De-Esser Explained (Simple) - Sampley

How to use De-Esser in Vocal Mixing

How to use De-Esser in Vocal Mixing

As a music lover, you've probably noticed that sometimes vocals can sound harsh and sibilant, especially when the singer pronounces words with "s" and "sh" sounds. This is where a de-esser comes in. A de-esser is a tool used in music production to reduce or eliminate the unpleasant and piercing "sss" and "shh" sounds in vocals. It's a type of audio processor that works by detecting and attenuating high-frequency sounds that are above a certain threshold, leaving the rest of the vocal track untouched. In this way, a de-esser can help make your vocals sound smoother, more natural, and more pleasant to the ear. In this article, we'll dive deeper into how a de-esser works and how it can be used to improve your music productions. So, let's get started!


  • A de-esser is a plugin to reduce the sibilance loudness of a vocal 
  • It uses intelligent algorithms to exactly find the frequencies that are causing the harshness 
  • A too loud "es" in a vocal is a common problem and the de-esser is the perfect solution for this

What a de-esser does is reduce the loudness of the specific frequencies where the harshness of the sibilance is happening. 

A de-esser works like a multiband compressor as it reduces the level of certain frequencies when they are exceeding the threshold.

  • The de-esser is really effective in reducing harshness because it really focuses on cutting only the harshest-sounding peaks 
  • A de esser can also work very well if you want to reduce the fret noise of your guitar or generally just want to reduce harsh-sounding transients of drum instruments for example

You can turn any compressor into a de-esser if it has a sidechain input by inserting an EQ and boosting the problematic frequencies. Next, just turn the threshold down and see where the sweet spot is so that the vocal sibilances aren’t sounding harsh anymore.

As a de-esser basically works like a compressor or limiter, the main control knob you have to pay attention to is the threshold knob. 


  • The lower you set the threshold the more the harsh frequencies will go down in level. 
  • But don't set it too low if you use the de-esser on a vocal as it will result in a lisping effect.


  • Now again like on the compressor you can set how hard you want the gain reduction of the specific frequencies to be by adjusting the attack/release or the ratio. 


  • The knee knob is there to set whether you want to have a soft knee (turn the knee down) or a hard knee (turn the knee up)
  • If you set it to a soft knee, the harsh frequencies won't go over the threshold level as they will be lowered in level even before they reach the threshold. 
  • If you set it to a hard knee, the harsh frequencies will exceed the threshold just a little bit and will be pushed down immediately.


  • The input/output knob decides how much of the original signal you want to push into the de-esser and the output knob regulates the volume of the de-essed signal. 


  • If there is a lookahead knob, you can set the time the compressor sees the sidechained signal in advance. This helps if you want your compressor to react very fast and if even a very fast attack time isn't enough to catch the very early transients.

Internal sidechaining

  • Internal sidechaining basically means that you can add filters to your full signal and then compress it. 
  • As a result, the compressor will just compress the frequency range you selected. 
  • If you add an external sidechain, you can add whatever signal to your sidechain slot (for example the kick) and your signal will just go down when the kick plays

Split band/wide Band

  • Split band means that your signal will be split into 2 or 3 bands so that you are able to decide which specific frequencies you want to compress 
  • Wideband means your whole signal will be reduced in level. 
  • For vocals, split band compression is the better option as you can specifically set the high frequencies to be detected and compressed by the de-esser.

Stereo Link

With the stereo link, you can set whether you want your de-esser only to compress the mid signal or the also side signal of the vocal (if the harshness is occurring there as well).

By adjusting the knob you can set how much of the side signal should be targeted by the de esser. The more you turn it up, the less of the side signal will be affected by the de esser.


A de-esser is a very useful tool in reducing unpleasant harshness on vocals, guitar recordings or drums. As with all effects, there are plugins out there that are very simplistic in their settings, but there are more complex layouts as well. But if you understand the principles of a de-esser and what it really does, you can work with each and every plugin out there.

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