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Mix tips #2

The second little tip is about distortion. I’m talking about nice, pleasant distortion. It can have two very nice effect on our mixes, first may sound strange. Subtly use of distortion can give certain elements in the mix vivid presence, while glueing the mix together in a spectacular way. The trick is to use just enough, but never too much.

Of course this does not mean that you have to grab a plugin and put it on all the tracks in the session. It is much better to use it sparingly on selected tracks that really need that additional presence. With presence I mean a kind of loudness you cannot achieve otherwise. It’s nothing like using a compressor or riding the fader or eq in certain frequencies. Once you hear it, you’ll know it that it is very hard to describe, much easier to hear it. One good advice I can give you is that if it’s obvious, you’ve overdone it already.

My personal favourites

Sonnox Dynamics

The warmth control in their dynamics pack is just amazing. I use it all the time. You can adjust it from 0%–100% and even use it at low settings gives you very nice results on almost everything. And this is why I really awe this plugin. It is really that spectacular on anything from dialogue through effects to musical instruments. Many times I even use it on a bus just because I need the warmth from the brilliant dynamics.

sonnox dynamics

Soundtoys Decapitator

A unbelievably good sounding beast, but be aware, it is a weapon of mass destruction. Use it very sparingly and you’ll be blown away, but it can be overused quickly. Generally it is a good idea to use the bypass function to compare your setting with the original sound to be sure about that you helped the sound and not just changed it.


Softube Saturation knob

This is free plugin from Softube. And it is brilliant! One switch and one big knob to control the amount of distortion. What I really love about this plugin is that it can be very, very subtle, and as this one is extremely efficient, you can use many in a session without much cpu overhead. If you happen to research distortion plugins for Pro Tools, go grab this, it is a very useful tool in any plugin arsenal.

saturation knob

Avid Lo-fi

This is an interesting one. Many thinks that it’s a very good sound design plugin which is not for mixing though. Well, they’re wrong. It is very good for mixing, there’s only one thing you have to remember. It is (just as the Decapitator) a very powerful weapon, if you’re not really diligent, it can be too much before you notice. Use it sparingly (again, this stands for all distortion plugin) and you’ll appreciate what this little built-in plugin can do for you.


Soundtoys Little radiator

Another Soundtoys gadget. This is a very small little plugin with a huge sound in it for sure. As with any other plugin producing distortion you have to watch the meters to avoid the trap of the louder is the better. However, on this gadget you’ll find a mix knob that helps you to dial in as little or as much tube effect as you like. It might be even a good idea to automate the mix knob sometimes.

little radiator

Some closing thoughts. As I mentioned, distortion can help you give more separation to certain elements, or can help you glue your mix together, but it is a very powerful weapon. As fast as it can help you, these plugins can also ruin your mix very easily if you overdo things. Use your ears and do use the bypass to compare if you’ve really helped the sound. Don’t just automatically put some distortion in there. Use it, if the sound needs it.