WAVES’ Vocal Rider
How many hours have we all spent drawing in final vocal automation levels to get them just right? Tens, hundreds, or, for those in the biz a long time, maybe even thousands?
Well, maybe there is a better way. WAVES’ Vocal Rider 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. I like that. Atop the plug-in sits the Target control, the reference range or “sweet spot” for where you want it to sit in the mix. Next is Vocal Sensitivity, which 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/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. To the left, Range controls the maximum and minimum level settings. A small Idle arrow between the sliders lets you set the Rider Fader level when there is no activity. The Output trims the output gain (post-audio riding) along with its Clip LED for overloads. At the bottom sit three Automation Mode buttons: Off uses the internal engine; Write sends the Rider Fader levels to the host app automation lane; and Read uses those automation levels, disregarding Vocal Rider’s internal engine.
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. By pressing play, it begins to write the automation. One important note is that you need to have Vocal Rider’s interface window open during this process. Also, any previous automation will be overwritten once you begin this process.
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. Of course, you can also make adjustments after the fact on your DAW.
To use the Music Sensitivity feature, output all the tracks minus the vocal on your DAW to a bus, then assign that bus to Vocal Rider’s Key Sidechain input. The Music Sensitivity control will then become active and be available for adjusting. Vocal Rider’s process will then depend on the settings and the volume of the bussed tracks.
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. Aside from offering a clean, clear signal path, this could potentially save a lot of time for those who do corporate or film type work.
As you would expect, it is supported on TDM, RTAS, VST, and AU systems and will run at Fs up to 96 kHz. Also, Vocal Rider has no latency, as there is no pre-scanning happening; it’s a real-time operation.
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. 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.
Price: $400 and $800 (Native and TDM, respectively)
Contact: WAVES | 865-909-9200 | www.waves.com