Drum Saturation Techniques with Fabfilter Saturn

Let’s take a look at processing a drum bus using a distortion plugin, to turn this clean drum loop…

… into something with much more attitude, like this:

Step 1

Begin by grouping your drums together and sending them to a drum bus. In our loop, we have a simple four-to-the-floor kick and clap pattern with some hi-hats and percs. Next, load an instance of Fabfilter Saturn on your drum bus channel.

Fabfilter Saturn is capable of multi-band processing, which makes it perfect for bus processing as we can target specific frequency bands of our signal. Let’s begin by setting our frequency bands. If you click in the top half of the plugin you should see a + icon appear and a frequency crossover point will be created. We’ll set four frequency bands for this walkthrough. Once the bands are created, you can click and drag on the lines to set the crossover frequency for each band. Set the first band to 262 Hz, the second to 558 Hz and the third to 5056 Hz. The drum loop will still sound the same, as we’ve not added any distortion to any frequency bands yet.

Step 1

Step 2

The way we’ve set up our crossover frequencies, the first band will be dealing mostly with the kick drum, the second the percussion, the third the clap/snare and the fourth hi-hats. This will always depend on the frequency content of the drums you’re processing, so be sure to listen and experiment. The solo and mute buttons in the top left corner of each frequency band can help when trying to isolate frequencies.

Click on the first band to bring up its controls. Turning up the Drive control will introduce the distortion. We’re going for an obviously driven kick drum sound, so we take this right up to 73%. The saturation on the low end of the kick sounds good, but we may be losing some of the sub from the sound. Use the mix control on the left to dial back in some of the unprocessed signal. We’ve also taken up the level of the first band by 2.96 dB to add more weight to the low end of the loop.

Step 2

Step 3

Now click on the second band, which is mostly where our percussion hits are sounding. Again take the Drive up to around 73%, but this time click the drop-down menu where it says Warm Tape and change the distortion algorithm to Heavy Saturation, which drives the band quite heavily.

Next to the Drive control is a Dynamics control. Turning this clockwise applies compression, while anticlockwise applies a gating effect. We’ll take this fully anticlockwise to clean up sustain portion of this band, which had become slightly overbearing due to the heavy saturation effect we applied. We’ve also increased the level of this band by 5.42 dB. Here’s how this band sounds soloed:

Step 3

Step 4

One of the other advantages of multi-band processing is we can leave frequency bands of our signal unprocessed if we wish. In our case, we’ve chosen to leave the third frequency band unprocessed. This band mostly contains the clap and the transient from the kick. You can turn bands on and off using the power buttons to the top left of each band’s controls.

Next, click on the fourth band, which is mostly hi-hats and the top end of our clap. Take the Drive up to 80%, and also dial the mix down to 65%. We’ll boost the top end of the band using the Band 4 Presence control. Take this to about +2.6dB.

The final thing we do is tweak the master output control for Saturn, so our processed signal peaks at the same level as the original. In our final audio clip, you can hear the difference between the processed and unprocessed sounds, with the bypass button hit half way through the clip.

Step 4.1 Step 4.2

20th December, 2015

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