We’ve all had that moment when we feel like an element of a track just needs a little more oompf at the bottom end but for some reason just turning up the bass isn’t working. There can be lots of reasons why just turning it up isn’t getting the results you want. Here are eight, very different, solutions.
The Pultec EQ Trick
It might be that you’re misinterpreting what the right EQ move is to get the results you’re after. EQ, like anything else takes experience to use properly. Of course we’re all learning all the time but why not fall back on a tried and tested solution. If you have a Pultec EQ plug-in then try a simultaneous boost and cut in the bass.
You’d think they’d cancel out but they don’t. Instead it clears out the top of the bass and dials in lots and lots of the really deep stuff. This has been on more kick drums than any of us will ever know so why not give it a try?
bx_subfilter from Brainworx is another potential tool to help you track down your missing bass, and best of all its free if you sign up for the Plugin Alliance newsletter. It’s a resonant high pass filter. A high pass filter removes low end, which sounds like the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve but this is a sensible move if the issue is that you have plenty of bass but it’s in the wrong place.
By removing the very deep bass and using the resonance control to emphasise the bass just above the frequency at which the filter starts to cut the low end you might find the low end you were missing. The filter in bx_subfilter is a sixth order filter, which is steep, with three switchable levels of emphasis available. If you need more control we’re big fans of the McDSP F202 which is a resonant high/low pass filter plugin which offers much more control.
This resonant high pass technique achieves the opposite of the Pultec trick in that it clears out the deep bass and emphasises frequencies above that region.
Gated Sub Tone Generator Trick
So far all of these techniques have assumed that the bass you are seeking to emphasise is actually present. Unfortunately it isn’t possible to EQ a frequency which isn’t there but there are some ways you can create extra bass to fill the gap. If we’re talking about a kick drum which is missing bottom end, and very often that is exactly what we are talking about, then this very old trick using a side chained gate and a sub tone can put in that missing bottom end.
The diagram above illustrates how to do it. It’s very effective, the premium tutorial below uses this technique to augment the kick and snare in a drum recording, but it can sound a little artificial if not used carefully as the sub tone’s frequency doesn’t change. Many kick drums have a characteristic pitch drop during their decay.
Metric Halo Thump
If you want more control of your enhanced kick drums then the excellent (and free) Thump from Metric Halo picks up where the sub tone generator technique left off and introduces the pitch envelope missing from the gated signal generator technique. It has two independent oscillators each with its own pitch envelope so you can make some truly huge sounds. Just make sure your monitoring is telling you what is going on down there or you might be in for a surprise when you hear the results on some proper monitoring!
Avid Pro Subharmonic
MH Thump is specifically designed for kick drums but if you need to synthesise some missing low end under more complex material then for Pro Tools users Avid’s Pro Subharmonic is a very capable performer. You can generate that missing sub under pitched parts, effects, dialogue or even whole mixes. One nice feature is the MIDI control capabilities which means that you can generate sub frequencies from a MIDI track rather than an audio input as demonstrated in the free review video below.
The synthesis route, using tools like Thump or Pro Subharmonic, are ideal if you are trying to generate missing frequencies below those already present. What you might need is to generate extra frequencies above the deep sub you already have in the track, making some extra bass to help with the audibility of the really deep stuff you already have. There’s no point in trying to EQ some 100Hz into a 40Hz sine bass, there’s nothing there to boost.
Distortion can be an excellent solution here as it generates additional harmonics and puts some “fur” onto the deep bass making it easier to hear. Avid Lo Fi is very popular for this as is Softube’s Saturation Knob. However if you want some real control over this process then Wave’s Maxbass offers something more sophisticated than just distorting. Aimed at helping the perceived level of bass translate between systems, if you want to make bass information more audible without just eating up headroom by turning it up this might well be the tool you need.
Sound Radix Auto-Align
Sometimes the problem isn’t that you haven’t captured the bass properly, it’s that elements of your mix are fighting each other. Returning to kick drums, though it could just as easily be any other individual instrument, if you have more than one mic and individually they sound fine but you are losing the low end when they are used in combination then they may have a destructive phase relationship with each other.
The giveaway here is that this only happens when the sounds are used together. Many of these issues are easily sorted using the polarity invert button in your DAWs mixer or inserts. The most comprehensive solution is to use Sound Radix’s Auto-Align which can detect and correct for polarity and phase differences between channels carrying different versions of the same instrument.
Sound Radix Pi
While Auto-Align could restore the low frequency to your bass guitar which has been tracked with a DI and a microphone, it can’t help if the bass is getting lost because of cancellations caused by comb filtering between the bass guitar and the kick drum. To make matters worse these kind of issues will probably only occur some of the time because only particular notes on the bass are interfering destructively with a kick drum whose pitch doesn’t change.
There used to be no practical solution to this issue because of its constantly changing nature but Pi from Sound Radix is a Dynamic Phase Rotator. What this means is that it can correct the phase relationship between unrelated tracks in a multitrack in a similar way to the results you can get from Auto-Align with multiple tracks of the same instrument.
So it’s clear there are as many ways to find your missing bass as there are reasons why it might be missing in the first place. Thankfully sometimes all you need is to dial in a gentle LF boost using your favourite EQ. What do you do when the bass just isn’t cutting it?