What is a De-Esser? The 8 Best De-Esser VSTs for Pro Vocals

Mixing & MasteringMusic GearRecordingVocal Production
What is a De-Esser? The 8 Best De-Esser VSTs for Pro Vocals

De-esser plugins are an important part of any pro vocal chain.

They help reduce the effect of one of the most frustrating issues in vocal recording.

With such a specialized effect, it can be hard to know where to start.

How do de-essers work, and what do they actually do? When should you use a de-esser, and how do you use it?

In this article I’ll go through everything you need to know about de-essers to mix better sounding vocals.

Let’s get started.

What is a de-esser?

A de-esser is a form of compressor that acts only on the specific frequency range where sibilance occurs in the human voice. De-esser plugins are used in mixing to control sibilance so that loud and bright vocals can sit upfront in the mix without these harsh artifacts taking over.

If that sounds complicated, all it means is that de-essers help even out the harshest parts of a vocal recording.

What is sibilance?

Sibilance is the grating, unnatural sound that can sometimes occur during recording when a vocalist sings words including the letter S.

Sibilance is the grating, unnatural sound that can sometimes occur during recording when a vocalist sings words including the letter S.

The ‘S’ sound naturally contains a lot of energy in the frequency range where your ears are the most sensitive.

The extra intensity in this area helps your brain tell words apart, but aggressive sibilance can sound distracting on a recording.

Why use a de-esser?

Vocal microphones are designed to capture all the subtle details in the human voice.

To do it well, they need to be sensitive enough to record a wide range of frequencies.

The airy upper high end they capture helps create a sense of realism and intimacy. During the mix you might even bring out these qualities with EQ and compression for an even more powerful, larger than life sound.

But with all this emphasis on the high frequencies, the issues created by sibilance get even worse.

Even if you might not have noticed it while you recorded your vocals, sibilance can creep up in your mix.

Even if you might not have noticed it while you recorded your vocals, sibilance can creep up in your mix.

De-essers are how you reduce it. They work in a similar way to compressor plugins, but instead of reducing the gain by looking at the entire signal, their gain reduction only takes effect when the most sibilant frequencies kick in.

The 8 best de-esser plugins for a better vocal mix

With all that explained, here are my top picks for the best de-esser plugins on the market today.

1. Fabfilter Pro-DS

Fabfilter Pro-DS de-esser plugin

Fabfilter makes some of the most advanced digital mixing tools you can find. Their de-esser plugin is no exception.

With gain reduction and filter technology from the award winning Pro-C and Pro-Q plugins, Pro-DS combines powerful signal processing with a a comfortable, easy to understand interface.

2. Waves Sibilance

waves sibilance de-esser plugin

Waves Sibilance is an evolution of the popular plugin makers’ de-essing tools that uses “Organic Resynthesis” technology.

Sibilance promises to help you find and reduce sibilance faster and easier than ever.

Waves’ traditional Renaissance De-esser is also a great option for standard de-essing duties.

3. Digitalfishphones SPITFISH

digitalfishphones spitfish free de-esser plugin

There’s no shortage of advanced de-esser tools out there, but sometimes you need a solution that won’t break the bank.

That’s where Digitalfishphone’s excellent freeware SPITFISH de-esser comes in.

This super easy to use de-esser is a great place to start for anyone who wants to experiment with de-essing without paying for a new plugin.

4. HOFA IQ-Series DeEsser

hofa IQ series deEsser plugin

This acclaimed de-esser plugin let’s you dive deep into your vocal tracks to get your de-essing just right.

With four different modes, HOFA IQ-Series DeEsser can handle any situation that calls for de-essing.

5. Sonnox Oxford SuprEsser V3

Sonnox Oxford SuprEsser V3 de-esser plugin

Sonnox Oxford SuprEsser V3 gives you extremely detailed control over the sibilance in your vocal tracks.

With auto-levelling features to control how much processing gets applied to signals with different dynamics, SuprEsser V3 takes de-essing to the next level.

6. Your DAW’s built-in De-esser


Today’s DAW packages come with robust and effective plugins built-in.

Fancy third party plugins can be nice, but they’re not strictly essential for mixing

In most cases a skilled engineer can create a perfectly good mix using only these native plugins.

De-essing is so common that most flagship DAWs come with a perfectly usable de-essing solution built-in.

It might be smart to try your DAW’s standard de-esser before you look elsewhere.

7. Brainworx SPL De-esser

Brainworx SPL de-esser plugin

Brainworx SPL De-esser faithfully models a classic hardware de-esser from German manufacturer SPL.

If you’re looking for a simple to use de-esser with the sound quality of analog hardware, this one is worth a try.

8. Accusonus Era De-Esser Pro

Accusonus Era De-Esser Pro plugin

Accusonus Era De-Esser Pro is another de-esser that focuses on getting results fast with easy to understand controls.

The waveform display and simple three parameter layout will help you get your sibilance reigned in quickly.

How to use a de-esser

Now that you have an idea of some of the options out there for plugin de-essers, you might be wondering how to actually use them in your workflow.

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Luckily de-essers are some of the easiest plugin types to use.

Not all de-essers work the same way, but here are the basics when it comes to using them to decrease sibilance.

  • Insert your de-esser plugin after any compression, EQ or saturation you’ve used on your vocal track.
  • Decrease the threshold until you start to hear the effect of the gain reduction.
  • Adjust the frequency range so the de-esser is only triggering on the sibilant sounds
  • Choose any other parameters to dial in the fine-grain control of your de-essing.

Get rid of sibilance

De-essers are very common in vocal production. Even the most flattering microphone can have issues with sibilance sometimes.

But with modern plugins, harsh ‘S’ sounds won’t sink your mix completely. A good de-esser can reduce the effect of sibilance enough to push your vocal upfront in the mix where it belongs.

If you’ve made it through this article you’ll have a solid grasp on how de-essers work and some ideas for how to use them in your mix.

Michael Hahn

Michael Hahn is an engineer and producer at Autoland and member of the swirling indie rock trio Slight.

@Michael Hahn

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