Enhancing the Vocals – Exciter and Saturator Show down

Hey folks, and welcome to another edition of, uh, splitting hairs. Ha, but it must be done. You know, for art and shit like that.

So, what’s today about? Today is about the great and powerful Cody Copeland.  Well, a lot of my time is about him lately.  I’m mixing Cody’s upcoming ep and I’d say we’ve just about settled on the overall sound of the record.  That said, we had to do some work to get here.  And lately, me in particular.

I need to make sure Cody’s vocals move and flow.  Breathing steadily.  But, with life behind them.  That’s what I want.

And well, we’ll do the best we can with what we have.  I recorded Cody through a GrooveTube GT57.  This is my large diaphragm condenser.  My only one – so I do all my vocals on this.  Now, if you remember two posts ago, I did try the Rode NT5’s on Marlena and got good results.  For Cody, I’m not so sure.  I actually would prefer to record him on something like the Shure SM7B – he’s got a really powerful voice and I think a dynamic mic would give him a little more expressive freedom than we’d have with either of my condensers.

That said, he was also recorded through the Neve preamp plugin on my apollo.  Pretty standard for how I record voices. So I got what I got, and I wanted to see where I could go.

Enhancing the Vocals

Okay, this is our starting point:

Take a listen.  That’s clean – nothing but microphone, pre-amp, and well, Cody.  After some work on this I was feeling like I wasn’t quite getting where I wanted to go with EQ.  I played with compression too, but overall I felt I was losing too much expressiveness.  Ultimately, I realized I wanted to conduct and experiment.  That experiment would be to see where I could take this vocals with saturation, and with an exciter.

Since I haven’t really run through these plugins en mass, I’ve really only had experience with a couple.  I’ve used em plenty of times, and I do like them – but I wonder how they stack up in a A/B/C style comparison.  Maybe I’ll find something I like better?  Maybe.  And it’s worth a little work to figure that out.

The Spread

Alright, I did some research, and decided I would play with these exciters.  Why?  I dunno, someone on gear slutz said it was cool.

And here are the saturators I decided I would play with (a few of these fall into the tape emulator category, but they saturate when driven):

It turns out when you try one sound toys you try them all. Heh.  I’ve always been sort of curious about soundtoys.  When I was in school, these plugins were exhaulted as some sorta awesome new way of doing cool shit.  Or something.  I don’t fully remember where I got the idea, but I never had the capital to bother truly considering them.  However, now I could have one if I wanted – time to give these plugs a chance.

I should also note – I own the Studer plugin.  I use it all the time.  I actually was looking for a saturation to go on top of that studer.  But I figured it’d be a good chance to compare it directly.  And, with the Satin also being a tape emulator, there’s a little interesting direct comparison that can take place.  Mmm, tape saturation.

The Sound – Exciters

Okay, so I should add – I’m not doing a formal review of these exciters.  You know, the thing where I analyze every inch of the processor.  Push the process to it’s limits.  Scream at it, and shake it violently like I do babies.  All that stuff – yea, not going to do it.

Not even close to that.  I’m going to do this:  Put the process on the vocals.  Fuck with some presets.  Tweak some knobs, and just get a feel for the sound of the thing.  I’ve got a lot of devices to do, so only a few minutes on each one.

Here are the sounds.

The Clean:

Waves Vintage Aphex Exciter

UAD SPL Vitalizer

Ozone 5 Exciter

Make your own judgement, I’ll share mine below.

The Sound – Saturators


Studer A800

Brainworx Saturator

UAD Brainworx Saturator

Uhe Satin

Soundtoys DevilLoc

Soundstoys Decapitator


Again, listen to them all.  Make your judgements.  I think I see use-cases more than I see better and worse with this line up.


Okay, we made it.  That was a lot of stuff to compare.  More work for me, than for you, I guess.  Regardless, the results?

On the exciting exciters front, I like them all.  They definitely each have their own thing.  Because I’m cheap, and I already own Ozone Advanced, and I did like the results I got with said plug-in, I went with that one on the track.

Saturators were interesting.  I just don’t really like the DevilLoc or the Decapitator.  They sound kinda cheap, I dunno.  Sorry soundtoys guys, nothing personal.  The Brainworx Saturators, both of them were really in your face.  I could see that for a different genre of music, or a generally ‘heavier’  sound.  This track needs something more gentle, my long time favorite of the A800 works well and adds a little grit when pushed.  I think the Uhe Satin would be a good choice here too, but not if it’s gonna cost me money.  Studer A800 it is.

What would you choose and why?