Choices: Everyone living and breathing likes, enjoys, wants, and, even once in awhile, appreciates them. I especially appreciate the choices MultiRack by WavesLive (the Live Sound division of Waves) offers me as a live sound engineer. And as a system installer/integrator, I appreciate the choices I am able to offer my clients with MultiRack.
WavesLive MultiRack is a host platform application designed especially for live sound applications. Available in both Native and SoundGrid versions, MultiRack is controlled from either a Mac or PC computer. SoundGrid is Waves’ audio-over- Ethernet protocol (more on that later). MultiRack literally becomes your outboard processing racks. It can contain your compressors/limiters, effects processors, EQs, etc. It makes carrying all of the processing you may need (or want) more logistically possible and more affordable. Now that your processing racks are only as large as your computer, you can easily carry them on fly dates, on tours not carrying full production, and even festival dates. Production companies can still provide the same processors, but now that it’s in the box, it is much more feasible for even a smaller budget production to have access to powerful processing.
Signal flow between MultiRack and your mixer is not much different than connecting any analog processor to your mixer. MultiRack can actually be connected to an analog mixer but becomes a much more powerful tool when interfacing with a digital mixer and utilizing a server optimized for use with audio — which we’ll get into, but first the basics.
To use MultiRack you will need a mixer; an audio interface with AD/DA conversion or an interface card for your mixer; a Mac or PC; an iLok; and Waves Plug-ins. During this evaluation period, I have used a number of different interfaces to connect MultiRack to my mixers, including a RME Fireface 800 (providing analog I/O and conversion), an Audinate Dante card for Yamaha mixers, Waves’ SG-Y16 card ($800) for Yamaha mixers and Waves SoundGrid Audio Processing Network. By far, MultiRack was most convenient and efficient when interfacing with the Waves SG-Y16 card and the Dante card.
After connecting and configuring your hardware with MultiRack, you can open a Session, set your preferences and be ready to start routing signal. Signals may be routed from auxiliary or mix sends and returned to faders or routed from channel inserts, just like any analog signal would be routed to an analog processor. Of course, all of MultiRack settings are completely recallable, and you can recall saved parameters and control MultiRack remotely via MIDI.
There are four basic components in MultiRack: Sessions, Racks, Plug-ins and Snapshots. A Session contains the setup for an entire show. It stores the settings for all Plug-ins, Racks and Snapshots, as well as information about the setup design and signal flow–like how many Racks are available, their order, input and output routing, I/O levels, etc. A Rack contains Plug-ins and is where signal path, with the desired Plug-ins, is laid out. Plug-ins are your processors. They can be an EQ, a dynamic or effect processor, or even tools such as meters, and sound field manipulation; they are inserted into the signal flow of a rack. Finally, Snapshots are presets that store Plug-in and Rack settings such as mutes, levels and, of course, the settings for each of the Plugins parameters.
Every Session can have up to 64 Racks. Each Rack can contain up to eight Plug-ins and every Session can contain 1,000 Snapshots. With the amount of processing and Plug-ins available, MultiRack is capable of handling even the most demanding theatrical performances and productions. MultiRack can be controlled remotely via MIDI, and a convenient MIDI matrix allows easy integration with mixers or MIDI controllers to control Plug-in parameters, Snapshots, etc. For instance, from a digital mixer, MultiRack Snapshots can be triggered as you change Scenes or Snapshots on the mixer — allowing the freedom of mixing a show as you normally would, yet maintaining complete control of MultiRack via the mixer’s own control surface. MultiRack is a very powerful and flexible tool that is programmable specific to user workflow and production requirements.
What About Latency?
With any digital audio processing, chain latency is a serious issue and must be considered and addressed. Latency is a measure of the time delay caused by a digital system, in this case, the time it takes a signal to leave the console, be processed, and return to the console for mixing. Latency can create a couple of kinds of problems. If a processed signal is mixed with an identical unprocessed signal (or even if mixing a processed or unprocessed signal that share a great deal of content due to microphone leakage or what not), comb filtering can occur. The second problem has to do with monitoring and musician timing because latency can significantly increase the time it takes a singer’s voice to get back to their ear, or for a drummer to hear his hi-hat. Too much latency can create pitch problems for the singer and timing issues for the entire band.
Inserting an analog processor into a digital mixer automatically adds latency due to the delay necessitated by the conversion from digital to analog and back again (adding near 6 milliseconds in one setup I’ve used, compared to the Dante protocol which has a minimum latency of 150 microseconds with the MY16-AUD interface). The combined latency of DA/AD conversion and plug-in processing time had all but eliminated the use of outboard processors for monitors, especially when inserting into digital mixers. Delays at the sample level created by daisychained plug-ins can create similar problems even using outboard digital processing with a digital mixer.
In MultiRack Native, the host computer serves both as the control and processing host. Latency in Native mode can be affected by the amount of overhead processing going on in the native host computer, which determines the delay settings necessary for your soundcard or I/O to maintain clean audio. For minimum latency, Waves offers the system reviewed here, employing SoundGrid Servers (essentially standalone computers optimized for audio processing) and the SoundGrid, extremely low latency, audio networking protocol developed by Waves where data is transmitted over a 1Gbps network using Cat-6 cable.
A SoundGrid Host (your laptop or computer) runs the MultiRack application (your GUI) while the SoundGrid Server handles all of the processing required to run the plug-ins. Dividing up the processing between the Host and the Server is the key to the high performance, stability and low latency achieved by SoundGrid.
I have been using MultiRack at FOH for a few months now utilizing a variety of interface devices and trying out different plugins. As important as compensating for latency is at FOH, as long as I line things back up before it goes out of my console, it doesn’t concern me if my mix is delayed a few milliseconds. At monitors, in my opinion, anything over 3ms starts to become unacceptable and can really cause some serious issues. With that in mind, I wanted to get the opinion of a monitor engineer that is currently using MultiRack in his monitor mixes, specifically in-ear mixes.
For this, I turned to veteran mixer Monty Carlo, currently mixing monitors on tour with Slash. Monty’s setup consists of two Waves SoundGrid Servers and two WSG-Y16 cards in a Yamaha PM5D-RH digital mixer. The system is clocked at 96 kHz, allowing for a total of 16 channels of I/O (Each WSG card provides 16 channels of I/O at 48 kHz, 8 channels at 96 kHz). Monty says that without changing how he mixes, he is able to improve his results using MultiRack. “It’s easy to set up and integrate,” he offers. “(It’s) a simple matter of placing blue dots on the Yamaha patch screen to select the inputs and outputs available on the SoundGrid network.”
Monty is using the L2 Ultramaximizer, C4 Multiband and the SSL G Series Master Bus Compressor across his monitor mixes, and for effects he is using the H Delay and UltraPitch plug-ins on lead vocals — quite a bit of processing via plug-ins. Though MultiRack has an alignment tool where Grouped tracks can be latency-aligned, offsetting unequal delays caused by each channel’s chain of plug-ins, Monty hasn’t touched it. “Haven’t felt the need since I’m using it across outputs,” he explains. “If something is causing a noticeable timing issue for me, I’ll opt to take it completely out of the system.”
Is Monty experiencing latency problems? “Nothing noticeable,” he replies. “The MultiRack software can show you what the latency is for each signal path; I haven’t seen anything more than about 3ms.”
Monty was also sure to note the following: “I used MultiRack earlier this summer with Ringo Starr and His All-Starr Band, and I was like a kid in a candy store. I had the full 32 channels available and think I ended up using about 20 of them. I took advantage of a lot of the SSL channel strips on my vocals — nine of them! — and played with a variety of compressors on keyboards. On the channels that I used with plug-ins, I was bypassing the onboard EQs and dynamics. One fun plug-in I found was Vocal Rider: great for riding BGVs when they step away from the mic. And the TrueVerb sounded amazing in the ears.”
Back at FOH, I love putting the SSL bus compressor across my own mix, and Waves effects are stellar, to say the least. It’s great to have access to studio-quality processing without the cost or headache of maintenance issues. I can create the signal path that the artist’s engineers and producers used in the studio, giving me a much greater chance to re-create live what was captured in the studio.
Along with good gain structure and an understanding of signal flow, MultiRack is sure to expand the possibilities for just about any mixer; for me, it has fast become a great tool worth carrying around the world.
There are many more features that improve the workflow and usability of Waves MultiRack than were mentioned here. Visit the Waves website to learn more about Waves MultiRack and SoundGrid. MultiRack and SoundGrid integrate with Yamaha and DiGiCo mixers and via analog or in Native format for use with any mixer.
In summation, both Monty and I agree that, unless plug-ins are available natively on the mixer we are using, we’ll be using Waves MultiRack on all of our gigs in the future.
Acknowledgement: I’d like to thank the Waves staff for all of their help and support while I got up to speed with MultiRack.
Prices: $620 (Native version) $1,400 (Waves SoundGrid Server One). Bundles with I/O upon application; see pricing online.
Contact: WavesLive | 865-909-9200 | waveslive.com
Jason Spence currently mixes FOH for artist/producer Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, mixes monitors for 3 Doors Down, and owns J Sound Services.