Review: FabFilter Pro-DS
The Fab Filter duo have done it again, this time with a superb tool to combat dasssstardly, disssscusting ssssibilance in your vocal tracks.
by Robert Halvarsson, July 2013
Sss Stands for Sibilance
FabFilter has been one of my favorite virtual effect companies for several years now. Why? Because they make products that are both visually appealing and well sounding. With Pro-DS, they have set out to create a one-stop solution for de-essing work.
It is considered one of the harder things to accomplish in the virtual world – a De-esser plugin which at more than moderate levels doesn’t destroy the original voice or which mistakes undesired sounds with hyped vocals with high frequency sheen. In order to accomplish this difficult task, FabFilter has written a new, custom algorithm, thereby taking the long road in attempting to tame high and obtrusive voices, instead of resorting to tried methods of the past.
The goal is to create a transparent de-esser. And to go with that, we get all the usual good stuff that we’ve come to associate with FabFilter for the last couple of years. Amongst its features and especially worthy of mention is the interactive MIDI Learn, internal undo/redo function, sample accurate automation, and last but not least, the outstanding interactive help function. And don’t you worry, you pro’s out there, you can turn the help off and wander aimlessly in the dark, if you want to.
One of the standard processes that makes a de-esser works is having a compressor that targets certain frequencies in the high register. The goal is for the voice to be remedied of its annoying aspects. The only problem is, this process is usually not intelligent enough to distinguish between desirable parts of the vocal in the higher regions, and things it should leave alone.
In other words, you will potentially not only push the “ess” back in the mix, but also other parts of the vocal as well.
What Sets Pro DS Apart
The unique newly developed Single Vocal algorithm in Pro-DS has an uncanny ability to separate sibilance from non-sibilant material in individual vocal recordings, even though it may be part of the same frequency spectrum. The idea is precisely this: to let you lower the “esses”, but not punish the other parts of the vocals.
But it’s not only about the vocals. You could use Pro-DS to tame high frequencies in other instruments as well, or entire mixes. When using it in this way, it works like a multi-frequency band compressor, but instead of a true multi-band compressor it only targeted high frequencies. Since this is what it is tailored for, it can be more effective and also, more transparent in these cases.
For those ready to go deeper into Pro DS territory, a great way to begin is to wander through the few but great presets. You have male and female vocals, split and multiband presets, and also presets for whole mixes. There are not a whole lot, but there needn’t be.
For those who want to create a preset from scratch, you can start by navigating the two complementary modes, single vocal and general mode. You also have wide band and split band options, which is perhaps a bit trickier to understand. Without going in to much detail, wide band works aimed at high frequencies, but when lowering the impact of the undesired sounds it will also target the entirety of the frequencies in the full spectrum. This is considered to go best with single vocals – split band will add some latency and leave lower frequencies alone, thereby being suitable and more in line with full mix work or more complex vocal material. By putting down your area of focus, variable between 2KHz to the limit of 20KHz, you will focus on the threshold of the material and the range, which together will achieve how hard Pro-DS will work on your material.
De-essers or de-essing is usually not the first thing a music hobbyist would turn to when working with vocals. Besides equalizing, people usually apply general compression and some reverb. But a dedicated de-esser can be a good add-on for a purposeful vocal chain, and downright essential when working with vocals with strong sibilance.
FabFilter Pro-DS is a very strong candidate for this type of dedicated work, because it is tailored for this specific task alone. While remaining quite easy to handle, it can deliver smooth, great-sounding results while retaining much of the original sound, making it suitable for almost surgically precise work. It has an almost organic quality to it, which is quite rare. Therefore, it is warmly recommended, and should be thoroughly examined by those who value quality vocals.
Price and Availability
FabFilter Pro-DS is available for EUR 149, USD 189 or GBP 124, supporting both Windows and Mac OS X in VST and VST 3, Audio Units, AAX, RTAS and AudioSuite plug-in formats. Bundles with FabFilter Pro-DS and other FabFilter plug-ins are also available. See www.FabFilter.com/shop.