Top 10 Transient Shaper: Bring Your Drums to The Next Level πŸ’―

A transient shaper is often overlooked by beginner producers. And it’s understandable. Its effects are subtle, and it probably shouldn’t be the first thing you learn πŸ˜…

However, once you learn about it, you’ll end up using it all the time πŸ”₯

Transient shaping is the art of making your transients more or less apparent. This can in turn make your drums more punchy. Or your synths more roomy. But there’s a lot more to it than that!

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about transient shaping. This includes:

  • What transients are, and why they matter
  • How a transient shaper operates
  • The main controls at your disposal
  • 5 free transient shaper plugins

So let’s dive in! πŸ‘‡

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A Quick Refresher on ADSR πŸ’­

Before we go any further, let’s do a quick refresher on the concept of ADSR envelopes.

ADSR stands for Attack – Decay – Sustain – Release.

It describes the evolution of the amplitude (or loudness) of a sound over time:

Depiction of an ADSR envelope
Depiction of an ADSR envelope

In order, we have:

  • Attack: determines how long the sound takes to reach maximum volume
  • Decay: the time it takes the sound to reach its sustain level
  • Sustain: the volume at which the sound is maintained while the key remains pressed
  • Release: dictates how long the sound takes to fade away when the key is released
The ADSR section of Vital
The ADSR section of Vital

ADSR envelopes are a huge factor in how we perceive sound.

For example, a kick drum will have a very short attack and release. A synth pad on the other hand might have a very slow attack and release.

If you want to learn more about how to design sounds with ADSR, check out our full guide here πŸ”₯

Note: ADSR generally refers to the volume of a sound. However, an ADSR envelope can apply to any parameter within a synth (such as pitch or filter cutoff).

What is a Transient Shaper? πŸ€”

So, how does all this talk about ADSR relate to transient shaping? Well, if you’ve Googled this topic and found this article, chances are you have an idea already πŸ˜…

A transient shaper is a tool that allows you to shape transients.

Groundbreaking stuff I know. Where can I get my Nobel Prize?

Jokes aside, a transient is the short burst of sound at the beginning of the audio signal:

Examples of transients in sound
Examples of transients in sound

A transient is essentially the percussive aspect at the start of a sound, i.e. the attack. Some sounds will have transients that are very present, others less.

Transients are not inherently good or bad. It all depends on the sound you are going for.

Take for example these 2 piano loops:

Piano with pronounced transients
Piano with dampened transients

Both examples can work depending on the vibe of the track. It all depends on the context. The softer piano loop might work great in solo. But it might be drowned in the mix because it lacks transients.

Which brings us to our next point: why are transients important?

Why do transients matter?

Transients define how we perceive sound. They give more or less impact to a sound. They allow a kick or a snare to cut through the mix. But if they are too present, they can be unpleasant to the ear. Think of a very harsh “P” or “T” in a vocal and you’ll get the idea.

This is why controlling your transients is extremely important.

Transients describe the initial dynamics of a sound. So you could reach for a standard compressor to control them:

Controlling transients with Fruity Limiter in "Compressor" mode
Controlling transients with Fruity Limiter in “Compressor” mode

However, you can also reach for a dedicated tool called a Transient Shaper:

FL Studio's stock transient shaper
FL Studio’s stock transient shaper

A transient shaper is a dynamics processing plugin. It acts on 2 aspects of the ADSR envelope:

  • The Attack
  • The Release (sometimes labeled Sustain)

By adjusting the settings, you can add more or less punch to a sound. You can also affect the perceived loudness with the release. Let’s look at all of that in more detail πŸ‘‡

Transient shaping is closely linked to compression. So make sure to catch up on our latest video:

The Main Parameters of a Transient Shaper πŸŽ›οΈ

To demonstrate, I will be using the free Transient plugin by Sleepy-Time DSP (more on them later πŸ‘€). Feel free to download it and follow along.

Any transient shaper plugin will have 2 main controls, Attack and Sustain:

The free Transient plugin
The free Transient plugin

By increasing or decreasing the attack, you add or remove the punch of a sound:

Raw drum loop
Drums with boosted attack
Drums with attenuated attack

In this example, the effect is particularly pronounced on the snare hit.

On the other hand, adjusting the Sustain will affect the tail of the sound:

Raw drum loop
Sustain turned to -100%
Sustain boosted to +100%

Reducing the sustain is a great way to remove unwanted noise. For example, vintage drum breaks often have a lot of room reverb. By reducing the sustain, you can “clean up” the sample.

You can also boost the sustain to add perceived loudness to a sound.

Is compression confusing you? 🀷

Get our one-page cheat sheet containing everything to help you understand ratio, threshold, attack, release, and all of the compression parameters with simplicity.

Additional Controls of a Transient Shaper

The other controls of a transient shaper might include the following:

Additional controls on a transient shaper
Additional controls on a transient shaper
  • Detection Filter Range: lets you dial in the frequency where the transient shaper is active
  • Transient Filter Range: sets the dB range where the transient shaper is active. Decreasing the range lets you be more selective about which peaks the plugin affects
  • Attack and Sustain Ratios: increase or decrease the compression ratio
  • Attack and Release Shape: change the shape of the attack and release compression
  • Output Volume: adjust the output level to match the signal’s initial level
  • Drive: adds some saturation to the signal

Finally, you might also have some mid/side controls and sidechain input.

When and How to Use a Transient Shaper πŸ’‘

Now that we know what a transient shaper is, let’s look at some applications.

Add bite to your drums

This is one of the most common applications of transient shaping.

Load up a transient shaper of the drum bus. Then start increasing the attack.

This will make your drums poke through better. Especially if you have a busy mix!

Let’s check out an example. In this loop, I feel like the drum loop is lacking a bit of punch:

Initial loop
With transient processing

Now I’ve boosted the attack with a transient processor. You can hear how the hats and snares are coming through more clearly.

Note: make sure you’ve set the right levels to start with! Sometimes, all you need is a bit of gain-staging to fix these issues πŸ˜‰

Remove room sound from drum breaks

A drum break is a section where all instruments besides the drums stop playing. It is sometimes referred to as a breakbeat, or simply break.

We’ve dedicated a full guide on drum breaks here, so make sure to check it out πŸ˜‰

However, these vintage drum breaks often have a lot of room sound. Check this example out:

There’s quite a lot of reverb in that break. This will probably make my mix messy, so I want to get rid of it. Let’s pull up a transient shaper and start reducing the release:

Removing some release in the drum break
Removing some release in the drum break

Let’s give it a listen:

Listen to how the room sound disappears as I decrease the release

Although the room sound isn’t fully gone, this feels much more “usable” 😊

By the way, this also works on individual drum samples.

In this example, I’ve sampled a vintage snare. But it has a bit too much reverb to my liking:

Let’s use the same process to remove some of that reverb:

With roomy snares such as this one, a bit of volume automation can also go a long way.

Looking for new ways to process your samples creatively? Check out our full guide here πŸ”₯

Make your synth cut through with a transient shaper

A transient shaper is also a great tool to make your leads cut through.

By increasing the attack, the initial hit of your synth will be more present:

Increasing the attack to make my synth cut through
Increasing the attack to make my synth cut through

Let’s hear what it sounds like:

Initial loop
Loop with transient processing

Here, I’ve actually added 2 different transient processors in a row. I’ve also reduced some of the release to create a pumping effect.

Using a transient shaper is a great way to create presence in a sample that is very “washy”.

Mix Bus Processing

Mix bus processing is definitely a controversial topic.

Some opt to never use it. They might say that if you can’t get it right β€œin the mix”, you shouldn’t try to lean on mix-bus processing to improve it.

Others however mix directly into a processing chain. They often see it as part of their style as a mixing engineer, imprinting their own sonic character.

Whatever the case may be, we’ve dedicated a full guide on mix bus processing here. So you can make up your own mind πŸ˜…

I find that adding a very subtle amount of transient processing on the mix bus can enhance the whole mix.

If you’re interested, the great YouTube channel In The Mix just launched its own transient processor for mixing and mastering πŸ‘

The 5 Best Transient Shaper Plugins (All Free Options!) πŸ› οΈ

Before closing off this article, let’s look at some of the best transient shaper plugins out there.

FL Studio Transient Processor (Free)

Transient Processor is FL Studio’s stock transient plugin.

Note that it is only available in the All Plugins edition of FL Studio:

FL Studio's Transient Processor
FL Studio’s Transient Processor

It features the following controls:

  • Attack and Release knobs: self-explanatory if you made it this far πŸ˜…
  • Attack and Release curve shapes: Sharp, Medium, or Soft. This determines the window over which transients are detected
  • Split Frequency: determines the cutoff where the transient shaper acts. The lowpass signal is the unprocessed one.
  • Split Balance: acts as your basic Dry/Wet knob
  • Drive: simulates analog-style saturation distortion
  • Gain: output level of the plugin

Ableton Live Transient Shaper Rack (Free)

Ableton Live does not provide a stock transient shaper plugin.

You can however download this free rack from Seed to Stage:

Ableton Live Transient Shaper Rack
Ableton Live Transient Shaper Rack

Inside, you’ll get:

  • Sustain and Attack amount
  • Attack and Sustain length (in ms)
  • Saturation
  • Base control: determines at what frequency the saturation is applied
  • Makeup gain

This is a great option if you don’t want to purchase a separate plugin. Check out this video if you want to learn more:

Download here (free)

Transient by Sleepy-Time Records

In my list of “I-can’t-believe-this-is-free”, this plugin ranks pretty high:

The Transient plugin
The Transient plugin

For a free transient shaper plugin, you get a stunning amount of control. Beyond your standard knobs, you also get:

  • External sidechain input: allows you to control transients based on an external source
  • Solo mode. This lets you solo the left or right channels. You can also solo the attack or sustain effect to hear exactly what you’re processing
  • Adjustable volume range for transient detection
  • Adjustable frequency range for transient detection and processing
  • Link mode: allows you to adjust attack and sustain together

Honestly, I could have limited this list to just this plugin. It does all you need it to do, for free and minimal CPU load. What’s not to like?

Download here (free)

Bittersweet V3

Although it’s not an option I reach for often, I still thought I would mention it:

Bittersweet transient shaping plugin
Bittersweet transient shaping plugin

Instead of 2 separate attack and release knobs, you get just one. You can tilt left for a “sweeter” sound, or right for a “bitter” sound.

Basically, “sweet” decrease transients, and “bitter” accentuates them.

You also get mid/side processing and automatic makeup gain with the “link” button.

The effect can be quite extreme, so I find it works best for minimal processing. Or you can turn the knobs like crazy for sound design experiments πŸ˜‰

Download here (free)

Couture by Auburn Sounds (free)

Finally, let’s close this guide off with one last transient shaper:

Couture by Auburn Sounds
Couture by Auburn Sounds

This is a surprisingly complete option for a free plugin. The controls you get are:

  • 3 Detector settings: Flat, Human, and Sybil
  • Bass Detect: determines if the bass is processed or not
  • Front/Back: affects where in the transient the effect applies
  • Dry/Wet and Effect amount: (from 0% to 100%)

You also get an extremely detailed Saturation unit. However, this one is only available in the paid version (US$ 19)

Download here

The 5 Best Transient Shaper Plugins πŸ’²

Got a bit of money saved up? Then here’s our list of the 5 best transient shaper plugins money can buy πŸ‘‡

Spiff by Oeksound

If you’ve checked out our guide on soothe2, then you’ll be familiar with the company Oeksound. Spiff is their intelligent transient processor plugin:

Spiff transient shaper by Oeksound
Spiff transient shaper by Oeksound

In a nutshell, Spiff is an adaptive transient processor. This means that it lets you control where on the frequency spectrum the transient processing applies.

Much like soothe2, it analyzes where and when transients appear, and lets you adjust them dynamically.

This means that transients will be processed only on the frequencies where they appear.

This is a radically new approach to transient processing, as it gives you much more control. You have two main controls, “Cut” and “Boost”. These let you select whether transients need to be boosted or reduced. “Depth” then lets you control the amount of processing.

Spiff goes a lot further than that, with controls like mid/side processing, sensitivity and decay and much more. If you’re interested in a full breakdown, let us know πŸ˜‰.

Check out here (USD 149)

Neutron 4 Transient Shaper by Izotope

Neutron 4 is Izotope’s mixing suite, featuring their own transient shaper unit:

Izotope transient shaper module
Izotope transient shaper module

Izotope’s transient shaper features 3 modes:

  • Precise: this mode offers the fastest recovery time to the next transient.
  • Loose: slowest transient recovery time. Works best for adding a lot of sustain.
  • Balanced: a mix between the two other modes.

It also offers 3 Contour shapes:

  • Sharp: fastest release time. Ideal for snappy sounds such as drums.
  • Medium: transparent and linear release envelope.
  • Smooth: slowest envelope of all the modes. Best for sustained instruments.

They only downside is that you cannot purchase the module separately.

Check out here (USD 124.50)

Transient Designer Plus by SPL

At a more affordable price point, we have Transient Designer Plus:

Transient Designer Plus
Transient Designer Plus

This plugin is a collaboration between SPL and Brainworx. It is an emulation of the first-ever analog transient shaper, the TD4.

One of its key features is that it is threshold-independent.

This means that you can consistently sculpt the volume envelope of transients, regardless of their peak level. In addition, you’ve got features like:

  • sidechain input
  • parallel processing functionality
  • soft clipper: this prevents the signal from going into digital clipping.

Check out here (USD 24.99)

Transient Master by Native Instruments

Want something less fussy and straight to the point? Check out Transient Master:

Transient Master by Native Instruments

This no-frills plugin lets you process your transients immediately. You get 3 basic knobs:

  • Attack: adjusts the strength of the sound’s transient.
  • Sustain: controls the level of the sustain phase (body and decay).
  • Gain: adjusts the output gain.

Check out here (USD 25)

Smack Attack by Waves Audio

Let’s round off this list with Smack Attack by Waves:

Smack Attack
Smack Attack

Although initially aimed at drums, Smack Attack can work on any type of sound. Controls include

  • Attack and Release amounts: self-explanatory if you made it this far πŸ˜…
  • Sensitivity: acts like a threshold, determining when the transient shaper jumps into action
  • Different shapes and duration times for both attack and release curves.
  • Dry/Wet mix amount: ideal for parallel processing.

Check out here (USD 35.99)

Is compression confusing you? 🀷

Get our one-page cheat sheet containing everything to help you understand ratio, threshold, attack, release, and all of the compression parameters with simplicity.

That’s a Wrap! πŸ™

That’s it for this guide! Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what a transient shaper is. What are your favorites use cases for transient shaping? Did I miss out on anything? Let us know over on Instagram πŸ”₯

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