Mixing Sounds with Transient Shapers

This guide aims to give you a better understanding of transients and explains how to use transient shapers to enhance your mixes.

Transient Shaper

Transient Explained

A transient is a short-duration of non-tonal material that occurs during the attack phase at the onset of a sound. An onset refers to the beginning of a sound which has an increase of spectral energy. Essentially, transients are a short burst of sound that contains higher frequencies than the harmonic content of that sound. For example, the initial attack sound of a snare drum.

Transient Shaper

Transient Shapers Explained

A transient shaper is an essential mixing tool that excels at controlling the transient response and the envelope curve of any audio signal without affecting the overall level. Transient shaping is a “secret weapon” mixing approach used by some of the world’s finest engineers and producers. It is a must-have dynamics effect processor to enhance attack, control mix presence, and fix recording problems.

Today’s software transient shapers are inspired by the revolutionary SPL Transient Designer hardware processor designed by Ruben Tilgner in the late 90′s. The original analog processor released by Sound Performance Labs featured ‘Differential Envelope’ technology to produce level-independent dynamics processing using a combination of VCAs (voltage controlled amplifiers) and envelope followers to target the attack portion of a sound source.

Unlike compressors, transient shapers can transparently shape the attack and sustain characteristics of sounds. They are capable of drastically amplifying or attenuating the onset of a sound with pinpoint accuracy. Typical transient shapers feature two simplistic controls to process dynamics – attack and sustain. Many modern emulations of the hardware also feature these two controls in addition to more advanced parameters that expand their uses exponentially such as gain control, soft-clip limiting, sidechain options, and a mix knob for example.

Transient Shaper

Mixing with Transient Shapers

Transient shapers are incredibly useful for a variety of sound treatments. With little effort, you can shorten or lengthen the attack and sustain portions of any sound. Transient shapers are also used to solve a multitude of audio problems as well. Below are a few examples of how you can use transient shaping in your projects to either enhance or tame sounds.

  • Emphasize or soften the onset of a bass drum or percussive sound with the attack control. This is an ideal approach to control the amount punch and presence of a sound to help it sit in the mix better.
  • Emphasize or soften the onset of a bass, lead or melody sound to control punch, clarity, and presence. Increasing the attack will bring sounds forward in the mix and ‘in your face’ while decreasing the attack pushes sounds back in the mix and softens them.
  • Create a darker and more rounded sound by decreasing the attack control. This approach also works for taming harsh spikes in sounds that can cause clipping.
  • Musically increase or decrease the sustain of an instrument, drum sound or loop to clean up the mix and control transparency.
  • De-verb sounds by decreasing the sustain control to remove unwanted reverb tails. This approach also works for removing delay tails as well.
  • Amplify or reduce the picking sound of an electric or acoustic guitar with the attack control.
  • Hold the sound of strings or pads longer with the sustain control.
  • Control the dynamics of vocals and breaths with a combination of adjustments using both the attack and sustain controls.
  • Remove bleed from open mics or expand the room sound of overheads.


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