If you are facing issues while mixing your drum sounds and feel like your bottom-end frequencies are being drowned out, you are probably experiencing some phase issues. But not to worry, we have got you covered. With our 4 Steps to Fix Phase of Your Drums in Mixing, you’ll be able to manage this problem easily.
The Issue Itself
So what exactly happens when some of the frequencies go out of phase? We first must understand what causes it to happen and find ways around it.
When playing live music, a common way to capture and amplify sound is through mics. Especially when it comes to drums, you’ll see that multiple microphones surround the whole kit. Several close mics may be aimed at individual pieces of the kit directly. There may also be a few microphones positioned slightly further away, like over the shoulder of the drummer, for instance, overhead mics.
In simpler terms, a phase issue arises due to the relationship between all the mics in a setup. When a single source produces sound, the mics closer to that source will pick the sound earlier than those placed further away. When all the different mic tracks are imported into a layering software for mixing, you may notice that the signals from these different mics are not in sync with each other.
If the frequencies are out of sync, they may cancel each other out, which will result in a weakening or loss of signal. Usually, the bottom-end frequencies suffer when this happens.
A quick look at the diagram below will help clarify:
Figure 1: Out of Phase
As evident from the image, both signals are entirely out of sync and will end up cancelling each other. This type of signal cancellation can be referred to as a 180 degrees phase shift. As a result, there will be an audible difference, and the bottom-end frequencies will be compromised.
Usually, most mixing software allows you to adjust/invert one of the frequencies so that it doesn’t act out of sync relative to the other track.
Figure 2: In Phase
When you look at the second image, you’ll notice that both the signals are perfectly synced with each other, so we say the signals are in phase.
Now that we thoroughly understand what in or out of phase means and how or why this occurs, let’s look at the 4 Steps to Fix the Phase of Your Drums in Mixing. This phase correction will be further explained with reference to the unique and easy-to-use SSL X-Phase plugin from the Solid State Logic Native family.
One great thing about this plugin is that, unlike other phase correction software where the signal’s gain may change while adjusting the different levels and features, the SSL X-Phase’s ALLPASS filter ensures that does not happen. The plugin also features a handy option called a comb filter. This is when the user can add an altered or adjusted sound to the unfiltered version of itself to fill any gaps in the signal.
Before we get started, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the SSL X-Phase’s user interface. Regardless of the intensity or nature of the problem, the plugin offers several ways to fix your phase issues. The diagram below shows the different sections of the interface along with the parameters that can be manipulated for phase correction. The following section will discuss the functionality of the plugin in greater detail.
4 Steps to Phase Align Your Drums in Mixing (With SSL X-Phase)
While listening to the audio of different drum tracks, you first need to assess if the sound is out of sync due to timing issues. If that seems to be the case, the delay section at the top of the interface can fix that problem relatively quickly.
- You can toggle this section by pressing the “DELAY” on/off button.
- Start by rotating the delay adjustment knob. Doing so will rush or delay the signal to correct any timing issues.
- The delay adjustment value can be seen in the display to the right.
- Pressing the “units” button will change the units of the display. Some options include “milliseconds”, “samples”, “meters”, and “feet”.
- Precision tweaking can be done using the two rings around the adjustment knob.
- The smaller button will adjust the delay by a single unit, while the button next to it will adjust it by increments of 10.
- The strip on the bottom is the channel selection pane and has three individual buttons for the left channel, right channel, and link. Here you can adjust both channels separately and collectively if required by using the “link” button.
After adjusting the signal delay, you can toggle the bypass button to see the difference. If the sound seems to be in phase, you’re done.
If the sound is still not in phase after fiddling with the delay section, you need to use the ALLPASS phase correction area to adjust the frequencies rather than correcting the timing of the signals.
Have the track play in the background while you adjust the multiple variables in this section.
- You can toggle this area by the ALLPASS on/off button.
- The two vertical knobs on the right side will adjust the frequencies to minimize phase issues.
- The ‘Hz’ or frequency knob will reduce or increase the filter’s frequency.
- The ‘Q’ or Q factor knob will determine the rate at which the phase will change across the frequency range.
- Adjusting the frequencies with the correct gradient in the bandwidth curve can reduce the phase difference to a minimum.
The final step would be to invert the track frequencies.
- The inversion button can flip the frequencies to bring your separate drum tracks in phase.
- You may revisit the frequency and Q factor knobs and try combining them with the inversion button to obtain the desired results.
- Once you’re satisfied will all the adjustments, you can check the difference in sound by pressing the bypass button for comparison.
- Undo/Redo Buttons: As the name suggests, these two buttons will come in handy if you want to switch between your previous changes.
- Preset Section: There are several factory presets to choose from. You can switch between them by clicking the left/right arrow buttons. The display will show the preset that has been selected.
- A-B Buttons: These will let you compare two different phase settings. Setting A is selected by default.
Some Tips and Tricks
Since the main culprit here is the microphone, there are ways to minimize this frequency mismatch before the tracks reach your mixing software.
So to summarize what was discussed earlier, the factors to look out for are:
- The distance of the mics from the source of the sound
- The distance of the mics from each other
Apart from using different software or plugins to overcome phase problems, there are a few other things that can be taken into consideration to stay on top of things.
- A good principle to keep in mind here is the 3 to 1 rule, which talks about the placement of microphones. The rule says that the distance of the mics placed farther away (ambient/overhead mics etc.) should be three times the distance between the nearest mic and the sound source. So if a direct mic is a foot away from the kick drum, for instance, the overhead mics should be thrice that distance from the direct mic, meaning three feet away.
- Another way to keep things in phase is keeping a difference of 10 decibels between mic levels.
- Panning the mics in the mix can also reduce the phase sync-out effect.
- The overhead mic is a decent reference point when you start correcting the phase. Since overhead mics capture the sound of the whole kit, you can check each mic’s frequencies with the overhead mics’ frequencies and then decide what action needs to be taken.
- Switching all tracks to mono will help you hear phase-out issues more clearly.
- Another quick tip is to avoid assuming that you have phase-related issues on all the tracks in your mixing project. Instead, you must listen closely and figure out where phase correction is needed. With practice, your ear will be trained to pick out the loss of low-end frequencies.
It’s important to note that as you progress through your recording and mixing journey, you may regularly encounter such phase issues. However, when this happens, you now know that there is a powerful plugin out there that can come in handy to sort this out for you.
Having gone through the above article, you are better equipped to manage these problems in the future as you have in-depth knowledge of how the SSL X-Phase works. The SSL X-Phase is indeed a very easy-to-use tool at your disposal. It has a very user-friendly interface with self-explanatory buttons and features which will have you solving your phase problems in no time.
- ADVANCED MIXING TECHNIQUES: PHASE CORRECTING DRUMS | MUSIC PRODUCTION | BERKLEE ONLINE
- RECORDING DRUMS PART 5 – PHASE CANCELLATION
- SSL NATIVE X-PHASE
- SSL NATIVE USER GUIDE
- SSL X-PHASE REVIEW – BEST PHASE ALIGN TOOL?
- WHAT IS THE 3:1 RULE?
- ASBA DRUMS
- MIX TIP – HOW TO FIX PHASE ISSUES IN YOUR MIX
Sultan Zafar is a guitar player from Islamabad, Pakistan. He has been playing music with various mainstream musicians for over 20 years. He is a song writer and music producer. These days he spends his time exploring different music genres and collaborating with fellow musicians on various projects.