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Hands On - Drawmer DS 201 Dual Gate (part 2)

For the noise gate to be able to do anything useful, there must of course be silent passages in the signal, or passages that should at least be silent...

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For the noise gate to be able to do anything useful, there must of course be silent passages in the signal, or passages that should at least be silent. The aim is to silence that noisy guitar amp or chorus unit when the instrument isn’t playing. Since you can’t just twiddle the controls at random on a noise gate and expect to get a sensible result, you’ll need a starting point of some kind. Figure 2 shows the starting point I use on my own Drawmer DS 201 (bought several years ago, battered and distinctly secondhand, from a hire company and still working absolutely perfectly). In order to know how to proceed from here, since this initial setting is unlikely to sound totally correct, you’ll need to understand what each control does. So, while playing your sound source, experiment as follows:

Turn the threshold control slowly up and down. You will hear that as you turn clockwise you can hear more of the signal, and noise in the gaps. As you turn counter clockwise you will find that eventually all of the signal is gated out and you don’t hear anything. In between there will be an ideal setting where you hear all the signal you want, and all the signal you don’t want is cut off. Don’t bother writing down this setting since it will be different each time you use the gate. Next, I think you had better play with the Range control and find out why it is set to -80dB nearly all the time in normal gating. This control sets the degree of attenuation when the gate is closed and I suspect that you will want to have as much attenuation as possible. With lower attenuation settings you’ll hear some of the noise coming through between the wanted sections of the signal; pretty pointless in the studio usually, but it can have uses when full gating sounds too obvious and also when you are ducking rather than gating, but there is too much to tell about gating itself to get into that for the moment.

Now try the Hold control. If you set this to very short values you will get what is known as ‘jitter’ and you’ll know why from the sound. This happens when the gate can’t decide whether it should be open or closed and therefore opens and closes very quickly several times in succession. I know of no musical uses for this sound (yet!) and I usually tend to set Hold to around 50ms, or the shortest time I can get away with without jitter, and leave it there. Of more importance are the Attack and Decay controls. With these you can shape the envelope of the sound as it starts and finishes, the aim being to transfer gracefully between silence and signal, and back from signal to silence. Get these settings wrong and either you’ll hear a little bit of noise as the sound starts and finishes, or the sound will be noticeably clipped. You do need to bear in mind that it can take a little time to set up a gate, even more so if you are using it in conjunction with a compressor. But time spent making these very careful and precise adjustments will be amply repaid in the quality of the result. Before I move on, may I just mention that if you are gating a stereo signal then you’ll need to press the Stereo Link switch down (it’s confusingly labelled). This forces both channels of the gate to open and close at the same time, which is absolutely essential for stereo gating.

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By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004
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