In this guide we’ll take a look at the best de-esser plugin software on the market today. The kind that the pros and semi-pros use.
We’ve looked at as many de-esser plugins as possible and whittled it down to only 5 of the most recommended online by the pros and those who’ve used them, making it much easier to choose.
The rest of this guide will look at these plugins more in-depth and weigh their strengths and their weaknesses.
Let’s take a closer look 🙂
Table of Contents
- What is a De-Esser?
- Essential Features
- How to Choose a Good De-esser
- Best De-Essers – Plugin Overviews
- Final Thoughts
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De-Esser Plugin Buying Guide
What is a De-Esser?
A de-esser is a type of vocal compressor that works to reduce or eliminate the harsh “ess” or “shh” sounds known in the audio world as “sibilance”.
An oftentimes unwanted element in recorded audio, sibilance is commonly heard in vocal tracks, although they may be present in cymbals and/or percussion tracks as well. Sibilance typically falls within the 4Khz to 10Khz range of frequencies, and the effect can be unpleasant and distracting, even at moderate levels. (Learn more about sibilance from Wikipedia.)
De-essers reduce the volume level of sibilance by compressing its specific frequency range. In most cases, excessive sibilance can be reduced by simply defining the range of unwanted frequencies and setting the threshold control to the appropriate setting. However, it may sometimes be necessary to employ equalization and automation in conjunction with de-essing in order to achieve more natural-sounding results.
What Features Should You Look for in a Good De-Esser Plugin?
Among the most important features to have in a de-esser are threshold and release controls.
‘Threshold’ essentially sets the level at which the sibilance will be reduced.
‘Release’ determines how soon the compressor will cease to affect the signal.
It would also be helpful to have a frequency control, which will enable you to specify the range of frequencies to compress. You can read more about the basics of what a compressor is from this post to get a better understanding of some of those features.
How to Choose a De-esser
There are a number of factors to consider when choosing a good de-esser plug-in. For starters, you will want a plug-in that is quick and easy to setup, yet still has enough control for precision tweaking.
A good range of features is also nice to have, although you would have to weigh the possibility of unneeded features getting in the way of simple and straightforward operation.
In any case, it might be prudent to shop for a de-esser plug-in that does more than what your stock DAW compressor and sidechain combination is capable of. Otherwise, you may as well save yourself the trouble, and simply devise your own de-essing chain.
Best DeEsser Plug-Ins – Overviews
From the noted plug-in developer comes the FabFilter Pro-DS, which has a pretty wide range of features and capabilities all wrapped up in a modern visually-attractive package.
Since FabFilter is known for its world-class set of plug-ins that offer precise control and informative visual displays, they’ve pretty much upped the ante with a feature list that includes an intelligent detection algorithm, wide band and linear-phase processing, a 15 millisecond look-ahead option, stereo linking with mid-only or side-only options, and more. With its range of cutting-edge features and sonic transparency, this might just be the only de-esser you will ever need, to be honest.
Specs and useful features
- Two detection settings: “Single Vocal” and “Allround”
- Real-time display
- Adjustable threshold, range and detection, filtering settings
- Program-dependent compression/limiting
- Wide band or linear-phase split band processing
- Optional look-ahead up to 15 milliseconds
- Adjustable stereo linking
- Mid-only or side-only processing
- Up to four times linear-phase oversampling
- Side-chain input meter
- Real-time spectrum analyzer
- GPU-powered graphics acceleration
- High-quality 64-bit internal processing
The FabFilter Pro-DS is frequently praised for being easy to use and having great visual feedback. Many users appreciate its informative and helpful displays, which show you exactly how–and how much–the signal is being processed via real-time waveforms. Many reviewers also mention the precise degree of control possible with the Pro-DS. There’s pretty much no criticism as far as this is concerned.
The Pro-DS is another great addition to the FabFilter line of quality plug-ins. Like the other products in the range, the FabFilter Pro-DS stands out with a user interface that is not only efficient and informative, but visually impressive as well. This is especially so for beginners. The precise degree of control combined with intelligent sibilance detection and total transparency make this one of the best de-esser plugin software that money can buy. Well worth considering even with the somewhat high price tag.
The OxfordSuprEsser is a simple and intuitive solution that gets rid of offending frequencies in vocal tracks and all other types of source audio. It has an extremely focused frequency-conscious compressor, so it can identify and eliminate harsh sibilance to a remarkably precise degree. Also, the ability to operate between 20Hz and 20KHz makes it capable of handling tasks other than rudimentary de-essing. If you’ve solely been reliant on a fixed EQ to get rid of sibilance in your tracks, you will appreciate the more natural results that you can achieve with the SuprEsser.
Specs and useful features
- Linear phase dynamic EQ
- Transparent and accurate frequency control
- Automatic level tracking
- Wet/dry control for quick parallel processing
- Full audio spectrum operation (20Hz – 20KHz)
User impressions of the Oxford SuprEsser tend to be generally favorable, with the most frequently praised feature being the detailed display. The plug-in also gets high marks for being easy to operate, which is all the more impressive considering the many controls available.
Users also praise the SuprEsser’s ability to preserve the quality of the source audio, even with considerable amounts of gain reduction. In fact, one user reported routinely using it on non-vocal tracks in order to get rid of harsh frequencies.
The SuprEsser is a well-equipped and very capable de-esser that offers a precise degree of control. Although not quite as detailed as the FabFilter Pro-DS, the SuprEsser’s display does a good job of providing visual feedback. It is also versatile enough to use in a wide variety of applications, including taming the frequencies of non-vocal tracks. With a lower price tag than the Pro-DS, the SuprEsser is a cost-effective de-esser plug-in that warrants serious consideration.
Are you bored with the typical de-esser? Want something that’s not just for vocals? Well McDSP proudly proclaims the DE555 to be part of the “new generation of de-essing technology.” It has a range of cutting-edge features, transparent sound, and a whole-lota flexibility. Being fully-featured, it still remains simple and easy-to-use. The DE555 utilizes an algorithm called “intelligent signal analysis.” This effectively processes source audio of any level, without the need to adjust the input threshold manually. Controls are also provided for adjusting ratio and release, and there is even a high frequency-only mode that lets you reduce sibilance while leaving the rest of the audio untouched.
Specs and useful features
- Advanced de-essing technology
- Key filter focus and de-essing controls
- Real-time metering
- Key filter response plot
- High frequency only option
- Double precision processing
- Ultra low latency
Flexibility and transparency are among the qualities that endear the DE555 to users. Often used on non-vocal tracks, it has the ability to reduce and eliminate unwanted frequencies without affecting the audio in a noticeable manner. Many users reported being able to use the stock presets without further tweaking, although the precise control in terms of setting parameters and curves also garnered a fair bit of praise.
The Oxford SuprEsser is a noticeably transparent de-esser that effectively gets rid of excessive sibilance in vocal tracks, but it is flexible enough to use on other audio sources as well. Many of the presets can be used ‘as is’ without further editing, but precise control over the various parameters is there if you want. The Oxford SuprEsser is also pretty affordable, making it a good choice to add to your suite of mixing plug-ins.
Waves Renaissance DeEsser
Waves Renaissance DeEsser has been a familiar sight in many professional studios for over a decade, and for good reason. Even with the advent of more advanced and more fully-featured de-esser plug-ins, Renaissance continues to find use as a simple, straightforward, and yet remarkably effective solution for getting rid of harsh sibilance.
Although there are controls for getting the most out of the processor, even the bundled presets can do a good job of cleaning up problem vocal tracks. There are even presets intended specifically for male and female voices, giving you a good starting point for more intensive tweaking.
Specs and useful features
- Designed for recording, mixing, live sound, and broadcast
- Frequency-dependent dynamics
- Adaptive threshold control
- Adjustable gain reduction control
- Phase-compensated crossover
- Audio and side-chain monitoring
- Double precision bit resolution processing
The Waves Renaissance DeEsser is a venerable studio standby that still gets plenty of use today. For many users, this particular plug-in is a more effective de-essing solution than the standard Waves DeEsser. One user was especially in love with the Renaissance’s ability to pinpoint and eliminate problem frequencies, while another praised the inclusion of settings for male and female voices.
Although it has been around for over a decade now, the Waves Renaissance DeEsser is still an effective de-esser that continues to find use in a typical studio setup. Equally suited for recording and mixing as it is for live sound and broadcast, it has all the features you need for basic de-essing applications.
For those with even more basic de-essing requirements, the Waves DeEsser might just have all the features and capabilities that you need. Just as simple and straightforward as the Renaissance de-esser, this one employs a subtle and natural approach to de-essing audio, getting rid of sibilance without thrashing your vocal take. Waves DeEsser is also effective on splashy high-hats and cymbals, gently reducing unwanted frequencies from even the most problematic audio sources.
Specs and useful features
- Sharp side-chain filters
- Selectable wide-band and split compression modes
- Audio or sidechain monitoring
- 24-bit/192kHz resolution
- Mono and stereo components
Users of the Waves DeEsser appreciate the plug-in’s effectiveness in softening harsh sibilance in vocal tracks. Even though it lacks many of the features of its more modern counterparts, it is still a useful and easy to use de-essing tool that is made more attractive by its affordable price tag.
The Waves DeEsser is a pretty basic de-esser that does the job and does it well at more moderate settings. Although many users prefer the Waves Renaissance DeEsser, the standard DeEsser is still worth considering for its simple and straightforward operation, good sound, and low price.
Weiss Deess De-Esser by Softube
Softube’s Weiss Deess De-Esser is a bit-by-bit software reproduction of the legendary Weiss DS1-MK3 hardware unit that has graced many mastering and mixing suites over the years. Like most Softube plug-ins, it has a beautifully-rendered interface that closely models the look of the actual hardware unit.
Although the “faceplate” only has a modest number of controls, Weiss Deess is a versatile and very capable de-esser that handles a varied array of tasks. Whether for cutting out the sibilance in a vocal track, taming an overly bright hi-hat, or reducing harshness on the overall mix, Weiss Deess does the job cleanly and efficiently.
Basic specs and useful features
Most de-essers have only a single band for dealing with sibilance–Weiss Deess has two completely independent ones. This gives Weiss Deess the ability to handle most types of sibilance, most of which occupy more than a single frequency. For situations where most de-esser plug-ins fall short–such as with complex audio material–Weiss Deessor handles the job like a champ.
Weiss Deess also has a handful of filter shape options available. Combined with the precision band-width control, this enables you to treat a very narrow range of the audio, leaving the rest unscathed.
Visual feedback is provided by a large colored display, from which you can see FFT data and filter shapes. There is also a side menu that adds even more options for tweaking the plug-in’s parameters.
Users were pleasantly surprised by the Weiss Deess’ sound quality, which compares favorably with even the most highly-regarded hardware units. The ability to get rid of sibilance without adversely affecting the rest of the signal is especially impressive, making the plug-in ideally-suited for de-essing detailed and complex material.
The plug-in’s intuitive interface also appealed to many users, particularly those that have struggled with overly-complicated units in the past. With the Weiss Deess, it was easy to achieve great results, even with only a few tweaks to the default settings.
The Weiss Deess hides a surprising amount of power in a seemingly simple and straightforward interface. The display is especially helpful, providing immediate visual feedback on the effect of de-essing on the audio signal. A versatile plug-in that adds more functionality to the standard de-esser capabilities.
Waves Sibilance is a step up from the brand’s other de-esser plug-ins, utilizing an innovative technology known as “Organic ReSynthesis”. While other de-esser plug-ins take a somewhat heavy-handed approach to eliminating sibilance, Waves Sibilance works only on unwanted frequencies. The result is exceptionally clear and present audio with the sibilance removed and the original qualities preserved.
Basic specs and useful features
Sibilance makes removal of unwanted “s” and “sh” sounds quick and easy. The Organic ReSynthesis engine targets only these specific frequencies, leaving the rest of the audio information untouched. You could therefore boost the EQ on your vocal tracks to add back some of the brightness, and still get sibilance-free audio without a hint of harshness.
Organic ReSynthesis is what makes Sibilance different from other de-esser plug-ins, many of which simply act as sort of narrow-band compressors. The problem with narrow-band compression is that so much of the desirable signal is often cut out along with the sibilance, resulting in glitch and unnatural sounding audio.
Sibilance neatly avoids this problem by working only on the sibilant sounds. You therefore get all the benefits of a good de-esser, while still retaining the resonance and timbre of the original audio.
Sibilance comes with a fairly modest set of controls, the highlights being the threshold and sensitivity features. Processing is variable from wide to split bands, and there is a helpful sibilance detection graph that lets you see how much processing is required.
Users find Sibilance to be very quick and easy to set up, with noticeable improvement in the quality of the audio immediately. Even with only a few minor adjustments of the threshold and range controls, sibilance is totally removed from the affected track. In fact, Sibilance makes de-essing so easy that many voice actors and singers often do the processing themselves, before sending vocal tracks over to a mix engineer or producer.
Many other users find Sibilance to be a much more effective alternative to the standard de-esser that comes with their DAWs. The intuitive and informative display makes this an even more welcome addition in the studio.
Waves Sibilance is better suited for de-essing individual tracks rather than for processing stems and entire mixes. Nevertheless, it is versatile enough for tracking and mixing duties, and it is pretty easy to get good results.
As far as deesser plug-ins go, you simply can’t do better than the FabFilter Pro-DS. It’s an all-around winner with its combination of features and functionality, sound quality, precise parameter control, and detailed user interface. The Pro-DS is the one to beat, regardless of its price.
Somewhere in the middle are the Oxford SuprEsser and the McDSP DE555, which are both pretty solid performers any way you cut it. The SuprEsser is an especially impressive plug-in that even rivals FabFilter’s Pro-DS in some aspects, and the DE555 is no slouch either. Put simply, you can’t go wrong by going with any one of these two for a broad range of de-essing needs.
Finally, the Waves DeEsser and Waves Renaissance DeEsser still continue to impress despite now being a bit long in the tooth. Although both plug-ins have largely been superseded by more recent releases, they are can still do a good job of ridding your audio of nasty sibilance.
Softube Weiss Deess De-Esser takes a decidedly classy and elegant approach to de-essing, with a simple interface that hides a surprising amount of power and functionality. Like all of Softube’s plug-ins, this one has an attractive interface that gives of the impression of a dependable piece of hardware. The look of the interface doesn’t affect the audio in any way of course, but the eye-catching interface is definitely a nice touch.
Thankfully, the Weiss Deess does sound great. In fact, many experienced users praise its ability to approximate the sound and responsiveness of a good hardware de-esser, with no adverse effect on the audio whatsoever. The display is also one of the best we’ve seen on a plug-in, and certainly better than those on most de-essers. Weiss Deess is equally handy at taming high-frequency content of non-vocal tracks, giving it added versatility in a studio setting.
Waves Sibilance is worth a mention mainly due to the innovative Organic ReSynthesis technology, which simply doesn’t exist in any other de-esser plug-in. This feature gives Sibilance a precision and accuracy that other de-essers simply can’t compare with, and you will immediately notice how much better it makes problematic vocal tracks sound.
Most de-esser plug-ins are marketed as being able to preserve the transients and high-end frequencies of audio, but few are as capable of the job as Sibilance. The spectral filters that are central to the Organic ReSynthesis function identify only the unwanted sibilant frequencies in the audio. They could therefore be removed entirely without any effect on the other frequency content. With Sibilance, you could get pretty aggressive with the de-essing when the need calls for it, without having to worry about your audio getting thrashed in the process.
Like many other de-essers, Sibilance isn’t just limited to vocal tracks. It can be used on drums, guitars, and any other transient-heavy material that can be prone to brightness. Although perhaps less effective on full mixes and stems, it is nevertheless versatile enough to deserve a place in your plug-in collection.