's loads of saturation plugins available both free and paid for now I'll leave links to the ones I use some of them were free some of them I paid for another confusing thing is that this saturation came from the analog world not the digital world so how can we recreate this with these plugins that I've just shown and this is a huge argument or debate that I'm not going to get into right now if you have the analog equipment and you can afford it just go down that route but if you can't afford lots of lush and gorgeous analog equipment then you're just gonna have to settle for the vsts and they will add a certain character and flavor will they be the same as the hardware probably not some will probably be much worse some will probably be much better but at the end of the day you're just gonna have to try lots of options luckily lots of them are free and just let your ears guide you and if you like the sound of it then that's the right one for you and another thing that can be confusing for beginners is that it doesn't have to be a specific saturation plugin there are some plugins that I use which are trying to model analog compressors in eq's and even just driving these hot will induce saturation and add harmonics and flutter and all sorts of stuff even though they are not specifically a saturation plugin they do warm up the sound so to speak I want you to feel confident about using saturation in your mixes or in your sound design there really is nothing to be afraid of when you're using plugins because you can always just turn them off or recall all your settings I will leave some links in the description to some free plugins that I use there's also one or two that I've paid for and I'll leave a link to those just in case anyone was curious but really just die then start with all the free plugins don't be afraid to just try them out and see what it adds to your mix some of them are gonna give you crazy sort of glassy / driven tones some of them are going to give you really smooth and subtle tones and you're gonna find out in time what works best for you as always when mixing it's good to listen to these things in context so make sure that you're playing along with everything in your song so that you can hear how the saturation interacts with all the other instruments and vocals and stuff that's going on in your track thank you very much for watching I do hope this helped you in some way I hope you have a great day and I hope to see you in the next video - bye for now [Music] we spot a way to end [Music] see