We’re sure you’ve experienced the sensation of your music sounding average or even plain. Despite everything being in place compared to a reference track, it just doesn’t feel as full and exciting. In such cases, saturation or harmonic excitation is often the missing ingredient. Saturation is a highly effective technique for breathing life into individual tracks or entire mixes, offering the potential for significant improvements and progress.
Saturation has its roots in the analog era of music production. It occurs when you push an electrical or magnetic device beyond its linear signal output threshold, resulting in distortion. When the overdrive is significant enough, it generates harmonics across the entire frequency spectrum. Different instruments produce distinct forms of harmonics depending on the overdriven component.
Transistors saturate differently than transformers or tubes, leading people to utilize specific instruments for particular musical elements. Saturation influences the dynamics of the music and can be creatively applied to enhance certain aspects, thereby becoming a prominent trend that continues to shape public taste in musical sound.
While analog saturation was prevalent historically, today’s technology allows us to implement these algorithms digitally. Modern emulations have reached a level where it’s difficult to distinguish them from their analog counterparts. However, it’s important to note that digital solutions require significant CPU power, and they may not reproduce the exact phase accuracy due to the absence of physics laws in software. Nonetheless, technological advancements over the last decade have significantly narrowed the gap between analog and digital, offering many digital options that rival their analog counterparts.
When discussing saturation, we primarily refer to the additional frequencies generated from the original sound. Let’s consider a 300 Hz sine wave as an example. When a saturator is applied to it, as shown in the second picture, we call the tones of the original sound the first harmonic, while we refer to the subsequent multiples as the second, third, and so on. The specific characteristics of saturation vary depending on the device used. In this instance, we applied tube saturation, which produces pronounced second-rate harmonics. The choice of saturation type depends on the desired emphasis for a given sound.
It’s crucial to differentiate between the concepts of distortion and saturation. In the context of a plugin, distortion encompasses various algorithms that alter the waveform, as any waveform modification can be considered distortion. In a digital environment, for example, different clippers raise the signal level beyond the displayable values, resulting in clipping and the production of harmonics. However, these harmonics lack the musicality and dynamics of traditional saturation methods that have long been used for this purpose. Saturation can generate a sense of volume with minimal dynamic changes, which played a significant role in the volume war of the past.
Ultimately, there are countless ways to utilize saturators, with their effectiveness determined by the specific musical elements and creative preferences. In most cases, it’s challenging to categorize algorithms as good or bad. That’s why it’s essential to experiment with different methods and select the ones that best suit our needs.
For many beginners, the concept of multiband dynamics might not be entirely clear. However, it can be a game-changer in certain situations, and numerous popular plugins efficiently implement multiband compression and band separation. Some of these products even offer presets that can significantly improve your sound. Nevertheless, it’s always crucial to understand the purpose behind our actions. So, let’s explore when it’s best to use these solutions.
First and foremost, we must understand that multiband compressors combine the operation of multiple compressors. The frequency spectrum is divided into specific bands using filters, and a compressor is assigned to each band. This enables separate parameter adjustments for each compressor, offering precise control over the entire mix. For instance, if you’re dissatisfied with the ratio of musical elements above 5000 Hz, you can make individual adjustments.
Separating frequency bands is a complex task, as filters have slope degrees, and at the crossover points, certain frequencies can intersect, leading to phase errors or other unwanted changes. Multiple methods exist to address these issues, each with advantages and disadvantages, although we won’t delve into those in this article.
Let’s consider a practical example that occurs frequently.
When facing a wide-spectrum frequency surplus, reducing the amplitude uniformly across the entire range might not be the best choice. Countless times, we work with samples on individual tracks that we like, but certain frequencies might be missing. In such cases, it’s worth testing the impact of a multiband compressor before resorting to EQ. Apart from mixing and mastering applications, these products are highly effective for sound design.
Like all compressors, multiband compression is an excellent choice for sidechain compression, although we won’t discuss that aspect here.
Combining the two highly effective methods mentioned above can yield highly favorable results. Take a full-spectrum signal, such as a mix. If we apply saturation to the entire signal, we also generate harmonics across the entire spectrum. However, there are cases where it’s better to feed our saturation algorithms with only a portion of the signal. This approach can be useful in sound design when we want to emphasize a specific tone while leaving the rest of the sound untouched. While perfect separation isn’t achievable based on the previous factors, we can still achieve better results than distorting and EQ-ing the entire sound.
Introducing Platone Swiss Saturator
When developing the Swiss Saturator, we’ve paid attention to all the points mentioned above. We designed an easy-to-understand user interface with a freely adjustable three-band band-splitter.
We integrated two saturation algorithms into the program, allowing you to experiment and determine which works best for your work. You can even combine the algorithms, and with the help of the mix button, you can seamlessly blend the saturated bands with the original signal bands.
Additionally, the Swiss Saturator includes a bitcrusher, which enhances the sound’s coloration further, and you can also use it as an automated effect.
You can solo and mute tracks according to your preferences to enable precise control. The program also features an autogain function, eliminating the need for manual adjustment of output and input signals.
Whether you’re dealing with mixing, mastering, bus tracks, or sound design, the Swiss Saturator by Platone is an excellent choice to elevate your audio production.