Plugin design giant Waves has worked with many top flight producers and mix engineers over the last few years to deliver their Signature Series. The sound of your “idol” packaged into a user friendly plugin can be considered a little twee by some, but they have been enthusiastically employed by bedroom producers and chart-topping mixers alike. Multiple Grammy award winner Andrew Scheps has already worked with Waves on a model of his Neve 1073 EQ, the Scheps 73. However, the latest Waves-Scheps collaboration is something a little different: a plugin that wraps Scheps’ parallel processing methodology into a single plugin to be used as an insert. As such it allows individual tracks to be treated a little differently, without having to build an infinitely complex array of aux channels in your DAW.
If you are expecting to see a breakdown of plugins that Scheps uses and traditional views of compressors and enhancers then you may be pleasantly disappointed. The interface is even more abstract than some of the other Signature Series plugins, but this break from the norm is intended to be embraced, as Scheps asks us to think about sound in a different way altogether. The GUI is a cross between a particle accelerator and an interstellar vessel’s engine. Set against an industrial looking background the complex of pipes, plates and rivets belies the actually fairly simple layout of controls.
At the top of the GUI we have the normal Waves preset controls, and 15 presets are included off the shelf. Each one of these seems to have been well thought out and worked well in the context of well recorded material, one thing to be wary of is that the additive nature of the plugin means that you might want to trim the output to avoid being tricked by a louder output. The plugin is not super easy on processing power but is far less intensive than some of the other Signature series plugins. The four main knobs take the guise of metal wheels that one might imagine open some sort of plumbing valve. Clicking on the glowing button beneath each of the knobs bypasses the individual process. Furthermore as the knob position changes the GUI changes the thickness of a stream of coloured fluid that emanates from each of these valves. These surround a central pipe that glows and flashes dependent on the source material and processing. The rotating pulsing centre may seem like a gimmick but it is an effective method for conveying visual clues in a new manner, not related to conventional audio metering paradigms. That said, the centre of the “engine” glows red to indicate output peaking and the liquid streams glow depending on the level in each stage of their processing. As with most of the newer plugins from Waves there are a few nice GUI features such as the gradual burning out of the engine after stopping the input. Importantly, despite the alternative look of the plugin, it is pretty clear what the visual feedback means.
The signal flow of the plugin is useful to understand before twiddling the knobs. To begin there is an arc shaped input fader, this fader is elegantly mirrored by the opposite output fader. There are purple illuminating I/O Link buttons under each of these faders to engage or disable an inverse link. Similar to other Waves Signature Series offerings, there is an indicator located just above the input fader that glows from green, through orange to red to indicate the sweet spot for the input level. Next, the signal dynamics are processed, the Thick and Bite knobs essentially control two different types of compression applied in parallel to each other. The green Thick control is intended to smooth out mids and low mids. When cranked the program material tends to take on a hefty and smooth body. It is useful for so many applications, ranging from beefing up snares to bass guitar levelling, without killing transients and making a vocal sound stronger in a dense mix. The behaviour is difficult to define in terms of comparing to a known compressor but it seems to be somewhat related to certain frequencies.
The yellow Bite control is a little more aggressive, it seems to alter the transients and add some element of distortion. It is ideal for adding a bit of attitude to a vocal and works well on overdriven guitars. There is some boosting of the transients but not quite in the way you would expect from a transient designer. Some compression also seems to be applied after the transient. However trying too hard to identify exactly what this control does is not really what the plugin is about. It is only when the Bite and Thick are balanced against each other that it becomes obvious that this is a very clever tool indeed and sources can be manipulated in ways that simple serial signal chains do not allow.
The signal then goes on to be treated by the harmonic synthesis processors, again both in parallel with the dry. The blue Sub control knob differs a little from the other controls in that it has a further fader control that selects the frequency that you wish the sub process to focus on. Sonically, it appears to be a little different to Waves’ other bass orientated offerings LoAir and Renaissance Bass. Judicious use of the Sub controls can add something special to a kick that might lack definition in the subs. Filtering out floppy sub and regenerating it with the plugin seems to work well in many cases. The frequency control is also useful for making sure that multiple instances of the plugin don’t step on each other as the centre frequency of each can be tweaked.
The orange Air control is possibly the most obvious and arguably the most useful of the four processing blocks. This offers a harmonic synthesis in the high and “air” band, it is absolutely not an EQ and the resulting frequencies generated are not as high fidelity as if they had been recorded in the real world. However the very fact that the Air content is generated from the mid frequencies of the source material allows a pushing of the top end without adding all the hiss, cymbal noise etc. that once might expect from a simple EQ boost. This feature is absolutely invaluable for boosting the top end of snares without adding to that pesky hi-hat spill. Once mixed in, any grainy texture to the synthesised components is not really audible, the sound is somewhat reminiscent of an Aural Exciter.
Finally, the lower part the plugin sports the obligatory Waves logo and a logo of Scheps himself to keep an eye on the user — but that said — this plugin is pretty difficult to make sound bad. It might not be surgical EQ or a highly configurable multi-band dynamics processor, but it has stacks of character and usability. The plugin can be purchased at a sale price of $59 currently from www.waves.com (normal price $129). A competitive price-point considering the varied functionality. This particular plugin is more than just a black box, it does something that is not available in any other single plugin, and it does it well.