In The Box Vocal Processing

I’ve been getting good results lately with multiple parallel compression on vocals. Quite possibly I am getting better at singing too, but that is still pretty debatable.


My current thinking for In-The-Box (i.e. in software, not using hardware) vocal processing is to run about 4 compressors in parallel, fed prefader, from a single vocal track (BV’s I treat separately). These are all part of a group, and in general I apply echo and/or reverb to the group bus – which is the mult of the parallel compressor outputs – rather that individual tracks. However that isn’t a hard and fast rule; sometimes I might run the echo and reverb in a similar manner to the compressors – either prefade from the uncompressed original track, or maybe fed from one of the compressed tracks. A case of whatever works, do that.


Typically I start off with the main vocal feeding some combination of these:

  • Waves LA2A
  • Waves 1176
  • Slate Digital Vari-Mu
  • House of Kush UBK-1 (possibly a couple, on different settings)
  • Variety of Sound Thrillseeker VBL (though I haven’t really got to grips with this one yet) (freeware)
  • Tokyo Dawn Labs TDR Feedback Compressor II (freeware)

Don’t forget to reduce these from unity gain otherwise you get an extra few db with each additional track.


This seems to be a good way of getting a solid vocal without sounding badly compressed. It is surprising how much you can slam these and it still sounds fine – in fact I often take the original vocal right out and just use a mix of the compressor outputs. The UBK-1 is particularly handy here as it can get quite dirty, so if the overall thing is a bit nice, you just crank the drive on the UBK-1 track.


On the vocal bus I typically have either a transparent limiter like TDR Feedback II, or another LA2A in limiter mode if it needs more pumping, and the FabFilter de-esser.


I sort of think this is all crazy over-the-top and shouldn’t be needed….it’s nuts right……but it’s working for me. Here I’ll also insert the required comment that it is no substitute for well recorded tracks to start with, and the better you are with that the more likely you are to benefit form this type of processing. Also obligatory – although you can, you don’t have to hammer every compressor – just a touch may well be enough.


My goto delay and verbs are Valhalla Ubermod delay and ValhallaRoom reverb, and the Liquidsonics Reverberate convolution reverb. On the question of whether delays and reverbs are best pre or post compression, I tend to favour having short/bright/dense reverb or delays compressed (I might chorus that too) and the longer ones  uncompressed.


I usually find it sufficient to de-ess on the group bus, prior to echo or reverb, rather than each track. If it is a problem I’ll try some variation of de-essing some or all of the compressor tracks,  or ducking the offending ss’s on the bus using  track volume automation. Another option is to de-ess the main vocals before it goes to the parallel compressors. Obviously with lots of compression there is a risk of the ss’s (and t’s) getting out of hand.


I haven’t found much need to EQ at all. I do apply a high pass filter on the main vocal before it goes to the parallel compressors, because if there is low frequency rubbish there  you don’t want it multiplying through or interfering with all the compression, and making its way back to the bus and echo/reverb. I just use the built-in ReaEQ in Reaper, or maybe the freeware Brainworx BX_Cleansweep.


Note that I have actually bought these plugins, and the freeware ones I use are well regarded. With some things I think you get what you pay for, and it is worth getting good software where it matters.


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