Mixing and Mastering Audio Plugins for Voiceover and Interview Work? FabFilter, DMGAudio, or Something Else?

I’m thinking about getting some better plugins for audio mastering.

After reading a bazillion things online (and at music.tutsplus.com, which has so much great stuff) I think I’ve narrowed it down to a few from FabFilter and DMGAudio, basically 'cause I’m working in the box and I don’t care for skeumorphic interfaces.

I do spoken-word/podcast audio and live-action video (mostly documentary and interview), no music stuff. So EQ, compression, gate, and de-esser. My audio is super clean and uncoloured, and I like that. I don’t have the critical ears (yet) to really use anything that alters the sound too much.

Am I on the right track? Is it overkill? Maybe some option I’m missing.

Any opinions @davebode @TiffanyBO @robmayzes?

Oh yeah, and I’m using Reaper, which has some pretty decent plugins included.

Although I love the FabFilter stuff, it seems overkill for your purposes at the moment.

You can get great results with the stock plugins in Reaper. I’d dedicated time to developing your ears or spend the money on educational resources.

However, if there is a particular plugin that you want to use (e.g. linear phase EQ) that doesn’t come with Reaper, then it might be worth purchasing something.

Hope that helps!


Excellent answer, thanks @robmayzes! I’ve really been enjoying your tutorials lately, BTW. Thanks for those.

None of the above/use what you have is an answer I also myself give about photo video stuff. I have found the stock ReaEQ in Reaper pretty good to use and I think I’ve gotten the hang of the stock compression and gate (with a little practice).

One thing I was struggling with was normalization and loudness. Then I discovered the SWS/S&M extension! Not as pretty as, say, the LMN meter that comes Audition, but it does the trick. Might still get something simple like TB EBULoudness for convenience sake. 20 EUR is pretty reasonable.

But man, the world of audio plugins is seriously overwhelming.

(To be fair, I’m not the only one who has trouble getting their head around loudness for this kind of thing it seems.)

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Great advice @robmayzes - I’m loving your tutorials. I don’t think we’ve ever met - I’m the Course Produce for Courses and your audio stuff is perfect for us. I really appreciate how practical your teaching is. The most recent bunch of tutorials have become my most recommended for new instructors. Thanks!

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Yep, certainly is overwhelming!

Never use normalization - it’s common misconception that it makes your audio louder. In reality, it ruins your gain staging, removes all headroom and negatively affects the audio.

The key to loudness is good gain staging (recording and mixing around -18dbFS), light compression at several points (several light compressors sounds better than one heavy compressor) and then finally using a limiter on your master bus to bring up the gain and avoid clipping, and just use a standard meter to make sure your audio is hanging out around -8.

This is something that I plan to write about soon, most likely on my own site (www.homestudiocenter.com), I’ll try to remember to drop a link here when I do!

Stock limiters sometimes aren’t great, so that might be a worthwhile investment if loudness is important to you!

Sorry if I’ve just added to the confusion haha! But I thought I better point you in the right direction :slight_smile:

Hey Tiffany! That’s really great to hear, thank you. Are you looking for new course instructors?

@robmayzes yep, I think there are a few things you could work on with Photo & Video, I’ll send you the details in a second.

I don’t have experience with any of those pulgs from FabFilter or DMGAudio. As a fellow Reaper user, I often find that the stock ReaPlugs are my go-to plugs for EQ, Comp, MultiBand Comp, and more. ReaGate will get you close to an expander by adjusting the dry/wet and the hysteresis, but I usually don’t bother with it. I have NI’s Complete 9 and that comes with a handful of nice VST effects. The only one I use on a regular basis is the Solid Dynamics. If I need expansion, that’s usually the effect I use.

I use Solid Dynamics mostly because I paid for it. I could get very similar results with Antres Modern Expander, which is free. There is also the JS: Downward Expander which also works well.

ReaXcomp is a fantastic plug. I use that one all the time.

For limiting, I use Limiter №6. This is a fantastic plugin with some advanced features.

Another very cool plug for speech is ToneBooster’s FIX. EQ dynamics is very slick. I occasionally use this to do downward expansion EQ. It has many more features and the trial copy is fully functional forever but with no parameter saving.

I hope that helps.

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Awesome, thanks @davebode!

There’s an amazing amount of hype around all these things (microphones too, I’ve found), a lot of jargon, and seemingly no real direct correlation between price and quality except maybe at critical/broadcast production end (not that I would know). Having solid recommendations is really helpful. Come to think of it, I’d looked at those vladg sound plugins before, too!

ReaXcomp is good! I’d been using the plain old Reacomp but now, well, I have seen the light! :wink:

It is. With conservative ratios and gain reduction it works like a magic compressor! Just watch out for the auto makeup gain on individual bands. Those are enabled by default and can add additional tones that you don’t want.

oh hey, look, I found a good little video by none other than… @davebode!

Antress Plugin Showdown:

Ah, yes. One of my old rambling tutorials. :slight_smile:

It’s a bit lengthy, but “Why you’re doing audio levels wrong, and why it really does matter” covers a lot of the questions we struggle with around audio production for the web here at Tuts+. Have a read at the link above or listen below:

TL;DR we have to take into account that our audio is played in uncontrolled environments (like earbuds on the train) and on various listening platforms. Like you said, Rob: light compression, protect the dynamic range, and work in the sweet spot. It was intersting to learn, for example, that Radiolab, which I think has pretty good audio quality, is (a) one of the loudest shows on NPR and (b) it’s mixed on headphones and tested through smartphone speakers.

But then I went (even further) down the rabbit hole of loudness: The Path to Loundness Nirvana


Anyway! Here’s what I’ve come up with for free mix/master plugins:

  • EQ: Tokyo Dawn Slick EQ for quick and nice EQ. ReaEQ for more precision and problem solving.
  • Compression: Tokyo Dawn Kotelnikov for quick and nice compression. ReaXComp for more precision and complexity.
  • De-Esser: old Spitfish is basic but I think it works good!
  • Gate: Focusrite’s Scarlett plugin suite gate (it came with my soundcard). It’s a simple gate, but it let’s you control the gain reduction so it can do a very light touch. Free simple gate alternative: GGate. Free complex gate alternative ReaGate (here’s a SOS article on ReaGate).
  • Meters: Toneboosters EBULoudness is a freemium loudness meter that gives helpful LUFS readouts. I also tried the K-Meter, which nicely visualizes the K metering system (free to try, $50 to buy) and LUFS. I don’t know if I’ll use the K system every day but it is an interesting way to think about dynamic range. Martin Zuther’s free k-meter crashed my DAW, your milage may vary.
  • Limiter: so we’ve actually had pretty good results with Auphonic for spoken word. The idea is you use the LUFS meter to get things as close as possible and then use Auphonic to get it exact. This is basically the process described at the end of the NPR interview above, though I don’t know if they’re using Auphonic or an alternative. It’s an automated tool, which purists might decry, but it really fits quick-paced production with a lot of different incoming grades of sound quality.

And that’s where I am so far! What I like about the Tokyo Dawn and Toneboosters (and to some extent Reaper) plugins is that they are tools you can grow into. They have simple-enough modes, but once you know more you can do more complex things. And if you really want to go for it, you can get the still relatively affordable paid versions.