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Scheps Parallel Particles: Mixing or Mastering Tool?

Dec 23, 2019

Do you need to shine a spotlight on a particular part in a song? Or match the ‘attitude’ of different songs created and mixed at different times? Find out where the Scheps Parallel Particles plugin can help you the most.

Scheps Parallel Particles: Mixing or Mastering Tool?

by Craig Anderton

Several plugins on the market claim to enhance existing tracks and mixes, often through mysterious processes that are never fully explained in technical terms. Maybe they add a little sweetness, “spice,” or saturation—and of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. But Scheps Parallel Particles dives much deeper, and very effectively, into this type of “make things sound better” processing.

I’m a big fan of parallel and multiband processing, and based on this plugin, Andrew Scheps, the Grammy-winning mixer who created it, must be too. Four processors enhance particular sonic characteristics: Air synthesizes high harmonics, Sub synthesizes subharmonics, while Thick and Bite are a combination of specialized EQ and dynamics processing. Although there are only four main controls, they’re macros that control multiple parameters. It might seem this would “dumb down” the processor, but that’s not the case because it takes advantage of Scheps’ expertise. It’s like he set up the signal chain, and left you with the only controls that actually matter.

For example, turning up the Air control not only synthesizes highs, but also notches broadly around 1 kHz to reduce “honk” at the same time. Sub adds bass, but the effect isn’t the same as EQ; Thick and Bite alter midrange characteristics. (Note that because Particles incorporates some dynamics processing, it’s dependent on input level—the input level indicator should hit yellow-to-orange at maximum.)

I’ve found Scheps Parallel Particles to be very useful in two main applications—when I need to put the spotlight on a certain part while mixing, and when I want to match the ‘attitude’ of different songs while mastering. Let’s look at each.

Mixing: Shine the Spotlight on a Particular Part

It’s tempting to add just a little bit of everything to make a sound jump out—you add Air, but now it’s kind of bright, so you add Sub... and then you want to increase Thick and Bite. Well, you can succumb to temptation, because that’s actually one of the intended use cases. It works well because the processing isn’t just about EQ, and it’s surprisingly easy to find a tasteful balance among the four controls.

But you can also think of Particles more like the audio equivalent of lighting. Onstage, you don’t always want the spotlight on everyone—sometimes you want a wash on the guitar player, and then segue to a pin spot on the vocalist. Particles is great for shining a spotlight on parts you want to emphasize, which places them more upfront—without resorting to traditional level or ambiance changes to create a sense of depth.

Particles also excels with automation. Again using our lighting analogy, it’s like moving the spotlight to shine on different players. One song I was mixing had a syncopated drum part toward the end, to build to a climax. Increasing Thick and Bite slightly (Fig. 1) during the course of the part added to the intensity, which was just that much more intense because the rest of the drum part didn’t have Particles processing. With Particles, you can direct the listener’s attention to particular parts by being selective in how you use the plugin.

Automating Thick and Bite to increase over a drum part added intensity. This screen shot shows the final parameter values

Automating Thick and Bite to increase over a drum part added intensity. This screen shot shows the final parameter values.

Mastering: Match the Attitude of Different Songs

People say today’s music world is all about singles, yet many are not quite ready to jettison the concept of albums, where there’s a cohesive sound from start to finish. And even if you’re not thinking about your songs as an “album,” consistency across any collection of songs is important.

When mastering an album or collection of songs for streaming, you want to match levels among the various songs. This doesn’t necessarily mean they all have the same LUFS reading, because there’s a subjective element where some songs should be softer or louder than others. But while balancing levels isn’t too difficult, balancing the attitude of different songs is more of a challenge. If you do different mixes on different songs over the course of a year, you’re not always going to be in the same headspace, and maybe not even in the same studio. I’m currently wrapping up my project for 2019, which is seven singles. I was very happy with four of the mixes, but three (while technically “correct”) didn’t have quite the same attitude as the four I liked.

Particles saved me from having to re-visit the mixes—it’s fantastic for making “attitude adjustments.” I inserted it in the songs that needed tweaks, and jumped back and forth on the timeline between the mixes I liked and the ones that needed enhancing. Even slight changes to the Particles parameters made significant differences. For example, on one song, the distorted guitars had the right tone, but laid back more than I wanted in the mix. I was mastering in Studio One, where it’s easy to open the song being mastered, make a few edits, and then automatically update the master file with the new mix. But changing levels in the mix didn’t really do what I wanted—fortunately, turning up the Thick control added a growling “attitude” to the guitars that worked perfectly.

The Air control makes it easy to match the attitude of percussion and vocals. Again, this isn’t just about EQ; it’s a more complex process. For example if a song sounds just a bit dull, using something like a high-frequency shelf might be too strident. The Scheps Air control has an effect more like an Aphex Aural Exciter—it adds sheen without screech.

Watch how Andrew Scheps himself puts mastering touches on a song with Scheps Parallel Particles:

I’m generally skeptical of “magic” processors, but Particles is different. It can add subtle enhancements to tracks and mixes, or make them leap out at you. But perhaps the most attractive aspect is how well the four parameters handle what you need. Working with Particles is very fast, because Particles distills engineering expertise down to those four main controls.

This plugin flew under my radar for quite some time because I assumed it was a “been there, done that” kind of enhancer. I couldn’t have been more wrong; it’s unique, and has now become one of my go-to plugins for both music and narration projects.

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