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WAVES GOLD NATIVE 3.0 (MAC/WIN)

November 1, 2001
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Waves is widely recognized as a company that designs state-of-the-art digital signal processing (DSP) software. Its Gold Native bundle is a comprehensive collection of 20 DSP plug-in effects for tracking, mastering, and multimedia production. The plug-ins range from bread-and-butter processes such as compression and EQ to truly esoteric tools such as MondoMod and Enigma. Gold Native 3.0 is a major upgrade including support for audio rates as high as 96 kHz, additional plug-in formats, more effects, and improvements in the user interface. The effects are available separately or as part of smaller collections, but the Gold Native bundle represents a significant cost savings to buying them individually. You can download a fully functional 14-day demo of the bundle from the Waves Web site.

Gold Native plug-ins harness the host computer's processing power. The plug-ins support VST, MAS, Real Time AudioSuite (RTAS), and AudioSuite plug-in formats on the Mac and DirectX and RTAS on the PC. Support for multiple plug-in formats is a big bonus, because you will undoubtedly want to use the effects in several host applications — a digital audio sequencer, a sample editor, and CD-mastering software, for example. A more expensive TDM bundle utilizes the DSP power of the TDM hardware and includes one additional effect, PS22-Pseudostereo.

I used the VST version of the plug-ins, and the host application was Logic Audio Platinum 4.7 running on a Power Mac G3/300 MHz with 128 MB RAM allocated to Logic. Most Gold Native plug-ins include a full-blown version and several reduced-feature variations that minimize CPU usage. By choosing the lighter versions whenever possible, I could usually run six to eight effects, and often more, simultaneously.

WHAT'S IN THE BOX

It was a real pleasure to open Gold Native's box and find more than a CD and some cardboard filler rattling around inside. The bundle comes with several hundred pages of well-written and conveniently organized printed documentation. (Adobe Acrobat PDF files are also included.) Each effect's documentation contains a Quick Start section, a detailed look at the controls, and a set of well-thought-out examples. Often, there is a tutorial about the theory behind the effect.

Installation from the CD is relatively painless, though on my non-Pro Tools system, the installer kept asking me to choose a Pro Tools host. Once installed, Gold Native runs in fully functional Demo mode for 14 days while you obtain a response code for its challenge-and-response authorization scheme. That authorizes a single hard drive, but in the event of a hard-drive crash or computer upgrade, you can request a replacement authorization. You can register and authorize Gold Native online, by fax, or by mail. Online authorization is easy and instantaneous.

Unlike some plug-ins, Waves plug-ins do not need to be duplicated for each host application. Instead, they are always accessible from the Plug-ins folder inside the Waves folder. Because the plug-ins and their Setups (aka presets) are not duplicated, any Setups that you create in one host are immediately available in all hosts — a terrific convenience.

Although graphic differences exist, the user interface is functionally the same for each Waves plug-in. In addition to buttons, sliders, and numerical controls, many plug-ins feature a graphic display in which you can change values by clicking and dragging. Each EQ, for example, has a graphic display of the EQ curve for controlling the center frequency, gain, and Q of each EQ band. Most plug-ins have easy-to-read input and output meters with LED and clip indicators. Many also have a Trim indicator that tracks the output and shows the adjustment necessary to avoid clipping. As a further convenience, clicking on the Trim indicator automatically adjusts the output levels.

Each plug-in comes with a number of factory Setups accessible from the Load menu at the top of the plug-in's display. The factory Setups are permanent, but you can add your own Setups to the menu and save them in separate Preset files (on a per-project basis). Each plug-in holds two active Setups at a time, which is ideal for making A/B comparisons as you work. You can also copy and paste settings from one parameter control or group of controls to another, letting you create new Setups by mixing and matching settings from existing Setups.

The Gold Native plug-ins sound great. You will use some often and others sparingly. One version of EQ or compression will suit some users, and another version will suit others; nonetheless, the sound is uniformly clean and smooth, and you are unlikely to find fault with the sound quality of any of them.

For this review, I divided the plug-ins into five broad categories: equalization, compression, reverberation, special effects, and mastering. The division is somewhat arbitrary because several effects perform multiple functions.

EQ PAR EXCELLENCE

The granddaddy of all Waves equalizers is the Q10 Paragraphic Equalizer. Each band can be configured for bandpass, lowpass, highpass, low-shelf, or high-shelf filtering. In the top of Fig. 1, which shows Q4, the 4-band version, the boost and cut curves have the same shape, and Q (a measure of the EQ bandwidth) is active only for the bandpass filters. The Gold Native equalizers are in true stereo, which allows you to apply different equalization to each channel. Normally, you would operate in Link mode and apply the same equalization to both channels, but separate EQ is useful for effects such as pseudostereo.

Q10 comes with a huge library of Setups covering the more exotic things you can do with a parametric equalizer. Examples include pseudostereo, crossover, band limiting, harmonic combs, hum reduction, distortion, pre- or de-emphasis, and tilting. The Q10 manual devotes 78 pages to describing the Setups.

The other general-purpose parametric equalizer in the Gold Native bundle is the Renaissance EQ, which comes in 1, 4-, and 6-band models. (For a review of the Renaissance EQ and the Renaissance Compressor, see the Native Power Pack II bundle review in the May 2000 issue.)

In the bottom of Fig. 1, the Renaissance EQ 4-band model has settings similar to those of the Q4, but with different EQ curves. The Renaissance EQ boost curve has a different shape than the cut curve. By providing a narrower band for the same amount of attenuation, the narrow cut curve makes the Renaissance EQ ideal for notch filtering. Unlike the Q4, the Renaissance EQ's Q is active for all filters; that changes the rolloff of the highpass and lowpass filters and produces humps in the shelf filters. The curves are reminiscent of the old Pultec EQs after which the Renaissance EQ was modeled.

AudioTrack is a hybrid consisting of a 4-band parametric equalizer and a wideband compressor. It is essentially a no-frills version of Q4 followed by C1, Waves' basic workhorse compressor. AudioTrack is a CPU-efficient plug-in and is all you need for about 90 percent of tracking jobs. If you use instances of AudioTrack on several tracks, you have the advantage of being able to exchange Setups between those tracks.

For tracking, AudioTrack is a good place to start. When you need compression followed by EQ, more EQ bands, other compression features, or other effects, you can always go back to using separate plug-ins.

COOL COMPRESSION

C1 Parametric Compander is Waves' primary compressor. It is available in four versions — C1 Compressor, C1 Gate, C1 Compressor/Gate, and C1 Compressor/Sidechain — which variously offer optional gating, filtering, and sidechaining. The full-blown version, C1 Compressor/Gate, includes all three. The Gate/Expander section is typically used to manage low-level signals, such as noise. The sidechain lets one signal control the level of another, which is useful for ducking. When you don't need to get fancy, use the C1 Compressor; it offers no gate, no ducking, no filter, and no wasted CPU cycles. Gold Native also includes a dedicated DeEsser. It doesn't do anything that you can't do in C1, but it is CPU-efficient and easier to use.

The filter section, one of C1's most powerful features, uses a lowpass, highpass, bandpass, or band-reject filter to define active and passive regions (see Fig. 2). The filter, which you can apply to the sidechain and the main signal, has a variety of applications, including classic compression, expansion, gating, dehissing, de-essing, noise reduction, dynamic equalization, and so forth. Setups are supplied for each task, and the documentation has more than you ever wanted to know about parametric companding.

The other Gold Native compressor, Renaissance Compressor, emulates vintage hardware compressors. It is optimized for warmth of sound and simplicity of operation. Optional automatic release control (ARC) can be applied with Opto or Electro response, which increases or decreases, respectively, the release time near the threshold. An optional warmth enhancer adds low-frequency harmonics at deeper compression levels. The signal path ends with a hard limiter similar to L1 that is applied after compression.

The newest and most sophisticated offering in the compression category is the C4 Multiband Parametric Processor. (For a review of C4, see the February 2001 issue.) The incredibly powerful hybrid applies separate compression to four parametric-equalizer bands. You could also think of the plug-in as a 4-band dynamic equalizer, because separate bands of compression change the EQ curve.

C4's compressors replace the standard threshold control with a Range control. The Gain setting applies when no compression is occurring, and the Range setting indicates the gain change at maximum compression. That flexible arrangement lets you apply compression at low thresholds without getting extreme gain changes at high signal levels, because the Range setting limits the maximum gain change.

C4 works well as a mastering tool when frequency bands call for different sorts of compression and EQ. It also offers greater flexibility in noise reduction because you can apply varying amounts of reduction to different parts of the frequency spectrum. Finally, C4 makes an excellent decompressor, letting you selectively expand frequency bands in an overly compressed mix. The 19 factory Setups illustrate a good cross section of its capabilities.

RIGHTEOUS REVERB

The Gold Native bundle comes with two reverbs: TrueVerb and Renaissance Reverb. Designed to create a natural-sounding room, they can be used for submixes and the final mix. Renaissance Reverb is a redesign of TrueVerb to emulate the sound of classic hardware reverbs. (Classic-hardware emulation is a general theme of the Renaissance series.) That apparently took quite a bit of doing, because Renaissance Reverb uses about three times as much CPU power as TrueVerb.

Renaissance Reverb's controls are a closer match to those on a typical hardware or software reverb, which makes it a little easier to jump in and start modifying the factory Setups. On the other hand, TrueVerb is a tweaker's delight; if you want to create room models, it is the place to look. Renaissance Reverb and TrueVerb can be used as send or thru effects, but TrueVerb's unique handling of the wet or dry mix is most effective when TrueVerb is inserted in the signal path as a thru effect.

Instead of a wet or dry mix control, TrueVerb has a Distance control that simulates changing the listener's distance from the sound source by simultaneously affecting the direct signal, early reflections, and reverb tail. In addition, the RoomSize and PreDelay controls can be linked, making it natural to use TrueVerb on tracks or submixes by dialing up the same basic room and varying the Distance control to taste. TrueVerb's lower CPU demand also makes that approach practical.

Comparing effects with different parameters is always hard, but I did an A/B comparison of similarly named Setups for TrueVerb and Renaissance Reverb using a variety of source material. Listening to the early reflections by themselves, I did not hear a significant difference. For the reverb tail, however, Renaissance Reverb was considerably warmer, smoother, and more spacious. (Those extra CPU cycles do buy you something.) I would prefer Renaissance Reverb for a final mix; on the other hand, TrueVerb definitely had the edge for creating room ambiences and for tracking multiple instances of the same room. (For truly cheesy, lo-fi reverb effects, Enigma is a worthy alternative.)

VERY SPECIAL EFFECTS

Seven plug-ins, ranging from the utilitarian MaxxBass to the completely over-the-top Enigma, come in the very special effects category. Whether you have a special effect in mind or are searching for an idea, one of those plug-ins is bound to work for you.

Doppler. Doppler affects the changes in pitch, volume, and position you perceive when a sound emanates from a moving source. Using Doppler is simplicity itself: you set the start and end points of the flyby path as well as the flyby's duration; Doppler does the math, calculating the sound's pitch, volume, and pan-position contour. You can set the amount of each parameter as a percentage (from 0 to 200 percent) of the calculated value. No wet or dry mix control is provided because, as a rule, you want to hear only the wet sound from the moving source. That rule is fun to break by using Doppler as a send effect.

You can trigger the flyby manually with an onscreen button or by the presence of an audio signal. It can be set to occur once (one-shot) or to loop repeatedly. Audio triggering (called Energy) in One-shot mode produces interesting effects when applied to tracks of a single drum sound (such as snare or hi-hat) using a fast flyby.

Enigma. This effect is so mysterious that Waves will reveal only part of its signal flow. Enigma combines a swept notch filter with an edgy reverb-feedback loop. It offers a blizzard of effects, from phase shifting and extreme resonance to lo-fi reverb and echo simulations. The many complex interactions between Enigma's various notch and feedback controls often make it impossible to predict the outcome of changing a button or slider value.

Fig. 3 shows the Enigma control panel. The top half controls the notch filter, and the bottom half controls the feedback reverberator. Each section contains an optional Window filter; when active, the filter emphasizes the processing in a frequency window. You can configure the notch filter with as many as six and a half notches. The supremely unpredictable Depth control sets the depth of the notches; the notch effect is often much more pronounced when the depth is set to 0. The notches can be swept by an LFO with sine, triangle, square, saw up, and saw down waveforms. The feedback-reverb section is essentially a lo-fi, early-reflections unit with controls for delay, density, feedback amount, and phase inversion.

Enigma was effective with a range of material, including vocals, drum loops, keyboards, solo instruments, and even submixes. The results were always interesting and frequently startling. For example, using a square-wave LFO to modulate the notches with extreme feedback settings and the Depth control set to 0 made a kick-and-snare loop sound like a bell tree played with hard mallets.

MaxxBass. This effect takes advantage of the psychoacoustic phenomenon in which the ear re-creates a missing fundamental from the presence of its harmonics. (For a MaxxBass review, see the July 1998 issue.) In the context of low-frequency material, that means that you will “hear” the bass, though the speakers may not reproduce it. MaxxBass analyzes the low-frequency part of the signal and creates the associated harmonics. It can typically increase the perceived frequency response of a speaker by about two octaves. I tried it through some cheap car speakers and was amazed.

MetaFlanger. This is a classic delay-line flanger. The signal is mixed with a delayed version of itself, and the delay time is continuously varied. Flanging causes some frequencies to be attenuated while others are reinforced — a comb-filter effect in which the notch frequencies (the comb “teeth”) stretch and compress but maintain a fixed harmonic relationship. By contrast, a moving comb-filter effect such as Enigma shifts the notch frequencies back and forth but preserves their distance — an effect more akin to phase shifting than flanging.

An LFO with a sine or triangle wave shape varies the delay time, causing the pitch to vary continuously or jump between two values. There is a feedback loop, and the phase of the dry or wet signal (before feedback) can be inverted. The wet signal can also be lowpass or highpass filtered, and delay times can vary from 0.1 to 50 ms. The lower end of the range is often associated with phase shifting and the upper end with chorusing. However, Enigma's swept comb filter offers more authentic phase shifting, and UltraPitch is better suited to chorusing.

MetaFlanger provides a variety of flanging effects and Setups. In addition to emulating traditional analog-hardware flangers, you can use its LFO with a 100 percent wet mix to produce various pitch effects, which is especially useful when applied to percussion. With a mostly dry mix and increased feedback, MetaFlanger becomes a rough reverb. You can employ its Stereo control, which sets the phase relationship between the left and right LFO waveforms, to add coloration and to enhance stereo spread to many Setups.

MondoMod. MondoMod combines AM, FM, and rotation modulators, all driven by the same multiwaveform LFO. (Rotation is the stereo equivalent of panning a mono signal; you can move a stereo image to the right or left without changing its width.) The first thing that comes to mind with an effect like this is Leslie simulation, and you can indeed use MondoMod for convincing rotating-speaker emulations. To that end, the LFO speed affects the FM amount so that the Doppler effect of a rotating source is automatically factored in. In practice that can be rather annoying because it prevents you from getting large frequency sweeps at low LFO rates.

The LFO's multiple waveforms (saw up, saw down, square, triangle, and sine) and extreme range (from 0.01 to 6,000 Hz) make it possible to get audio-rate AM and FM effects. Those effects are interesting when applied to rotation; if you ever wanted to turn a hi-hat into a rainbird, here's your chance. With a 50/50 mix at moderate LFO rates, MondoMod can also produce interesting doubling effects.

SuperTap. This multitap delay comes in 2- and 6-tap versions (see Fig. 4). The delay time for each tap can be 1 ms to 6 seconds and can be modulated within a 10 ms range by a sine-wave LFO. The huge delay range accommodates everything from chorusing (short tap times with modulation) to complex rhythmic effects. The tap times can be set in time or tempo increments that are based on a tempo that you type or tap in. Unfortunately, there is no MIDI sync for tempo — a surprising omission, to say the least.

SuperTap provides two modes of feedback. In Normal mode, each tap is fed back immediately to the input, whereas in Tap mode, each tap is delayed, giving you a seventh tap of sorts. One of SuperTap's best features is the inclusion of a separate filter (identical to the Q10 filters) for each tap; that provides you with a lot of latitude in sculpting interesting percussion variations. Finally, you can adjust each tap's pan position and gain independently using a useful interactive graphic display.

UltraPitch. Pitch- and formant-shifter UltraPitch offers some interesting twists. It provides one-, three-, and six-voice versions, and even the six-voice version is surprisingly CPU-efficient. Independent control of pitch shift, formant shift, pan position, gain, and delay for each voice is provided (see Fig. 5). The Automation control adds a bit of random timing between voices. The parameters are everything you could wish for in a chorus unit, and UltraPitch makes an excellent one.

The processing starts with pitch detection, which requires a monophonic source such as a single voice or solo instrument. UltraPitch is a mono or stereo effect. If you feed it a stereo track, it processes only the left channel. The ease of setup and accuracy of its pitch-detection section is astonishing. It performs flawlessly on a variety of vocals and solo instruments. Within reasonable limits (roughly a minor third), the one-voice version provides realistic results. The multivoice versions produce convincing harmonization over a broader pitch range.

As a harmonizer, UltraPitch probably can get you out of a tight spot. For minor pitch correction and formant adjustments, it's more than adequate. It really shines, however, as a chorus and effects unit; in the latter case, you can stretch beyond the solo, pitched-source restriction. UltraPitch can be interesting on percussion, keyboards, and the like.

PLUG-INS FOR MASTERING

Two of the four plug-ins in this category, L1 UltraMaximizer and S1 Stereo Imager, are typically associated with mastering and remixing. The third, IDR, is a dithering utility. The last, PAZ Psychoacoustic Analyzer (Mac only), is an analysis tool that is useful anywhere in the signal path.

L1 UltraMaximizer is a peak limiter that utilizes look-ahead techniques to reshape signal peaks without introducing significant audible artifacts. Lowering the peaks lets the overall signal level increase in a way that standard normalizing does not. Set the peak Threshold (typically 4 to 6 dB below the highest peak) and the Output Ceiling, and L1 does the rest. L1 is a hard limiter, meaning the output will never overshoot the output ceiling. The plug-in comes in two versions: L1 for tracking and +L1 for mastering. The latter adds a comprehensive dithering utility with two types of dither and four varieties of noise shaping.

Use IDR if your host platform stores audio at a lower bit depth (always 16 bits, for example) than Waves' internal-processing bit depth (which varies depending on your platform). The plug-in always uses Type I dithering with Normal noise shaping; it is compatible with all forms of dither, and you can use it in consecutive processes. When you bounce tracks, use IDR.

S1 Stereo Imager is a stereo repair and enhancement utility. It analyzes the signal for left, center, and right components and then lets you widen, skew (change the symmetry), and reposition the center without affecting the levels of the parts. The full-feature version, S1 Shuffler, adds shuffling to enhance the perceived stereo width of the bass. When shuffling results in a bass boost, you can use a BassTrim control to dial it back down. Both versions accept left-right or mid-side inputs and offer channel swapping and phase inversion.

PAZ Psychoacoustic Analyzer has no effect on the signal (see Fig. 6). It is an invaluable tool for before-and-after analysis of level, equalization, and stereo imaging. The Frequency Analysis window shows a spectral analysis in real time with an optional peak-hold graph. The Position Analysis window displays stereo imaging and possible out-of-phase spikes. Yellow peak-level meters are provided for each channel, as is a blue sum meter that indicates peak or root mean square (RMS) level. (RMS helps you gauge the effects of compression and limiting.)

PURE GOLD

The Gold Native bundle is a vast collection. The design, attention to detail, and uniformity of the plug-ins' graphical user interfaces make them easier to use than many of their counterparts from other manufacturers. Although it takes a little time to get up to speed with some of the more complex effects, it is unlikely that you will run out of creative alternatives any time soon.

Waves' exemplary documentation goes beyond the minimum requirement of describing the control panels. The tutorials together with the numerous Setup files are a virtual education in themselves. If I had one quibble, it would be that the bundle could use a short overview manual introducing each effect and briefly describing its application.

The Gold Native bundle lives up to its name. It is expensive, but it's a great value considering the uniformly high quality of the plug-ins and the cost of buying them separately. Although some processes are duplicated, the difference in the sound of similar plug-ins makes both versions well worth having. I'd be hard pressed to think of anything that's missing from this package.

Minimum System Requirements

Gold Native

MAC: PPC 604e/200 (G3 or G4 recommended);
64 MB RAM; OS 8.5; 800 × 600 display;
compatible host software

PC: Pentium/266; 32 MB RAM; Windows 95/98/NT/2000; 800 5 600 display; compatible host software

PRODUCT SUMMARY

Waves
Gold Native 3.0 (Mac/Win)
audio plug-in bundle
$1,300

FEATURES 4.5
EASE OF USE 4.5
AUDIO QUALITY 5.0
VALUE 4.5

RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5

PROS: Top-quality sound. Uniform user interface for all plug-ins. Vast array of effects. Excellent printed documentation.

CONS: Requires a fast computer. No MIDI tempo synchronization.

Manufacturer

Waves
tel. (865) 546-6115
e-mail sales@waves.com
Web www.waves.com

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