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Dave Pensado's Plug-In Secrets

March 17, 2004

With all of the contemporary pop and R&B songs that he mixes,Dave Pensado has become a huge fan of plug-in effects. In the April2004 EM cover story, “Mixing Strategies of thePros,” Pensado talks about two of his preferred plug-ins, theMcDSP Compressor Bank CB2, that he uses for emulating the Fairchildcompressor, and the Eventide Harmonizer H910 from Eventide’sClockworks Legacy Bundle. Here, in Pensado’s own words, aredescriptions of some more of his favorite plug-ins (listed inalphabetical order). The screen shots accompanying them show actualsettings he’s used on some of his most high-profile mixes.

BombFactory Fairchild Model 660
“I rented maybe 7 or 8 Fairchilds, and on a blind test on aChristina Aguilera vocal, I liked this plug-in better. I didn’tknow what was what. This plug-in is all over her latest album[Stripped RCA, 2002]. The screen shot shows the setting that Iused.”

McDSP ChromeTone
“It’s the first plug-in that allows you to take achorus, a flanger, a wah, a delay, and a reverb and combine them intoone effect. And it’s very efficient in its use of DSP. Thedistortion is great for vocals, guitars, and keyboards. It’s mynew favorite effect. It’s so new that we haven’t had achance to use on any records yet. I like it because it’s finallya plug-in that really gives you your money’s worth. It’snot just a half-assed chorus or a half assed distortion, it has worldclass versions of all of those things. I think that plug in sets theprecedent for the future in terms of what you get for yourmoney.”

McDSP FilterBank
“The McDSP E-Series Filter Bank plug-in is my favorite NeveEQ emulator. The setting shown here is a good Neve vocal sound. Theproblem that I have with a lot of old Neve EQs is that they’veall been modified so much that you never know what you’regetting. You can quote me on this, who the hell can remember thedifferences between a 1081, a 1073, a 10 this, a 10 that? They all havetheir little quirks and idiosyncrasies. . . What I like more about theFilter Bank version than the original version is that I’m notlimited to certain clicks or certain presets like the original has, butI can get in between the cracks. I’m not limited to just a 1073or 83 but I can do shades and variations of the two. You can get some21st-century brightness out of this plug-in that youcan’t get out of the original. And then the low end, withoutphase shift is just real sweet.”

Princeton Digital 2016
“This is a great example that I really want people tounderstand. A lot of times a manufacturer will reissue the real versionof an original piece of gear. Like there are new 1176’s outthere. But the new [Eventide Reverb] 2016 is my favorite reissue ever.The SP2016 is my favorite reverb ever, and the reissue is just as goodas the original. I’ve got the new one and I love it. Having saidthat, that plug-in that you see [Princeton Digital 2016], I love justas much as my original. That’s a vocal reverb that I usedprobably 50 percent of the time. If you listen to “Get the PartyStarted” by Pink, or “Family Portrait” by Pink [Fromthe CD Missundaztood Arista, 2001] That’s the reverbI’m using on her vocal. That same exact setting is used a lot onjust every record that I do, including on Brian McKnight’s newCD. Anyone familiar with my work, just go listen to a song,that’s the setting that I’m using. I’ll change thepredelay to match the tempo of the song. I’ll change the decay.What I like to do is to listen to just the vocals and the drums bythemselves and then tailor the timing elements of the plug-in to thetiming of the drums.”

WavesC1 Compressor
“To me, of all the equalizers you could use on a vocal, Ilike this best. But you’re saying, ‘that’s not anequalizer, that’s a compressor.’ The way I set it up,it’s set up as a dynamic equalizer. In other words, whatI’m doing is I’m telling the compressor to only compressthe frequency that I’ve set it for. I’m telling thecompressor that whenever the frequency gets above a certain threshold,knock it down. But you’re saying, ‘why can’t you dothat with an equalizer’? Well you can, but it’s just not assmooth for some reason. If you listen to Christina Aguilera, she singsher verses smooth and powerful and round, and the compressor—ifyou could actually watch it—is actually doing nothing on thoseverses. But when she gets to the high notes, she gets a lot of 2 kHz inher vocal, and the compressor automatically pulls that down, and makesthe vocals sound less harsh and less piercing. And you can control theamount you want to leave in. Christina actually likes a little bit ofthat in her vocal, so I can’t pull too much out, but thecompressor does it automatically. This setting is useful on just abouteverything. If you move the frequency to 8 kHz, or 10 kHz, thenyou’ve automatically got a de-esser. The only thing you’vegot to be aware of is that it will automatically add about a 340-sampledelay to your sound. So just highlight the waveform and shift it to theleft, 340 samples, and you’ll be okay. Of all the plug-ins that Iuse, it’s the most utilitarian. The setting shown here is mysetting. Of all the secrets I’m giving away, that couldpotentially be the most useful.”

“This plug-in points out Waves’ philosophy to not justmake plug-ins that emulate what’s in the real world, but toactually transcend what’s in the real world. What I like aboutEnigma is that you can go back and emulate a great piece of gear like aMutron, but at the same time you can make it better with just a littlebit of imagination. You’re not limited to what just what theMutron can do. But you can make the listener feel he’s hearingthe Mutron but even better. I’ve got a tiny bit of the Enigma[with the Mutron setting shown in this screen shot] on the piano onChristina Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” You’ve got tobe careful with it. It can be a very useful subtle effect, or you canuse it as a major component of the sound and get really radical too.It’s very versatile. It’s like a bi-phase chorus, butit’s much more than that. To call it a chorus is to limit yourthinking as to what you can do with it. It’s one of the first ofa new generation of effects that allow you to create things thatdon’t exist in the real world. It’s just a wonderfulplug-in.”

Waves L1Limiter
“The L1 is my favorite limiter. It’s got a lot of theattributes of an LA-2A, but none of the negatives. I really think that40 years from now, the L1 will be looked at as a classic, just like theFairchild compressor is looked at as a classic today. People fawningover software the way they do great analog compressors of today. The L1I used on all of Christina Aguilera’s lead vocals on her lastalbum. I use it last in the chain, and the setting that you see in thisscreen shot is straight off the song ‘Dirty,’ fromChristina’s last album.”

WavesRenaissance Compressor
“It’s a real versatile, transparent compressor thatwasn’t intentionally designed to emulate any one compressor butto emulate the best components of all the compressors. It’srelease reminds me of an 1176. The knee and the attack and releasecurves can be made to sound like Fairchilds or LA-2As, LA-3As.It’s just a wonderful compressor; just a workhorse. Whatever youslap it on, it’s gonna sound great. And that particular setting[shown in the screen shot]—kind of like an LA-2A/Fairchildsetting—is the one I like for background vocals. You can’thear it, but it really makes the background vocals come to the front ofthe mix. That exact setting is from a Destiny’s Child song.It’s the one off the last album, Survivor.”

WavesRenaissance DeEsser
“It’s the best de-esser I use, period…Thisde-esser is fairly new from Waves, and you get more control than youever had before. A lot of times the problem with deessers isthey’ll give you a slight lisp on the vocals. That setting is offof Mya’s new album [Moodring Interscope, 2003]. I used iton ‘My Love is Like…Wo.’ It takes out the frequenciesthat you don’t want in a very unobtrusive way.”

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