WAVES’ Vocal Rider ($400 and $800, Native and TDM, respectively) is a new mix tool plug-in that does exactly what its moniker suggests: It automatically rides levels on your vocal tracks in real time.
Its options are simple but effective, and the layout is clean. The Target control sets the reference range or “sweet spot” for the vocal to sit in the mix. Vocal Sensitivity helps differentiate the vocal content from spillage, etc. There’s also a Fast/Slow switch for determining the basic ride speed.
Vocal Rider’s Music Sensitivity control is interesting in that, simply by setting up a bus send of all the tracks minus the vocal on your DAW, then assigning that bus to Vocal Rider’s bus/sidechain (located above the GUI), you can have Vocal Rider sense the overall music activity for level positioning. The large Rider Fader moves according to the internal detectors, unless touched with a mouse, when it can be manually adjusted. The Range control sets the maximum and minimum levels. A small Idle arrow between the sliders lets you set the Rider Fader level when there is no activity. The Output control trims the output gain (post-audio riding) along with its Clip LED for overloads.
One of my favorite touches is the ability to easily send the levels to your DAW’s automation. On my Pro Tools setup, I inserted Vocal Rider on a dialog track and set the PT fader to Touch mode, put the plug-in into Write mode, and then chose the Rider fader in my automation lane. When finished, you simply press the Read button on Vocal Rider. For tweaking, you can grab the plug-in fader while it’s in the process of writing; when you let go, it will continue automatically. WAVES doesn’t recommend doing that while Vocal Rider is writing, but I did it and it worked just fine.
I tried Vocal Rider on both traditional songs with lead vocals and then on an industrial-type video track with a VO, and it worked quite nicely. It only takes a few minutes to adjust to its workings, and I found myself easily tweaking it to get a nice, loud vocal. Next, I tried removing the compressor from the industrial VO, which needed a few dB of gain to pop through the track. Once again, it worked perfectly, and it was an interesting revelation to pull the compression off but still have the vocal punch through automatically.
I’ll be the first to admit I was skeptical about a plug-in taking away something I’ve done myself for years, but after using it just once, I saw the value in it. Also, Vocal Rider has no latency, as there is no pre-scanning happening; it’s a real-time operation.
It does a great job, it’s adjustable and flexible, and it can keep the vocal free of any unnecessary processing. I already look forward to the next WAVES mix tool.