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Everyone knows how to use a conventional compressor as a de-esser. Simply parallel the input signal through an equaliser, boost the HF and feed it to the compressors side chain input. Set the threshold carefully and lo and behold, the signal will be free of excessive sibilance. Easy. But hang on a minute - it may be easy in theory but its damn fiddly in practice, and what happens when you find that the compressors side chain inputs are not wired to the patchbay (as I reckon is the case in a good fifty percent of installations)? What the world needs is a good easy-to-use de-esser. It would help if it actually works because I know of at least one unit that claims to include a de-essing function but is absolutely of no use whatsoever. Of course we expect Drawmer, the masters of dynamic control, to do a little better, and here we have their thoughts on the subject in the form of the MX50 Dual De-esser. Yes, we can de-ess stereo signals too.
As I said, the essence of a de-esser is a compressor (that could be a useful test phrase!), but the user doesnt have to know that. What the user needs is a unit with the minimum number of controls and fiddly bits necessary to do the job well. It is actually quite difficult, in the traditional manner of doing things, to find the right combination of EQ and compression, there are so many controls to worry about. Not on the MX50. The MX50 is very simple and to the point. There are two main rotary controls for frequency and gain reduction. Actually the latter control is labelled De-Ess. All you have to do therefore is find the frequency at which the offending ess sounds are at their worst, and dial in the amount of reduction you require, from subtle but hardly noticeable to sorry Ive had a bad cold all week. The frequency control ranges from 8kHz all the way down to 800Hz which is extending the definition of sibilance probably further than anyone would want to take it. Actually, sibilance isnt the only problem that the traditional compressor/EQ-in-the-side-chain configuration can deal with. It is quite a common occurrence that a signal is over-endowed with a certain range of frequencies but only when it exceeds a certain level, hence simple EQ is not the best solution. The Drawmer MX50 isnt really set up to be this versatile, although it has enough range to be worth a try. As in the case of the MX40 Punch Gate, the graphics are really clever and they show very clearly what the controls do. A gain reduction LED meter calibrated up to 20 (dB I presume) assists in showing exactly how much level the unit is taking out. Oddly enough there is no threshold control. If I was going to attempt to design a de-esser I would have thought it essential - but the MX50 doesnt really seem to need it. You can always tweak the level going into the unit if need be.
The Drawmer MX50 has a couple of controls that are not obvious in their application and their functions require investigation in the manual. The de-ess band can be switched either to Full or to Split. Split means that when the unit de-esses, it takes out only the esses and leaves the rest of the frequency range intact. Full means that whenever an ess comes along it pushes the whole signal down in level. Thinking about it, Full mode is the way a conventional de-esser setup works. Split mode, to my mind, is better both in theory and in practice and I would recommend it. The other unusual control is Air which is similar to Split mode but works on the higher frequency band. Suppose that the offending frequencies that you wanted to lower ranged around 4kHz or so, then with Air deselected, all frequencies up to 20kHz and beyond would be attenuated. This might not be desirable, so switching the Air control in leaves frequencies above 12kHz unaffected. It would depend on individual circumstances which was the better course of action but Drawmer recommend that using Split and Air together results in a very transparent de-essing action and I would agree with this.