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WAVE ARTS Power Suite 4 (Mac/Win)

August 1, 2005
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Wave Arts Power Suite 4 is a set of five essential digital signal-processing plug-ins. The bundle includes TrackPlug, a channel-strip plug-in with EQ, compressor, and gate; MultiDynamics, a multiband dynamics processor; and WaveSurround, a 3-D spatial enhancer. Also on hand are MasterVerb, a stereo reverb, and FinalPlug, a peak limiter and volume maximizer.

I installed Power Suite as DX plug-ins on a Pentium 4/2.3 GHz PC with 512 MB of RAM running Windows XP. I tested the plug-ins and did all my MIDI and audio editing in Cakewalk Sonar. I had no trouble installing the Suite or loading any of the DX plug-ins. (The Suite supports DirectX, VST, MAS, Audio Units, and RTAS formats.) Generally speaking, Power Suite is reliable, user-friendly, and a pleasure to work with.

I'll discuss each plug-in in the order you would probably use them in your mixes: TrackPlug, MultiDynamics, WaveSurround, MasterVerb, and FinalPlug.

FIG. 1: This custom TrackPlug preset was designed by the author and is used on the steel-drums patch in Web Clip 1. Note the three parametric EQ peaks to enhance the steel-drum resonance, and the low-shelf attenuation to reduce rumble and noise.

Get on Track

TrackPlug offers an equalizer, a compressor, and a gate in series (see Fig. 1). The EQ provides one to ten bands, each with seven 64-bit filter types (bandpass, notch, highpass, lowpass, high shelf, low shelf, and parametric) and independent frequency, height (boost and attenuation), and width (bandwidth) controls. A Pre/Post switch lets you place the EQ before or after the compressor and gate components.

The compressor has a standard set of controls (threshold, ratio, gain, attack, release), along with soft-, medium-, and hard-knee settings. It also has optional auto makeup gain (to keep the output level fixed when changing the threshold and ratio), peak or RMS detection, and optional look-ahead (1, 2, or 5 ms).

The gate is used to reduce track background noise. It has standard controls (threshold, ratio, dynamic input, attack, release) and variable-knee settings.

You can use TrackPlug globally for mixing and mastering, or locally in single tracks. Because it demands so little of your CPU, it's possible to insert it on every track of a mix. On my PC, ten TrackPlugs (one on each of ten tracks) consumed a mere 2 to 3 percent CPU. Using TrackPlug in this configuration enables you to fine-tune each layer of a piece for a premaster mix, and ensures that all layers are nicely compressed, are relatively noise-free, and are equalized so that they can all be heard distinctly (see Web Clip 1).

MultiDynamics

The MultiDynamics plug-in is a multiband dynamics processor designed for mastering, de-essing, volume maximization, noise reduction, and custom effects. Along with standard compression controls (low gain, threshold, high gain, ratio, attack, and release), MultiDynamics has up to six contiguous frequency bands — each with its own compression or expansion/gating, a proprietary crossover algorithm that reduces interband distortion, variable knees, and an optional look-ahead.

FIG. 2: The custom MultiDynamics preset shown in this figure was used for Web Clip 2. Note the three frequency bands (low, middle, and high) and the low and high gains (green and blue lines) for each band to accentuate select low and high components of the mix.

MultiDynamics works by using bandpass filters to separate the input audio into a set of one to six separate frequency bands with widths of your choosing (see Fig 2). These bands are always contiguous, so that the entire spectrum (20- to 20 kHz) is covered. Each band is processed independently, enabling you to exert precise control over key frequency regions of your mix's spectrum. That, in turn, lets you emphasize the kick drum while toning down the cymbal edge, while warming the vocal line, and so on.

MultiDynamics is surprisingly easy to use, considering its power and complexity. Though it has relatively few presets (13, not counting the templates), I was able to find 2 presets right away that significantly enhanced the presence of my mix: Medium Enhance and Bass Punch. The former sharpened the flute and accordion lines, and the latter punched up the steel drums. I created a hybrid of the two, grafting the lowest band of the Bass Punch preset into the Medium Enhance preset (see Web Clip 2).

Surround and About

WaveSurround is a spatial enhancer that consists of 3-D sound and reverb components in series. It uses HRTF processing and crosstalk canceling to create the illusion that the sound coming out of two stereo speakers (or headphones) surrounds you.

HRTF, which stands for Head-Related Transfer Function, is a technology that measures how sound is transformed when it travels from an arbitrary point in space to a pair of human ears. Crosstalk occurs when one speaker of a stereo pair sends audible signals to the other ear of the listener — left speaker to right ear, right speaker to left ear. When that happens, it impairs the ability of the spatializer to place the sound convincingly at an exact location in space. WaveSurround cancels most of this crosstalk for listeners who are centered at the sweet spot (halfway between the two speakers).

The reverb in WaveSurround is a simplified version of MasterVerb. With reverb on, WaveSurround did a decent job of bringing a sense of spaciousness to the mix; although it wasn't dramatic, it was usable. With reverb off and only 3-D sound enhancement on, however, WaveSurround did very little to the mix. The trick when using WaveSurround is to keep its onboard reverb on, but to make sure that the reverb does not interfere with reverb from another source, such as the MasterVerb plug-in.

Yes, Master

MasterVerb is a stereo reverb unit with a standard set of controls (decay time, room size, diffusion, early damping, late damping, predelay, and wet/dry), as well as low-frequency scaling, which enables frequencies below 250 Hz to decay at a different rate than those at 500 Hz. Visually oriented users will appreciate MasterVerb's two displays: an x-y pad that enables you to use your mouse to set the decay time and room-size values, and a 3-D graph that shows how steeply different frequency bands decay over time Fig. 3.

FIG. 3: In this custom MasterVerb preset (used for Web Clip 3), note the blue ball firmly inside the green (recommended) zone of the Time Size pad, and the relative steepness of the decay times as displayed in the 3-D graph.

More than any other effect except filters, reverb's beauty of is in the ear of the beholder. Some swear by a certain reverb unit, while others despise it just as passionately. In scouring online electronica forums, I found that MasterVerb has admirers and detractors. Though I'm not bowled over by its sound, I am one of its admirers. I like its inviting user interface, its flexibility, and its overall quality of sound. The things I miss are internal motion control, a shimmery high-frequency edge, and more presets (see Web Clip 3).

That's Final!

FinalPlug is a peak limiter that can be used as a limiter or as a volume maximizer. Its operation is seamless from the point of view of the user: you set standard limiter threshold, ceiling, and release values, and FinalPlug does the rest. The look-ahead and attack times are fixed at 1.5 ms to prevent distortion resulting from sudden attenuation at the onset of an amplitude peak (gain ducking).

FinalPlug also contains a Truncation/Dithering component that minimizes the noise that can occur when you reduce a 24- or 32-bit mix to the 16-bit depth required by CDs. FinalPlug is easy to use and effective. I used the CD Mastering preset without any fine-tuning, and it upped the presence of the final mix noticeably.

The digital audio marketplace is filled with mastering software. Adobe, Cakewalk, Digidesign, IK Multimedia, Izotope, Sony, Steinberg, Wave Arts, and Waves (among others) all make high-quality DSP products. Some masterers prefer hand-picking components, assembling a personal set of plug-ins from various manufacturers. Others prefer the convenience and stability of having one company and one mastering suite. If you fall in the latter group, consider purchasing the Power Suite for its pro-quality audio processing, its low CPU drain, its one-stop solution flexibility, and its reasonable price. Download the free 30-day trial version from the Wave Arts Web site, and give it a spin!


rachMiel composes experimental electronic and acoustic music. Contact him at www.rachmiel.com.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

WAVE ARTS Power Suite 4
DSP software
$499.95

OVERALL RATING (1 THROUGH 5): 3.5

PROS: Good sound quality. Intuitive user interfaces. Easy on your CPU and your wallet. Meets most mixing and mastering needs. Clear and informative user manual.

CONS: Plug-ins need more (compelling) presets. WaveSurround fairly dull. MasterVerb a bit lackluster. Help pop-ups for controls would be nice.

MANUFACTURER

Wave Arts
www.wavearts.com

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