Audio Masterclass Recording Studio Tips

Noise gate side chain filters

The use of the side chain filters of the noise gate to achieve reliable gating.
Noise gate side chain filters
By David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

Basic noise gating is easy enough when the sound source is well differentiated between signal and noise.

So imagine an electric guitar played through an amplifier and cabinet. There will be the sound of the guitar, and also the quieter sound of amp hiss and buzz.

The guitar, when playing, is much louder than the amp hiss so it's easy to find a threshold setting for the gate that works reliably.

But there are times when the noise is so high in level that setting the threshold to a point that fits neatly between the signal and the noise is impossible.

A good example would be the drum kit, particularly the snare drum and hihat. The snare and hihat are so close together physically that the snare mic will pick up as much level from the hihat as it does from the snare.

It will be impossible to set the threshold for correct gating.

The solution to this problem is found in the filter controls of a well-specified gate, such as the Drawmer DS201 illustrated. Just like a compressor, a noise gate has a 'side chain' signal that is used to control the behavior of the processed signal.

In a gate, this is commonly called the trigger, or key signal. In normal use with the filters set to their end stop positions - so that they have no effect - the key signal is identical to the input signal.

To stop the hihat from opening the gate on the snare mic, simply filter out the high frequencies from the key. The snare is sufficiently rich in low frequencies that it will still open the gate, but the lesser low-frequency content of the hihat is not enough to do the same.

If a mic on the hihat suffers from the same problem, then the low and mid frequencies can be filtered out of the key, and the rich high frequency energy of the hihat will still open the gate.

One important point to note is that the filters have no effect on the frequency balance of the output signal. They only affect the key, which once it has done its job goes nowhere.

Noise gate key listen

There is a function, here called 'key listen', that switches the key signal to the output. This can be used for setting up the gate, then switched back to 'gate' for normal operation.

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