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De-Essing: Reducing harsh ‘s’ sounds with a de-esser

Are you someone who really accentuates your ‘s’ sounds when you speak or have you recently recorded someone on your podcast who has really sharp ‘s’ or even ‘t’ sounds? If you have and wondered how to fix it and reduce the intensity of the piercing consonant, you’ve come to the right place as today we’ll be discussing de-essing.

A de-esser classifies as a dynamics processor, but it can also be categorised as an equalisation tool because it’s a frequency-specific tool. It is made specifically to tackle sibilant (hissing effect) frequencies in the voice such as, those piercing ‘s’ and ‘t’ sounds and bring them down to a more manageable level.

If you read a previous article written for The Podcast Sessions on “equalisation”, you might remember discussing the frequency range where we might find sibilance to be between 7.5-9kHz in the frequency spectrum. The de-esser can target and tackle these frequencies which will improve the listenability of your podcast for your fans and subscribers.

Once the de-esser has been set in the correct frequency range where there is the most amount of sibilance in the recording, this is where it becomes a dynamics processor as it works very similarly to a compressor. 

The de-esser has a threshold control, which is set manually to let it know at what level to begin reducing the sibilance. Once the set frequency exceeds the set threshold, the de-esser will then begin to reduce the amplitude (volume) of the sibilant frequency. For example, let’s imagine we have a guest on our show who has a sibilant tone of voice through no fault of their own. 

After observing the frequency curve on our equaliser, we notice whenever they use the ‘s’ consonant, there is activity around 7.8kHz and is about -8dB loud on our meters. We will load an instance of a de-esser and target it at 7.8kHz and set our threshold 1 dB lower than the level of the sibilance (e.g. -9dB), this way the de-esser always triggers when they use those harsh ‘s’ sounds.

It is important to be cautious though, as when the de-esser is applied too aggressively, it can damage the audio and make the person sound as though they have a lisp – which we obviously don’t want!

All audio software should come standard with a de-esser, but if you want something reliable that delivers excellent results every time and don’t mind spending a bit. You should check out the Waves De-Esser. It’s the tool of choice for many professional engineers around the world and my personal favourite.

Did you find this article useful? You may also enjoy reading these articles: Microphone Preamplifier | Equalization – The Key to better Sound