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Waves Kramer Master Tape, HLS Channel and PIE Compressor Plug-Ins

This trio of plug-ins provides all the classic rock ‘n’ roll warmth you’d expect from an Eddie Kramer-influenced collection plus intuitive, analog-esque GUIs.

Originally, this review was going to focus solely on the Waves Kramer Master Tape plug-in. However, during a session, I decided to try the HLS Channel and PIE Compressor. After just a few minutes of use, I said, “Whoa! These need to be included, too!” So here, I examine these three different Kramer-inspired Waves plug-ins. Each will run mono or stereo and are TDM-, RTAS-, AS-, VST- and AU-supported.

Kramer Master Tape

The Kramer Master Tape plug-in is modeled on a rare Ampex 350 quarter-inch transport with 351 electronics; it was developed with Kramer’s input (as well as those of others). Known for its classic warm, punchy sound and tube electronics, this deck was a mainstay of the late 1960s and beyond. Waves’ objective was to take the best sonic elements from this machine — including its transformer, tubes, head winding, bias, speed, etc. — and turn it into software.

Its interface is quite comprehensive. There are controls for Speed, Bias, Monitor (mode), Record Level, Playback Level, Flux, Wow & Flutter and Noise. There’s also VU Meter, VU Calibration and Link I/O (linking Record and Playback controls). One of my favorite features is its offering of slap feedback and delay parameters. Delay time is adjusted from 1ms to 500ms. Slap and Feedback (you choose, either/or) share a single “knob” adjustable from 0-100 percent. Also included is a low-pass filter, sweepable from 0.2 to 16 kHz, to color the effect.

Like all other Waves plug-ins, the presets will give you a great head start. There are subcategories for acoustic guitar, bass, drums, electric guitar, mastering, vocal, delay and “other.”

In use, I first placed the Kramer Master Tape on a single guitar part (directly on the channel, not on an aux) and called up the preset Delay>60s Ho Lotta Slap. The results were ear candy to the guitar player in me: depth, warmth and a sweet dark “color,” and all in mono! With a quick adjustment of the Record and Playback Level, Slap percentage, Bias and Lowpass, it was done. I have a lot of different delays and processors, but this one was immediately unique yet “familiar.” The track was recorded through an old Gibson tube amp to begin with, but it’s like the track and the plug-in were made for each other — and I don’t say that lightly. Also, try it on a DI’ed guitar with an amp plug-in, and you’re dialing back to 1969.

I’ve since used Kramer Master Tape on just about everything: keys, snares, drum bus, master faders, and so on. It can be subtle or aggressive, and truly delivers the sonic characteristics of warm tubes. Ironically, it wasn’t my favorite on the Master Bus, but on bass, guitar and vocals, it truly shines. It can actually replace an EQ or filter plug-in, just in a “different” kind of way. If you want the sound of old tape in your plug-in arsenal, it’s a no brainer.

PIE Compressor

Modeled after the vintage Pye compressor, this little bugger was a total surprise. Having never used a hardware Pye compressor, I didn’t know what to expect … which can actually be a good thing.

It doesn’t get much easier to use; parameters include Threshold, Output, Decay Time, Compressor Ratio, Analog and Meter switches and a big VU meter. I started with one on a kick drum, and the punch was impactful, to say the least. With a 3:1 ratio and the output up +4, it punched the sound right out of the subwoofer. It’s also fantastic on bass (especially on the LIM setting), as it seems to smooth out any high/mid rattles and thicken the bottom without mud.

To my ears, the interaction between the threshold and decay time is unique on this plug-in: a sound hard to describe in words, but it’s very warm and familiar, like an old friend. And, like the Kramer Master Tape, these sounds were also immediately pleasing; a quick hit of the bypass button reinforced my notion that this thing rocks. Using this software made me wish I had the hardware version to try out, that is, until I put it across half a dozen channels! PIE is another clear winner in the collection.

HLS Channel

The HLS Channel replicates a channel from the vintage Helios mixing console. I’ve heard and used a variety of Helios modules; each one (as you might expect) sounds quite a bit different. The one that inspired the HLS Channel was specifically modeled from a Helios in the Rolling Stones’ legendary mobile truck; they started with the “good stuff.”

HLS Channel controls are laid out quite simply: a Source Select (for Mic/Line levels), Preamp (for coloration), High Frequency Gain, Mid Gain, Mid Mode (boost/cut), Low Band Freq/Cut, EQ Cut, Analog (turns noise/hum on/off), Noise, Meter, Clips LED, VU Meter and Calibrate, Trim and I/O faders.

As with these other two plugs, it was nice to start with useful presets, which helped me understand the EQ’s characteristics. Dialing up the LD GTR EQ1, I was impressed with its affect on midrange, especially in the 1-, 1.4-, 2- and 2.8 kHz settings. Wow! It can really cut a guitar through a thick track! I also really dug adding the fixed 60 Hz on bass (frequencies I usually cut); on my old ‘60 Fender P, HLS helped deliver a sweet, round bottom.

The frequency choices are fixed on the HLS, but are pleasing to the ear. Playing with the boost (PK) and cut (TR), as well as the input and output offers different tonal options. Overall, HLS reminds me of the sound vintage Neve modules can get, yet with its own character. I like it quite a bit!

Prices: $99 Native/$149 TDM each (limited time/introductory offer); $149 Native/$249 TDM for HLS + PIE (limited time/introductory offer).

Contact: Waves |

Rich Tozzoli is a Grammy-nominated engineer, mixer and composer as well as PAR’s software editor.