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When it comes to producing crystal-clear vocal tracks, one tool is particularly crucial: the de-esser. For many audio enthusiasts, the question arises, “What is a de-esser?” At its core, a de-esser is a dynamic processor aimed at reducing or eliminating harsh sibilance, the hissing or shushing sounds (s, sh, and ch sounds) often emphasized in vocal recordings. This article will guide you through the essentials of using a de-esser, ensuring your vocal tracks are pristine and pleasing to the ear.

Understanding De-essers

What Is a De-esser?

A de-esser operates by selectively compressing sibilant frequencies within a vocal track. The primary goal is to address excessive sibilance, which can cause distortion or a piercing quality in recorded vocals, making the overall sound less appealing.

The Role in Vocal Recordings

In vocal recordings, clarity and quality are paramount. A de-esser meticulously reduces sibilant sounds, thereby improving the vocal sound without affecting the texture and timbre of the human voice. This balance is essential in both solo vocal tracks and within a broader vocal chain in mixes.

FunctionDe-essers are dynamic processors designed to reduce or eliminate harsh sibilant frequencies in audio.
Targeted FrequenciesThey primarily address frequencies typically found in sibilant sounds, often in the range of 2 kHz to 10 kHz.
ApplicationDe-essers are commonly used in vocal recordings to improve clarity and quality by reducing sibilance.
Types– Plugin de-essers: Integrated within audio software, offering user-friendly controls and presets.
– Split-band de-essers: Target specific frequency ranges to preserve natural sound.
– Dynamic equalizers: Provide flexible control over frequency bands for precise de-essing.
BenefitsEffective in maintaining natural vocal timbre while reducing sibilance, enhancing overall audio quality.
Usage Beyond VocalsCan also be applied to other instruments like electric guitars to tame harsh frequencies.

The Science Behind Sibilant Frequencies

Identifying Sibilant Sounds

Sibilant sounds are prevalent in the English language and can be overly prominent in vocal tracks due to microphone techniques or the natural emphasis of the human voice. These harsh frequencies typically lie in the frequency range of 2 kHz to 10 kHz.

Frequency Range Matters

Understanding the frequency range is crucial when applying de-essing, as targeting the wrong frequency band can lead to an unnatural sounding vocal. The ability to pinpoint the problematic frequencies is what makes a de-esser so valuable in audio production.

man playing synthesizer

Types of De-essers

De-esser Plugin

Many audio production software packages include a de-esser plugin, which provides a user-friendly interface for reducing sibilance. Plugins are a go-to for both beginners and professionals for their convenience and advanced features.

Split-band De-esser

A split-band de-esser only compresses the frequency range where sibilance occurs, leaving the rest of the audio signal untouched. This method provides a more natural vocal sound by preserving the integrity of the non-sibilant frequencies.

Dynamic Equalizer

Somewhat akin to a de-esser, a dynamic equalizer can be used to reduce harsh sibilance. With its ability to adjust the level of specified frequency bands dynamically, it offers a more customizable approach to de-essing.

Plugin De-essers– Integrated within audio software as plugins.
– Offer user-friendly interfaces with controls for threshold, frequency range, and reduction amount.
Split-band De-essers– Target specific frequency ranges where sibilance occurs.
– Preserve non-sibilant frequencies for a more natural sound.
Dynamic Equalizers– Function similarly to de-essers by dynamically adjusting specified frequency bands.
– Provide more customizable control over frequency reduction.
Manual De-essing– Involves using tools like parametric equalizers or multiband compressors for precise frequency reduction.
– Offers maximum control but requires expertise.

The Impact of De-essing in Audio Production

Vocal Production

In vocal production, de-essing is a critical step to ensure clarity and quality. Applying de-essing tastefully can elevate a vocal track from amateur to professional by removing distractions from harsh sibilance.

Beyond Vocals: Electric Guitars and More

Although primarily used on vocal tracks, de-essers can also be applied to other instruments like electric guitars to tame harsh frequencies. The versatility of de-essers extends their use beyond vocal sibilance, demonstrating their importance in the overall audio production process.

music producer at the mixer

Step-by-Step Guide to Using a De-esser

Adjusting the Center Frequency

Identify the center frequency where most of the sibilant sounds reside. Adjusting this frequency allows the de-esser to target the problematic frequencies effectively.

Setting the Frequency Band

Determine the range of frequencies around the center frequency to be affected. A narrow band will target the sibilance more precisely, while a broader band may affect a larger part of the audio signal.

Manual vs. Automatic De-essing

While automatic de-essers are user-friendly and suitable for beginners, manual de-essing offers more control. Manual de-essing involves using an equalizer or dynamic equalizer to curb sibilance manually—preferred by professionals for its precision.

How to De-ess Vocals

How to De-ess Vocals

Real-world Application: Music Production Courses

In music production courses, learning how to use a de-esser effectively is a fundamental skill. These courses often cover techniques for identifying excessive sibilance, choosing the right de-esser, and applying it to achieve professional-sounding vocal tracks.


Understanding and utilizing a de-esser is vital for anyone involved in vocal recordings or audio production. Whether you’re dealing with vocal sibilance or harsh frequencies from instruments, a de-esser can make a significant difference in the clarity and quality of your audio tracks.

Now that you’ve navigated the intricacies of de-essing, it’s time to put your knowledge into practice. Explore the tools available in your audio production software, experiment with different types of de-essers, and refine your vocal tracks to perfection.


What exactly is sibilance in vocal recordings?

Sibilance refers to harsh, hissing sounds produced by certain consonants like ‘s’, ‘sh’, and ‘ch’. In vocal recordings, excessive sibilance can be distracting and diminish overall audio quality.

How do I know if my vocal recordings need de-essing?

Listen for exaggerated ‘s’ sounds or a piercing quality in vocals. If these are prominent, especially in higher frequencies (2 kHz to 10 kHz), your recordings could benefit from de-essing to achieve a smoother, more professional sound.

Are de-essers only useful for vocals?

No, de-essers can also be applied to instruments like electric guitars to tame harsh frequencies. Their dynamic processing capability makes them versatile tools for managing excessive high-frequency content in various audio sources.

Can I use a de-esser plugin effectively if I’m new to audio production?

Yes, de-esser plugins are designed with user-friendly interfaces and presets, making them accessible for beginners. Start with automatic settings and adjust as needed to reduce sibilance and enhance the clarity of your vocal tracks.

What’s the difference between manual and automatic de-essing?

Automatic de-essing is convenient and ideal for quick fixes, while manual de-essing offers more control. Manual methods involve adjusting frequency bands using equalizers or dynamic equalizers to target specific sibilant frequencies with precision, favored by experienced audio professionals for nuanced adjustments.