Mixing with Saturation: 6 Great Ways to Improve the Mix!

Mixing with Saturation


Does any of these conditions ring a bell: Have your mixes ever sounded a bit lifeless and skinny in comparison with the commercial pro mixes on the market, although you probably did an exceptionally wonderful job with mixing?

Have your individual sounds ever sounded lifeless and kind of spiky? They’re not pleasing to the ears and irrespective of how exhausting you EQ, you possibly can’t appear to suit them in the mix.

Each of those conditions applies to me before we discovered saturation in mixing and in sound design.

With saturation, you’ll be able to create wonders with only one plugin. How superior is that? Many say it’s the lacking ingredient from mixes. Saturation creates imperfection, however sarcastically that’s what everyone’s searching for.

In this post, you’ll discover a piece of quick information about saturation, methods of how saturation in mixing can enhance your songs, and methods to use saturation successfully.

Saturation gives you some of that analog heat and musicality that folks talk about. It tames the peaks and transients musically and at a similar time delivers character and color, that’s actually hard (if not impossible) to attain any other way.

Saturation could be utilized for everything from individual tracks to mix bus, it has its place in sound design (like once you’re crafting synth sounds) and mixing. Like with everything else within the mixing world: be gentle, a bit goes a long way.

Nonetheless, it’s not the holy grail to mixing, it’s not going to repair a foul-sounding mix. Saturation is going to boost your in any other case good and balanced mix, which can take your mix to the subsequent stage.

It’s that little notch of additional glue, heat, punch, fullness, depth, character, and color that your mixes have been lacking.

What is the Saturation in Music?

The saturation is the essence of what makes analog hardware sound musical and pleasing. Driving sounds via tape, tubes, transistors, and circuits have long been a vital ingredient in great-sounding mixes.

Saturation is a delicate type of distortion that provides pleasant-sounding harmonics. The effect originates from the analog days when audio recordings ran by varied pieces of hardware gear.

Mix engineers found they might overload magnetic tape machines, tube amps, and transistor-based preamps to create a kind of “soft-clipping.” This method gave recordings sought-after qualities that sounded pleasing.

With that being said, we will sum down the most used types of saturation: tape saturation, tube saturation, and transistor saturation. This also has a slight chance to increase the perceived loudness of the track you are working on.

To this present day, artists and engineers use saturation to add presence, character, warmth, edge, cohesion, and more. From delicate to excessive, saturation is an integral part of wonderful mixes.

Below in this article, we will present 6 ways for mixing with a process called saturation.

soft and hard clipping

1. Make Your Basslines Extra Audible

Many basslines that were synthesized are constructed off of a sine wave. Whereas this creates a low-end that’s big, full, and round, your bassline might lack higher harmonic content material.

The reason upper harmonics are essential is that they are often heard on smaller playback units like cell phones and laptops. Your mind is able to use these higher harmonics to create a phantom basic frequency that will not be audible on the audio system you are listening to.

Soundtoys’ Decapitator plugin is my go-to alternative for including higher harmonics to basslines. It permits you to apply 5 totally different types of processing, every with its distinctive character.

The iconic “Punish” button will allow you to utterly mangle your basslines, which is an enjoyable additional function.

This might be one of the best saturation plugins out there, so do not hesitate to try it out. Also, will definitely take your music production to a whole new level.

decapitator by sound toys

2. Always be aware of the gain staging

Saturation is a tough one to get right. One time I made the error of including an excessive amount of tape saturation on the master fader. In a certain part of the music, where the vocals were the loudest recorded, they were too hot.

I didn’t notice my mistake until I had it pointed out by the lead singer. After we listened again to the new vocal track it distorted in an identical place?!? Seems the high notes she was singing in these components have been peaking the tape plug-in on the master fader inflicting the vocals to distort.

It was a really dumb moment! However, fortunately, I noticed what was happening and I’ve since developed a really suspicious relationship while using the saturation.

Ultimately, I learned from my mistake, and I’ll, fortunately, confess it so that you just don’t have to make the same one.

So the bottom line will be to learn when and how much to use saturation and always do it carefully. Because as with everything; if you overdo it, you will probably ruin the signal and that is your loss.

3. Efficient on vocals as well  

You might assume that saturation has no place in the therapy of the vocals. Nevertheless, ensure that vocals can shine after being rigorously processed by saturation.

By putting the tape or tube saturation effect on the vocal recording and rising the drive parameter, you’ll immediately hear how the vocal sounds ”fuller”. Furthermore, yet another helpful aspect will happen.

Harsh sounds within the vocal recording like “S” and “C” can be softened and therefore sound extra nice to the ear.

There is no vocal recording that we had in our studio that we didn’t try saturation over. Of course, we try different types of saturation to see which will give the best outcome.

But ultimately, we always ended up using the Twin Tube plugin by Plugin Alliance which is an emulation of the SPL model of this unit. Never failed and we swear by it when we want to use saturation on vocals.

It is a sweet tube saturation that rounds up the vocal and somehow sums the frequency response into a nice complete line.

twin tube by spl - tube saturation plugin

4. Always Experiment

It may be simple to get carried away with methods like saturation application, and it is essential to not overdo it in your mix. Deal with using saturation each on dry components and on group and bus stages to assist develop harmonic interlacing.

Attempting completely different saturation sources and emulations throughout a large spectrum may even offer you extra fascinating outcomes.

For example, strive using tape on drums, tube on voice, and transformer or transistors on synths all of which might bring one thing exciting to the project.

After you do that, you’ll be able to always try and glue all of it again together with one principal choice of character or tone corresponding to a VCA compressor on the mix bus or another type of mild saturation in the compression stage.

Every alternative of saturation and where you put within the chain and on what components before bringing all of them again along with summing/gluing saturation methods may be key in bringing extra analog qualities to your project while still remaining in-the-box.

There are infinite prospects to achieve unique, cool, and really analog-sounding mixes created from your laptop computer at home, and saturation is only one of many instruments you’ll be able to employ to help you find your distinct sound.

j37 by waves - tape saturation plugin

5. Heating Up Synth Lines

One other good way of using saturation plug-ins is to deal with synth sequences. Virtual analog devices may be introduced slightly closer to the true thing and most sounds can be given an extra upfront, edgy quality.

One of the plugins we like to use on synths is the SPL ‘Twin tube’ saturation plug-in. The sounds that come out of this plug-in are actually wonderful and you would be convinced you’re listening to hardware. We’ve barely used the harmonics parameter and have merely dialed in a good quantity of saturation.

The end result’s a fuzzy, loud synth loop with a retro feel. That is what most synth lovers attempt for and it’s one thing that’s typically tough to achieve with gentle synths alone.

Besides the saturation, here some parallel distortion might work as well. Pretty similar to the tape saturation, you can apply some overdrive distortion via the FX channel and add some more grit to your synth. This will add order harmonies to the signal and make it fuller as well.

6. Tame Top-End Harshness

Saturators assist you to tame top-end harshness and might come to the rescue when working with scorching cymbals, vocals, and guitars.

The frequency range through which harshness tends to present itself is around 6,000-8,000 Hz. You possibly can either use a multiband saturator to focus on this frequency range, or a broadband tape saturator, like Waves’ Kramer Tape, to heat your input signal and likewise take care of harshness.

It’s typically simpler to cope with harshness using a saturator than it’s using a multiband compressor or dynamic EQ. The distortion a saturator applies can mask piercing frequencies, which is a solution different than frequency attenuation.

Sometimes it is better to use some saturation plugins instead of EQ to try and attack the same problem. A touch of tape or transistor saturation can ease down the top end and make the harsh frequencies much smoother for the listener.

By doing this, you will solve your harsh problem and also add some coloring to your track that wasn’t there before. Besides the saturation plugins, it will be better if you actually have some saturation hardware units to use for more authentic outcomes. But nowadays, the plugins do a similar job and are much more budget-friendly.

berzerk by waves


Saturation is a superb effect that evokes the sense of basic recordings and recording technology.  What was typically thought of as a source of frustration for early engineers (as they have been annoyed with how they couldn’t obtain the cleanest signal potential) has become a wanted sound within the period of digital recording.

Using saturation was typically an explanation for frustration for early engineers, however, at the moment, it’s a wanted and desired sound.

Saturation may be achieved both in a digital system with analog emulation plugins, or in an analog system by saturating electrical elements. 

However, you choose to saturate your signal, understanding the processing that’s occurring throughout saturation, and figuring out one of the best purposes for it should ultimately result in it being carried out extra effectively.

So here we subtly mentioned a bunch of saturation plugins that you can try over your signal and we encourage you to try them all if you can. Each of them can be used on many different occasions.

So that was it for using saturation on your mix – now go try what you’ve learned new here! Thanks for reading our article!


Nikoloski is the founder and main content writer and editor of Mixing Tips. With his experience in audio engineering, mixing, and mastering for over 15 years, will provide hands-on experience and expertise in all the matters covered on this website.

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