A few years ago, creative effects processing required racks of outboard equipment. Few people imagined then that a powerful computer with the right software could ever replace all that gear, but today almost every conceivable effect is available as a digital signal processing (DSP) plug-in. In this Master Class article, I'll start by describing some different uses for regular processing, such as dynamic EQ and upward compression. Then I'll cover some of the Waves Platinum Native Bundle's more unusual plug-ins. That should give you a hint of the excitement that's in store for you if you take the time to fully explore the creative possibilities of all 26 plug-ins in the bundle. Although I highly recommend that you reconstruct these examples for yourself, you can download most of the settings described in this article from the EM Web site at www.emusician.com (see Web Clip 1).
Suppose you have an acoustic piano track that sounds pretty good but could use a bit of brightening when the pianist is softly comping the verse. You set up your EQ only to find that it sounds harsh when the pianist plays an octave higher and plays harder in the bridge. You could, of course, create two tracks with different EQ settings or automate the EQ on a single track, but those solutions are unnecessarily tedious. Here's how to set up Waves C4 as a dynamic equalizer to more easily address the problem.
C4 allows you to set two EQ curves: one for low level and another for high level. The transition between the two EQ curves is controlled by separate threshold settings for each of the four EQ bands. The frequency ranges of the four EQ bands are determined by low, mid, and high crossover settings. (You can also use the Linear Phase Multiband EQ for this, which provides phase-linear crossover and five frequency bands.)
Fig. 1 shows the bell-shaped curve that I have created for the band between the Mid and High crossover points, which are set to 2.15 kHz and 6.48 kHz, respectively. The Q setting and the width of the band control the shape of the curve, with higher Q values and narrower bands resulting in a sharper curve. The Gain control sets the boost or cut of the band, and I've set it to 7.3 dB. That results in a boost centered around 4 kHz when the level is below the threshold of -41.9 dB. What happens above the threshold is controlled by the Range setting.
The Range setting determines how the EQ is reduced above the threshold, and I've set it to -15 dB in this example. The effect is indicated by the purple area under the curve. If you scroll the setting you'll notice that positive values result in a boost above the threshold, whereas negative values result in a cut. The yellow line displaying the EQ curve animates during playback, giving real-time visual feedback of the effect of the range and the threshold settings.
In this case, I've focused on the dynamic EQ of a mid-high band designed to brighten soft piano comping as well as to soften harder playing. The other bands can, of course, be used either dynamically or fixed (by setting the Range to 0 dB) to further EQ the track. For example, you might set the high band with both negative gain and range to create a high-shelving EQ that increases with dynamics.
If you've used the L1 or L2 Ultramaximizers for peak limiting to make your mixes louder, you've undoubtedly discovered that using peak limiting to reach for competitive level often entails a considerable sacrifice in dynamics. Here's one way, called low-level or upward compression, to raise the volume of the softer sounds in the mix without getting the squashed sound of too much peak limiting. This technique has long been popular in classical music, in which wide dynamic range is common and peak limiting is rarely used.
For upward compression, use the Linear Phase Multiband EQ. Start with the factory default settings, then use the Master controls to set all the bands to these settings: Threshold, -50 dB; Range, -6 dB; Gain, 6 dB (see Fig. 2). Those settings will increase the level of soft passages while leaving the louder passages untouched.
The audio just below the Threshold value will be compressed upward a maximum of 6 dB. The high-level signals (the ones significantly above the threshold) will have no gain change, because at high levels the Range and Gain settings, which are set to complementary values, combine to equal unity gain. You can see what's happening by observing the yellow Dynamic Line display. You'll see a significant difference in the curve when the input signal is low compared with when it's high.
Experiment with the threshold and crossover points in the individual bands to fine-tune the compression to suit your program material. Always make sure the Range (negative) and Gain (positive) controls are set to exactly offsetting values, and that Makeup is set to Manual. Fine-tuning the Master Threshold control will allow you to lift the lower dynamic sections of the mix without sitting on the peaks.
As a final touch, use an L2 placed after the Linear Multiband. Set it for no more than 3 dB of gain reduction. That provides competitive level with punch that sounds more musical and interesting.
COOL SPACE, FRESH BEATS
Multitap delays have many uses. Two of my favorites are creating space around an instrument or vocal and creating new rhythmic grooves from a drum loop. Here's how to do both using SuperTap.
Adding space around a vocal
To create space for a vocal, start with a pair of taps set to very short delay times followed by two pairs of taps set to progressively longer delay times (see Fig.3). Optimum delay times depend primarily on the tempo but also on the style of the song. Set the delay times for each pair to close but not identical values. The gain settings are also critical. You can set each pair to the same level by shift-clicking both controls before setting the value.
Rolling off the high frequencies above about 2 kHz for the first pair of taps allows you to pan them wider and make them louder without smearing the high frequencies. On the longer delay taps, a wide bell with maximum boost reduces both the low and the high frequencies to minimize the low-frequency mud and make the highs more natural. (In most acoustic situations, long echoes have the highs rolled off.)
Other interesting adjustments include setting all the delays on one side slightly longer and softer than those on the opposite side. The sense of space can be further enhanced by deriving your reverb send from the delayed signal or from a mix of the delayed and original.
You can also use SuperTap to rearrange a one-bar drum loop using the plug-in's Beat Grid mode. Although designed for drum loops, the effect can be useful on any kind of rhythmic material. For example, U2 has used it with different filter settings to process guitar to great effect.
To sync to the tempo of the loop, choose a quarter-note grid, turn on only the first tap, set its Delay slider to the four-beat mark, and tap or adjust the bpm setting. Now switch the grid to 8th or 16th notes, and experiment with different Delay settings to find an interesting rhythmic beat.
In my example (see Fig. 3), the first tap emulates an 808-style kick drum using lowpass filtering, while the next three taps produce hi-hats by using very steep highpass filtering. The bottom two taps yield snare sounds due to the narrow bell curve EQ. I suggest setting the EQs first, then auditioning the taps one at a time to find a useful rhythm and sound (see Web Clips 2 and 3).
A favorite effect of mine is to start with a conventional drum kit and turn it into a percussion kit, to sound like log drums, for example. The aptly named Enigma is just the tool for that. Try this experiment starting with the SuperTap treated drum loop from the previous example. Use the Enigma settings shown in Fig. 4.
The Mix and Depth settings are the most critical. Very low depth settings are needed in order to achieve the tuned-drum sound, and you probably don't want any original signal in the mix. The Feedback Delay setting is also important. You'll get interesting variations on the resonance effect by changing the number of notches, reversing the phase, and varying the feedback delay settings; the settings that are shown in Fig. 4 are the most natural sounding (see Web Clips 4, 5, and 6).
The pitch variation comes from the Modulation settings. Of course, the Modulator needs to be turned on, and a square wave should be used to avoid pitch sliding (though that can be interesting, too). The tuning of the pitches is controlled by a combination of the settings of the filter Frequency controls (under the top graph) and the Minimum frequency and Maximum frequency controls in the Modulator section. Very low Rate settings produce the most realistic drumming, but also try higher settings. Interesting and musical edits can be achieved by altering the number of notches and the Feedback control for this Enigma preset. The factory presets labeled “perc” near the bottom of the Load menu are all variations on this theme.
M-S FOR THE REST OF US
M-S is an abbreviation for the mid-side microphone recording technique. A cardioid microphone is used for the M (middle) signal and pointed toward the center of the performers, while a figure-eight microphone is used for the S (side) signal. The figure-eight mic is oriented 90 degrees from the cardioid, facing the left/right axes of the performers. Even if you don't do M-S recording (and I encourage you to look into it), you can use M-S processing to separate an already mixed stereo signal into its mid and side components for independent processing. This technique would be useful, for example, with a mix in which the lead vocal is in the center and a bit buried, whereas the guitars and drums are more on the sides and already bright enough.
The Waves S1 plug-ins provide the conversion back and forth between an M-S signal and the normal stereo signals. The conversion to M-S format is done by the S1 MS Matrix plug-in, and the conversion back to stereo is done by the S1 Imager plug-in. Any stereo processing that you sandwich between those plug-ins will affect the mid and side signals separately, with the mid signal processed as the left channel and the side signal as the right. In the aforementioned example, you might place a stereo EQ, such as the Q10, between the S1 plug-ins to EQ the vocal separately from the other parts.
After setting up the chain of plug-ins, make sure that the S1 Imager's input is set to M-input-S mode, that both polarities are set to +, and that channel swapping is not active. The top of Fig. 5 shows left-channel settings for Q2 (the two-band version of Q10) that might be used to brighten up a centered vocal. The bottom of Fig. 5 shows a slight low-end boost that adds a little width to the low end of the side signal. Remember to turn Q2's Link mode off, so you can apply separate EQ settings to each channel.
It's also a good idea to turn down the input gain on one channel of the EQ at a time, so you can home in on the way the mid and side signals are being affected. But, you should always do the final check and adjustments in the context of full stereo.
BASS REPLACEMENT THERAPY
MaxxBass is one of the least understood, yet most useful of the Waves plug-ins. It appears to boost the fundamental harmonic in a bass recording, but it uses neither subharmonic synthesis nor EQ and compression to do so. It tricks your brain into thinking that the fundamental is present. You can also use Renaissance Bass for this job.
MaxxBass uses the fact that the brain can reconstruct a missing fundamental from the harmonics that the ear hears. For example, if you have a radio or television with small speakers, the bass guitar in a rock song or the double bass in a concerto can't be reproduced — the fundamental pitch is below the speakers' range. However, the higher-pitched harmonics are reproduced by the speaker. Your brain recognizes that these harmonics are related to each other and are correlated to the fundamental and therefore senses the presence of the missing fundamental. Interestingly, this phenomenon has been known for centuries — pipe organ builders used exactly this technique to emulate very long pipes.
In practice, you can use MaxxBass to make your mixes compatible across a wider range of playback devices, bumping up the low end on small speakers and still getting a great sound on larger ones. It doesn't matter whether you apply this technique on individual tracks or on the final mix. Here's how to process a music mix intended for small television speakers. I strongly recommend using a pair of small TV speakers to monitor the results.
Start by inserting MaxxBass on the final output channel to see that it can work its magic in the context of the whole mix. Choose the bottom highpass filter curve from the HighPass menu in the Harmonics section. That provides a steep 24 dB-per-octave rolloff of the low end. (You may prefer a gentler low-frequency rolloff for compatibility with larger speakers.) The Decay setting controls the rolloff of the higher harmonics that are added to the signal to create the MaxxBass effect.
Begin with a setting of -15.0 dB per octave. Set the Freq control to 100 Hz and set the Original Bass fader to 0 dB. Those settings replace the original bass with a MaxxBass-created low end, and they roll off the low frequencies below 100 Hz. Finally, set the dynamics ratio to 2:1 and the response to 20. That adds some compression to the harmonics.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
Although it does no processing of its own, the PAZ Psychoacoustic Analyzer is a very handy mixing tool. In the frequency domain, PAZ offers a 52-band spectral analysis, with the bands chosen to closely approximate the constant-Q critical frequency bands of the ear. That results in a good correlation between what you hear and what you see in the PAZ frequency analyzer. The Peak/RMS and Response controls let you choose the type of analysis and response time. In Peak mode, peaks in each frequency band are displayed. The Response parameter controls the release time. In RMS mode, the energy is averaged over a length of time, and the Response value controls that length.
When making adjustments to the overall frequency balance of your mix, it can be quite helpful to switch between Peak mode (with a fast response time) and RMS mode (with a slow response time). In RMS mode, use a Response setting between 400 and 600 ms. That closely matches the perception of the overall frequency balance that you hear, providing a good visual reference.
In addition to allowing you to smooth out irregularities in the frequency spectrum of your mix, PAZ is great for tracking down and fixing masking. Masking occurs when a louder sound in a particular frequency range prevents softer sounds in that frequency range from being heard. Masking problems abound in dense productions, in which many parts compete for attention. Panning is a good place to begin addressing the problem, but EQ is also useful.
PAZ can be helpful for fine-tuning your pan and EQ settings to bring out masked parts by accentuating different frequencies or by moving them to a different part of the stereo field. Start by soloing an instrument and using the A-B button to store its frequency plot. Then audition competing instruments, and compare their frequency plots. Target the overlapping regions for EQ, or separate the instruments by panning.
In this Master Class feature, I've been able to cover just a few of the 26 plug-ins in the Waves Platinum Native Bundle. For a full list of the plug-ins and a brief description of each, see the table “Plug-ins by Category.” The examples in this article have been chosen to encourage you to move beyond the boundaries of basic EQ and compression. You can then look forward to many pleasurable hours of tweaking and munging as you work your way through the rest of the bundle. (For more information on Waves software, check out the company's Web site at www.waves.com.)
Bob Reardonresides in the Boston area, works for Waves, and has a background in music recording, audio post-production, and synthesis.
Plug-ins by Category Category Effect Features
Compression/Expansion C1 Parametric Compander Compression and expansion with gating, sidechain, and filtering options. Compression/Expansion Renaissance Compressor Compression and expansion with the simple interface of the Renaissance series. Compression/Expansion Renaissance Vox Compression and expansion tailored for vocal material with the simple interface of the Renaissance series. EQ Linear Phase Equalizer Phase-linear EQ. EQ Q10 Paragraphic EQ Multiband parametric EQ with 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, 6-, 8-, and 10-band versions to save processing. EQ Renaissance Equalizer Multiband parametric EQ with 2-, 4-, and 6-band versions provided to save processing. EQ (Dynamic) C4 Multiband Parametric Processor 4-band parametric EQ with individual compression for each band. EQ (Dynamic) Linear Phase Multiband 5-band parametric phase-linear EQ with individual compression for each band. EQ/Compression Combo AudioTrack Channel-strip module with 4-band EQ followed by compressor/expander. EQ/Compression Combo Renaissance Channel Channel-strip module featuring 4-band EQ with sidechain and compressor/expander. Either EQ or compression can come first. Limiting L1 Ultramaximizer Peak limiting, level maximization, noise-shaped dithering. Limiting L2 Ultramaximizer Peak limiting, level maximization, noise-shaped dithering. Munging Doppler Simulates the effect of a moving sound source. Munging Enigma Notch-filter, resonator, feedback-delay combo effect. Munging MetaFlanger Flange, phase, chorus effect. Munging MondoMod Amplitude modulation (tremolo), frequency modulation, and rotation effect. Munging Ultrapitch Formant-corrected pitch shifting and harmonizing. Reverb Renaissance Reverberator Stereo reverb with separate control of early reflections and reverb tail. Reverb TrueVerb Stereo reverb with separate control of early reflections and reverb tail. Utility DeEsser De-essing. Utility MaxxBass Bass enhancement by creating upper harmonics from which the ear re-creates the fundamental. Utility PAZ Psychoacoustic Analyzer Visual frequency and stereo field analyzer. Utility Renaissance Bass Bass enhancement by creating upper harmonics from which the ear re-creates the fundamental. Utility Renaissance DeEsser De-essing. Utility S1 Series Conversion between mid-side and stereo formats. Utility SuperTap 6-tap stereo delay with filters