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Review: Waves Abbey Road Studios Vinyl

February 8, 2017

Vinyl recordings are more in demand now than at any time since the format’s heyday. The pressing plants that currently exist are backlogged for months with orders, as the LP has become an important physical option to supplement digital downloads and streamed music.

If you want to add the charming nonlinearities of the format to your own digital recordings, you can do it with the Waves Abbey Road Studio Vinyl. The plug-in offers a range of vinyl artifacts, from limited bandwidth to the addition of crackles, pops, hiss, and clicks.

Vinyl supports all major DAW formats and installs with both a full version and a light version, which has a stripped-down feature set and uses less CPU. Although I didn’t find the full version’s processor load to be problematic (running on a 2013 Apple MacBook Pro), the Light version is handy if you have an older or slower system, or when you want to open more instances than your computer can handle.

TURN THE TABLES

Fig 1. The full version of Abbey Road Studios Vinyl with the Lacquer setting selected.

Vinyl provides sonic emulations of the gear found in the famed mastering facilities of Abbey Road Studios. Open the plug-in and you see a graphic depiction of a turntable that changes based on the emulation you select (see Figure 1). A series of eight buttons across the top of the control area let you mix and match the generation (see below), turntable type, and cartridge type. On the left is the green TG Desk button for toggling on and off an emulation of Abbey Road’s TG12410 mastering console, which adds a little more clarity to the sound.

By default, the plug-in opens with the Lacquer option activated, which models the sound of an acetate disc cut on the studio’s vinyl lathe. The other choice is Print, which represents a disc that has been pressed and is therefore another generation away from the original. Not surprisingly, the Lacquer option has subtly better fidelity than the pressed one. Even more apparent is the difference between the two virtual turntables: The Abbey Road turntable and the DJ turntable. The latter gives you a sound that is more hyped in the high end and not as clean.

You also have a choice between three cartridge types that can be used with either turntable. MM (Moving Magnet) is the default and was what was used in Abbey Road’s turntables, whereas MC (Moving Coil) is based on an “audiophile” cartridge and DJ is from a direct-drive DJ turntable. All three give you slightly different results, with MC seemingly providing the most balanced audio quality.

The Tone Arm parameter lets you move the virtual cartridge anywhere on the disc. On a real album, the frequency response is slightly different as you get closer to the center of the record, with a tad more distortion. However, in this plugin the difference in sound between the tone arm near the center and on the outside is barely perceptible to the naked ear.

The incoming audio level is controlled by the Input knob and is reflected by the VU-style meters, which can be toggled to show Output. A Drive parameter adds harmonic distortion. As you might expect, cranking up the input makes the distortion even more pronounced.

IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS

Most of the remaining controls facilitate the addition of other artifacts and characteristics peculiar to vinyl. The Noise knob lets you dial in that low-frequency noise that resides in the background, depending on the quality of the turntable and the condition of the record. Crackle re-creates the sound with the same name, which, on a real LP, is particularly noticeable when you first put the needle down and before the music starts. The Clicks parameter provides the clicking noises that are caused by dirt or other material getting in the grooves, while the Density control governs how frequently this artifact occurs.

On vinyl media, wow and flutter are caused by such factors as inconsistent turntable speed and wobble on the platter itself. With Abbey Road Studios Vinyl, you can control the simulated wow and flutter parameters separately; each has its own Rate and Depth knob. The warbling it creates is especially noticeable on pitched instruments. Use low settings to realistically simulate these artifacts from an actual turntable, or set it high for wild modulation effects.

Phase distortion, another quirk found in vinyl playback systems, can be switched in and out of the signal path and adjusted with the Level knob and the highpass and lowpass modulators. The latter two affect the frequency content of the distortion. Moderate settings are good for authentic emulation, but more extreme settings yield nasty-sounding distortion.

LOW AND SLOW

Although the vinyl Slow Down effect has become a bit of a cliché, it’s dramatic nevertheless, and it is well implemented on Abbey Road Vinyl. Pressing the Stop button slows the audio down to full stop, with the corresponding drop in pitch. The duration of the slowdown is user-adjustable, either in musical bars or actual time (in seconds). If you press the Auto Resume button, it will bring the audio back to the original tempo as soon as the slowdown finishes. You can also automate the timing of the slowdown if you want to control it even more precisely.

Unless you’re going for a unique effect, Slow Down is best used on the master bus or a mixed track of some sort. If you use it on an individual track in a multitrack mix, that will be the only track that slows down, while the others continue at normal speed.

OBSERVATIONS

Fig. 2. The list of presets, including the Factory Default choices

The Abbey Road Studios Vinyl plug-in has numerous applications. If you’re just going for a straight-ahead vinyl simulation, insert it on the master bus, start with one of the factory default Lacquer or Print presets and tweak it from there (see Figure 2). Not only will you notice the expected artifacts, but you will also hear a subtle lowering of the fidelity, as you would if you A/B’d a real record with a WAV or AIFF file.

Alternatively, the plug-in works nicely on individual tracks where it can be used to add color or a crunchy compression. For instance, I used it to add life to blandly recorded drums by inserting it on the drum bus. Put it on a guitar, bass, or vocal track to add warmth, a hint of distortion, or a subtle edge. It’s also fun to experiment with extreme settings to come up with unusual textures.

THE SPIN

If you’re into the sound of vinyl, you’re going to appreciate this plug-in. It is the most realistic sounding vinyl plug-in that I know of. As with its other Abbey Road plug-ins, Waves clearly was striving to make this simulation as accurate as possible, and has succeeded.

STRENGTHS

Accurately reproduces the sound of vinyl. Simulates different generations, turntables, and cartridges. Mastering console effect. Includes clicks, crackle, noise, and phase distortion. Input Drive adds crunch.

LIMITATIONS

A bit pricey.

$249
waves.com

Mike Levine is composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist in the New York area.

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