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WAVES NATIVE POWER PACK II (MAC/WIN)

May 1, 2000
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If you are even remotely serious about working with digital audio on your desktop computer, you'll find Waves' Native Power Pack II plug-in bundle to be an essential musical tool. It doesn't matter what plug-in format your software supports-TDM, MAS, VST, or DirectX-Waves has designed some of the finest mini apps available at any price.

The original Native Power Pack-another indispensable bundle-approaches audio manipulation in a precise, digital manner, whereas Native Power Pack II has more of an analog feel. The newer bundle consists of four plug-ins: DeEsser, MaxxBass, Renaissance Equalizer, and Renaissance Compressor (the TDM Power Pack II bundle also includes PS22 StereoMaker). Not only do these plug-ins complement the original Native Power Pack collection, but they also can compete seriously with some of the finest analog hardware.

As with all Waves plug-ins, a single in-line dongle serves as copy protection for the software. This lets you install the plug-ins on several computers; just remember to take the dongle with you from machine to machine.

FROM HIGH TO LOWThe MaxxBass plug-in is designed to add more perceived bass energy to individual tracks or mixes. Not to be confused with a subharmonic synthesizer (which artificially creates frequencies an octave or two below the original signal), MaxxBass creates harmonics above the original bass signal. This creates the illusion of deeper, fuller bass on smaller playback systems, such as home stereos and TV sets. Used judiciously, it can ensure that full-frequency mixes designed for large monitoring systems (like dance music) translate well to close-field monitors, too.

Small speakers, including many close-field monitors, are not physically capable of reproducing the fundamental frequencies of most bass notes in a full-range mix. Nevertheless, the brain perceives these low frequencies due to a psychoacoustic phenomenon that re-creates those missing fundamental notes from their upper harmonics. Precise control of these upper harmonics is the key to MaxxBass's ability to give a track a stronger and more vivid bass presence.

A graphic display shows the original bass and the created harmonics, which is useful for determining the settings of the various parameters (see Fig. 1). The Frequency slider determines the crossover point; frequencies below the cutoff will have harmonics created for them, while all frequencies above the cutoff are passed without modification. Volume sliders control the level of the input, the original bass signal below the cutoff, and the newly created harmonics. You can completely remove the original bass signal, leaving only the harmonics MaxxBass generates. (This is the preferred method for specific playback installations incapable of reproducing the original bass fundamentals, because it reduces the burden on the amps and speakers.) A monitor section lets you listen to the full audio output, the MaxxBass harmonics only, or the original bass frequencies only. This is extremely helpful in determining the plug-in's effect on the audio.

A three-position HighPass button applies filtering to the generated harmonics; the main graphic window also displays changes to this filter. Position 1 is a fixed 24 dB/octave rolloff at 16 Hz (mainly for DC removal), while positions 2 and 3 are 12 dB/octave and 24 dB/octave rolloffs, respectively; the cutoff is determined by the Frequency setting.

The Decay setting determines the output profile of the generated harmonics. Higher values create more upper harmonics. Setting too high a value can cause muddiness in full mixes; setting too low a value can render the effect imperceptible on small speakers. You can apply a rudimentary compressor to the created harmonics to smooth the signal a bit, and a Response setting controls the attack and release of the created harmonics.

You can use MaxxBass for final-mix processing or individual instrument tracking. If you use it on individual instruments, be sure to monitor in context with the rest of the track to ensure proper harmonic levels. I used MaxxBass mostly on final mixes to give them the same low-frequency power and depth on close-field monitors that I was hearing and feeling on the larger speakers. When set properly, MaxxBass won't greatly affect the bass perception on large studio monitors, but it will make the close fields and mono cubes happen in a big way. Of course, if you are mixing for a specific playback medium, MaxxBass can be a lifesaver for your mixes.

Careful listening, comparisons of the original bass and harmonics, and experimentation are necessary to become proficient with MaxxBass, but it is definitely worth the trouble. The first time you hear the bass on one of your mixes slamming on a little Auratone, you'll be hooked. Caution is advised, though-don't overdo it.

SUFFERIN' SUCCOTASHWhereas MaxxBass adds perceived bass energy, DeEsser concentrates on removing nasty high frequencies. DeEsser provides plenty of control with a clear, uncluttered interface (see Fig. 2). The Threshold parameter determines the level at which the de-essing affects the input, with a numeric and graphic display of attenuation and output level. DeEsser operates in a fashion similar to that of complex de-essing chains. The input signal is split into an audio path and a sidechain. The sidechain employs a filter, an energy detector, and a compressor. The sidechain filter has two modes of operation: Highpass and Bandpass. In Highpass mode, a broad range of high frequencies is selected for de-essing, while Bandpass mode enables you to select a more specific frequency range. The Frequency setting, which determines the center point of de-essing, can be set anywhere between 2 kHz and 16 kHz. It affects only the sidechain response, not the audio.

After you've set the Frequency, SideChain, and Threshold controls, the attenuation is applied to the audio signal. An Audio button toggles between Wideband and Split modes, determining whether the attenuation affects the entire audio spectrum or only the high frequencies (based on the Frequency setting).

The Monitor button lets you toggle between listening to the audio output and listening to just the sidechain signal. Listening to the sidechain is helpful in identifying the troublesome frequencies in the source material. As you adjust the frequency value, the goal is to isolate what is heard in the sidechain to the most sibilant parts of the signal. Once you accomplish this, the side effects to the rest of the audio will be minimal.

I've had great success running two DeEssers in series, one in Bandpass mode followed by another in Highpass for particularly sibilant vocalists. Several presets are tailored for male and female sss and shhh sounds. They're great starting points for dealing with your particular case of sibilance. In addition, DeEsser works well on a variety of instruments, and even entire mixes. Any source that has peaky, high frequencies above 2 kHz can be tamed with DeEsser. You can't control the compression's envelope response time, but you don't need to. The response time is preset to be lightning fast, and it's exactly what you need in practically every application. Anyone who has fumbled with constructing a hardware de-essing chain will truly appreciate the simplicity and power of this plug-in.

THE NEW RENAISSANCEAs an antidote to the digitally precise nature of the original Waves compressor and EQ (C1 and Q10), the new Renaissance plug-ins emulate the nonlinear nature and desirable sonic characteristics of top-level, well-respected analog hardware devices, while also providing simple user interfaces. After carefully studying many classic compressors and equalizers, Waves has created two plug-ins that not only simulate the sonic nature of the hardware that inspired them, but also stand on their own in terms of flexibility, ease of use, and musicality.

Renaissance Compressor (RC) is extremely flexible, yet its controls are quite simple, consisting of only five sliders and three on/off buttons (see Fig. 3). After first selecting the mode, behavior, and character of the compressor with the buttons, you can adjust the Threshold, Ratio, Attack, and Release sliders to yield stunning results. And because RC is a plug-in, you can run multiple initiations (as many as your computer can handle) and apply each to a different track.

Renaissance Compressor is a soft-knee compressor/expander, meaning that attenuation actually begins 3 dB below the Threshold setting. The compression ratio can be anywhere from 1.01:1 to 50.0:1, and the expansion from 0.99:1 to 0.50:1. You set gain in 0.1 dB increments between +30 and -30 dB.

The Release control toggles between Manual and Auto Release Control (ARC). In Manual mode, you set the attack (0.5 to 500 ms) and release (5 ms to 5 sec). (The manual states the attack times incorrectly and omits the release times altogether.) In ARC mode, the proprietary auto-release function is program dependent, automatically choosing the optimal release setting. Both modes work well, but I found ARC to be more forgiving.

You can set RC to either Electro or Opto mode, which act in opposite ways. In Electro mode, the release gets faster as gain reduction approaches zero. When gain reduction goes above 3 dB, the release gets slower and the software acts more like a leveler. This results in increased average level and is ideal for loud, in-your-face signals, such as voice-overs, guitars, and aggressive mixes. In Opto mode, the reverse is true: as gain reduction approaches zero, the release gets slower. As more gain reduction is introduced, the release becomes faster, emulating classic opto-compressors.

RC's character can be Warm or Smooth. The Warm setting adds low-frequency harmonics to the signal as more gain reduction is introduced. This is the second- or third-order harmonic distortion found in tube-based analog stages, which is usually perceived as "fat sweetness." You decide the amount of compression applied, but you don't get any other parameters with which to control the depth of coloration, and the effect is subtler than what you'd get with a real tube stage or something like an EL8 Distressor. However, the Warm setting does help solid-state signal paths that need a little muscle. The Smooth setting doesn't add any additional harmonics and sounds great if you're already using a good tube stage or have a killer signal path.

The Renaissance plug-ins have a distinctive look, and the metering on the compressor has a "classic" feel. Determining the attenuation is easy, thanks to the big yellow gain-reduction bar. The output section employs a brickwall limiter (similar to the limiter in Waves' L1 plug-in) that is preset to 0 dB. As the output exceeds 0 dB, a yellow light indicates limiting. The light grows brighter and eventually turns a burnt orange beyond 6 dB of limiting. Too much output limiting can cause digital distortion, but RC is certainly more forgiving than most digital compressors, giving it more of an analog feel and scoring high on overall "trust factor."

REQ-REATIONRenaissance Equalizer (REQ) is a 2-, 4-, or 6-band parametric EQ with an interactive graphic display (see Fig. 4). You set the Frequency and Gain settings by simply dragging a display point for each band. (You can also click and drag numeric values or enter data with keystrokes-it's very flexible.)

The proprietary filters and bell curves are the result of painstaking research and design on the part of Waves. Based on the responses of some of the most highly regarded analog equalizers as well as BREAKthroughs in mathematical designs, REQ is quickly gaining a reputation among discerning engineers as one of the finest and most versatile EQs available. As with all Waves plug-ins, REQ comes with a detailed and informative electronic user manual (in PDF format). For more information about the design and philosophy behind REQ, visit the Waves Web site (www .waves.com).

Two of the basic design differences between REQ and most other digital equalizers (including Q10) are the shapes of the bell curves and filters. REQ typically uses a wider bandwidth when boosting and a narrower curve when cutting. The shelving filters are also variable rather than preset to a couple of curves. The distinctive effect of simultaneously boosting and cutting similar or identical bands (a popular trick on Pultec EQs) is also faithfully re-created. The end result is a plug-in that sounds remarkably like a great analog equalizer.

REQ is a wonderful-sounding EQ. Practically any source in need of equalization can benefit from this plug-in. At times, the pure equalization capabilities of Q10 would probably work better, but I turn to REQ first for most of my digital audio EQ needs.

Both Renaissance plug-ins require more processing power than their Q10 and C1 counterparts, but some sophisticated math processing is happening under the hood. This is why REQ is limited to six bands per initiation. If you can't make a sound happen with six bands, you can always open up another copy and run two REQs in series.

The only downside is that I usually run out of computer horsepower when I try to open too many initiations of the REQ plug-in. (On my system-a Macintosh G3/450 MHz with 192 MB of RAM-I usually have no problem running five or six REQs simultaneously with a few other miscellaneous plug-ins.) Of course, I can always create a new file of the equalized audio and free up the horsepower, which is what I usually do. It's easy to get spoiled and want to run 20 of these phenomenal plug-ins at a time. (I guess that's when it's time to remember how much 20 hardware EQs and cabling would cost.)

WRAP IT UPAll the plug-ins in Native Power Pack II-as well as the rest of the Waves collection-are superior pieces of software. The quality of the processing is outstanding and very musical. They are all immensely useful and easy to use. Anyone working with digital audio on a desktop computer needs these plug-ins.

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