In this tutorial I will show you how to use VST dynamic processing plugins to make your voice sound better and more professional while live streaming.
This article is for live streamers on Twitch, YouTube Live, or any other streaming service. It is intended for people who speak during their streams. It is not intended for musicians who perform live though the same technique will likely work for them as well.
To implement this method you must have:
- 64-bit Windows 8 or 10
- Hardware that is powerful enough to process audio live while streaming video (i5 or above, 8GB RAM)
- An external microphone
- An audio interface that supports ASIO (for example, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 or the Steinberg UR22 MK2)
No special technical knowledge is needed. I will walk you through all the steps needed to get it working.
If you have a USB microphone like the Blue Yeti I think most of these steps will work for you as well. You should use VB-Audio Virtual Cable instead of the Hi-Fi Cable. I’m sorry that I cannot provide a step-by-step guide for this case since I do not have a USB microphone.
Using dynamic processing plugins can make your voice sound more balanced, even, and professional. They will help you remove background noise, prevent clipping, eliminate plosives and sibilance, and give you a pleasant even volume.
The down side to using these plugins is that they can introduce latency to your voice track. I will provide some information on how to minimize this later in the tutorial. Using plugins, as you will see, also makes your production chain more complicated. You will have to decide if the benefits outweigh these drawbacks for your situation.
Dynamic Processing Plugins for Voice-Overs
The dynamic processors usually recommended for voice-over audio are:
- Limiters (prevent clipping)
- Noise Gates (reduce background noise)
- Compressors (even out the sound level)
- De-essers (remove speaking artifacts such as plosives)
- Equalizers (enhance the quality of your voice)
You may or may not need to use all of these. It will depend on your needs and production setup. I recommend trying them and see how they impact your CPU, latency, and the sound of your voice. Start with a few of the basic ones (equalizer, gate, and compressor) then add additional ones to hear the effect.
This tutorial will cover how to install these plugins but not how to configure them. I will include a link at the end to a great tutorial that will help you do this.
There are many VST plugins that do dynamic processing. I will recommend a few good ones and I encourage you to experiment with others. Some plugins are free, some very expensive. KVR Audio has a large list of plugins you can download and experiment with.
When you are done this tutorial this is what the audio flow in your system will look like:
1. Download software
To use the plugins for live streaming you will need to download the following software:
- Cantabile Lite [ver. 3.0.3179] This is the software that will host (i.e. run) your VST plugins. It is the free version of their commercial tool and I like it a lot. The user interface is easy to use and it has been very stable for me. I greatly prefer it over other freeware tools like VSTHost.
- Banana [ver. 184.108.40.206] This is a software mixer that allows you to do the complex sound routing needed. It will also allow you to mix in music or even Skype into your stream.
- VB-Audio Hi-Fi Cable [ver. 1007] This software allows you to send the output from Cantabile to Banana. I use the Hi-Fi version because my audio interface supports ASIO. ASIO supports low latency audio which is best suited to use these plugins live. Non-ASIO, USB microphones may work as well but I haven’t tested them.
- OBS Studio [ver. 0.15.2] This is a free audio and video streaming application. It takes the output from Banana and streams it to your service. OBS Studio is not required as this method will work with any streaming application. You could also use XSplit or LiveStream Studio.
2. Install the software
The installation order is not important. Banana and VB-Audio Hi-Fi Cable will both require you to reboot after they are installed. You must do this. I recommend installing in this order:
- VB-Audio Hi-Fi Cable (or VB-Audio Virtual Cable)
- Cantabile Lite
- OBS Studio
3. Verify Your Installation
Before configuring the applications we need to verify that everything installed correctly. First, let’s check that VB-Audio Hi-Fi Cable and Banana installed the correct sound devices in Windows.
Open Windows Control Panel. In the search box type “Sound”.
Click on the word Sound at the top. This will open the sound device window. First click on the tab labeled Playback. You should see the three items highlighted in this screenshot:
The top item with the coax icon is for VB-Audio Hi-Fi. The two icons labeled VoiceMeeter are for Banana. One is VAIO and one is AUX VAIO. Note that these three devices are labeled “Input” even though we are looking at playback devices. I guess this is logical but I find it confusing. If you see these three devices you should be good.
Next click on the Recording tab in the same window. You should see the same three devices but now labeled “Output”.
Again, if you see these three devices you should be good.
To verify Banana, Cantabile Lite, and OBS Studio you need only run them. If they start and show you their application window then you have installed them correctly.
We will configure these applications next.
4. Configure Cantabile Lite
OK, after all that rebooting and checking you are now ready for the fun part: wiring them together. Well, maybe not fun but necessary.
First we need to let Cantabile know what driver and audio ports to use. Open Cantabile, click the Tools menu, and then Options. Once the Options window is open select Audio Engine on the left.
Now click on the Audio Driver drop down menu in the right panel and select ASIO – Generic Low Latency ASIO Driver. Then click the button labeled Control Panel. This opens up an output device window that lets you select your input and output devices.
In this window you need to do 4 things:
- Uncheck “Allow ASIO host application…” This is necessary to get the entire setup to work. ASIO is, frankly, a pain.
- Set Audio buffer size to middle. After you get everything working you should come back to this setting and experiment with smaller values. The smaller the value the lower the latency. If you set the value too low, however, you will hear static and pops in your audio.
- Set the Output Ports to Hi-Fi Cable Input. This sends the audio from Cantabile to the virtual cable which is how you get it to Banana.
- Set the Input Ports to the audio interface that your microphone is connected to. I have a Steinberg UR22 so that is what mine shows.
You are done with this window so click OK.
Stay in the Options window and now click Audio Ports on the left.
The out:Main Speakers part should look just as I show it in the screenshot. You need to change the in: Main Microphone configuration. The exact setting will depend on your hardware but the goal is to set both Left and Right in to the same input. The reason for this is that microphones are mono devices (in this context). In my case my mic is plugged into the UR22’s input 1 (which shows as Left by default in Cantabile). So, what I had to do is click on Right under in: Main Microphone, then the Edit button.
This opens a small window. Under Channel select the same input as you used for Left. Then click OK. When you are done both inputs should now point to the same channel. In my case both point to “Line 1”.
OK, one last thing in Cantabile. While still in the Options window, click Plugin Options on the left.
Under VST Plugin Folders you need to tell Cantabile in what folder you will store your VST plugins. We will come back to this when we install some plugins later. You can enter any folder you like. I created one for this purpose in my windows Documents folder. I called it “VST64” to remind me only to use 64 bit VST plugins. I will explain this is more detail in the plugins section later.
Add your folder and then click OK. The Options window will close.
You are now done with the basic configuration of Cantabile. Let’s test it to make sure everything is correct. Turn on your microphone and speak for a few seconds. You won’t see much in Cantabile but you should see the Input Ports Indicator level moving. Only one of the bars will move since we are using a mono microphone. You should also see the Main Microphone levels on the left moving. Both bars should move.
You should not see any movement under Output Ports or Main Speakers. Soon, but not yet.
If this is not working I recommend going back and double-checking your drivers settings and audio port settings. Make sure you selected the right driver, device, and line input for your audio interface.
5. Configure Banana
One more tedious step and then we can get to the big moment: installing and using the plugins!
Run Banana. You can leave Cantabile running as well. Banana supports 3 hardware inputs, 2 virtual inputs, 3 hardware outputs (A1-A3), and 2 virtual outputs (B1 and B2). It allows you to mix them and set their volume levels.
What we want to do is get our microphone input filtered through Cantabile and the VST plugins, then mix that with desktop audio such as a game (and perhaps another audio source such as Skype or music) and then send the combined, mixed output to OBS Studio. You can also listen to the mixed audio through your headphones. Let’s configure Banana to do this.
Banana is a bit fussy about the order of the settings so we will follow the order that I found to work. First, we will set your headphone output so you can hear the audio being sent through Banana. Click on the button labeled A1 with a small arrow pointing down. This will give you a long list of driver/device pairs. The list is long due to the complex history of Windows audio drivers. This is the list mine shows:
I use the “KS” driver for my audio interface. This outputs to my headphone plugged into my audio interface. KS drivers are the better than MME and WDM. You might wonder why not use the ASIO driver? Well, I tried but no luck. After a few hours fighting it I gave up and went with KS. They work fine and are reasonably low latency. Some day I may win the ASIO battle but that is not today. If you do not see KS drivers then I would recommend WDM as the next best.
Next, we will set the Cantabile input. Right click on Hardware Input 1. This will allow you to enter a custom name. Type “Cantabile” then hit enter. Then click Select Input Device under the Cantabile. This will give you another driver/device list.
Select KS: VB-Audio Hi-Fi Cable. This is the virtual device that Cantabile is outputing to (Main Speaker). We needed the VB Audio Hi-Cable to fit Cantabile into out audio path. Normally, the input would be simply your microphone. As with A1, if you do not see KS then I recommend the WDM driver option.
In the newly added Cantabile column, make sure the Comp. and Gate knobs are set to 0. We will use VST plugins for these functions. Also in this column make sure that only the A1 and B1 green buttons are set. This will send the audio to our headphone and to the output mix for OBS Studio.
Now, we have to tell Windows to use one of the Banana virtual inputs as its default audio device. First, let’s label it. Right click to the left of the text VIRTUAL INPUTS. Enter a label, I use the word “Desktop”. Now go back to Windows Control Panel Sound (as described above). Right click on the item called VB-Audio VoiceMeeter VAIO and click Set as Default Device. Be careful, do not pick AUX VAIO we will use that one later.
This setting will send your game (and other Windows application) audio to Banana. Make sure only the A1 and B1 green buttons are enabled in this column as well.
Optional Step – Skype Integration
You can configure Banana to receive Skype audio on the AUX VAIO device. Having desktop audio and Skype audio on different devices allows you to easily set different audio levels. For example, you can make the game audio quiet and make Skype louder.
To enable this, first rename the right hand VIRTUAL INPUTS in Banana as “Skype”. Then open Skype, click the Call menu then Audio Settings… and set Speakers to VoiceMeeter Aux Input.
Skype audio will now be on a separate channel from your microphone and from your desktop audio giving you a lot of control over the sound.
If you want to send music instead of Skype you may have to configure things differently. Applications that do not let you choose the audio output device will use the Windows default device. iTunes, for example, does not appear to let you select a non-default device. So, in order to split the audio into two separate inputs as we did for Skype you need at least one of the applications you want to record to support device choice. Many games will allow you to do this. If that is the case then you can send game audio to the VAIO AUX device (instead of Skype) and have your music player send audio to the default VAIO device.
OK, that’s it for Banana. Next we will install some plugins then make the whole thing work in OBS Studio.
6. Install VST Plugins
Finally. The first thing we have to do is actually get some plugins. Thankfully, the good people who made Reaper offer some excellent free plugins suitable for voice work. Cantabile only supports 64-bit plugins so you must only use 64 bit VST plugins. You cannot use 32-bit plugins with this setup.
Go to the Reaper Plugins page and download the ReaPlugs 64bit set. Launch the installer. Windows may complain that the software is unsigned and not want to install it. I overrode Windows and installed it anyway, as I believe the Reaper site is trustworthy. You can accept the installer defaults until you get to the Destination Folder screen. Here you should enter the VST plugin folder you created for Cantabile. It is fine to have sub-folders in that directory if you want to keep your plugins organized. Cantabile will still recognize them.
Once the Reaper plugin installer is finished open Cantabile. Under the Tools menu click Scan Plugin Folders (Quick). We can check to see if they installed correctly by clicking the Insert menu then Plugin… in Cantabile. When the window opens, click All Plugins on the left and you should see a list of plugins starting with the letters “rea”.
In this screenshot you see the Reaper plugins along with some others I also installed ( the “TB” ones.) The “x64” shown at the end of the plugin capabilities indicates that they are for 64-bit Windows. The “32-bit audio” indicates the audio resolution and is different from the operating system bit size. Confusing, I know.
Let’s add a few of the Reaper plugins to Cantabile. With the plugins window still open click on reagate-standalone then click OK. This plugin is a noise gate. Open the plugins window again and add reaeq-standalone. This is an equalizer. Lastly, open the plugins window and add reacomp-standalone. This is a compressor. You can do a lot with just these three plugins. I won’t be covering how to configure them but see What To Do Next below for a link to a set of YouTube videos that will teach you how to do this.
Cantabile should now look like this:
Under Input Ports you should only see Main Microphone. If you see anything else under Input Ports then delete it by left-clicking on it and then pressing the <Delete> key. If you do not see Main Microphone then click Add Route and select it from the list.
Now, it’s time to wire the plugins to your mic and to each other. Notice that under Preset/Destination it shows Output Port – Main Speakers for all of them? This means they are communicating with each other. First we will send our microphone audio to the noise gate. To the right of Main Microphone click Output Port – Main Speakers and then choose reagate-Standalone 1 – Stereo In 1. Next, click on the output port for reagate-standalone 1 and choose reaeq-standalone 1 Stereo In. Finally, click on the output port for reaeq-standalone 1 and choose reacomp-standalone 1 – Stereo In 1. That’s it, they are now wired together into a single “effects chain”.
Before we test it, I recommend you save this configuration. Select File then Save Song As… then choose whatever name and destination folder you like. Cantabile calls these configurations “songs”.
OK, now the big test. Turn on your mic, leave Cantabile open, and launch Banana if it’s not already open.Speak into the mic. If everything is working you should see the following:
- Cantabile: the levels under Indicators should be moving for all rows (plugins and mic)
- Cantabile: the levels on the left under Main Microphone and Main Speakers should be moving
- Banana: the level meters under “Cantabile”, A1, and B1 should be moving
If you see these levels move then congratulations! You have configured your setup for live VST plugin effects. If some do not move then double-check you have all the correct outputs in Cantabile and the correct green buttons (A1 and B1) set in Banana. Also double-check that you have the right devices for Banana output (A1 and B1). This is a complex setup so there are several things that can go wrong.
For the last step we will connect Banana to OBS Studio so that your new audio sound can be streamed.
7. Configure OBS Studio
This last step is simple. Leave your mic on and Cantabile and Banana running. You will need these applications open while you stream. Launch OBS Studio. Click on File then Settings. In the Settings window select Audio on the left. Disable both Desktop Audio Devices. Under Mic/Auxiliary Device select VoiceMeeter Output (VB-Audio VoiceMeeter VAIO). This device is B1 from Banana. What this configuration does is use Banana to do all the audio mixing and then send the combined output to OBS Studio.
Click OK to close the settings window. Now you should test the entire setup by recording some video in OBS Studio and speaking at the same time. You will likely have to play with the gain settings in Banana to find the right balance of voice, game, music, etc. OBS Studio, at least on my system, seems to record audio at too low a level. You may need to add the Gain filter to the audio in OBS Studio and bump up the gain a bit.
These steps, hopefully, allowed you to get all the components working together. Next I recommend that you spend some time tuning this setup to fit your voice and production needs.
What To Do Next
First I recommend you head over to YouTube and watch the effects tutorials by the voice-over artist Elijah Lucian. He shows you how to configure and tune the Reaper plugins we used in this tutorial. His videos are the best I’ve found on the Internet on this topic and also highly entertaining.
There are a lot of VST plugins out there both free and paid. I recommend you search for plugins specifically targeting voice-overs or recommended by professional voice-over artists. Make sure and use 64-bit plugins only. You cannot use older, 32-bit plugins.
Plugin order is also a topic to look into. I could not find a definitive recommendation on this subject. The GearSlutz forums have some good discussion on this.
You will find that some plugins introduce more latency than others. In a recording environment with a DAW this isn’t a problem but it is for live streaming. I recommend you experiment with the ASIO buffer size. Try to get it as small as possible without introducing artifacts into the sound.
Support the Developers
Please support the developers of Cantabile and Banana. Cantabile Lite is free but if you like it then please purchase Cantabile Solo. Banana and VB Audio Hi-Fi cable are donationware. These are great tools and the developers deserve our support.
While this setup does work for me, I’m sure it could be improved. Maybe you know how to get ASIO working in Banana? Please provide any feedback, comments, and recommended improvements in the comments below. I hope this tutorial will help you make your stream better and has saved you some time.