Audio / Features

Things We Love: The FabFilter Pro Bundle

0Share

In the summer of 2015, I was given the opportunity to teach a bunch of kids how to write, perform, and ultimately produce their own songs. Some of the kids had never sung into a microphone. Others were pros on the writing side, but had no idea how to produce. There we all stood, together in a summer camp, all reaching toward one goal: A mixed, mastered album of their material by the end of the summer. The stakes were high, because their parents had paid thousands of dollars for the experience.

FabFilter Pro Bundle

The studio boasted perfectly adequate gear and a treated room—though the buggy, obsolete Mac didn’t help, and neither did their life-draining Digidesign 003 interface. So, when it came time to mix, I needed something practical to make it all happen, especially since I had 72 hours to mix and master the final product.

Luckily, I had made sure the camp had just the right tools for the job: the FabFilter Pro Bundle, a desert-island pick with EQ, compression, multiband compression, de-essing, gating, and a killer limiter to top it all off. Let me walk you through my favorites in the suite, starting with the EQ.

When the Pro-Q first came out, I wasn’t alone in being astounded. Gone was the idea that you had to do everything in six bands—or instantiate another CPU-heavy plug if six wasn’t enough. Gone, too, was the idea that your bands any limitations—that the third one only operated between 500 Hz and 1.5 kHz, or the first one was only a low-shelf. Fabfilter set up a style where you click in the band wherever you want and decide what kind of curve you’re using. The plug-in technically offers 24 completely assignable bands, but it feels limitless. And the sound? Transparent as can be. For surgical applications, I have found nothing else I’d rather use. It often sits first in the chain, taking out everything I don’t want and boosting what I’d like to hear before adding compression. Sometimes I reach for a character EQ afterwards, but the Fabfilter handles all my surgical needs. Even in situations where a character EQ isn’t available (such as at the summer camp), I can put in silky, airy high-shelves or sub-harmonic emphasis with this EQ.

FabFilter Pro-Q2

Then there’s its analyzer, which is assignable to pre-EQ , post-EQ, or a combination—and comprises an excellent teaching tool if you don’t yet recognize frequencies by ear. You can change the EQ’s behavior from Linear Phase to Zero Latency to a unique nature phase mode, making it suitable for mastering and mixing. Really, there are too many virtues to highlight all of them here. Try it out for yourself and see. 

Coming in right behind the EQ in my druthers are two dynamics processors. Strangely, neither of them is the actual compressor—it’s fine, but for compression I pull up other plugs because I already know how they work, and I only have so much space in my brain. But their Pro-DS de-esser and their Pro-MB multiband compressor/expander find their way onto every mix I do.

De-essing is always a frustrating process for me, and I’ve tried a lot of different methods/plug-ins. Often, I can’t get good results unless I go through the tedious process of grabbing every sssss sound in the vocal and pulling down the clip gain before hitting plug-ins. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to do this at the summer camp, but you know what worked almost as well as manual de-essing? Using Pro-DS in wideband mode to pull down the sibilance. To my ears, in any mode you choose, this is the most natural-sounding plug-in for sibilance control on the market. And the presets in the plug are quite useful, which you won’t hear me say often.

FabFilter Pro-DS

Even on other instruments, this bad boy shines, taming guitar resonances and harsh cymbals. And yes, even in mastering, this plug-in gets used.

Now, the first thing I always do when I’m asked to master a song is refer the client to someone better, someone like Sonic Scoop’s Justin Colletti, New York City’s Fred Kevorkian, or my good buddy Rich Morales, who’s done excellent work for Sia, among others. But sometimes that’s not an option. And sometimes, when mastering, one simply must tame a harsh vocal; pulling up the mastering preset in this plug and tweaking from there is a great way to move forward.

Onto to the multiband, the Pro-MB, which I put through its paces on a regular basis. I’m not the biggest multiband fan—I respect people who make it work, but I’ve never liked traditional multiband plugs and hardware because I often end up killing the vibrancy of my sound. Then I stumbled upon the Pro-MB, and I finally got it.

FabFilter Pro-MB

For me, it’s more like a dynamic EQ than a traditional multiband compressor, but you can use it however you’d like. My favorite usage? Taming low-mids, especially on vocals, when an EQ just won’t do the job. Have you ever found your vocal part or instrument sounds boxy—but EQ makes it somehow lifeless? That’s because you might need a little bit of that warm sound to exist in the transient before the frequency in question dies down. I suggest you try this plug-in on the band giving you trouble (like the EQ, you click the bands in however you’d like), and set the attack time to allow the transient to come through a bit. This way, a tubby guitar still has all the impact of 200 to 300 Hz, with much less of the tubbiness. I think you’ll find you’re closer to getting what you want to hear.

But really, that’s the least of it—there’s so much you can do. With the Pro-MB’s sidechain input, you can intuitively tame specific frequency bands in response to an outside signal. So rather than ducking the volume of your music buss to accommodate your vocals, you can subtly duck between 800 and 2000 Hz of the music buss to let the vocals come through a little more. When used right, it’s barely noticeable, and makes all the difference.

Man, we’re running out of space and we haven’t even gotten to the epic mid/side capabilities of all these plugs—or the EQ matching! Or the gate! And the limiter!

Okay, quickly: The M/S aspects of these plugins can help you achieve stereophonic results rivaling the Waves S1 or DrMS by Mathew Lane (and don’t get me wrong, I love those plugs). The EQ matching can help you take disparately recorded vocals and make them work together (super useful for post-production sound design), or get closer to the master you’re referencing. The gate? No room to talk about it here, but it’s the first one I reach for. And the limiter? On a recent web series I did, the Pro-L was on the stereo buss all the time—the limiter can be that transparent and that instantaneous. On music, it sounds great on acoustic tracks and EDM alike.

FabFilter Pro-L

I think I’ve made my enthusiasm clear: if you can only afford one bundle of software for mixing purposes, this would be the one I’d go with. This is my desert-island pick—my valentine.

Items discussed in article

Close

Close

Close