Sonnox's innovative dynamics processor offers unprecedented ability to separate wanted from unwanted audio in drum recordings.
I've always been a regular user of gates on drums, and have had to learn to accept the limitations of what can, at times, be quite a crude tool. Typically, a modern drum sound might involve gating the close drum mics to eliminate any unwanted spill, before blending them with the overhead or room mics. This can, however, end up being something of a compromise, and the controls on a traditional gate have to be carefully massaged so that we don't get too much 'chatter' as the gate periodically lets through unwanted cymbals and so on. Avoiding chatter often means we have to set the threshold lower than we would like, and as a result, we sacrifice the quieter 'ghost notes' that can play a big part in the feel of a live drum part.
Many gate plug-ins now have advanced features such as frequency-dependent triggering and lookahead, and for the most part, if a drum kit has been well played and well recorded in a decent room, we can very much make it work — as engineers have been doing for many years. Poor mic placement and choice, or a drummer who hits his cymbals harder than the drums themselves, can easily bring the ratio of spill to direct sound to the point where a more traditional drum gate becomes pretty useless. If the overheads or room mics are also badly recorded, or the room itself isn't great, then we can find ourselves having to lean on drum samples more than we would like, or even go down the route of manually isolating individual drum hits.
In recent years, a few plug-in developers have released tools that aim to go beyond what traditional gates are capable of, but the ones that I've tried — until now — can create as many problems as they solve. Sonnox are the latest company to tackle these issues, and as I'm a fan of some their other plug-ins — and do a lot of drum mixing! — I was excited to try out their new solution to what feels like an age-old problem. Oxford Drum Gate is available for Mac and PC in all the usual native formats.