Vocal FX – Thickener

The wide, larger than life sound of a great mix is built, in part, on this effect, known informally as a spreader. Stereo, decorrelated energy is created through this signal processing strategy built of two different long delays, usually tuned (exactly, or nearly exactly) to a musically useful value, such as a quarter note, eighth note, dotted value, or triplet. Each delay is slightly, and symmetrically detuned by a tiny fraction of a half step, from about +/- 5 to +/-13 cents. The pitch shifted delays are hard panned left and right, and made to feed a reverb. The entire effect is then placed in the mix at a low level. Too much and the mix gets cloudy, or sounds over processed. Not enough and the mix fails to achieve the desired width. Set it so that it is just audible to you, likely not particularly noticeable to the casual listener, but leaves you disappointed when muted.

Thickener – Signal Flow

Have a look, and a listen. Signal flow, as discussed in our conference or online interactions, and in Sound FX:

The videos below use these key elements within the DAW

They are connected as shown here:

Thickener – Audio Examples

First, the lead vocal, soloed, and stopped. The thickener is on throughout, supporting and widening the voice while he sings. Stopping the track reveals the effect at its exact level in the mix.

The Gravel Pit, Serpent Umbrella, “Mr. Baby”
used with permission
please support the artist

Next, in the context of the full mix, listen to the male vocal, in falsetto. Watch the mute buttons of the two (lower right) sends to the Thickener as we hear him first without, then with the effect.

The Gravel Pit, Serpent Umbrella, “Mr. Baby”
used with permission
please support the artistt

Next listen to the connection between the thickener and the song structure as we come out of the guitar solo, to the end of the tune.

The Spreader is on throughout.

He begins in full voice – no Thickener

When he enters expressive falsetto (“…now at least you know…”) we add the Thickener

When he returns to full voice (“…Things can go…”), we reduce the amount of Thickener.

When he returns to falsetto (“…Things were meant to …”), we increase the Thickener, and we leave it at this level to the end of the tune, as the return to full voice is accompanied by harmony vocals, and we want a delicate ending in which the thickener pulls the listener in to listen to the soft layers as the song decays to silence.

The Gravel Pit, Serpent Umbrella, “Mr. Baby”
used with permission
please support the artist

More on Vocals

Vocal FX – Spreader

Vocal Microphone Choices

Vocals in the Studio


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