Waves plugins have been around since 1992 when the company first introduced its Q10 Paragraphic EQ. The Q10 broke new technological ground as the first audio plugin ever, with sound quality comparable to, or better than, its hardware equivalents. Over the course of Waves’s first decade as a plugin developer, the company also produced the popular L1 Ultramaximizer, establishing a new benchmark for dynamics processing.
Today, Waves is one of the top plugin manufacturers in the industry. From analogue hardware emulations to one-of-a-kind processors, audio professionals and enthusiasts use hundreds of Waves plugins to shape their mixes. The following are some of the best and most practical effects that any engineer should include in their plugin cache.
The Omni Channel is designed to provide the best of the analogue and digital worlds: “Through years of mixing diverse music genres, Andrew Scheps has perfected certain combinations of go-to processors – some based on classic hardware units, some being innovative modules developed from scratch – each with its own unique character. They are all now provided to you in one flexible yet fully cohesive channel strip plugin.”
UREI’s original 1176LN compressor/limiter is one of the most used and desired pieces of hardware ever produced. Waves offers two revisions inspired by the mid-1960s compressor, including both a “Blacky” and a “Bluey.” With attack settings as fast as 50 microseconds and the famed “all buttons in” mode, the CLA-76 is an excellent choice for in-the-box mixing. There’s also an included 50 or 60 Hz analogue hum for some added flavor, if desired!
It sure seems like it, but Waves doesn’t only model fantastic compressors. There’s just a lot of them that you should consider trying yourself! As its name and look suggest, the CLA-2A is based on Teletronix’s LA-2A leaving amplifier developed in the early ’60s. Give it a go on guitar, bass, or vocals. You’ll likely find that the smooth, frequency-dependent quirks of the original unit are accurately, if not uniquely, represented by the Waves plugin.
Emulations of the iconic Pultec EQP-1A and MEQ-5 equalizers of the 1950s. If you’re unfamiliar, Pultecs offer the unique ability to both boost and cut a single frequency at the same time, creating a resonant shelf. By combining both the EQP-1A and the MEQ-5, you’ll have access to a full vintage, analogue EQ chain.
SSL entrusted Waves, under license, to develop a replica of their renowned 4000 G console master buss compressor. You’ve likely heard a hundred engineers talk about the compressor’s ability to “glue” elements together, which Waves’s version has sought to reproduce. Like the two previously mentioned hardware emulations, the SSL buss compressor has an optional “analogue” switch to add or remove noise generated by the devices. Try it out on a drum buss or an entire mix.
Waves has worked very closely with API to faithfully reproduce each plugin’s hardware counterpart. The API 2500 dynamics processor is no exception, letting users carefully craft the punch and tone of their mixes with accuracy. The dual channel 2500 can be run as two mono channels with a single compressor setting. Overall, the API’s parameters are extremely musical, making it a go-to for engineers.
Metering plugins are essential for mixing and mastering. Dorrough provides loudness monitoring for all stereo scenarios. You can use it as an input meter to keep an eye on recording levels, use it for group/auxiliary metering, or use the Dorrough as a master output meter.
The Scheps 73 is based on the Neve 1073 console preamp and EQ: “The Scheps 73 EQ features interrelated bands that adhere to the 1073’s original specs and precisely emulate its behavior: a fixed 12kHz high-frequency band, switchable low and midrange bands with cut and boost controls, and an 18dB/octave high-pass filter.
A good channel strip plugin should be a part of every engineer’s toolkit. SSL’s 4000-series console has one of the most incomparable tones imaginable, on which countless hits were recorded and mixed. The E-Channel’s “Black Knob” EQ section was originally developed in 1983 alongside producer George Martin (The Beatles), which has been reproduced here. The dynamics section contains a comp/limiter and gate/expander, and makeup gain is conveniently applied automatically to maintain signal level.
Designed for mixing and mastering, the L2’s combo of look-ahead brickwall peak limiting, level maximization, and high res processing is a must-have for getting the most level out of your mix/final master. An indispensable tool in any mix/mastering engineer’s toolbox!
A great delay plugin with PCM42-style effects including phasing and flanging built in. Many mixers prefer the Lo-Fi setting for a different overall texture. The H-Delay is a very easy-to-use, great sounding delay plugin.
Renaissance Reverb includes 12 different reverb types, subtle ability to tweak early reflections, dual-band EQ/damping controls, and reverbs with incredible depth and texture. A fantastic place to start if you’re looking for a great all-around reverb by Waves plugins.
Waves’ answer to Antares Auto-Tune, Real-Time provides smooth pitch correction or extreme vocal processing that we’ve come to know and love as an effect. Its characteristics are a bit different than Antares, but the overall package is much more affordable than the “real” thing. Depending on your needs, Waves Tune Real-Time might be an alternative to classic Auto-Tune.
An absolute must-have if you frequently mix vocals. The Vocal Rider was designed to be a time-saver by adjusting a vocal’s levels automatically. By setting a target vocal level for your mix, the plugin compensates intelligently by raising or lowering the signal’s gain. It also won’t color your track at all, so you don’t have to worry about any unwanted tonal changes when applying it. Combined with traditional compression, the Vocal Rider is an extremely powerful and convenient tool.
Waves teamed up with Abbey Road Studios to create a tape saturation plugin modeling the machine used to record many of the the 1960’s masterpieces. Users can manipulate Tape Speed, Bias, Noise, Saturation, Wow, and Flutter. Additionally, Waves modelled three tape oxide formulas which were developed by EMI during the ’60s and ’70s. Each has its own unique frequency response and harmonic distortion characteristics, so experimentation is key. Of course, many presets are included to get as close to your desired sound as quickly as possible. The J37 also features an integrated tape delay to take things even further.
If time or other issues prevent engineers from capturing multiple takes of a performance, the Waves Doubler steps in. Doubler utilizes delay and pitch modulation (chorusing) to automatically add texture and richness to a single track. It’s primarily designed with vocals in mind, but can also work on other instruments per individual taste. Waves suggests trying it on drums to achieve a flam-like effect, or on anything else to add shimmer and presence.
One of the simplest ways to control the dynamic range of a sound source with an initiative, streamlined interface.
An easy way to tighten up the low end of bass, kick drum, 808, etc. Renaissance Bass is designed to extend perceived low frequencies up to an octave and a half.
Another in “R” line, this plugin is a comp/limiter & gate/expander tailored specifically to vocals. There’s no better way to control vocal dynamics and maximize output level.
This is the all-around version of the previously mentioned Renaissance plugins. You can stick it on anything for great sounding, transparent, light-on-CPU results.
Z-Noise is an audio repair tool designed to remove extraneous sounds from music material. Hiss, hum, and other instrument- or equipment-related noise can be isolated and subdued with transparent precision. It works very well for guitar amps — particularly those with high-gain settings that can become super noisy on the way in if not managed appropriately.
The rare 1/4″ tape machine gets a Waves emulation here in all of its early rock ‘n roll glory. With a name like Eddie Kramer attached to it, you can mimic the sound of classic recordings by Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and a slew of other icons who changed the course of music forever. Saturation frequently goes unappreciated by beginners, so don’t be afraid to try a little tape smash on individual instruments and buses.
Submarine is the perfect tool to help sculpt a massive low end in EDM tracks. It works by simply identifying existing low-end content, and then generating additional sub-bass up to two octaves below what’s already there. You may not always hear Submarine working, but you should definitely be able to feel the power and depth it adds.
Transient shaping is another important tool that helps us make certain instruments or mix elements more or less aggressive, or punchier versus softer/rounder. Obviously, Trans-X does a wonderful job on transient-heavy material like drums, where there’s a clearly delineated and often time sharp existing transient.
Analog synthesizers are still used all the time because of their unparalleled thickness, richness, and powerful sound. Element reproduces some of music’s most favored analog synth tones, from 1970s monomynths to the polysynths of the ’80s. If you’re a producer who enjoys collecting virtual instruments, Element is well worth a try — especially when it goes on sale! Why not?
There are many, many more incredible Waves plugins not mentioned here. The selection above is just a fraction of what the company offers, or what you may find yourself reaching for most often. Waves plugins are frequently on sale, so there’s no need to feel as though they’re unattainable!
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