A vicious circle with sibilants

Actually, that subject heading would be a great album title.
Anyway, I’ve been writing and recording music for years, and ever since I switched from analogue to digital recording around 2002, I’ve been dealing with a particular sonic problem, and it’s high time that I ask people about it who are more intelligent about home recording than I. My “fixing process” can take over a week for a three-minute song. It has grown tedious and nearly torturous, and it’s gradually taking the fun out of recording my tunes – so any advice that anyone here might offer, in terms of better equipment or even downloading an Audacity plug-in that I’ve overlooked, would be appreciated to a greater extent than I can tell you.

I have an Audio-Technica USB microphone that records perfectly clearly, although the fact that it’s not a Shure or something “warmer” might be part of the problem. I just don’t know, as I don’t have a pile of money to experiment with several different mic brands, so I’ve been sticking with this one for now.

When I record a vocal, the sibilants are very sharp, even though I don’t tend to sing with overly pronounced S, T and CH syllables. They just become exaggerated when digitally recorded.

I understand that this isn’t something only noticed only by me, but I can’t find any helpful advice on how to diminish those sharp sounds while keeping the rest of the frequency spectrum reasonably intact. Plosives aren’t part of the problem, as I’ve got a foam hat around the mic head and I record from two or three feet away – but those sharp consonants really stick out and don’t sound pleasant to the ear, even though everything else is fine.

I’ve tried everything from de-essers like SpitFish to equalizing-out the top frequencies, but these steps raise the bottom so much that I’ve got to atone with still more equalization if I don’t want too much low-end and the irritating “rumble” that entails. The vicious circle makes itself known at that point – diminishing the lower frequencies obviously makes the sharpness problem come right back.

I ultimately resort to going through the entire wave file, syllable by syllable, and manually highlighting and lowering every S sound, T sound, etc. That’s been my solution. I can’t help but to think that there must be a better way!

I have nothing interrupting the signal from the mic to the eighth-inch laptop jack into which it’s plugged. Perhaps someone manufactures in-line limiters or band-pass units that trap very high frequencies? Or maybe there’s an Audacity plug-in that’s good at diminishing sibilants without raising the bottom?

Thanks for reading this novella, everyone. I would appreciate any advice, or even being pointed in the right direction. Thanks again!

I’m not an expert on de-essing…

I have an Audio-Technica USB microphone that records perfectly clearly, although the fact that it’s not a Shure or something “warmer” might be part of the problem

A dynamic mic usually has “softer” (rolled-off) highs compared to a condenser mic but that can be accomplished with EQ, and EQ is more flexible (and cheaper) than choosing the “perfect” mic.

I’ve tried everything from de-essers like SpitFish to equalizing-out the top frequencies, but these steps raise the bottom so much that I’ve got to atone with still more equalization

Cutting high frequencies doesn’t boost the low frequencies. :wink:

Do you have a reference recording to “keep your ears calibrated”? You may not be able to exactly-match the reference but it should help as a guide…

You may need a combination of EQ and de-essing, but I’m not sure which one to apply first. And you might try a different de-esser. I know Spitfish is popular, but maybe that’s because it’s free…

Also, if you’re making a “full mix” with multiple instruments the exaggerated sibilants should be less of a problem and they may actually help with intelligibility.

And… If there’s anything you can do to decrease the sibilance in your voice, or if you can sing louder (which you can usually do without the sibilance getting louder) that will help too!

You’re right, of course – if I were able to diminish the sibilants alone, the low end wouldn’t be “boosted.” Perhaps a better way of saying that would have been that cutting the higher frequencies in the only way I really know how – lowering them at least 20% on a graphical EQ – has a reciprocal effect, in that it makes the bottom stand out more, because it muddies the whole spectrum.
Thanks for the reply. :slight_smile:

There is a free Audacity-specific De-Esser plugin: The Desibilator.

[BTW Spitfish is only available in 32-bit ].

Awesome. I’ll certainly try that. Thank you!

Did you mean:
A viciousss cccircle with sssibilants

sorry :wink:


There’s a trick to it. Post ten seconds of WAV with the vicious sibilants.

Scroll down from a forum text window > Attachments > Add Files.

If you misshandle Desibilator, it will turn your SSS into SHSHSH. Shishter shuzy shellsh. Or worse yet FF. Fifter Fuzy fellf.


Are you noise reducing your pants off? Hard noise reduction can cause tonal distortions. That could be one reason it sounds good in Real Life, but then odd after production and corrections.

Sibilants are hard. You can’t just put a sock over the microphone and call it good. Some microphones intentionally put that effect in there because it sounds “more professional.”


Great points, and you’re right about NR – using too much will definitely sharpen things (in the case of the mic I’m using, anyway). I try to avoid the need for it at all, with more success as time has gone on.
I’ll post ten seconds of sibilant viciousness tonight or tomorrow morning. I want to record something fresh after work tonight, and leave it utterly unprocessed for sharing, especially if you’re going to be so kind as to help with Desibilator settings.
Thank you!

There’s actually a format for this.


That’s for people badly bollixed up (technical term) and really need to start from the beginning. No, you can’t start with anybody’s microphone under any conditions with any computer and fix it all with post production effects, filters, and corrections.

Probably the worst thing that happens is you get close with software corrections and then post on the forum and we tell you that you couldn’t do it because nobody can correct that and you’re stuck.

But sometimes we get odd symptoms we can’t easily fix and those are interesting.


I hear ya. It might be a case of “This can’t be fixed – get a better mic,” in which case my next question would be about finding a less top-heavy mic (as it were) that can somehow be adapted for an eighth-inch computer microphone jack, even if not going directly in.

The attached file is 23 seconds, rather than 10, but hopefully that won’t be too inconvenient. Thanks again!

Using a (single band) limiter or compressor with make-up gain will inevitably increase sibilance.
So, IMO, De-Essing should be applied after any limiter/compressor/EQ.

effects used.png
Desibilator, LevelSpeech2, RMS Normalization = Loudness Normalization

Could make a macro of this list of effects to apply them in one fell swoop.

Holy smokes – that is INCREDIBLY helpful. Thank you very much for taking the time. I really appreciate that!