Here is a concise peek at a bunch of Waves plug-ins that have recently made it onto my hard drive. Or, should I say, “on to my Waves Central” as their new cloud-based user-interface is pretty cool. Waves Central does require a mandatory look for updates at each opening, but once that brief interruption is over, its excellent interface has checked all your licenses, scanning for updated plugs and (most importantly) transferring licenses to your computer, or your Waves cloud, or your iLok. Waves does not force users to pay for its update plan, so as of right now it is looking a little easier to work with compared to some manufacturers—especially if you’re like me, with multiple computers to share the licenses.
Below are the standouts amongst my Waves plug-ins collection.
API 2500 COMPRESSOR
If “punch” is the name of your game, then this compressor needs no introduction. This API comp manages to kick ass in whatever form factor: rack mounted unit, in the center section of an API The Box or larger console, in a 500-Series rack, or in this plug.
It’s a faithful-type GUI, so you can jump right in and squeeze, unlike some of Waves’ recent signature offerings with a steampunk aesthetic. The full palate of controls are there, including the big 3 tone-shaping essential ones: variable knee (soft, medium and hard), variable side-chain Thrust detection (normal, medium or loud), and sidechain feedback topology (old, which feeds back with smoothness and gentle grace, and new, which feeds forward with aggression and punch).
As if that weren’t enough, the Link section allows completely variable channel linking, with powerful control over the control voltage (flat, or high-passed to prevent stereo low frequency events like hard-panned drums from over-compressing; or low passed, likewise with high frequency events; or band-passed with both, for more rejection of frequency extremes when computing linkage behavior).
Powerful stuff, right? Indeed, it’s subgroup heaven and may just earn a permanent spot on your L/R buss, even if you’re a genre-hopper. At $299, it’s expensive but worth it.
It used to be that I was tracking instruments, day in and day out. Lately I’m overdubbing “vox on trax” day in and day out. So, it’s only natural I’ve become obsessed with re-balancing the soundstage width, trying to create ways to get vocals to sit right in the pocket.
Center is a natural for re-shaping drum subgroups, carving and shaping ambiences, scuplting loops, and more.
Center has quickly proven itself to work for me. There are only Center and Side fader controls, so quick re-balancing is faster than the artist looking over your shoulder can comprehend before you’re done. If you have the time, you can add some low EQ—or some high EQ, or punch—to the center or the sides.
Of course, Center is useful for far more than my typical applications. It’s a natural for re-shaping drum subgroups, carving and shaping ambiences, scuplting loops, grabbing dialog, and (dare we forget) “whack-a-moling” the vocal for karaoke!
S1 STEREO IMAGER
Did I mention that I’ve been soundstage/width/balance-obsessed? Well, that means I had to buy Waves S1 Stereo Imager as well. Center is cool—don’t get me wrong—but S1 brings a different methodology of getting a stereo image where you want it. The Width control is the main element, no doubt, but the Asymmetry and Rotation controls seal the deal.
S1 can behave like “a big old band-aid,” offers Tavaglione.
My music mixing workload finds me inserting S1 into a stereo image as soon as I recognize I want it wide, but I want to lean off center, or “pull in the edges.” Percussion subgroups, keyboards, guitars and their subgroups, background vocals and their subgroups are all natural uses to shape and separate.
Sometimes S1 is a big old band-aid. For example, when incoming tracks from novices don’t have the proper symmetry, or separation, or balance to build upon, you’ll likely need S1 to tweak the Width, Asymmetry and Rotation. That said, you can sometimes work miracles if all you’ve got is a poor stereo track to massage into a hit.
I usually work in standard stereo, but the S1 does mid-side M-S, too, opening apps for post-modern mastering engineers.
DBX 160 COMPRESSOR
Having grown up with classic rock, it’s no wonder the sound of a pair of 160s strapped across the drum buss sounds so very right to my ears. David Blackmer’s dbx was ubiquitous in the ’70s and nearly all the music from that era was dynamically shaped, at least in part, by a pair of Dave’s quick, clean, feed-forward, soft-knee sporting VCA compressors.
David Blackmer’s dbx was ubiquitous in the ‘70s and nearly all the music from that era was dynamically shaped, at least in part, by a pair of Dave’s quick, clean, feed-forward, soft-knee sporting VCA compressors.
Waves’ stereo version of the 160 brings some extra functionality to this classic comp, plus some interesting variables. A Noise control provides the hardware modeled noise floor (if you’re the authentic type), Mid-Side M-S functionality (if you like independent squeezing of the sides and center), a Mix control allows New York-style parallel compression and a Sidechain High Pass filter which helps prevent unwanted compression from bassy elements in the signal.
That much control opens up a myriad of apps that would’ve been beyond the scope of a stock 160, so don’t be surprised if this comp works on most anything where you’re looking for more saturation and level yet without color or attitude. Sure, drums are a natural, but basses (with sidechain filtering), keys, guitars (especially with parallel blending, vox, whole mixes (especially with sidechain HPF and parallel blending) are all quite good with some added 160 love.
Used hardware 160s are still out there, but they’re going for top dollar these days. It sure is nice when a plug-in faithfully recreates the past and adds some modern flair.
SSL E CHANNEL
The debate rages on, but I’m in the “E Series rules!” camp of classic SSL topologies. The 4000 Series consoles with the “Black Knob” EQ were developed in 1983 with help from George Martin. I reviewed their E-channel strip in a hardware version many years ago—and loved it—so I was an easy mark when Waves put their E Channel plug-in on sale.
The feature list is all as expected and without surprise. The high-pass and low-pass filters; the four bands of EQ (high and low shelves or bells, two midrange parametrics); the three-knob compressor; the gate/expander (that is the VCA stuff of legend); and the chunky LED metering are all notable E Channel features.
The sound is pretty damned authentic to these ears, with that classic “clean attitude,” hi-fi punch and “the sound of records.” Adding this tonality to your collection won’t make you stand out from the pack, this is the sound of the pack—I highly recommended the E Channel plug when you want tried and true, quick “all in one instance” processing and need a sure thing in getting a channel to behave.
Rob Tavaglione owns and operates Charlotte’s Catalyst Recording and has been a long-time Studio Contributor. twitter.com/robtavaglione