Saturday, March 21, 2015

Expander. What is it and how to use it? (free Vst Plugins included)

Hello everyone and welcome to this week's article!
Today we're going to talk about a topic that we have kinda overlooked in our analysis of the audio processors, because it's basically the other side of the coin of a Gate, but that actually deserves a deepening: the Expander.

An expander comes usually in the same plugin of a gate, and it is always a derivation of a compressor, that's why most of the controls will be the same: threshold, attack, release, knee and so on.

With the same controls, we can obtain different results:

Compressor: it attenuates the signal that surpasses a certain threshold, with a strenght that we can decide (e.g. is useful to attenuate the occasional peaks of a snare drum).

Gate: it attenuates the signal below a certain threshold, leaving the part of the signal above it untouched (e.g. is useful to eliminate the electric guitar background noise)

Expander: it raises the gain of the part of the sound that surpasses a certain threshold. Basically what it does is the opposite of a compressor (e.g. we have to restore some dynamic range from an overcompressed recording, or we have to make the main element of an audio track to pop out more compared to the others).

So the function of an expander is to make a sound to pop out more and restore some dynamic range, without necessarily attenuating the background sounds. 

How do we use it? It's simple: we must find the level which gets surpassed only by the element that we want to emphasize and put the threshold to that level, from there with the "expand" control we raise the gain to the desired level. Obviously we can also refine the setting deciding attack and release times.

Usually there is a Gate bundled on each DAW, but not always there's an Expander.
Here's a small selection of Free Vst Expanders for you to try!

DigitalfishPhones Floorfish one of the most celebrated free gate/expanders.

ReaGate the gate/expander from the Reaper serie, very simple and versatile.

Variety of Sound Prefix this is a processor which incorporates eq, phase alignment, gate and expander.

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