How To Mix Saxophone

How To Mix Saxophone

This tutorial was requested by a Google Plus friend of mine Qbik and I decided to do a step by step tutorial showing you guys how to mix a saxophone. I’ll be using an alto sax for this tutorial.

Brass and woodwind sounds always sound good when they are recorded live as compared to using a vst plugin. On this blog post I wont talk about recording or programming, but just make sure the saxophone is well recorded and already sounds good from the source.

If you’re ready and believe you’ve captured a great sound then we can move on to mixing. Check the audio we’ll be working on below:

Unmixed Sax

As you can hear on the audio example above, the alto sax was well recorded and doesn’t need much mixing. That’s exactly what you have to strive for if you want your mixes to sound professional, get it right from the source.

The 1st thing I did was to add compression, an eq and then added some effects to make it one with other sounds in the mix.

Saxophone Compression Settings

When you have a well recorded signal then you wont need much compression which helps the sax to sound more natural. For brass sounds, I prefer to use mild compression just to make the volume constant through out the whole mix.

The sax I’m working on was recorded in mono, I don’t like recording in stereo because it can cause phase cancellation and I want my sounds to be clear and punchy not just bright.

I added a mono compressor by FabFilter, the compressor is not doing much on the sound. It’s just taming out the loud peaks and keeping the volume even. I used a fast attack and a fast release time to keep the alto sax punchy and to avoid messing up the tone.

I used a ratio of 3:1 and a gain reduction of about -3dB, with a make up gain of 3dB.

Mixing Saxophone - Compressor

Equalizer Setting For Sax

This is the most tricky part because it really depends on how the sax was recorded and what your end goal is. So I’m not going to generalize the EQ settings, I’ll show you what I did to make the saxophone I’m working on sit well in the mix.

What I did was to simply cut out the low-end till around 100Hz. Then added some punch and warmth by making a boost at 200Hz. The sax had some boxiness and I had to clean that by cutting at 492hz. For the upper mids I removed some nasal noise at 1.2kHz and boosted the presence at 5.1kHz.

Finally I added some air by creating a high-shelf boost at 11kHz. Here’s a saxophone eq chart I have created and hope it does help you equalize your sax sounds proper. I know it’s not accurate but it will guide you to the right direction.

Rumble: below 110Hz
Bottom/Punch: 125Hz – 250Hz
Fullness: 250Hz- 450Hz
Honk/Nasal: 500Hz – 1.6kHz
Presence/Edge: 2kHz – 6kHz
Definition: 6kHz – 8kHz
Air: 10kHz – 17kHz
Hiss: 17kHz

Mixing Saxophone - EQ

Effect and Saturation For Saxophone

For the final touches I added reverb, delay and tape saturation to help the sax sit well in the mix and create space, depth as well as width. The saxophone was recorded in mono so a mono reverb was a good choice and it sounded good.

A plate or room reverb works really well on woodwind and brass sounds, for this one I chose a plate. I also removed some high frequencies on the reverb signal and used a medium reverb time (tail).

The sound was mono, to add some stereo I used a stereo delay. But it was a timed delay, meaning it was in sync with the BPM of the song. A slap wasn’t a good option because I wanted to add more width so I used a timed ping-pong delay.

To add some harmonic excitement I added some tape saturation to the sound. I tried a lot of distortion plugins on this one and the FabFilter Saturn plugin added some nice harmonics, warmth and vintage sound to the sax.

After all that processing, the sax mix was sounding really dope. Remember to keep the sax sounding natural and use subtle amount of processing on it.

Here are the final results:

Mixed Saxophone

Mixed Sax With The Music

As you can hear, that was a major difference from the original source. Hope this tutorial helps you get your sax to gel well with the entire mix and become one with the song. If you have any questions then leave a comment below.

10 thoughts on “How To Mix Saxophone”

  1. I assume your mid to upper range eq settings are modifying the tone of the horn through reduction or boost of the upper partial harmonics, which are critical to saxophone sound. However, soprano and tenor – for example – are pitched an octave apart. And, the range of an individual horn can easily exceed three octaves. Should your cut and boost frequencies – given here for an alto sax – be scaled up or down if one is working with a soprano or tenor saxophone? Or, in your experience, do the cut and boost frequencies remain constant regardless of the size of the horn?

    • Hi Stephen, Thnx for the comment.

      The settings will never be the same for all compression, eq and other effects. Even if I were to mix the same sax in a different song, I would do different settings that will fit with that song. Always do what works best for the entire song.

      According to my experience, the EQ settings for a tenor saxophone will mostly require a low cut and more cuts in the mid range, with drastic eq cuts to remove most of the mud, boxiness and nasal quality. Then use a low-pass filter(high cut) around 16kHz to remove hiss sound. I don’t normally boost anything on a tenor sax, boosting can mess up with the timbre/tone so do it with caution.

      I simply add saturation, reverb and delay to add more depth and width to help the tenor sax sit well with other sounds in the mix.

  2. It is very interesting to notice that the (for me quite extreme) delay of the solo track does NOT bother at all in the final mix. I am sure that you did it with the final mix in mind.

    For some reason, however, in the final mix the sax is a little bit lifelesss to my ears, in comparison with the solo track.

    I am currently reading all possible tutorials about sax mixing (yes, i have a recording coming soon in my label). A funny thing is that the EQ suggestions differ wuite a lot in every tutorial. I cannot explain the reason. For instance, others suggest a little boost in the 2.000 Hz area for presence.

    However you will possibly agree that all these are suggestions and points of departure to start a research, and in the end of the day is about that particular instrument, that particular mke placement, room and performer. And (not to forget) what you want to achieve, sound-wise.

    • I totally agree, the final results a bit lifeless. The processing was exaggerated for tutorial purposes. Just don’t go drastic on the processing. My advise, try all you’ve learned online and use what works best for your project. These EQ settings are what works for this particular song.

  3. Wow. Excellent information. I wanted a “foundation” in which to build my own “house”. Now I don’t have to waste time and energy. You have shortened the learning curve. Thank you sir!

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