How To Mix Hi-Hats and Cymbals

How To Mix Hi-Hats and Cymbals

Today I want to share with you some really neat tricks for mixing hi hats and cymbals. When the cymbals and hi-hats are all over the place, it can be hard to get a good frequency balance for your mix.

Hats and Cymbals can mess up the top-end when not processed well or just ignored. For instance, if the volume of the hi-hats and crash are too loud they’ll create masking with the vocals air/breath (even saxophone or flute air). Of which in result will prevent the vocals to shine in the mix, or even a guitar sound.

Sometimes you might have thin hi-hats or ride cymbals that you want to make crisp and clean without messing up the top-end. In this tutorial I’ll share a few techniques you can use to make sure you get a good top-end balance.

Using Envelopes

For those who don’t know, an envelope is a common way synthesizer parameters specify how a sound evolves over time. In simple terms, this determines the length of the sound as well as how it comes in and out.

The common parameters are the Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release. You can use these parameters together with the filter cutoff, resonant and LFO parameters to get a good sounding shaker, tambourine, cymbal, hat etc.

Without the need for an equalizer or even compression. There are no rules for envelope shaping but you need to create settings that work well with the other sounds in the mix.

For instance, a closed hi-hat, tambourine or shaker will work well with a fast attack, medium decay, short sustain and release. While an open hi-hat, splash or crash will work well with a fast attack, fast decay, long sustain and release.

Those settings might work or not, depending on the material you’re working on. But before jumping to any 3rd party processing, play around with the synthesizer parameters and you might not even need any further processing.

De-Essing Hi-Hats & Cymbals

These days most of the samples and vst come processed. This is why you need to be careful when processing sampled drums. If your hats or cymbals are sounding harsh then a de-esser is another great tool you can use to treat them.

The great thing about using a de-esser is that, the de-esser will only affect the problem frequencies without messing with the overall volume. Especially if you’re in a situation where you can’t find a good balance for the high frequencies.

There are no strict rules for de-essing hi-hats or cymbals but I would say de-ess from the 10kHz range going up, so that you don’t mess up the presents or clarity.

Equalization

If the above techniques fail then you can use an equalizer to shape your high frequency sounds. If your drums were not recorded live then I would advise you to use subtractive EQ instead of additive EQ, unless if needed.

Equalizing hi-hats and cymbals is pretty easy. These sounds usually have a harsh metallic sound around the 200Hz range, some call this clang. To remove that, simply use a high-pass filter till around 300Hz.

The high-pass filter will also remove the unwanted mud and some mic bleed from the snare drum. If the hi-hat or cymbal is sounding thin then a boost around 400Hz to 800Hz might add the weight you want. If the sound is too harsh then make a high-shelf cut till around 16kHz. A small boost with a wide Q at the 3kHz range will add presents to the sound.

If the hat or cymbal is sounding dark and you need to make it bright then make a bell filter boost around 9kHz to 12kHz, that will add some sparkle. To add some clarity then boost around 6kHz to 8kHz. Finally, a small wide Q cut from 800Hz to around 1.2kHz will make room for other sounds in the mix or remove any nasal sound.

Additional Techniques

Another great technique for dealing with harsh hi-hat and cymbals is to use a multi-band compressor. I always group the high frequency sounds into a bus channel and add a multiband compressor to keep their volume constant throughout the entire mix.

Compress your high frequency sounds separately from other drum sounds so that they don’t keep poking in the mix or create high frequency masking, and this also glues them together.

Use delay to create space, width and depth for hi-hats and cymbals. Reverb tends to create a washy sound and mess up the top end that is why I prefer a delay effect instead. You might also want to try adding tape saturation to make the sound warm, crunchy or just to add analog sound.

When it comes to panning, I pan the crash cymbal to the left and the ride cymbal to the right. The hi-hat will be far left than the crash, just like a live drum kit setup.

Final advise would be to keep your high frequency sounds as low as possible because as we grow older it becomes harder to hear the top-end precisely then we end up exaggerating it. You can also use headphones and reference tracks to make sure you’re getting a good balance for the top-end of your mix.

OK, that’s it for today I’ll see you again tomorrow with another great tutorial and Many Thnx for the continued support, it’s much appreciated. Leave your comments below if you have any questions.

How to Mix Cymbals

8 comments

  1. as always , perfect.
    Thank you.

  2. Great one on the use of ADSR envelopes and more particularly LFO. Ts really a nice one to add movement. Adding width via delays isn’t a bad idea either. It adds live to the hat’s stereo image.

  3. I just love this chemistry, I was always fidling with parameters, freq. C. Filters etc.when i was working with 808 sounds. I didn’t know it accounts for any other instrument. I always avoid using hi hats and cymbals because of their complexity when it comes to mixing. Hehe but I’m ready to put your tricks into play. Thanks for this Ish man.

  4. I love Cymbals , when i first started i wanted lot of that on my beat: the shaker, Chat, ohat, dark ride, bright ride, dark crash, bright crash

    but they are little tricky on the mix: if cymbals are played too loud and too busy they take the presence away from all of the other tracks because they dominate the sharpest frequencies

    Because of that reasoning it may be a good idea not to make the song too busy with cymbals: unless you have a better plan ( sidechain, envelopes, eq and everything planned how to make it work )

    I dont trust too much on processing because it may lead you to unnatural sounds which may not sound cool at all and you regret the time spent on all the composition for some poor sounding cymbals: and your not happy about it and dont know what else to do

    Optional: you can simply lower their volume and put them on background so it doesnt take life out of your other tracks

    But still there has to be processing so you can tell better whats happening on the background and have more pleasant sounds on the mix

  5. “Short sustain” Sustain is not a length but a level.
    Hope this helps.

  6. Please send me the link to download the Mastering Tips eBook;tried using form but didn’t work in browser….nice articles been studying everything on your site thx!

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