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De-esser is a vital effect for editing, cleanup, and mixdown. It can take the harsh consonants and sibilance out of vocal tracks, and it can also be used in other unique and creative ways to tame distracting and unwanted frequencies (e.g., from cymbals) in your mixes. Even during the mastering process, it can be a lifesaver.
It’s not exactly a sexy effect like reverb or compression, but you still need it in your VST arsenal to mix at a high level. You’d be amazed to find out how many professional mixes ultimately end up utilizing de-essing technology in some capacity.
So, in this guide, we’ll be looking at the best free de-esser VST plugins you should download immediately.
Free Effects by Dead Duck Software
If you’re looking to expand your library of virtual effects, then you might like Dead Duck Software’s Free Effects pack, which comes with EQ, compression, reverb, delays, modulation effects, and of course, their DeEsser, which some reviewers have called the best free de-esser available. And while de-essers can be a little hard to tell apart, we also think it’s among the best choices out there.
The design of their plugins is relatively standard across the board. A few colored knobs are set against a grey gradient background. That said, it’s simple, it’s attractive, and it works. The DeEsser comes with pinkish dials for threshold, amount, freq, attack, and release, as well as one light grey knob for input. There is also a built-in listen mode (so you can hear what frequencies you’re eliminating as you’re tweaking).
I find Dead Duck Software’s DeEsser to be a nice, natural sounding effect. It does a great job of eliminating sibilance without making a production out of taking over the original performance. And after all, you generally don’t want effects taking over your highly polished tracking efforts.
Most users found the entire library of Dead Duck Software effects quite useful, and you may as well. Check out the Free Effects pack on KVR Audio Software.
Learn more: KVR Audio Software
T-De-Esser by Techivation
While you can’t exactly judge a book by its cover, the mere sight of Techivation’s T-De-Esser makes you feel like you’re headed straight into a new age of technological evolution. That has much to do with its flat vector style design. Flat vector faux pas isn’t exactly a rare phenomenon, but in this case, Techivation nails it, and everything feels right in the world.
The interface features controls for output, processing, intensity, sharpness, and frequency range. There’s also an input meter. It’s all very clearly marked and easy to understand. And it’s been designed as an easy-to-use de-esser besides.
Dialing in the processing will instantly start up warm up the sound of your vocal tracks. Play with the intensity and sharpness to taste and note that the frequency range that works best for your track will depend a lot on the voice you’re looking to treat with the effect.
Some producers found the T-De-Esser to be just as effective as some of the paid options out there. It offers a nice, transparent effect that most engineers should find versatile and highly usable. To be fair, though, it takes a fine-tuned ear to pick up on the rather subtle differences between various de-essing effects.
Learn more: Techivation
Lisp De-Esser by Sleepy-Time DSP
Sleepy-Time DSP describes Lisp De-Esser as a transient-based frequency tracking effect. Your main controls include reduction, attack and release, but there are modules for stereo mode, as well as sensitivity, sibilance range, and processing mode. All this together makes Lisp De-Esser one of the more tweakable VST plugins on this list.
As applied to the user interface, Sleepy-Time DSP obviously opted for less of a realistic look, and a little more of a flat vector, cartoony look. It’s a well-balanced design, but with sensitivity being one of the most important controls, it feels like some “dials” are bigger than they should be, and some are smaller than they should have been. Well, it is a free VST after all.
Fortunately, the effect does work nicely. I find it relatively transparent (unless set to extreme settings), which means you can bring those unwanted frequencies down in the mix without sacrificing your hard-gotten performances.
In case you’re looking for additional mixing effects, Sleepy-Time DSP also offers their Legacy Bundle (with MonoChannel, StereoChannel, Crosstalk2, Transient, DualPanner, and Polarity) as a free download.
Learn more: Sleepy-Time DSP
Free Tonmann DeEsser VST Plugin by Tonmann.com
The Free Tonmann DeEsser VST Plugin is a high frequency dynamic processor effect to help you get those stabbing high frequencies out of your mix, especially on vocals after you’ve given them the typical compression and / or high boost treatment.
The sporty, sky-blue accent on a grey background makes this plugin’s GUI look quite sharp. It feels almost monochromatic because blue is ultimately a color that’s quite close to grey, but overall, we do like the look and feel of what Tonmann has created here.
Some of its features include a mono and stereo mode, wideband and lowpass reduction modes, adjustable center frequency and bandwidth of detection range, adjustable detection threshold, look ahead feature, adjustable release time, adjustable attenuation, listen mode, and two-level readouts for optical supervision.
As the video below will demonstrate, it is possible to eliminate unwanted frequencies from your tracks using the DeEsser. You will want to adjust to taste, though, because taking it to the nth degree will sacrifice the performance of your vocal tracks. Listen closely and tweak until satisfied.
Learn more: Tonmann.com
LOADES by Analog Obsession
Analog Obsession’s LOADES promises to put a smooth and powerful de-esser right at your fingertips, with a unique dry-wet MIX feature to control the overall intensity of the effect.
The developer says in addition to taming those ultra-highs on your vocals, you can also use LOADES on cymbals and even the entire mix for a warmer sound overall. This versatility certainly makes it worth a look.
The controls include threshold (60dB range), release (1ms to 500ms), mix (dry and processed signal), input and output (clean +/- 30dB), band (for shelf or band), and soft (for smoother, more transparent sounds – it will basically soften what you’ve already dialed in with the other controls).
As per usual, Analog Obsession nails it with the design of their plugin. The simple, black on black color scheme is a winning formula, it seems, and the black dials on LOADES, as well as the VU meters are nice touches. Good on them for keeping it classy.
As you’ll see in the video below, LOADES is quite effective at adding some needed warmth to your vocal tracks. It can make a big difference in taming sibilance, and even unruly cymbals.
You can get LOADES for Mac or Windows on PLUGINS 4 FREE.
Learn more: PLUGINS 4 FREE
SPITFISH by Sascha Eversmeier
And now we turn to the classics – one of Sascha Eversmeier’s “fish fillets” – SPITFISH.
The complete fish filet bundle includes the BLOCKFISH compressor and FLOORFISH expander / gate effect. SPITFISH, of course, is an easy-to-use desser for use on mono and stereo vocal tracks. It’s been designed to dynamically filter harsh s-sounds so you can clean up those shrill highs.
Despite being a 20+ year old plugin, the design of the fish fillets is still quite legit. A little early- to mid-2000s in flavor, no doubt, but a shining example of what to do, as opposed to what not to do with a polished design. These plugins, including SPITFISH, come with a smooth, technological, semi-realistic looking GUI that somehow holds up to this day.
SPITFISH is competent at removing offending frequencies, and you can use the built-in listen mode to get a good sense of the harshness that’s been dialed out. The video below will give you a good idea of what’s possible, and I do recommend having a look.
We have heard reports of SPITFISH not working with certain producers. This might be more a matter of setup (DAW and OS) than anything else. After all, best we can tell, the plugin hasn’t been updated since 2005. So, your mileage may vary. If it doesn’t work, though, you have other choices, so small loss, right?
Aside from that, SPITFISH is a worthy contender on this list of de-esser VST plugins.
Learn more: Sascha Eversmeier
SweetVox by Analog Obsession
As you might have guessed from the name, Analog Obsession’s SweetVox is a vocal sweetening effect. What makes it stand out from LOADES is that SweetVox is a combination voice processor / de-esser. As it turns out, that makes it a little more versatile in some ways, and a little more limited in other ways, though.
This VST takes advantage of two-band dynamic EQ and three fixed band EQ filters, along with saturation and compression. The LED indicator lets you know how hard you’re pushing the effect.
The de-esser works nicely as a harshness remover, so if you’re looking to tame those piercing cymbals, screeching guitar parts, or anything else that’s hitting the ears a little too piercingly, SweetVox would be worth a go in those situations too.
We’re a fan of SweetVox’ graphical user interface. It looks like a piece of classic analog gear but doesn’t feel the need to advertise this fact. Its design is almost entirely monochromatic, with three big knobs to tweak the effect to taste. We like it!
Process and De-ess are the two primary controls of the effect, where Process will add EQ, saturation, and compression to your sound, and of course, De-ess will allow you to de-ess your tracks, but it also gives you control over your higher frequencies in general. There is an output control too, mind you.
Dialing in the Process control will add a nice compression effect to the vocals. You can take it to extreme by dialing it up to 100, but most probably won’t find this a tasteful setting for their tracks. The de-ess will also add some compression to your signal, and for the most part, it’s a relatively transparent effect.
SweetVox is a fun and easy solution for sweetening vocal tracks. That said, chances are you will want to use it in conjunction with an additional EQ effect to fine-tune. It works best when used alongside other favorite VST tools.
Learn more: PLUGINS 4 FREE
Modern De-Esser by Antress
One thing we know about Antress’ Modern De-Esser, without even digging any deeper, is that they put some extra time behind that sporty design. It’s certainly a little old school by today’s standards (which maybe adds an ironic twist to its “modern” nature), and this is a not a new plugin by any means, but we do need to give them some props for spending time on the esthetics (basically a rackmount style module) of the plugin.
The controls aren’t overwhelming either. You get threshold, ratio, width, release, freq, and output, and all this is relatively self-explanatory.
Although it’s a 32-bit Windows plugin, some producers felt that it basically made premium plugins moot. And sure enough, it’s free, it’s easy to use, and it does a competent job. It has a relatively transparent sound, too, so it shouldn’t corrupt your performances. It will also remove the unwanted harshness from your vocal tracks.
If you don’t need anything fancy, then this plugin should do the trick. It will likely outperform your DAW’s stock de-esser, and hold its own with some of the other options on this list.
Learn more: PLUGINS 4 FREE
TDR Nova by Tokyo Dawn Records
If TDR Nova isn’t in your VST library already, then I’m not sure exactly what you’re waiting for… the next blue moon, perhaps?
Of course, it’s possible you haven’t heard of Tokyo Dawn Records or their now ubiquitously used parallel dynamic equalizer, TDR Nova (or their other creations, for that matter). But trust me when I say you really don’t have anything to lose by downloading and installing this beauty.
“But what is an EQ plugin doing on this list?” you might ask.
To understand that you need to know what a de-esser is. A de-esser is a dynamic EQ / compressor effect. And so, with a powerful free EQ like TDR Nova, you can easily figure out how to dial out unwanted frequencies.
And that’s because TDR Nova is a combination parametric EQ, dynamic EQ, frequency selective compression, multi-band compression, and wideband compression effect. Even if you don’t know what that means, you can probably figure out that it will do the job you require of it!
I have been using this effect for a long time, and what I can tell you is that it produces a nice, transparent result. If you want more character or coloration, you might look elsewhere, but this is a highly effective tool when you don’t want any of your tracks to stand out like sore thumbs. And you can stack it multiple times on a single track too if you so wish.
We find that Tokyo Dawn Records does amazing work on their Mac and Windows compatible VST plugins. And they do have other free ones worth checking out. But if you don’t already have TDR Nova, it’s really a no-brainer addition to your VST lab. The only situation in which you might not want it is if you already have more premium, more powerful EQ tools.
Learn more: Tokyo Dawn Records
Best Free De-Esser VST Plugins, Final Thoughts
Mixing is ultimately attention to detail. So, knowing when to use and when not to use a de-esser is part of the delicate equation. The more you record and create more projects, though, the more you will ultimately know what to do in any situation to get the desired result.
So, it’s not just about the tool, but also the user. And as the user, you want to keep building your knowledge, skill, and experience to be the best it can possibly be.