By Matthew Sim
In recent decades, while everyone is chasing for the bright yet smooth pop vocal tone that competes on the radio, we tend to overlook the other side of the spectrum. Have the vocals sounding warm is still sought after in soul/r&b, folk, ballads, country, and sometimes pop music. Especially in Asia, where I worked with a lot of the chart-topping artists, a warm vocal tone is still in demand. It brings out certain emotions of the vocalist and makes the vocal sound larger than life.
I do frequently get a request for a “warmer vocal tone” from some artists. However, I seldomly receive recordings that go along with it. Mostly, artists send me super bright vocals recorded with tube mics yet ask for a warm vocal tone. It might get tricky when you have to fix it in the mix. Though, I have developed a handful of tricks throughout my career to “warm” up the vocal tone while maintaining the integrity of it.
Let’s discuss 3 of these tricks and concepts that I developed, using the hardware Neve 1073, 1081, and 1084 EQ. I applied the same ideas within the Sonimus Burnley 73 EQ to warm up the vocal tones. You can surely apply some of the concepts to other tone-shaping tools & gear as well, but I really liked the way it came out using the Burnley 73.
After I used this EQ in a few mixes, I found these favorite settings on the Burnley 73, especially for vocals. The settings below give a very pleasant and musical result to my ears.
1: I start by playing with the gain knob up to 40-60 to get an overdriven vocal tone in parallel, to blend it in with the dry vocal signal. It adds some analog thickness in the midrange without adding muddiness in the lower mid of the vocal.
2: For vocals, I usually add some 35 or 60hz low end and occasionally 110hz for female vocals when I want a thicker/warmer sound. 110hz or above usually add a lot of muddiness that you don’t want in the vocals. However, besides that, I’ll use the high-pass filter in conjunction with the low EQ boost to filter out all the sub low “Junk” frequencies that have no purpose to exist.
3: I personally like the 1k6hz EQ boost on vocals. It pushes the warmer vocal tone forward a tiny bit without being too bright. Usually, we tend to boost the highs to get the vocals cut through better, but sometimes boosting the mid-range can achieve the same results if you want a thicker vocal tone.