Simon Allen sees whether the latest addition to the company’s Signature Series is more than just another product backed by a big name.
There is no doubt about it, the graphical user interface (GUI) of this plug-in caught my eye and, being a Waves plug-in, I couldn’t wait to try it. It’s such an unusual design that only a well-respected plug-in developer, alongside a well-known manufacturer, could release such a thing without facing potentially unfounded criticism.
Like other plug-ins from the Waves Signature Series, this one is designed to deliver that Butch Vig vocal sound, drawing on Waves’ classic gear algorithms and extensive knowledge of a modern pro-audio plug-in. For me, having Butch Vig collaborate with Waves is very exciting and I expected this to be something special.
The purpose of this plug-in is to deliver a fast and creative way to achieve a legendary vocal sound. Yes, it does include tools we all know and use, but the key point is the way these common tools are used and implemented in the vocal processing chain.
As a large degree of the scientific engineering work is already taken care of, the user experience should be a creative one. Therefore, I feel the artistic GUI is a great move. I love the artwork, but whether or not it’s to your taste, it does remind you that you’re not pulling a channel strip together that ‘might’ suit the track, but simply deciding upon the creative direction for your mix.
Once you’ve got your head around the clockwork-like design, the controls are laid out in a familiar way and there’s plenty to discover. The level meter dials can be set to show input, output, gain reduction or de-essing and there’s the addition of the commonly found sensitivity LED as on many Waves plug-ins. The sensitivity is more relevant in many ways than the input metering, as this gives you an indication of how the plug-in will react upon your source, as several thresholds are hidden from the user interface.
There’s an input control on the left and an output on the right, which allows you to compensate for gain changes and clearer AB comparisons. Moving down, we find the EQ section. This consists of low-cut and high-cut filters, with frequency value read-offs, which allow you to be quite accurate.
Staying with EQ, there are three controls labelled Low, Presence and Air. These are simple boost or cutting controls with frequency and filter shapes predetermined. Lastly in the EQ section there is a ‘mid-dip’, which actually provides you with a sweepable -6.5dB cut in the mid frequency range.
Then your eyes are drawn to the dynamics section, which comprises a de-esser and compressor. You operate the de-esser by dialing in the amount of de-easing you want. The frequency of the de-esser is set at 6kHz. The compressor is again just the one dial, but as you increase it, not only is the threshold changing, but so are the other functions and characteristics. This means there are a number of different compression flavours behind this one control.
The last two tricks Butch has built into his plug-in are a ‘Focus’ control – in effect a mid-range compression at either 1kHz or 2kHz – and a saturation section. Like other features of this plug-in, the settings for the ‘Focus’ control are behind the scenes; the user is simply
left turning it on or off at either frequency position.
The saturation section offers two types: tube or solid state. There are also hi-cut and low-cut filters here, which only have an effect on the parallel saturated sound that you are blending against the dry signal. A really significant part of the design that Butch focused on is the processing order of all these elements and their ‘mix’ amount.
In the studio
My first reaction when I tried out the plug-in on a selection of vocals was the sensitivity of the parameters and how they change the sound. I was expecting massive alterations to the sound, and although these are possible if the controls are set to extreme, they are in fact quite subtle and accurate.
The compressor has a lot to offer, with what feels like a change in ratio and style of compressor as you move up through the range. My favourite feature though has to be the hi-cut and low-cut filters on the saturation section. Driving the saturation quite hard, and only effecting the mid-range of the voice allows it to sit in the track prominently, with the highs left unprocessed for clarity. The scope to create different vocal sounds with this feature alone is huge.
The more you use the plug-in, the more you realise how much time it has taken to develop. It is sonically clear that the quality of the processing is some of Waves’ best, and I understand Butch has worked very closely on the features. This is a very serious tool, which shouldn’t be under-estimated.
I love the creative approach, which helps you sit the vocal into the track, especially the ‘Focus’ feature. As the plug-in offers a multitude of tools and possible sounds that are available in one window, it can also inspire you to try other creative directions for your mix that you may not have otherwise thought about. I found this helps speed up workflow during the mixing process, which is commonly where plug-ins like this have a hidden benefit, in what is currently such a time-conscious market. Don’t think for a moment, however, that this is a quick-fix tool for vocals. It is fast to use, but it also offers the chance for sensitive movements to reach some great results on almost any vocal, including rap.
Simon Allen is a freelance, internationally recognised sound engineer and pro-audio professional with over a decade of experience. Working mostly in music, his reputation as a mix engineer continues to reach new heights.