If you are active in the field of music production, you probably know that Waves has been one of the biggest plugin manufacturers for many years. Their plugins are used all over the world. And it’s one of them we’re interested in for this article: Vitamin. I’ve been using this plugin for years, and I can guarantee you that none of the vocals I’ve worked on would sound the way they do if Vitamin didn’t exist.
Vitamin is a plugin that allows, thanks to 6 faders, to boost the harmonics of an audio source by frequency band. Waves announces this plugin as a multiband harmonic enhancer, a tone-shaping plugin or, simply, as a sonic enhancer.
How Vitamin Works
Let’s look at what we can find in the plugin :
1. Input / Output Levels
- On the left, you see the input level. You can adjust it with the knob located right below the level indicator, to hit the plugin at a nominal level.
- On the right, same principle. The trim indicator located above the level will help you to know if you have enough headroom to increase your output signal or if, on the contrary, your signal is clipping and you should decrease it.
2. Crossover Points
Each crossover point will simply determines a frequency where each frequency band is separated. You can move them in a totally free way.
This small and discreet button allows you to boost the transients of the incoming audio signal. This can be very useful when used on mix busses and is, honestly, more effective than some designer transients available on the market.
4. The 5 main faders
This is where things get interesting. It is indeed with these faders that you will enhance certain frequencies of the audio signal. In the initial position, the faders are located at 0.
As soon as you push a fader, the frequency band to which it is assigned will be boosted in a way that only Vitamin can provide. We’ll talk about this later.
5. Stereo widener (on stereo tracks only)
If your incoming signal is a stereo signal, you will see, below each fader, a knob that allows you to widen the stereo image. In our case, as we are working with a voice (mono), this will not be displayed (which is logical). But as a mix bus, it’s an added value without limit.
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How to use Vitamin with vocals
When it comes to vocal mixing, treating the voice with EQ and compressors is a priority. But at some point in the process. EQ may not seem to be enough anymore.
You push frequency bands with 10 different plugins to compare the color differences, you change your mind, you go back,… but you don’t get the character you want to add to your voice. And then, revelation, you add Vitamin in your plugins bank.
For me, that’s exactly how it happened. In my vocal mixing process, Vitamin has completely changed the game.
Why ? Because that plugin does not only push certain frequency bands. It enhances them, makes them more powerful, more exciting. Vitamin gives you a certain character that even the most legendary EQ’s can’t provide.
And the reason why this plugin is so effective in giving more excitement to your vocal tracks is mainly due to its algorithm that boosts the harmonics and adds an extremely subtle distortion. Not too much, just enough to add that typical Vitamin color that sounds so great on vocals.
But why is Vitamin so effective especially on hip-hop vocals ? The reason is simple, in hip-hop music today, mix engineers (and me too) like to push the air zone of vocals. With Vitamin, this is exactly where the magic happens.
Indeed, the most interesting area of the Waves plugin is the rightmost fader, the highs fader.
Let’s look at how we can use that plugin efficiently on hip-hop vocals…
1. Placement in the vocal chain
Vitamin is an amazing plugin, but it obviously can’t be used on its own, let alone as the first in your voice chain, it could be very dangerous. That’s why it’s important to clean up your voice first, both dynamically and in terms of frequency, before using Vitamin.
ℹ️ By the way, you might be interested in learning what are the 6 golden rules to mixing hip-hop vocals.
As soon as the voice is well cleaned, well compressed and well de-essed, you can draw Vitamin!
2. Gain Staging
This step might seem trivial, but it is important in order to enjoy the sound quality of Vitamin. So, the first thing you’ll have to do is to adjust the input level with the knob on the left. I advise you to keep at least 5 dB of headroom.
3. General boost
The first thing that is important to know and that traps many users, is that the values indicated below the faders are not dB! They are only relative values. Not knowing this will instinctively prevent you from using the plugin to its full potential.
To give you an idea, a fader pushed lower than 5 or 6 will be almost inaudible. But Vitamin is not a plugin built to do things by halves. You have to push the values to get results!
This is why the first thing I advise you to do (and that’s exactly what we do everyday at IDeez Studio) is to push ALL faders at 10. By doing that, you’ll quickly hear how Vitamin affects the vocal track.
4. Vitamin’s Air boost : A magic trick
Magic finally happens. Now, you can push the highs fader to enjoy the incredibly satisfying effect of Vitamin’s harmonic enhancement.
As mentioned above, Vitamin is a plugin made to be pushed hard. The best way to do this is to push this fader very hard (up to about 30), then slowly lower it until you feel that the highs are not too aggressive. Feeling where to stop is not something easy, and takes practice. Don’t hesitate to compare your voice with references.
To give you an idea, at IDeez Studio, this fader is usually between 20 and 25.
It will also be necessary to adapt the crossover point. At its initial point, it is generally suitable for male voices. For female voices, it may be necessary to increase the crossover point a little towards the higher frequencies.
5. Output level adjustment
In voice mixing, it is important to always adjust the output level after increasing or compressing the audio source. In our case, it is very likely that, since Vitamin is built to boost, it will be necessary to lower the output level so that it is (roughly) the same as the input level.
Keeping a constant level throughout your vocal chain is essential for the best results, whether the audio source is a voice or anything else.
ℹ️ Vitamin can also be an amazing plugin as mix bus processing. You’ll find everything you need to know here: Mix Bus Processing: 10 Must-Have Plugins
Vitamin : Conclusion
For all these reasons, Vitamin is, and will always be, a key plugin to mixing hip-hop vocals.
Its ability to give character to vocals, especially in the air zone, makes the Waves plugin one of the most effective for powerful, pure and brilliant voices. If you don’t have it in your plugin bank and you’re into hip-hop mixing, I strongly advise you to get it quickly, as it will greatly increase the quality of your mixes.
If you have any questions about Vitamin or about mixing in general, make sure to contact me, I’m always very happy to help!
My favorite tools for mixing pop and hip-hop music:
In the field of auto-tune, I’m convinced that nothing’s better and more efficient than Antares Auto-Tune Pro. As for the EQ’s, FabFilter Pro-Q3 and Slate Digital Infinity EQ are, in my opinion, the best tools. For compression, I have 2 favorites plugins: Waves RComp and UAD EL8 Distressor.
As for reverb, I’m a big fan of the Soundtoys Little Plate, but generally, I go for the Valhalla VintageVerb for its versatility. I also love the Arturia Rev PLATE-140 and the UAD Pure Plate for its organic side.
The closed headphones I love and will always love using for mixing pop and hip-hop music are the Beyerdynamic DT-770. As for the best open-back headphones, I use the Sennheiser HD600 headphones, and I’m really happy of them!
Having a pair of Yamaha HS7 in its studio or home studio is always cool for more excitement while listening to your mixes. The Adam Audio T7V monitors are also super accurate. In my studio, I also have a pair of Genelec 8030 for their reliability.
For anyone who wants to start using hardware in their mixes, I always recommend these 2 units from Klark Teknik: the EQP-KT and the 76-KT. Don’t forget to use good converters, such as the Apollo interfaces. This is essential for a good rendering.