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How To Make Your Dialogue Sound Amazing - Signal Chain Revealed



If you're looking to get killer sounding dialogue on your mixes... then you've come to the right place. I'll be breaking down every plug-in we use in our dialogue chain here at Thunderbird Sound.



These are the plug-ins and settings we keep in our template for every session. Our dialogue has never sounded better because of it. At the end of this article I'll be posting our Free ProTools Template download which includes our dialogue chain and plug-in settings.


 

Intro


If you're like me I struggled for years with my dialogue. Mine just didn't have that magic like what I was hearing on TV & Film. What I heard was clean dialogue that slices through a dense mix with ease. I wanted every word of my mixes to really shine - to command attention. This led me on a soul-searching quest to figure out what the pros were doing - and how I could achieve those same results.


One of my key take-aways was that pro mixers use processing quite a bit less than you may actually think. Sometimes it's the very act of over-processing that can make our signal sound smaller, and smaller, and smaller.


If heavy processing needs to be applied its done in "staging". For instance if a dynamic speaker needed some serious smoothing, we could use multiple compressors in line with each one only doing a little bit of compression. If you used one compressor to achieve this result, you might get too much pumping. Most plug-ins don't like to be over worked, try to think about using multiple processors in sequence to achieve a more transparent result.


On to the secret sauce:


 

The Dx Channel


Here's a breakdown of every plug-in insert I use directly on the dialogue channel. I'll explain each individually below.


1. Fabfilter Pro-Q 3: It starts with great EQ. Pro-Q 3 gets me there faster than any other EQ plug-in out there. It just sounds great and the visuals are stunning - especially the RTA. I always start with a HPF (100Hz) and LPF (9kHz) engaged for Dialogue. Then I'll use subtractive EQ to clean out anything I don't like about the dialogue i.e. room resonances, tubby voices, boxy lavs etc.


2. Fabfilter Pro-MB: Multi-Band Compression. I use this as an "auto-equalizer" to balance the frequency spectrum of the dialogue automatically. This gets me closer to my end result without ever turning a knob. This also helps level out the dialogue without the pumping effects of a compressor.



3. Pultec EQP-1A: This is where the magic is! Often my dialogue comes in a little too mid-rangy. With a Pultec EQ, I boost with the Low Band (60Hz) to get some warmth back in the dialogue - and the High Band (5kHz) to get some clarity back in the voice. Often times this will solve tonality issues before needing to make any subtractive EQ cuts. This guy is already engaged on every Dx channel with a little bit of boost right out of the gate - then I'll adjust to taste.


4. Fabfilter Pro-DS: A little De-essing love to cut out those harsh esses. Fabfilter's De-esser doesn't dull the sound of my dialogue like some other De-essers that will remain nameless.






5. SPL Transient Designer: You can use any good transient designer here, I love the one from SPL. I use this to reduce ambience on dialogue with excess room reflections. It also works great in reducing reverb when a boom is off axis. I keep this one bypassed by default and only engage it when needed.



And that wraps up the plug-ins that I use as channel inserts! Now onto the Dialogue Bus:


 

The Dx Bus

The Dx Bus is super important for globally processing all of our dialogue tracks. I set it up by bussing all individual dialogue tracks to a separate Aux (Folder) track in Pro Tools - called the "Dx Bus". Here I can do some "broad strokes" processing to all of my dialogue in one shot. I think of these inserts as a sort of "set it and forget it" type of processing where the plugins are always engaged and rarely do I alter these settings. This is where most of the magic is happening in my processing chain.


Here’s what's on my Dx Bus:


1. FabFilter Pro-Q 3: Yes here it is again. Only this time I'm using the "auto EQ" function to automatically duck common frequency problem areas in dialogue. I've set it up with 6 narrow bands of threshold based compression: 100, 250, 500, 1k, 3k and 6.3k. Basically it just solves any pokey frequencies for me right out of the gate.



2. Cranesong Phoenix II: A little controversy here but yes I do use a little bit of saturation on my Dx chain. I'm not looking for distortion here, I'm looking for harmonic excitement. This gives me a little forwardness and clarity that EQ can't give. Use it sparingly!

3. FabFilter Pro-DS: Another De-esser! Yes just another de-esser doing very light compression to the sibilance. It's working in a little bit of a higher band than the one on the channel. I find that two de-essers working less is much more transparent that one working very hard.





4. Izotope RX De-Noiser: Here's a little bit of auto de-noising if I'm working with program that has quite a bit of noisy dialogue. Use this very gently (4db reduction) and always keep it in Adaptive mode so that it adapts to the source material. This one stays in bypass unless I need it.


5. Avid Pro Compressor: A tiny little bit of compression for very loud dialogue. 98% percent of the time this is doing nothing. It only kicks in when the dialogue gets very loud.








6. Avid Pro Limiter: Used to keep my headroom down so that I don't end up exploding my master bus. This rarely ever kicks in except for very loud moments.








 

Additional Flavor


A little extra spice... here are some additional FX that I will use to sweeten dialogue. Each of these are setup on a separate Auxiliary track. The sends are already routed on each Dx channel with the send fader at -Inf. So if I need an effect I don't need to do any routing, I can just reach for a send fader and go to town.



1. Altiverb 7 - Stereo Room Verb: This is a realistic room verb that I can use to place dialogue into the room of the scene. Gives the viewer a sense of being in the room.





2. ReVibe II - Mono Room Verb: Another realistic room verb. I often use the mono verb to match a dry lav with a boom.












3. ReVibe II - Stereo Long Verb: This is used as an effect. Such as a "dream sequence" or "spaced out" type feeling.












4. Mod Delay III - Stereo Delay: Also used for dramatic effect. Sometimes I'll use a short echo to give dialogue a "far away" effect.





And that wraps it up for FX.


 


So there it is with no secrets left on the table. This is the entire Dialogue plug-in chain that we use at Thunderbird Sound on every single one of our mixes to get crystal clear results.


Yeah so... I did promise to give a direct download link to our dialogue tracks in our Pro Tools session template. You can use the entire template for your Dx tracks or simply just steal some of my plug-in presets - it's up to you. So here it is:



In the future I plan on breaking down our entire mix template and then making that available for download. Be sure and subscribe below to be notified when that article lands!



 

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What dialogue plug-in is your secret weapon?


P.S. We're so proud you made it to the end. Here's a Free "Period Firearms" Library from Thunderbird Sound.



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1 Comment


joshuasmanley
Nov 11, 2022

Just curious...And of course I am sure it depends on the situation and scene but do you have a starting point for that that first room verb?

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