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Increasing Attack with Gates

This post focuses on the trick of increasing the attack of sounds using gates.

Most people reach for EQ or compression when they want to add punch to their sounds.  But I’ve found another way to accomplish a very specific kind of attack transient using gates.  I sometimes use this trick to add attack kick drums.

Digital gates in particular are more flexible than their analog counterparts.  There’s a limit as to how fast analog components can respond to a signal.  But digital effects can respond instantly (or even, in the case of some mastering limiters, pre-emptively).  As such, digital gates can respond with an instantaneous attack.

This trick should work with any gate that has an adjustable attack.

Throw up the gate on the audio track that you want to affect and add your gate to an insert.  Bring the attack down to 12ms and set the gain reduction to something fairly aggressive.  Drag the threshold down until the gate is triggered fairly consistently by the initial transient of the sound.  You should hear a ‘sucking’ sound when it engages to let the sound through.  Decrease the attack and you’ll hear more and more of a ‘click’ when the gate engages.  Set the release to a value that complements the rhythm of the sound, so that each attack receives the full swing of the gate coming open.

At 0ms this sounds pretty ridiculous and unnatural.  You’ll have to do some tweaking to achieve more attack while not sounding unnatural.  Sometimes it just doesn’t work.  But, the benefit of doing it this way is that you can get more attack out of the initial transient without affecting the rest of the signal by compressing or EQing it.

I also do something similar to this if I’m working on an SSL console by pulling up on the gate threshold knob to increase the attack of the gate.

This can also work well when blended with the unaffected signal as aux send.  That usually produces more natural results.