Taming the bass the 1176 way

Mixing a bass guitar into a musically dense track can be tricky business. Human hearing is focused primarily on the mid-range frequencies, generally between 2kHz to 5kHz, and not so much the low end. Since the bulk of a bass guitar’s harmonic content is well below this range, most of the note definition comes directly from the initial attack. This makes compression a potential tone killer if used with too fast of an attack time. On the other hand, too slow of an attack can leave large transients tearing up your mix. In order to keep the bass frequencies perceivable in the mix, it also takes significantly more volume down there and can eat up quite a bit of dynamic headroom for the whole mix. The equal loudness contours graph to the right shows the relation of sound pressure levels needed across the bandwidth of human hearing that’s required for equal perceived volume.

One solution that can save you some mix headroom it to add more harmonic information via saturation/distortion/exciters. These methods can add higher order harmonics, making the bass more pronounced, but may alter the tone too much, depending on what you’re going for. So how to sit a bass naturally into a mix without sucking all the life out of it or compromising the tone too much?

 I generally mix loud rock/metal stuff, and I struggled with this for years, trying to find a balance between compression, eq, and istortion and it was hit or miss at best. Then I discovered 1176LN fast FET style compression. Introduced in 1968, the UREI 1176 was the first true peak limiter, with attack times as fast as 20 microseconds and compression ratios up to 20:1. With these insanely fast attack times and ratios, the compressor can kick in so fast that it actually grabs the bass transients and distorts then for a fraction of second, keeping the dynamics in check but still accentuating the note attack. It’s the benefits of compression and distortion all rolled into one, but when dialed in right, keeps the original tone intact. Yay!

And, thank goodness, there’s a bunch of software alternatives to the expensive hardware original. There’s even a few decent free emulations. The one that I use is the Antress Seventh Sign available here. (http://antress.blogspot.com/) It comes as a Windows 32bit VST and has about a half a dozen presets to start with and tweak from. There’s actually a lot of great plugins on this site, many based on classic pieces of gear, and they all come in one giant zip file, so there lots of free stuff to play with.

Setting the attack and release fairly fast, but not too fast, with a ratio of 4 or 8 is usually a pretty good starting place. You can then drive up the input to the the gain reduction up to where you want it. At the end of the ration knob, there’s a CR setting. The CR stands for crush mode and sets the compressor to all of the ratios simultaneously. It may sound like a strange concept, but it can have a nice effect in some cases.  It work great on vocals, too.  You can push the compressor pretty hard and still have it sound pretty good. This one is a staple in my bass processing chains.


~ by poundtownsound on June 11, 2012.

One Response to “Taming the bass the 1176 way”

  1. Cool I use my line-6 VST’s a lot with Reaper, but I always look for these receommended plugins!

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