Adventures In Audio

What is saturation? (It's not what you think it is)

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In professional audio, saturation refers to the distortion that occurs when a signal is overloaded and exceeds the capabilities of an audio device or system. Saturation can occur in a number of different ways, such as when a microphone is overloaded by a loud sound source, or when a signal is processed through an effect that pushes it beyond its normal range.

Saturation can be used intentionally as a creative effect, as it can add warmth and character to a sound. It is often used in music production to give instruments or vocals a sense of depth and presence, and can be achieved through the use of analog hardware or digital software.

However, saturation can also be a problem if it is not desired or if it occurs unintentionally. In this case, it can cause the audio to sound distorted and unpleasant, and can even make it difficult to understand spoken words or lyrics. To avoid unwanted saturation, it is important to carefully monitor levels and ensure that signals are not being overloaded.

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Dr. Rodopsin:  Where EQing absolutely makes sense is before clipping. If you clip a bass-heavy drum like a kick drum the clipped low frequency start to have a "farty-cloudy" sound, losing punch and clarity. The trick is to have an EQ before clipping turning down a bass and another to turn back up the bass afterwards (Dan Worrall has the emphasis-deemphasis video on the matter).

MacinMind Software:  I never thought of or used the term saturation for harmonic enhancement so going back to your previous video to hear that was new to me. My understanding of harmonic enhancement was to take a frequency and make a duplicate of it at double and triple, or 1/2 etc. of the original, I thought. That's what the term means in RF harmonics--2nd, 3rd harmonic, etc. Good learning nonetheless.

Audio Masterclass replies to MacinMind Software: Saturation is one way of producing harmonics, which as you say are whole-number multiples of the original frequency. Of course it gets more complicated than that with intermodulation distortion, and analogue tape which adds non-harmonic frequencies due to scrape flutter. DM

William Palminteri:  Hello DM,
Yes, saturation is not the same as boosting frequencies.
A spectrum analyzer will bear this out in no time flat.
I've developed several saturation plugins, the spectrum analyzer is indispensable.
And as you know, tubes, transistors and FETs saturate as well, with different harmonics being produced, for a slightly different sound.
Best regards,
Bill P.

Stephen Wise:  Are transformers a part of "tube sound"? In addition to saturation, there's residual core magnetization. There will be hysteresis.

Yoda8945:  Your explanation is very complete as to Plug-ins in a DAW.
Saturation as I know it is the limit of analog tape to hold more magnetism. The result is generally a loss of high frequencies and a soft, somewhat pleasing emphasis of the lows and compression of the dynamic range. This is of course, distortion, but not all distortion sounds bad.

Audio Masterclass replies to Yoda8945: Not all distortion sounds bad, I agree. What would Jimi Hendrix be without the distortion of his Marshall amps? DM

jkgrooves:  The more interesting question to me would be why do we like it and find the sound pleasing it all

daa:  the colours on the video are so.. vibrant.. pleasant?? theyre really good! keep it up!

The Goat Beats:  So one can assume that “saturation“ is a marketing thing most of the times? Should they be named “Harmonic enhancers” instead of “saturators”? Can real saturation even be “modeled” for the emulation plug ins?(strips etc)

Wassup Fred:  Very cool way of explaining it

Dany:  Thank you Mr

mcpribs:  Fascinating…though I will continue to use the term, more often than not, incorrectly. Haha
It’s just such a pleasing word to me. Excellent video, as always! Thank you!

Chaotic System:  i'm back..

smarthalayla:  What is saturation? A fancy word for sound clearness destruction.

oscar morales replies to smarthalayla: Yes

FL660:  Love the science. Very interesting.

NILEX MUSIC:  I found gem finally ❣️

Octavian:  awesome! every video!

Thomas Shea:  very excellent ---- so well done

cholky milk Mirage:  fuking amazing. im on board saturation is too loose

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Sunday December 18, 2022

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David Mellor

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

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