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How to Bass Saturation – The Easy way!

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How to Bass Saturation

The low end is the foundation of any song or any music. It makes you move and shakes your chest. A great low end is the result of a great bass sound. However, considering musically, a great bass sound is both – has a good bottom end and a great overtone so that it gets heard even on the affordable speakers and this is very important. To get the latter effect we need bass saturation. 

So let’s see the steps on how to bass saturation..

  1. Start with a good bass sound.
  2. Balance it with the kick drum.
  3. Compress the bass.
  4. Saturate the bass.
  5. Saturate the low end during mastering.
  6. Check it on different speakers.
  7. Types of saturation you can use.

So with these 6 steps, you can get a pretty great sounding bass which will sound good on the headphones and speakers which means if you follow along, you will have a bass that translates well every where.

Remember the goal is a great bass sound overall. 

Let’s understand in detail..

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1. Start with a good bass sound

I cannot guide you about how to make a great dish out of any cheap or stale ingredient by only adding spices. So how will I be able to teach you to get a great bass sound with only adding saturation and not begin with a great sound in the first place?

To get a bass that every one falls in love with, you need to start with a solid foundation.

Choose the bass that is well in shape and tone. With sampled bass, you need to choose a wav file which is a lossless format and doesn’t show artifacts after processing.

When considering the synthesized bass sound, pick a sound that has a heavy bottom and shows possibility for a great tone. A sine wave, triangle wave, square wave a low passed saw wave are some good waves to start with. Stick to the basic sounds for bass and avoid compex waveforms that you don’t understand.

2. Balance it with the kick drum

The second step is to allocate the bass its correct place and also make it friendly with another giant living in that region which is the kick drum.

You can use EQ on the kick and find its fundamental frequency then use EQ on the bass and carve out that kick’s fundamental frequency. Similarly, cut the frequency of the bass from the kick drum so that they both don’t fight but give each other their own space.

Another way is to use a sidechain compressor which gets triggered by the kick drum and lowers the level of the bass everytime the kick hits.

Also EQ the kick and the bass individually so that they sound the way you want them to sound them.

When you have the kick and bass both fit together, they form a very solid foundation that will lift up the whole track and the bass and the kick will also sound very defined and awesome on every set of speaker system when we are done with all the processing.

3. Compress the bass

After you have the right bass sound and also have fitted it with the kick drum correctly by whichever method you preferred, now its time to shape the dynamics of the bass. 

The dynamic shaping is to shape the attack, decay, sustain and release of the bass and for that a compressor is used.

One of the necessary qualities of the bass is that it should sound consistent throughout the song because the bass is the foundation of the whole song. It should never get weak nor sound overpowered in terms of volume and frequency. It should stay at a perfect level and stay within its boundaries.

You can even use a limiter if your bass is not getting controlled with only a compressor.

So how to compress the bass?

Start with the ratio of about 3:1 or 4:1. Now set the attack time to 120 ms (milliseconds) and a pretty quick release at about 30 ms. Now lower the threshold till you reach a gain reduction of a maximum 5 dB. More than that is not preferred.

Now it’s time to adjust the the attack time. Lower the attack time gradually till you hear that the bass transient has lost energy and then back off a little from there so that the transient retains the snap of it. That’s your sweet spot!

Time to set the release! You should aim for the release time so that the compressor gets time to reset between one note to the next. Look for the gain reduction for this. If it reaches zero after the previous note and just before the succeeding note, that’s your sweet spot!

Now take the makeup gain to what the level was before the compression.

After compression you can again use EQ if you wish to make any adjustment.

4. Saturate the bass

Now comes the saturation step. To saturate the bass I follow a method that I am going to show you. It will give you better and more controlled results.

Firstly, when you have your bass, make a second copy of it. The original should be for pure low end which will serve the sub frequencies that will carry only the weight and power for the bottom end. The copy will be for the bass presence part or the upper tone of it. This layer will make the bass cut through the mix.

So essentially we have two copies, one for the feeling part and one for the hearing part.

We’re dealing with the “heard” part of the bass for saturation.

Secondly, on this copy of the bass, apply a low cut at 120 Hz so that no bass frequencies remain in this layer. Now you need to apply saturation on this layer. I like the FabFilter Saturn for saturating this separate layer. 

Note that if you have used a pure sine wave and the notes are at the subby 40 Hz region, then you might need to make a new layer for the top end with a harmonically rich waveform like triangle square or saw because copying the original won’t do the trick as pure sine waves won’t have upper harmomics when you low cut its copy.

After you have saturated the second copy, the saturation will generate harmonics in the sound and the bass will achieve the upper tone which will make the bass sound fuller and richer. If the saturation is bright, high cut this layer till the frequency that sounds good in the mix. Roughly, 500 Hz is a good place but you can experiment as well.

Lastly, you have the two layers of your bass done. Now in this step you need to blend them to make a single bass sound.

  • Either create a new track and route the two layers into it or make a group of both the bass layers and blend the levels of the layers inside the group. Use the fader of this group channel to balance the overall bass level in the mix.

You can even change the balance of the second layer to get either a very rich upper tone or a mild upper tone, whatever suits you or sounds best in the mix.

5. Check it on different speakers

Now that you have added saturation to your bass sound, its imperative that you check your mix in different situations. You sould test the music on the monitors, on the club speakers, on a cheap set of monitors, on the speakers that have a weak or lesser low end, in the car, on headphones etc.

All these systems will reveal to you the true output of your bass sound about how well it translates from speaker to speaker. It’s important because if you find any abnormality, you have the chance to go back to mix it again or eliminate the issue.

Remember to never skip this step!

6. Types of saturation you can use

Saturation adds color and presence to the instruments that it’s used on. There are various types of saturation to choose from. Let’s see which saturation does what to the bass sound..

Tape Saturation is known for being warm and round. It makes the transients a little rounder and less edgy. It reduces the highs a little and lifts the bottom end a little. If you want your bass to sound rounder and warmer, tape saturation can be good for that.

You should experiment with various saturation types at this point.

Tube Saturation is known to be aggressive if pushed harder. Mostly it’s musical, punchy and fat. So it can turn the bass more punchy and fat if you want that and will add mid range to it so that it cuts through the mix.

Transistor Saturation is known for its fuzzy and gritty character. Although it’s very rarely used but can be a choice if you want its characteristics in your bass sound. I have never used it, but you can try.

Some popular saturation plugins are –

  • Waves R Bass
  • FabFilter Saturn
  • Soundtoys Decapitator
  • UAD Studer A800
  • Sonnox Oxford Inflator
  • SPL Vitalizer MK2-T

Should you saturate bass ?

Saturation is used to give color and character to the sound. It lifts the sound and helps it to cut through the mix.

The bass is very tricky, it resides at the low end of the frequency spectrum. A region which needs special setup to be heard. While playing back, you need to have sub woofers to reproduce those sub frequencies otherwise it wont be audible on normal or cheap setup. So yes, you need to saturate your bass.

For the bass, you need to distort its sub frequencies a little so that due to the harmonics generated in them, the upper tone of the bass lifts up and becomes audible even on the cheap setups like small speakers, laptop speakers etc.

Saturation is the best practice in music production because earlier when music production was done on the analog systems, almost every hardware introduced saturation in the sound which sounds interesting and pleasing which is what we are emulating now.

Where do you put saturation

Saturation plugin is generally used at the last in the pluging chain. Although many producers use it in the front of the plugin chain as well. So you can understand that there are different situations that benefit from different types of placements.

You will have to experiment with them to find what works best on the sound at hand.

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I hope you are taking away something from this guide and will apply the tricks in your task of bass mixing.

Remember that music production doesn’t have rules, there are only guidelines that can be followed but most importantly you should always carry on experimenting so that you get better and smarter ways to handle its issues.

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