In this article, we have handpicked and reviewed the 7 best de-esser plugins available in 2021 for music producers of every skill level.
After recording some vocals, you will start mixing and, in the process, add a compressor. And that’s when they begin being awfully loud – the s, sh, ch, j, and t sounds. Those are called sibilance, and the nature of microphones, preamps and dynamics processors often boost them during recording.
Nobody wants those, of course. So, a specialized type of hardware began surfacing in the early 70s to counter this issue. Those units were often regarded as a surplus for the biggest studios as people often attempted to achieve similar effects using alternatives.
However, now that we have software versions, it’s best to utilize these specialized effects for superior results. Hence, we have come up with this list. But first, let’s have a few questions answered about de-essers.
What is A De-Esser Plugin?
A de-esser is a plugin designed to diminish or suppress the sibilance in speech or vocals. To clarify the terminology, “ess” signifies the sibilance, hence the name “de-ESSer.” And since sibilance occupies a specific range of frequencies, a de-esser is a compressor that targets that frequency range.
How Do You Use A De-Esser?
A de-esser plugin will generally ask you to specify a range of frequencies, threshold, and mix amount. The range of frequencies depends on the gender and timbre of the voice you are manipulating. However, checking around 3.5 kHz to 8 kHz is a good rule of thumb.
If the voice has a deeper timbre, sweep around the lower spectrum of the said range of frequencies. Similarly, pronunciation can also change the frequency (“shake” versus “snake”).
Furthermore, the threshold should be set depending on how loud the voice is. Remember that threshold is set inversely, so -18 dB, for example, will make the de-esser more sensitive than -10 dB will.
Finally, the mix knob will let you control how much of the de-esser’s effect you want in your vocals. If you don’t find a mix knob, reduce the Range parameter instead.
Where Do You Put A De-Esser?
While there is no rule stating where you should put any of your plugins, we recommend placing the de-esser above any time-based plugins such as reverb, chorus, and delay. However, if the recording is highly dynamic, consider using a slow (>50ms attack) compressor first and then a de-esser.
Now that we know the basics about de-essers let’s get into our list:
Top 7 De-Esser Plugins 2021
1. Waves Sibilance Review
Waves’ Organic ReSynthesis spectral filters give this plugin an unmatched convenience and efficiency.
It’s ironic how Waves named the plugin the very thing that it is designed to remove. Anyhow, Sibilance offers a super-simple interface with four straightforward knobs for you to set and forget. Instead of showing you an elaborate frequency spectrum, it gives you the Detection knob.
A lower Detection value works well for “s” sounds, whereas a higher value works better for “sh/ch” sounds. The same goes for the Mode knob, which controls whether you want the plugin to focus on frequencies below or above 4 kHz.
Similarly, a Range slider determines the maximum amount of gain reduction despite the level of audio above the threshold. And finally, Monitor lets you audition the sibilance that will be removed based on your current settings.
- Two Variants
Sibilance comes in two variations with a mono and stereo version each: Sibilance Component and Sibilance-Live Component. The first one is suited for studio use, whereas the latter is latency-free and ideally suited for live settings. However, note that only the first variant has the lookahead feature.
This plugin uses Waves’ Organic ReSynthesis technology, which employs spectral filters to detect the sibilance alone in your audio intelligently. Therefore, it doesn’t require you to memorize any frequency range or have extensive knowledge about de-essing. However, of course, if you’d rather have control over the frequency range as with a traditional de-esser, check out the Waves Renaissance DeEsser as well.
- Terrific Sound
Having innovative spectral filters also means not having to worry about artifacts created by regular high-frequency compression. Waves Sibilance acts on the true sibilance only, leaving the rest of the voice untouched. This technique ensures that every use case of this plugin will result in transparent and natural-sounding de-essing.
This plugin is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.13.6 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
Sibilance is one of the most convenient de-essers we have reviewed. Its intelligent filtering feature works well, and as for its de-essing, there is hardly any case where it fails. In addition, we also liked its multiple variants designed for studio and live settings.
2. Accusonus ERA De-Esser Review
Designed to be as minimalistic as possible, Accusonus De-Esser offers one of the fastest de-essing solutions on the market.
Accusonus are known for their “intelligent” plugins that do most of the heavy-lifting themselves. Their audio repair plugins have barely a single notable knob and yet, are highly effective. Accordingly, this de-esser also provides an automatic sibilance detector paired with a straightforward interface.
Other than the de-esser controls, there is an output gain and a Diff button to audition the sibilance the plugin is detecting. The latter feature helps ensure your audio isn’t getting any unnecessary artifacts.
- Quick Results
The very concept of De-Esser is getting results within seconds. All you must do is tweak a knob, and that’s it. This easy workflow makes this plugin suitable for the very beginner to the most experienced. After all, nobody wants to spend hours fine-tuning a plugin, right?
The two modes, Normal and Broad, change the range of frequencies the detector algorithm targets. The Normal mode is suitable for “s” sounds, whereas the Broad mode is ideal for “sh/ch” sounds. However, note that the Broad mode may introduce artifacts when used in extremities, which brings us to:
You can use the Diff button to listen to the detected sibilance and confirm that no unwanted audio parts are being detected. If you aren’t sure, you can switch to the B setting at the top-right of the interface and make changes without worry – the A setting will have your previous setup stored.
This plugin is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.13 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2, AU, and AAX formats.
When it comes to sheer speed and ease, it’s difficult to fault Accusonus De-Esser. However, it’s unfortunate that this plugin is only available in a subscription with other similar plugins. And while the bundle appears to be handy, if you already have alternative plugins, it may not feel worth it, not to mention that you may not like subscription plans at all. If you are looking for a more advanced option, check the Accusonus De-Esser Pro.
3. Antares Sybil Review
Sybil offers a moderate level of control with a familiar interface.
There’s no way you haven’t heard of the notorious plugin for vocals Auto-Tune. From its manufacturer comes Sybil, a classic form of de-esser that provides an adjustable high-pass filter for an optimal level of control over the effect. If you have experience with traditional de-essers, you’ll feel right at home with this one.
- Familiar Parameters
Nobody wants to learn new names and concepts for something as mundane as de-essing vocals. Hence, Antares takes the tried-and-true route of including an entire compressor for the de-essing process. You will find the familiar threshold, compression (ratio), attack, and release.
- Variable Frequency
Sybil has a side-chained high-pass filter with a knob to select the frequency starting from as low as 100 Hz. This parameter lets you be as precise as you need to control your de-essing effect or even use the plugin for other creative uses. After all, it is a compressor.
This plugin is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.13 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 3, AU, and AAX formats.
For someone who understands a classic de-esser or compressor, this plugin will feel highly familiar. The sound quality is fantastic, and it can apply the effect in a natural-sounding way. However, it’s worth noting that its price may not be agreeable to some.
4. FabFilter Pro-DS Review
Almost every FabFilter product excels at what they do, and this one is no different.
Pro-DS provides extensive controls and a convenient layout in its fully scalable user interface. It has two modes for its detection: Single Vocal and Allround. As the name suggests, the first is better suited for single vocals, whereas the second can be used on drums, woodwinds, and other instruments to reduce harsh high-frequencies.
Similarly, it also offers Wide Band and Split Band processing. When sibilance is detected using one of the detection algorithms we mentioned above, Pro-DS acts on your audio. And so, Wide Band processing mode affects the entire spectrum, whereas Split Band only processes the frequencies higher than your selection.
Overall, it offers plenty of customization and incredible sound, not to mention its great visual feedback of your input and processing. In addition, if you want more accuracy, you can also add up to 15ms of Lookahead.
- Intelligent Detector
The plugin’s Single Vocal detection mode uses an intelligent detection algorithm that filters out only the sibilance from the rest of your audio. This feature results in an artifact-free transparent de-essing in almost every use case.
- Custom Filters
You can set the detection frequency range in Allround mode using the sliders below the large Threshold and the Range knobs. The first slider, a high-pass filter, also doubles as the selected frequency for the Split Band processing mode described in the previous section. The frequency range has a minimum of 2 kHz, with the maximum being 20 kHz.
- Adjustable Stereo Processing
The Stereo Link knob controls whether the two channels of your stereo sound should operate independently or be linked together. In addition, there’s a drop-down menu to select either Mid or Side mode.
- 4x Linear Phase
Pro-DS offers 2x and 4x oversampling to reduce any aliasing. It’s useful when you are using higher Range settings or processing a busy mix. However, note that this feature uses more CPU power and may also introduce latency, along with the ones caused by split-band and lookahead features.
This plugin is available for Windows Vista or higher 32-bit or 64-bit and macOS 10.10 or higher 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
As with any FabFilter products, the quality and features Pro DS provides are astounding and highly commendable. Its intelligent sibilance detection makes the de-essing process effortless and swift. However, it’s worth mentioning that its price may be beyond the budget for many, especially since we are talking about de-essers.
5. Oxford SuprEsser Review
Designed to be the “last word in de-essing applications,” this plugin gives you the ultimate level of control.
SuprEsser takes inspiration from dynamic EQs and multi-band compressors in performing its de-essing, providing an extensive level of control. Hence, you could even use this plugin for removing shrill sounds in woodwinds and low-end plosives in vocals due to its versatility.
In addition to what’s in the screenshot below, further controls are available in the Advanced menu. For example, you can select whether you want the entire band or a specific frequency to be the trigger or the effect receiver.
Let’s say you selected both the trigger and the receiver to be bands and set the filter to 20 Hz to 20 kHz. Now, you essentially have a regular compressor. There are many other things you could do with this flexible plugin. However, talking about them all would be beyond the scope of this article.
- Auto Level Tracking
This plugin has a feature that analyzes the level of gain reduction you set and automatically moves the threshold to match that level of gain reduction throughout the track. This feature is crucial when you have a vocal recording that gets quieter and louder over time (verse vs. chorus, for example).
- Full Spectrum Operation
SuprEsser lets you use the de-esser anywhere in the frequency spectrum from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. Therefore, it feels more like a full-blown dynamic peak filter than merely a de-esser. Also, while the feature may seem unnecessary, having the possibility is nice.
The filters employed by SuprEsser function in linear-phase, meaning you could use this plugin for both mixing and mastering. Although, this does create some limitations that we will address in the following entry.
- Multiple Variants
The linear-phase filters utilized by this plugin require latency-inducing features for them to perform well at low frequencies. Hence, SuprEsser comes in three variants: SuprEsser, SuprEsser HR, and SuprEsser LL.
The first is the standard one. And the second one is best suited for low-frequencies (plosives), but it adds a lot of latency. In contrast, the third one has very little latency and works well for live settings at lower sample rates. However, note that it won’t perform well below 400 Hz.
This plugin is available for Windows XP or higher and macOS 10.4.11 or higher, both 32-bit and 64-bit. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
SuprEsser is an incredibly powerful plugin way beyond any conventional de-esser. However, as big of a strength it is, it can also be a weakness. Not everyone wants a powerhouse for a de-esser, but then again, it could just be your thing.
6. IK Multimedia T-Racks De-Esser Review
The De-Esser is IK Multimedia’s solution for reducing excessive sibilance or controlling the high frequency of any instrument.
This plugin is a part of the four multi-band processor series in the T-Racks bundle. It has a resizable interface, a frequency spectrum display, and all the fundamental controls for the de-esser. The De-Ess fader is the threshold for detecting the sibilance, and the Release fader controls how fast the volume returns to normal after compression.
At the bottom right of the control interface, you will find a De-Ess Type button, which activates Soft mode. This mode makes the de-esser have a slower and smoother reaction. Furthermore, you can also monitor the detected sibilance, the mix (which is what we generally want), and the filtered band.
- Band Options
De-Esser lets you select between two or three bands. In the first method, the conventional type, the de-esser will process the entire spectrum above the high-pass filter. However, you can include a specific part of the spectrum by using three bands while excluding everything below and above the frequency range. This second method is beneficial for reducing artifacts and retaining air frequencies in vocals.
After you have your band option selected, you can use the sliders below the graph to specify your high-pass and low-pass filters. The high-pass can go as low as 1 kHz, whereas the upper limit for both the filters is 16 kHz. It imposes this limit to help you preserve air frequencies where you wouldn’t find any sibilance anyway. Moreover, you can use the handy frequency spectrum display to specify precisely where you find the sibilance.
- Selectable Slope Steepness
In addition to frequency adjustments, you can also select the slope steepness of the bands with four options available: 6, 12, 24, and an impressive 48 dB per octave. If you are using the plugin for general vocal recordings, a slope of 12 dB/oct is perfect. However, if you are processing other instruments to reduce shrill noises, try using a higher slope and a narrow frequency range.
IK Multimedia De-Esser is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
This plugin is a well-designed traditional de-esser for a fair price. With its high-quality oversampling options, customizable controls, and transparent sound, De-Esser is one of the most laudable de-essing processors available today.
7. SPL De-Esser Collection Review
Get the sound of two of the most revered hardware de-essers by SPL with this emulation.
The two de-esser plugins include a classic single band and a modern dual-band version. Despite being analog emulations, these plugins also follow the modern route of detecting the sibilance automatically by analyzing the entire audio spectrum instead of letting you choose a frequency range.
Unlike traditional de-essers, the SPL De-Essers use phase cancellation to achieve their effect. According to SPL, this method delivers a cleaner and transparent result without tweaking the plugin much.
Similarly, it offers a male or female option for you to choose from for the detection algorithm. This option helps the de-esser adapt better to your recording. Combine that with the mid/side mode, and you have a powerful de-esser with far fewer knobs than one would expect.
- Single Band Version
The single band classic de-esser analyzes your audio, detects the sibilance, and processes all the sibilant frequencies with equal strength. However, this doesn’t mean that it will compress all the high frequencies. Instead, it uses narrowed filters to phase out the sibilance alone, leaving the rest of the spectrum untouched.
- Dual-Band Version
This version of the de-esser uses two frequency bands that you can use independently or together using the on/off switches. In this variant, the male/female option affects only the Low band.
- Auto Threshold
Both variants of the de-esser have an automatic threshold adjustment feature, which changes the threshold based on the level of sibilance detected. So, all you must select is the reduction range, and the plugin will ensure the same level is being reduced in every case of sibilance.
SPL De-Esser is available for Windows 7 or higher and macOS 10.9 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, AAX, and RTAS formats.
If you’d like to have a moderate level of control, but with automated features, this plugin collection is a must-try. Its processors are based on the manufacturer’s hardware units, and so they sound excellent. However, you may find that they are quite a bit on the pricier side.
The 3 Free De-Esser Plugins 2021
1. Sleepy-Time DSP Lisp Review
Designed to speed up the process of de-essing, Lisp uses an automatic sibilant detection algorithm to give transparent and adjustable results.
This plugin uses transient filters in the high-frequency range based on voice pitch to detect sibilance. Next, you can select a range of frequencies to de-ess, and Lisp only acts on this range. When sibilance is detected, it generates an inverted copy of the signal to reduce its loudness. While the concept is simplistic, the result is undoubtedly effective.
- Auto Mode
In the automatic mode, you can control the sibilance detector’s sensitivity by adjusting the Sensitivity knob, which controls how loud the sibilance should be before Lisp acts (ranges from 0.5x to 4x the volume of the rest of the audio). Similarly, you can adjust the Sibilant Range, which controls where Lisp looks for sibilance. And the Q knob controls the resonance of the detector – use a lower value for shrill noises. Finally, the Hz Smooth controls the speed of the pitch detector; if you hear strange artifacts, try increasing this parameter.
- Manual Mode
Lisp also lets you choose a single frequency to attenuate dynamically via the Manual processing mode. You can use the Q factor to help widen the processing frequency range.
- Stereo Processing
As if the rest of the features weren’t impressive enough, Lisp packs mid/side and unlinked stereo modes to give you the ultimate level of control. In the L/R stereo mode, you can choose to de-ess only the left or right channel, or both separately, albeit using the same settings.
This plugin is available for Windows 7 or higher, both 32-bit and 64-bit. It comes in VST 2 and 3 formats.
Lisp uses a unique yet simple chain of processors to provide an automatic sibilance detection algorithm. Even if it wasn’t a free plugin, the method remains a genuinely innovative take on de-essers with impressive performance. So, we highly recommend you try it if you are a Windows user, and especially if you aren’t yet experienced enough with de-essers.
2. Digitalfishphones SPITFISH Review
This oddly named plugin is an iteration of the fail-safe classic de-essers.
With SpitFish, you start by turning on the Listen button, twisting the Sense knob up, and sweeping the Tune knob around until you hear the annoying sibilance you wish removed. Then, simply turn the Depth knob until the sibilance is reduced to your liking. In a way, it behaves like a dynamic EQ peak filter.
- Simple and Classic
The parameters are named differently, but they behave very much like dynamic filters or even multi-band compressors. Think of the Sense as the threshold and the Depth as the ratio. It makes sense, doesn’t it?
- Soft Mode
The Soft button reduces the aggressiveness of the de-esser to deliver a smoother sound. Note that you probably won’t need the Soft mode if you dial in a relatively small amount of Depth. Although, of course, feel free to give it a quick try.
- Stereo Switch
Enabling the Stereo button at the top right of the interface makes SpitFish act independently on each stereo channel of your audio. However, in general, vocals are recorded in mono. Therefore, enabling this switch will only result in unnecessary CPU usage.
This plugin is available for Windows 97 or higher 32-bit only. It comes in VST 2 format, bundled with a couple of other free plugins.
This plugin is quite ancient, so it failed to open in 64-bit DAWs with bridging in our tests. However, if you use a 32-bit DAW still, you can give it a try. The sound is alright and like that of a dynamic filter, but you’re not missing out on much by skipping this one.
3. Antress Modern De-Esser Review
Modern De-Esser takes inspiration from hardware units and offers a minimalistic traditional de-essing workflow.
As we can see from the user interface, the plugin is very much akin to compressors. The only addition is a frequency knob, which ranges from 3 kHz to 10 kHz and specifies which frequency you want the compressor to attenuate.
- Quick and Easy
The workflow is simple: select a frequency, compress it. The Width knob controls the Q-factor of the frequency selector. Use a higher value to make the de-esser cover a more extensive range of frequencies.
- CPU Friendly
Being a minimalistic plugin with no fancy features, you can expect low CPU usage even when used on multiple tracks. If you are doubtful about the quality, consider using it on tracks that aren’t as obvious, such as back vocals or instruments.
Modern De-Esser is available for Windows 32-bit only. It comes in VST 2 format.
This plugin is an excellent place to start learning about de-essers. Furthermore, you could also use it for backing tracks and so on when you want a quick dynamic processor to reduce some sharp, high frequencies. However, since it only comes as a 32-bit plugin, make sure you try multiple instances of it in your DAW before you incorporate it in any of your serious projects.
1. Softube Weiss Deess Review
Based on the lauded Weiss DS1-MK3 hardware de-esser, Softube reimagines classic de-essing with modern flexibility and visualization.
Essentially, there are two bands dedicated to de-essing in this plugin. You can change the filter style, threshold level, and activation mode of each band independently. In addition, you can also control both bands at the same time to get similar actions out of both.
Furthermore, if you open the side menu on the left, you can access many more controls like the attack, release, knee, etc., that can help you further customize your sound. Overall, we think you would especially like this plugin if you enjoy having complete flexibility over your de-esser, and not to mention its gorgeous user interface.
- Double Bands
There is a low and a high band for giving you precise control over the tone of your de-esser. Both bands share the band-pass and notch filter shapes, whereas the higher band alone has the high-pass filter shape. With the band-pass, you can select a broader range of frequencies (controlled by dragging a box across the graphical display), whereas the notch filter lets you hone in on a single frequency. One more thing worth mentioning is that you can also bring the high band filter over the low band.
Along with the standard de-essing parameters like threshold and range, you can open the side menu to access more controls like the attack, release, ratio, and makeup gain. Furthermore, you also get a Mix slider to control the amount of the overall effect and a Low Latency switch for live performance.
- Zoom In
The clean user interface isn’t only for show; you can use it to set your various parameters like frequency, threshold, and range. However, if you need a little more precision, you can drag across the graphical view and zoom in and out over the frequency spectrum.
- Linked Bands
Sometimes you might just want two separate frequencies compressed at an equal level. Enter Ganged mode that lets you adjust one of the bands with the other following its parameters.
Weiss Deess is available for Windows 10 or higher and macOS 10.13 or higher, both 64-bit only. It comes in VST 2/3, AU, and AAX formats.
We laud this plugin’s modern, clean user interface and incredible sound. The flexibility and convenience this plugin offers are second to none. However, despite being worth it, the pricing may put off many people as most don’t value de-essers as other plugins. Even so, make sure you consider its features before giving it a pass.
There we have it; our selection of the best de-essing processors available in the market today. As you might have noticed, we have attempted to include plugins appropriate for music producers of all levels of experience. There are quick and easy ones like Waves Sibilance and Accusonus De-Esser.
Similarly, there are advanced ones like FabFilter Pro-DS and Sonnox SuprEsser, which are great for people who like having more control over their sound. In addition to those, the Softube Weiss Deess is also worth checking out.
And, if you prefer traditional workflows, try Antares Sybil, SPL De-Esser Collection, and IK Multimedia De-Esser. The free Sleepy-Time DSP Lisp also fits well in this category.
We’d also like to mention the Precision De-Esser by UAD, which works exclusively on UA audio interfaces or DSP cards.
Finally, to wrap it all up, we hope this article helped you learn about de-essers and pick one for your workflow. We can’t wait to hear where you use them!
K. M. Joshi is a multi-award-winning composer and sound designer, specializing in film, game, and TV audio. He enjoys making cinematic music, rock, blues, and electronica.