Audacity is a free, open-source audio software tool that provides cross-platform support. It works as a multi-track editor and recorder for Linux, Windows, macOS, and most other operating systems.
Although it isn’t a full DAW like you’d get with Ableton or Garageband, you can still achieve impressive results when your audio tracks need editing and improvements.
One of the things that you’ll need for your work with Audacity is a de-esser plugin. When you record vocals or dialogue through a microphone, you’ll hear high-frequency sounds coming from letters like “S,” “F,” and a soft “C.”
When you hear the sounds from a live recording, they can influence the audio’s character to create listener distractions. By installing a de-ess plugin for Audacity, you can reduce or eliminate the problem.
Audacity De-Esser Plugin
The problem with most de-esser plugins for Audacity is that they try to take the sound apart from the track getting edited. That means the unwanted audio source gets compressed, which can be a hit-or-miss process. You can try using DeCrisper 1 or 2, De-Clicker, or a low-pass filter.
When using a de-esser plugin for Audacity, the goal should be to filter the undesirable notices that take more time to decay on your recording. By eliminating these sounds, you’ll create a better listening experience.
The issue with most plug-ins from this category is that they only address the sound itself. They don’t take care of the spike damage that happens when the signal goes through the digitization process.
That means the compression leaves an unnatural sound gap if it is left untouched during the mastering process.
Although the sound can come from a person’s voice or vocals, some microphones deliver a high-pitched haystack at the high end of the recording spectrum.
When you use a de-esser, you can reduce the noise around the 3,000 Hz level using a sliding scale until hitting about -20 dB on the mix.
That job cuts the haystack, reduces the hissing sounds from the human voice, and provides authentic results without causing hollowness.
If you’re still having trouble with your audio mix after stalling a de-esser plugin for Audacity, you might consider using a dynamic microphone instead of a condenser type to see if any benefits are possible from that switch.
What Are the Dos and Don’ts of De-Essing through Audacity?
When you need to start de-essing a signal, you have several options available to you to create the best edit. It takes some time to get through the entire process, but you’ll find that manual tools tend to give you the best methodologies for sound improvement.
■ Do Get to Know Your Tools
When you perform a manual de-essing on Audacity, you’re grabbing the signal parts by hand to attenuate them manually. You can take this step by separating the clip, lowering the gain, or writing some automation if your plugin allows it.
If you use this approach to de-ess your audio track, you’ll find that the processes sound more natural than the other choices available to you. It becomes a better listening experience because you can treat each offending sound individually.
When you see the waveform appear in the audio track, you can click it into a separate region and clip-gain it to the appropriate volume levels.
Most “ess” sounds in vocals look a lot like an NFL football or a rugby ball when they’re displayed in Audacity.
■ Don’t Hit the Process Hard
If you rush through the de-essing process, you’ll find that the vocal improvements sound like someone smashed them with a hammer. When you try to put on all of the filters and passes you think are necessary simultaneously, you can end up adding more sibilance to the mix instead of less.
Have you ever watched the older Looney Tunes cartoons? When you hit your processes hard all at once, the vocals end up sounding a lot like Sylvester the Cat.
Your de-essing work should try to move the needle one notch at a time. That means your plugin might be the first step of many or the last one taken on the mastering journey.
If you try to skip some steps or take shortcuts, you’ll be far more likely to take away the recording’s natural presence while overkilling the vocals.
■ Do Think about Using Dynamic EQ
The issue with manual de-essing is the time it takes to reach the end of your project. Each “ess” section can take several minutes to identify and balance when you click them all by hand.
That’s why most plug-ins for Audacity offer users a dynamic EQ for creating the desired result. This tool analyzes the audio track to determine the frequency bands that contain most of the “ess” sounds.
Once the program identifies the sibilant, the adjustments get made right away after initiating the execute command.
The only issue that comes up is when you set your automatic tools in a specific way and forget about them. That outcome can often lead to unwanted results.
■ Don’t Set Your Style and Leave It There
The human voice is quite unique. It has numerous variations, even when you speak different syllables. When you add the “ess” factor to certain sounds, it’s almost impossible to create an automatic de-esser that applies to everyone.
It’s even reasonably challenging to create automation for the same vocalist on a single recording!
Your plugin won’t act consistently across all potential adjustments. If a singer steps away from the microphone, turns away from it, or even lifts their head while singing, the “ess” tones are different than when a direct pickup occurs.
You’ll need to change your parameters occasionally to ensure the audio tracks get saved with the quality you prefer.
■ Do Start Using the Wide-Band Options
When you take advantage of a plugin’s wide-band de-essing options, you’ll pull down the entire signal when a sibilance occurs.
Although you’ll hear reductions throughout the audio track, you can go back into the waveform to manually change the areas that need more help. It’s like using the manual process, but in reverse.
When you have this feature, you might get to use a split-band de-esser. This tool splits the signal into three bands or more, only pulling the frequency range selections when the “ess” sound triggers the compressor.
If you use the split-band option, you’ll want to account for how the signal suddenly equalizes to prevent losing your other mastering work.
■ Don’t Give up on a Tough Vocal
It happens with almost every recording. You’ll eventually come to a vocal that doesn’t want to improve. You can try every potential de-esser plugin on Audacity while mastering the track and still end up with a minimal improvement.
We often focus on the de-essing process for the upper frequencies because they tend to deliver the most feedback on the recording.
You’ll also notice that some voices put together sibilated phrasing as low as 4 kHz, which means some plugin tools won’t work as expected. You’ll see the biggest results when compressing the 10 to 12 kHz region.
You have two options to consider at this stage. You can separate the sibilance to a new track to equalize it before sending it along the chain for additional processing, or you can clip the offending area and manually adjust the frequencies until the feedback disappears.
■ Do Use the De-Esser Plugin on Your Effects
Some people believe that a de-esser plugin for Audacity won’t work well if the audio track contains reverb, distortion, or other effects.
When this process starts at the microphone, you can make the necessary manual adjustments to improve the end result.
Bright vocals can sometimes overwhelm the reverb process, while baritone and bass voices can often become impossible to understand when distortion is present within the recording.
If you put a de-esser before these processes, you can often get rid of the unintended side effects of your recording efforts before they appear.
■ Don’t Forget about the Other Instruments
It’s tempting to use de-esser plugins for vocals only, but it is also quite helpful to apply the same concepts to specific instruments.
If you have overhead mics that record the sounds, you’ll find that the drums and guitars can have the same football shapes in the waveform as a singer.
If your electric guitar uses an amplifier simulator, you’ll find the emulator can often leave harsh tones that feel inauthentic.
When you put a de-esser on the recording around the 4 kHz range, you can achieve a better sound after uploading the track to Audacity.
The same principle applies to unwanted cymbal splashes, echoing snares, and other percussion that feels too meaty for the overall mix.
Instead of allowing these components to tear off your head, route the waveform through your de-esser.
You might find that it can soften the blow without removing the life from your recording.
What Are the Best De-Esser Plugins to Use for Audacity?
Although you can use DeCrisper 1 or 2, De-Clicker, and low-pass filters successfully with Audacity in most situations, I’ve found that some waveforms don’t respond the way I’d like when running them through those plug-ins.
You can also use the very high noise reduction settings within Audacity to create better results for your audio track.
I’d also highly recommend that you avoid the hard limiter with your recording. It removes the sibilant peaks without considering the overall sound, resulting in a mix that feels screechy, robotic, and tinny.
You’ll want to remove any compression from your waveforms since that can highlight the areas that require de-essing.
That’s why I prefer to use SpitFish from DigitalFishPhones. Once you’ve opened Audacity and have the plugin installed, you can follow these steps to improve your audio.
- Open the file that you need to de-ess.
- Choose a portion of the track or the entire thing, depending on what you need to work on with this plugin.
- Go to the Effect menu option, then choose SPITFISH.
- Click on Listen. You’ll hear only the “ess” sounds that you want to eliminate from your track.
- Move the Sense and Depth knobs until you don’t hear anything but the sounds you want to remove.
- Click the Listen button again to turn it off. You’ll now have a de-essed track that sounds much better.
- If you like what you heard, click OK and return to the rest of your editing. When you need to make additional changes, you can select the Undo command to restore your waveform to its previous state.
Although you could publish an audio track without de-essing it, the sound quality might be problematic for some listeners.
When you take the steps outlined in this guide, you’ll get to enjoy even more of the benefits that Audacity offers while improving your waveforms.