Last month I discussed the Platinum Bundle’s equalizers, compressors and related plug-ins. This month I will review my experiences with Waves’ reverbs, delays, flangers and modulation related devices, pitch shifters, stereo simulators, and level and spectrum displays that complete the bundle. Given the space limitations in reviewing a huge suite of tools like the Platinum Bundle, a full exploration of all the features is beyond the scope of this article (there are over 20 editable parameters in TrueVerb alone, for example). The good news is that the Platinum Bundle can be used quite effectively without an expert level of understanding of all of its capabilities. Moreover, the included documentation is outstanding, and will go a long way toward “filling in the blanks” for those who might be daunted. I described the basic controls common to all the Waves plug-ins last month, so I will get directly to the heart of this month’s installment without further… umm… delay.
Product PointsApplications: Studio, post production
Key features: Mac, Windows; TDM, RTAS, MAS, Audio Units, VST; 48-bit internal processing; 96 kHz and 192 kHz sampling rates; compressor, equalizers, mastering plug-ins
Contact: Waves at 865-546-6115, www.waves.com
There are two reverbs: TrueVerb and RennVerb (‘Renaissance’ reverb). In addition to the expected controls like delay time, pre-delay, wet/dry mix and so on, more exotic ones like dimension, distance, density, early-reflection absorption, decorrelation and many others are included. One of the key differences between the two plug-ins is that TrueVerb does not have an “algorithm” menu as is commonly found in many such devices, e.g. room, hall, plate etc. Both it and RennVerb have factory libraries that include those categories, but only the latter has a “Reverb Type” pop-up menu right in the main window as a starting point. Another interesting difference is that TrueVerb always initiates with a setting that is quite short in decay (1.2 seconds), sounding like a fairly small room, while RennVerb defaults to the “Hall 1” algorithm, with a default decay of 2.4 seconds, making them very different sounding “out of the box.” Naturally, both can be edited to deliver very wide ranges of effects.
There is only one basic delay plug-in, “SuperTap.” It can be initiated with two or six “taps” (separate delay returns) and with either modulation (LFO) capability with delay time limited to 1.2 seconds, or up to 6 seconds (@ 40 BPM) of delay without modulation capability. Each “tap” has a an in/out button, a delay time slider, a level control and a one-band EQ section offering a 100 Hz to 20 kHz range and six different bell, shelf and filter modes. There is also a neat “pan graph” display where a dot for each color-coded tap can be dragged up, down, left or right within a triangular quadrant to achieve any desired level or position within the stereo field. A tempo entry field allows times to be calculated in note values (1/4, 1/8 etc.) relative to the music, and a simple modulation section allows rate and depth control of the LFO. Feedback is available, on a separate slider with gain and EQ features similar to the individual taps. “Rotate,” (panning of mono or stereo inputs), is also included on all seven sliders.
MetaFlanger, Enigma, Doppler and MondoMod are the bundle’s four delay-based modulation/timbre shifting plug-ins. MetaFlanger is the most conventional, behaving more or less like one would expect a flanger to; a very short time delay (usually less than 10 ms, but variable from .1 ms to 50 ms in this case) modulated by an LFO to create the sweeping timbre shifts characteristic of this effect. Other controls are sine or triangle waveforms, rate and depth for the LFO, along with feedback, stereo spread and filtering.
Enigma can produce similar results, but adds a few other tricks as well. Waves says “think of it as a very complex phaser/flanger with a reverb/feedback network with complex filtering, plus some modulation.” Got that? No? Well, I will try to clarify it a bit. In addition to flanger-like controls, it adds an LFO modulated sweeping filter (EQ) with from one to six “notches” (EQ peaks or dips), and a feedback section with enough (variable) delay time to be equivalent to a short reverb (it maxxes out at ‘5000’ which sounds like about a half second).
The feedback section is also linked with a two-band equalizer, including a graphical display of the various interactive settings. Describing it fully would be like trying to describe a…well…enigma, so perhaps it’s sufficient to point out its similarity to certain classic analog effects like the Mu-Tron Bi-Phase for example. It is a very powerful phase/flange/timbre sweep device that can go well beyond flanging into ultra heavy duty effects, for those who want a full-on “jet plane” level of sound-mangling for example.
MondoMod combines, under the control of a single LFO, panning, amplitude and frequency modulators. Each has its own depth control. The AM and FM modulators each have phase controls and the panner has a range (stereo width) control. Five LFO waveforms are available. “Square” switches back and forth abruptly from the extremes of the sweep, “Saw” 1 and 2 (down or up) start at one end, sweep to the other, and snap back to the beginning and “Sine” and “Triangle” sweep back and forth. To put it simply, it sweeps pan, volume and frequency at the same time.
Doppler combines delay and pitch shift in a way that mimics its natural namesake: the tendency of perceived pitch to rise when coming from a source moving toward the listener and fall when moving away. It has a window containing a semicircular display with a draggable line with handles for the start, middle and end of the Doppler sweep, a directionality control (left to right or vice-versa), manual or signal-based triggering, and numerous others. It is another extremely well designed effect, but with some arcane parameters like “air damp” for example, and other controls whose effect is very subtle. It is also likely to be used pretty rarely, so I am going to recommend Waves’ excellent documentation (available at their website) for a more complete explanation of its inner workings.
UltraPitch is the only pitch-shifting plug-in in the Platinum Bundle. It is quite similar to SuperTap in many ways, including its basic appearance. It can be initiated with one, three or six “voices” (individually pitch-shifted returns), each of which can also be delayed up to 100 milliseconds. Gain and pan controls are included, with a graphic display quadrant similar to SuperTap’s. Pitch shift choices appear in pop-ups labeled in musical terms, e.g. major and minor third, etc., covering all 12-note intervals including unison. There is also a graphic “formant” display with draggable dot/buttons similar to the panning display, one for each voice. The dots can be slid up and down for pitch and left for lower, more “masculine” formants, and right for higher, more feminine ones. Below it, a popup menu allows preset formant settings for voices or various instruments as well as “free” for complete user control. A scrolling graphic display shows the incoming pitch being detected, and below it a “mode” control offers seven settings for various kinds of voices, tones and bass.
PS22 is a stereo simulator. It’s available in two basic forms, “Spread” and “Split. A display window shows a representation of the stereo enhancement with width indicated on the horizontal plane and frequency based parameters on the vertical scale. A slider along the bottom moves the center of the image left or right. Like Doppler, a full explanation of its proprietary controls would be quite challenging given our space limitations, so I’d again recommend Waves’ own documentation for a better understanding of them.
PAZ (short for ‘Psychoacoustic Analyzer’) comes in two varieties, as a level meter or a spectrum analyzer. The meters show two scales, peak and “loudness”. The peak meter is fixed as such, but the loudness meter has variable settings for weighting (A, B or C type), peak or RMS (VU) and response time (50 ms minimum). The peak mete also has a clip indicator. PAZ’s spectrum analyzer displays frequencies from 8 Hz to 16 kHz on a horizontal scale and level in dB from 0 dB to -80 dB on a vertical scale.
It also has separate peak and loudness meters. It has weighting, peak/RMS and response time controls similar to the meter-only version, along with “LF res” (resolution – how finely or coarsely the low frequencies are displayed), display freeze, peak hold, and clear. A zoom control enables viewing an enlarged part of the spectrum and a Navigate control allows scrolling up, down, left or right when the display is zoomed in.
Reverbs are probably the most commonly used, and arguably most important plug-ins in this month’s group, so I will begin with them. As I mentioned last month, I used Waves plug-ins exclusively in the original score for the Academy Award-nominated feature film, American Splendor, which I recorded and mixed for composer Mark Suozzo. Everything was recorded into either Pro Tools or Digital Performer (including Mark’s original MIDI tracks), and was mixed entirely in DP. Mark has a basic software setup very similar to mine, and often records parts of the score at his own studio, so keeping everything compatible is a big plus. He doesn’t have RennVerb though, so for this project, TrueVerb it was. Thankfully, we never felt hampered by this key limitation.
I created and saved three reverb settings; short, medium and long, and combined varying amounts of each, as is a common practice for me in a mix. While TrueVerb is not as smooth sounding as some the better hardware units such as my Lexicon PCM-90, or even some other software reverbs like Audio Ease’s remarkable Altiverb, it does its job as part of a large software suite extremely well, and I never found myself bemoaning the lack of choice, as I have in some other projects when I was similarly constrained, but to a different reverb plug-in.
TrueVerb can be quite easily tweaked into almost unlimited varieties of reverb texture and color, leaving very little to be desired as an all-purpose reverb plug-in. While it is impracticable here to delve into the subtle interactions of all of its controls, they would be well worth an afternoon’s exploration for a creative user.
TrueVerb’s DSP usage is quite minimal – about the same as Digidesign’s D-Verb (included free with Pro Tools), which is far more limited in its feature set.
RennVerb is similarly comprehensive in its editable controls. According to Waves, it is based on TrueVerb, but with a new reverb tail algorithm. In use it sounds quite different from TrueVerb – noticeably darker as it decays, and smoother sounding. As such it actually does resemble “vintage” units, of which there were actually very few “back in the day”; EMT plates, spring units by AKG and a few others, and custom made “live” chambers being pretty much the extent of it.
RennVerb is much more DSP-hungry than TrueVerb. On my Pro Tools Mix system it consumed 85 percent of a DSP chip where TrueVerb only needed 51 percent. This would help explain RennVerb’s smooth sound though; a smoother reverb tail takes much more processing horsepower.
The SuperTap delay represents almost an embarrassment of riches. While most of what needs to be said about it appears in the features section above (there is little to comment on regarding the “sound” of a delay within a DAW), the flexibility and power of the user interface is a thing of beauty. Dialing up almost any imaginable delay effect is quick and intuitive.
I must preface my comments on MetaFlanger, Enigma, MondoMod and Doppler with a disclaimer: for at least the last decade or so I have found myself (like many other engineers, I think) using “heavy” effects like these on only the rarest of occasions. Even reverb has become marginalized in recent years; precious little of it is added to many modern pop recordings. Having said that however, Waves implementation of these wilder effects is, like everything else they create, exemplary. UltraPitch, like SuperTap, is largely described by its feature set, but its sound quality is also a major coup. To put it simply, it is the best real time pitch-shifting device I have ever heard. Not only is the tone of the pitch shifted output almost completely free of annoying glitches, but the formant controls shift the tone from more “masculine” to more “feminine” extremely convincingly, also in real time, a feat I have not seen matched by any other such device. Combined with the elegant interface and the wealth of other features, this plug-in is a standout.
The PS22 Stereo Simulators are another very pleasant surprise. While various iterations of similar types of devices have existed for decades, this is the first one I have actually made extensive use of. Like most of the others, it achieves its stereo simulation through a combination of comb-filtering, delay and phase manipulation. Unlike the others I’ve tried though, PS22 manages to do so with minimal artifacts or degradation of the signal’s fidelity. In a mix of the song “Castles Of Gold” from the album of the same name by Pan Morigan, featuring Frank McCourt and Roma Downey, I had a primary acoustic guitar part, beautifully played by producer/guitarist Ben Butler, which I wanted to feature heavily in certain sections of the mix. He recorded it in his own studio on two channels using a single mic and the built-in bridge pickup. This left me with little to work with stereo-wise, since panning the two apart didn’t result in a satisfactorily coherent image. So I put the mic through a PS22 “Spread” and panned the DI to the center. I was able to use surprisingly aggressive settings on the PS22 to spread the image out, while using the DI to keep it focused. The result was much better than I expected; a big, robust stereo acoustic that held its featured place in the mix beautifully.
Reviewing as large an assortment of audio tools as the Waves Platinum Bundle is like evaluating an entire control room full of outboard gear. It’s a tall order. Consistently throughout the process though (as well as in use), the excellence of this entire collection of plug-ins shines like…well…like platinum, now that I think about it. As the owner of numerous other fine plug-ins, I would have to say that in my experience none of Waves’ competitors’ product lines can compare to the sheer breadth, depth and overall quality of the Platinum Bundle.