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Transient Designers and why you need them

Updated: Aug 10, 2023

Transient designers have been around for a while in one form or another and whilst I’ve been aware of them for a long time and semi-used them I’m only just starting to realise their true potential in a drum world like mine. For a long time I’ve opted to use compressors but these plugins have alot to offer and I’m starting to use them more and more in recordings and sessions.

What is a transient designer?

Transient designers work on the ADSR envelope which contains four stages as indicated below. Attack (A) being the initial rise of the waveform, followed by Decay (D), Sustain (S) and Release (R).

ADSR Envelope

Attack represents the time take to rise to its maximum level from its initial value of zero.

Decay is the time taken between the attack to the sustain and then the release happens after the sustain.

Transient designers work primarily on the first three stages of the ADSR envelope. Controlling the initial transient and also the sustain section. They can also go by the name of envelope shapers.

A transient designer isn’t a compressor - so what’s the difference.

Back in the days when compressors were first designed, compressors were used to limit the dynamic range of a signal. Essentially turning the volume down on the input when the signal passed a threshold. The attack, release and ratio of the compressor would work together to turn the volume and then back up again after the release.

Therefore the compressor turns the volume down on the whole signal once a threshold has been passed. For the signal to be manipulated the signal must always pass this threshold.

Transient designers don’t work on peak signal and passing a threshold - they see the transient and modify it without the need for the waveform to pass a threshold. Essentially this allows each transient to be processed the same which is good for drums.

They're perfectly suited to drums

This is great for drums as this means that we can process each transient (be it loud or soft) the same which is ideal. This means that they won't change the volume of ghost notes and so won't change the overall groove of a drum pattern.

Boosting the transient will make the drums seem closer whilst smoothing the transient will make it seem further away. This means we can change the balance of the sounds without massively changing the volume of the sounds relative to each other.

This is one way to use the transient designer but perhaps my favourite attribute of them is being able to control the sustain. By turning the sustain down on the transient designers you can control the amount of ‘room’ you have in your drum sound.

If you’re wanting a drier sound and not much room then these are ideal and/or the sound of your room is not great then these pack a punch over the humble compressor as you manipulate the tail of the waveforms WITHOUT changing the overall signal therefore getting much more transparent results.

These can be used on much more than drums! But are suited to more transient based instruments.

Four that I use for my recording and production are:

Sonnox Envolution

This is a great tool allowing you to control the transients and sustain and seeing the results in realtime via the waveform in the middle of the plugin. Things that I like about this plugin is the separation of the the transient and sustain section. I particularly like the attack of both sections which can lead to some really interesting results.

Sonnox TransMod

This is a great plugin but not as tuneable as Envolution. No realtime waveform and what you are adjusting. Less controls (which is sometimes a good thing) but still with some great results. I like to use this on the kick drum mostly with the overdrive.

XLN Audio DS-10 Drum Shaper

Another plugin that gives real time visual output to the shaping taking place on the waveform. Dedicated settings to go on the kick/snare channel or a bus also a Soft clip to add some distortion.

Logic Enveloper

This is a great tool and available as part of Logic. No real time output but a great tool. If you've got Logic give it a go!


Mark Midwinter online session drummer

Mark is an online session drummer and producer based in Reading UK providing remotely recorded drums to clients all over the world.

His main focus on the drums is to always serve the song and listen to what is being played by the other instruments in the band. Be aware of the song and how it develops.

Find out more information here:

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