Air is the term often used by mix engineers when they want to add some sparkle, scheen, clarity, shimmer, shine or focus to their tracks, mixes or masters. Applying a just smidgen of top end brilliance often goes quite a long way in realising the full tonal potential of a mix. If too much air is applied a mix can sound tinny and brittle which is typically referred to as sounding “harsh” or “fatiguing”. On the flip side, mixes without enough top end ear candy sound boxy and muddy.
In this article we feature a number of top plug-ins that we love using for sweetening tracks, mixes or masters. Many of these plug-ins are based on analog concepts or circuitry which tend to provide the sweetest of results. Of course air can be injected into any track or mix by use of a DAW stock plug-in, problem is though that stock plug-ins don’t typically impart a sense of character or vibe when sweetening the tone of something. The tools in this list not only make it easy for you to add a layer of sheen to your mixes, you also get a depth of musicality as these tools have been lovingly developed to avoid the listeners of our music from bleeding from the ears.
If your budget is tight and cannot afford any of these plug-ins then fear not, we’ll start the list off with a freebie…
Slate Digital Revival - Free Plug-in
Revival is one of many amazing sounding analog inspired modules for Slate’s Virtual Mix Rack named VMR for short. VMR is also available for free, along with a handful of other free modules that you can download and take advantage of. Revival has two controls, Shimmer and Thickness. No prizes for guessing what these controls do! Shimmer does exactly what it says on the tin. Twist in a small amount and you’ll achieve a beautiful touch of air, push the control further and the magic just keeps on coming. This plug-in works wonders on drum sum mixes and vocal tracks. Revival seem to not only provide quick and easy access to air but it seems to not provoke harshness or brittleness in the process. We like Revival, you should too.
Plug-in Alliance Maag EQ4
Maag produces an amazing range of analog EQ outboard gear, all of which features a signature yellow dial for adjusting the top end. This is Maag’s speciality, it’s called the AIR Band but what makes this dial so special? Take a closer look at the image of the plug-in… The AIR band reaches 40 kHz, well beyond the range of human hearing. If my pet dog were a mix engineer she would be all over this plug-in. The shape of each of the EQ bell curves in Maag gear are what make this such musical sounding tool in any mixing application. If we use the AIR band and set it to 40kHz we’re not dialling in that frequency alone, we’re actually including all the other airy frequencies that make up the bell curve up to the tip of the 40kHz. It’s a sweet plug-in… for sweetening.
Waves Scheps Parallel Particles
There are quite a lot of plug-ins by Waves that are brilliant at adding the air to a mix. Honourable mentions include Abbey Road TG Master Chain, both SSL channels and CLA MixDown. We had to pick the best Waves plug-in otherwise this list would be all Waves plug-ins and little else. Scheps Parallel Particles is the brainchild of mixing fanatic Andrew Scheps. He knows a thing or two about mixing, especially when parallel processing is concerned which this plug-in is completely based on. The air control in this is not like traditional air controls that you find in other EQ plug-ins. Boosting the top end in most EQ plug-ins can exaggerate unwanted noise or artefacts, the air control in this plug-in magically gets around this issue by synthesising the top end from existing lower frequency material, very smart.
Visit Waves for more info on Parallel Particles.
Softube Abbey Road Studios Brilliance Pack
Unlike the plug-ins we’ve already mentioned in this list Softube’s Abbey Road Studios Brilliance pack is a bundle of tools which all only focus on the business of applying top end. Softube modelled the RS127 Rack, RS127 Box, and RS135 which all deliver the sound of real passive analog circuitry wrapped in a UI that couldn’t be simpler to use. In terms of sound, these plug-ins don’t exaggerate harshness. Each model has it’s own characteristic and vibe that can easily shape the tone of a good sounding recording into a brilliant sounding masterpiece.
Visit Softube for more information on The Brilliance Pack.
Universal Audio BAX?
The BAX Eq is based on the Baxandall design which made its way in to nearly every home stereo and Hi Fi as the ubiquitous bass and treble tone controls we’ve all used at some point. The Baxandall EQ design has been so successful because it is so benign. Its not very flexible but its very difficult to do much harm to the audio with it. Because of this it’s very suitable for consumer use but for much the same reasons this broad brush, do no harm EQ is very suitable for mix bus and mastering applications.
Visit Universal Audio for more information.
IK Multimedia EQ 432
The EQ 432 by IK Multimedia is a bit of a an unsung hero. Based on a Sontech 432 from time gone by this plug-in is all about producing absolute transparency when subtle EQ is concerned. At times the UI can be a bit fiddly to use but the amazing sonic results this produces more than make up for that small user niggle. It’s utterly transparent and always manages to add that sheen to music through it’s simple to set EQ without resulting masters sounding overly harsh or overdone.
Visit IK Multimedia for more information.
Process Audio - Sugar
Sugar is a really interesting plug-in from a new company set up by people who understand mixing. It offers just the right balance between control and simplicity and at the top end it offers two modes, one is a sweet EQ which gives just the kind of top end lift we’re discussing. The other uses functions as an exciter, adding harmonic density allowing additional top end to be created which didn’t exist before.
Discover more on Sugar.
Kush Audio Clariphonic DSP
The Clariphonic DSP from Kush Audio is an interesting character EQ which offers broad, boost-only EQ in the mid and high bands. It offers a flattering sheen which brightens material without sounding harsh. It’s very difficult to make things sound bad with this EQ and its unusual parallel EQ design makes it fundamentally different to most standard EQs.
Visit Kush Audio for more information
This is list by no means the complete and definitive list of EQ plug-ins that excel at adding top end air in a mix. If there’s a plug-in or two you use that we have not mentioned then please do let us know what they are and why you love them in the comments below.