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10 Tips For Fab Filter Saturn Tutorial

bassgorilla fab filter saturn

If you’ve never heard of Saturn, or Fabfilter, you can get a demo of this saturation VST plugin here.

Saturn it’s one of my favorite plugins and there’s a TON you can do with it.

Upon first glance, Saturn might not look complicated – the FabFilter developers did a great job with functional design; but under the hood there are some awesome less obvious features in this little window.

This video is going to explore some techniques in-context that I like to use when I reach for Saturn in my workflow.

Fab Filter Saturn Tutorial

Tip 1: Make one band, and sweep it

Multiband distortion is exactly as it sounds. You can create bands in the frequency spectrum, and distort them differently. Create a band by hitting the plus sign, drag it to where you want it in the frequency spectrum, and then you can tune the level and the distortion type (along with the drive amount for each distortion unit) independently on each band.

What’s so cool about Saturn is that you can modulate these crossover point you’ve drawn in straight in your DAW; essentially you can control WHATS distorted HOW for the incoming signal over time. Changes made to these crossover points can have some awesome sound-design applications.

One such application is to implement pseudo-filter sweeps by moving the crossover point – where you might normally go for a band pass or band reject filter, instead grab Saturn try making a moderately distorted or saturated band (and keep the other band mostly clean) and move the crossover point as your primary modulation source. Sweeping up and down will add cool textures; and if you implement modulation stepper-style, you’ll get some interesting jagged breaks!

Tip 2: Make a narrow distorted band, and make a converge/diverge knob

Now lets take the same concept, but apply it in a more complex way!

What I basically want is one super-distorted, narrow band in the middle of my signal, so I’ll insert 2 divers in and make the mid band super narrow.

Now I’ll distort the hell out of this little band, and try a couple of different distortion modes to hear which brings out the best harmonics of my incoming signal.

For the next part I’m going to leverage macros in Ableton, but most modern DAWs should have a functional equivalent (if yours doesn’t you might want to revaluate why you’re still using it).

Essentially, we are mapping the left side of this band to move lower in the frequency spectrum when we lower the value of the knob, and doing the opposite on the right side of the band. Ostensibly, I’m created a knob that lets me narrow the distorted band as I move the knob up, sort of like squashing the sound and having it converge at a point.

It takes a little bit of fine-tuning to find the right values, but I always like to think about the convergent point (i.e. when the knob is all the way up) and the divergent point (when the knob is all the way down)… this usually yields good results!

As an additional mapping, for the sake of dynamics, you could also map Saturn’s overall dry/wet to this same macro, so that as you squash, you distort more!

I like this because when you’re done, you have one knob that does a bunch of stuff, and could be easily saved for later use on other material.

Tip 3: Preset hopping & resampling with ‘Sequence’ bank

I’m a fan of making things from scratch, but FabFilter has some kind of smart-interpolation technology which makes it super smooth at transitioning between presets.

Of particular note are some of the wacky sounds in the ‘sequenced’ category. So load up a drum loop, send it through saturn. Go to the ‘sequenced’ category, press record to resample, and then just click through the presets on the beat!

You’ll just love some of the glitchy sounds that come out of this!

Tip 4: Useful Mixing Presets

Saturn (and distortion in general) isn’t just for highly destructive sounds. It’s also a useful mixing tool, for adding a touch of grit to make things sparkle a bit more.

Let’s look at two such applications:

Here we’ll use Saturn to add some distortion to the snare, to make it crunch in just the right place. 220, 250, whatever your pleasure! You can draw the bands as wide or as narrow as you like.

Now lets try thickening up this sub, very slightly with some gentle saturation, and also using a high band and lowering the gain to cut out the highs (rather than needing to do this with an EQ)

I’d also bring your attention to 3 mixing-style presets that I seriously love:

Tip 5: Keep modulation simple!

All the FabFilter plugins have a fairly similar modulation interface that sits below the primary window. Here you’ll find all sorts of envelope generators, X/Y pads and more. If you’re already competent with FabFilter’s approach to modulation… well then you’re good to go. For me, however, I find it to be very hard to conceptualize modulation in FabFilter plugins, because I’m spoiled by things like Razor and Serum which show me how things are moving when they are moving.

Anyway, you’ve probably noticed some complex modulation routings when browsing through the factory-made presets … this is all well and good but I find that these presets are actually not the best ways to learn how to use modulation in Saturn.

Here’s what I do, 99% of the time… I’ll ignore pretty much everything except and XLFO, because LFOs are ubiquitous, and for me the easiest to understand, sculpt, and conceptualize.

The XLFO is pretty much like a classic LFO but it can do so much more!

It can also be used as a 16 step sequencer with an individual glide for each step.

To add an XLFO as a modulation source, click the + button in the source selection bar and click New XLFO.

At the left of the XLFO interface, you find the global parameters that affect the entire waveform.

I’m going to quote the manual here, because it actually explains the XLFO really well. For the illustrative example, I’ll just make something really distorted and send it to the our XLFO to the dry/wet so its obvious what its doing.

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Frequency

The frequency knob sets the time it takes for 1 cycle of the waveform to complete. This knob is a modulation target, so you could let one XLFO modulate the frequency of another XLFO. The XLFO can be synchronized to the tempo of the plug-in host or set to run free. With the options at the top-right corner of the frequency button you can choose the different settings:

Free running mode will allow values from 0.02 to 500 Hz, so the minimum cycle length is 0.002 seconds.

When using any of the synchronized cycle lengths (16 to 1/64, measured in bars) the frequency knob changes into the Offset knob. It now acts like a cycle length multiplier and therefore is capable of changing the cycle length relative to

the host tempo, from half to two times the host tempo. Click the dots around the knob to jump to certain predefined offsets for dotted and triplet synchronization.

Balance

The outer ring of the frequency knob adjusts the time balance of the first and last halves of the step sequence. For example, when turned to the left, the first half of the wave form is generated more quickly than the last half.

I’m going to ignore midi sync… well because I never use it.

Snap

This function makes it possible to use the XLFO as an arpeggiator. When you enable Snap, a small piano keyboard appears, the range of the XLFO turns into 2 octaves, and steps “snap” to notes on the piano keyboard. Now when you modulate a

frequency parameter, turn the slot level to maximum, and the total amount of modulation will exactly correspond to 2 octaves.

Glide

The global Glide knob acts like an overall glide offset. The amount of glide determines the point within a step at which the XLFO starts to interpolate to the value of the next step. The global Glide value is added to the glide value for individual steps to arrive at the final glide value for each step. The final glide value is limited between 0 (no interpolation) and 1 (full

interpolation). Because the global Glide value can range from -1 to 1 it can completely overrule the individual step glide values at the extreme settings. It is also a modulation target which allows for very cool effects.

At the top right of the global settings, the Presets button provides access to the XLFO section presets. The Remove button deletes the XLFO source. By default, the XLFO starts with two steps that make a sine wave. You can customize this by overwriting

the predefined Default section preset.

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Hope that gets you more comfortable with modulation in Saturn, or in any FabFilter plugin really.

Tip 6: Easy Sidechaining

Saturn claims to support sidechaning natively for each DAW; here are the instructions for Ableton [show screenshot], and the manual has different instructions for different DAWs… However, I find this explanation to be extremely confusing… here’s how I do sidechaining with Saturn. Apologies in advance – this is another Ableton-centric workflow, but I’m sure there are ways of implementing this concept in other DAWs.

Put Saturn in a Rack; create another chain; put a gate in there, turn sidechaining on, turn the blue headphones on, and then select whatever source you want to sidechain to. Then add an envelope follower to this rack, which you will see is tracking whatever incoming audio you selected in the sidechain. Now mute the rack with the gate + enveloper follower on it, fine-tune the enevelope follower’s settings (if necessary) so you’re seeing a mod curve that makes sense for your use and map the envelope follower to the dry/wet on Saturn.

Boom! in-line sidechaining modulation. And you can duplicate the envelope follower and change its settings to do a different kind of sidechain modulation to a different parameter on Saturn.

This tip will work for any VST, but I particularly like to add some sidechaining distortion to my subs and basses, particularly if I’m dealing with a standard 4-onthefloor groove.

Tip 7: Super random, all the bands!

Want to make your own random presets in Saturn?

Draw a ton of bands, make sure your DAW knows about each of them (in Ableton you have to press configure and move the parameter) now bust out the max4Live device randomizer and seed it!

Each time you seed, you’ll get totally randomized distortion, with tons of bands that get moved around all over the place. Sounds shitty?

Run it through again…. remember randomness can be your ally. (Also, this max4Live device is amazing for jumbling up devices)

Tip 8: Using Saturn’s Visual Cues

In case you didn’t get it when you first opened Saturn, more red on the interface means more gain in that band, and the ghosted partials show you where saturn is adding or subtracting. If everything is off, Saturn will still show you the various partials of the incoming audio and splits them across the frequency spectrum.

Sometimes I’ll put Saturn on my master, with the dry wet a zero, and use it as a monitoring tool… I realize it was not intended for this purpose, but I believe it’s way simpler than most stereo analyzers and can help you see a pretty simple visual of where peaks and valleys are in your tune; this can really help with mixing and mastering decisions!

I think most would argue that Pro-Q is MUCH better for this… but…. meah…

Tip 9: A/B

I love exploiting A/B modes whenever I’m designing a patch from scratch.

Most people use the ‘B’ mode to test changes they’ve made to A, so they don’t lose their original settings.

This works…. but I like to use this mode to smash two drastically different patches together. Again, Saturn’s smart-interpolation technology makes rapidly switching between A & B sound much smoother.

So make a patch in A, switch to B, make another different patch, and then combo smash them together when resampling for a cool result! Note that the combo smash tends to sound better with Hi-quality/oversampling enabled.

If anyone can figure out how to get the A/B switch to be triggered via midi messages … let me know. I’ve got a midiFighter on my desk, and I just want to mash arcade buttons all day long.

Tip 10: Dynamics and Feedbacks, in concert

I’ve noticed a very interesting synergistic relationship between the dynamics and feedback module of each distortion unit in Saturn. What they do is different depending on which distortion module is selected, but here’s what the manual says:

“The Feedback Amount knob sets the level of feedback for the band, which feds the processed audio back into the input of

the band. The Feedback Frequency knob sets the ringing frequency of the feedback loop.

You can simply compare this to the distance of a microphone which picks up the signal of an amplifier that outputs its own signal: the closer the mic gets to the speaker, the higher the ringing frequency.

The Dynamics knob can be used to either gate or compress the band signal. Turning the knob to the right will add heavily pumping compression, while turning the knob to the left will introduce great all-purpose gating/expansion.”

Trippy but cool.

One useful application here is to make a macro knob which decreases dynamics while increasing feedback (or vice-versa, however you like to thing about it!) To use FabFilters analogy, we are expanding as we lower feedback and compressing as we expand it.

I find this to be effective mostly when using single band patches, but it also can be cool with multi-band patches, though you’ll probably want to map the feedback/dynamics of each band to its own knob … remember that you can mute and solo individual bands when creating these mappings!

That’s all I have for you today! I hope you’ve found some of these tips useful in your own workflow!

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This article and tutorial video were made by AK.

Follow AK’s YouTube channel here.

Visit his website here.