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How The Symetrix 528E Processor Can Make You Sound More Present

I use a Symetrix 528E processor and wondered what settings I can change to make my voice sound more “present?” I have a good studio mike, but when I hear some voice demos, they sound like they are sitting next to you instead of coming out of the radio.

I’ve been fiddling with the settings and have made some small improvements, but sure would love to have your opinion. I’ve been at this 25+ years and am pretty happy with the way the Internet has helped my voiceover business improve, but getting that wonderful studio presence would help my voice stand out more.

For those of you wondering, the Symetrix 528E is a complete, self-contained voice processor that performs six separate functions: It’s a mic pre-amp, a de-esser (sibilance removal), a compressor/limiter, downward expander, parametric EQ, and does voice symmetry alignment. Whatever the heck that is. And…all six processors may be used simultaneously.

Master recording engineers use rack-mounted processors like these for CD quality music production, which can include vocals. I think the Symetrix 528E is marketed to more “home bodies” like us. Although at 500 smackers, I’d expect it to wash your car too!
Truth be told, most processing needed today is right on your software. That is, if you’re using a PC or Mac to record your audio. Perhaps you are using a “Stand alone” work station that has no “FX.” In that case, a Symetrix 528E will do the job as an OUTPUT device. Why spend 500 clams on that, when you can get the same thing from Garage Band, Pro Tools or some plug in’s?

Sounding “present,” as you call it, is a function of lots of factors; The type of microphone you use, your proximity skills, in other words, knowing how far to place your mouth from the mic in specific applications and read types, and yes, processing.

As far as attaining that “present” sound you seek, I think you are, as many VO artists do, over thinking the processor and under thinking the process.
First, what do you mean by present? Just loud, clear, sharp audio highlighting your natural voice?

I think you probably mean clear and loud, which really is partially a function of compression. It’s not an exact science and you most likely hear things different than me.

Simple experiment:
Record yourself doing a hard read but don’t over modulate. As you play it back, up the compression settings to the highest level and then slowly increase the output of your recorded channel until you reach the edge of the envelope where compressor can no longer keep it from over modulating. Play with each setting (Output and compression) back and forth until you get a sound you like.

Important note: Do not use compression on your record input. Only use it to process the outgoing mix. That may be where you’re having problems. Also, I find many of those “bells and whistles” unnecessary when doing just dry voice. A producer using your voice will be happy with a dry recording. Let them process your voice the way they want. If you’re making full productions with music and fx’s, well, you need to learn the specific uses for them.

One video studio I do a great deal of work for has a bunch of voice demos on their website for clients to choose from.

I’m not Don LaFontaine, but I get a disproportionate number of gigs from these guys. (Bless em!).

I went to their site one day to check out the other guy’s demos. They were all worn out commercial radio demos and sounded like they were on tape from the mid 80’s, while mine was a first generation, digital file of a documentary I had voiced for them. It became clear to me why I was getting the work.

And, these were well known guys in my market. Shame on them!
Processing is no mystery. Read the manual and continue to play with it. The 528, in my mind, is overkill, and maybe why you’re not getting the sound you desire.
I expect some negative response from some of you “purists.”

About The Author

Buffalo, NY native Dan Lenard has been a radio personality, an insurance sales consultant, a high school Media and Social Studies teacher and a stay-at-home dad. He earned his BA in Broadcasting from Buffalo State College in 1980, a New York State teaching certificate from Buff State in 1997 and then in 2002, an MA in Creative Studies from again, his hometown Alma Mater.

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  • Bill Blizard
    January 19, 2007, 11:51 am

    Here’s something else to try that is very simple and really makes your voice
    “stand out”. Unfortunately this will only work if you use Adobe Audition.
    After you’ve recorded your voice track(and, by the way, you can try this after the final mix too to make make the whole spot sound BIG), go to your Dynamics Processing in Adobe. Under the presets you’ll find some defaults for “limit soft w/boost”.
    Process your voice by trying the the lowest value first – limit soft -6db w/boost. If that’s not enough for you, you can work your way up. The amount of soft limiting you use will depend on 2 things: 1) your compression settings on your mic processor and, 2) your processing AFTER using the soft limit.
    Like with most things in the processing chain, you may have to do some experimenting until you come up with the sound you’re looking for.
    Bill Blizard

  • Neal Mayhem
    June 23, 2013, 3:26 am

    The need for a standalone compression unit is really dependent on its use. I have one, but I don’t use it for my voice work. That is, anything which is going to be handled in post by an engineer or myself for a produced ad or similar. With that, I always go with bare minimum aside from raw voice. In other words, I do what I’m paid for, and let the producer do what he or she is paid for. That said, when it comes to doing live, or ‘as live’ stuff, such as radio programmes and podcasts, I wouldn’t trade in my Symetrix for a million copies of Adobe Audition. You simply won’t produce the same sound quality and ‘life’ in post mix as you will while you’re there, at it, ‘in the zone’, as it were.
    Neal Mayhem – Minutes of Mayhem Productions.