Review: Waves Scheps Omni Channel

A modular channel strip with powerful features and excellent sound
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In a market glutted with channel strips, software developers need to offer more than just a generic plug-in integrating EQ and dynamics processing if they want to get their products noticed. One tried-and-true path is to emulate a specific hardware unit. With Scheps Omni Channel, Waves took a somewhat different approach: It collaborated with mixer extraordinaire Andrew Scheps to create a multifaceted plug-in that seeks to re-create, in a single plug-in, the collection of key processors Scheps regularly uses.

MOVABLE PIECES

Fig. 1. The processing modules
 in Scheps Omni Channel
 can be dragged to different
 positions in the signal chain.

Fig. 1. The processing modules  in Scheps Omni Channel  can be dragged to different  positions in the signal chain.

Scheps Omni Channel has two main sections: The Processing Module and the Master Section. The former provides five different processor modules—Pre, EQ, DS2, Gate and Comp—and you can change their order in the signal chain by dragging them (see Figure 1).

Modules can be turned on and off with one click, making it easy to minimize CPU by keeping only the processors you’re using active. I compared the plug-in’s CPU usage against several of the other channel strips that I have, and in my (admittedly anecdotal) analysis, it seemed about average in terms of power usage.

You also get one Insert slot where you can open any other Waves plug-ins you own or an additional instance of any of the five processors, providing added flexibility.

Clicking on the Expanded View Button in the corner of each processor opens up a much larger version that fills the entire module area, making editing more comfortable and offering additional functionality.

On stereo instances of the plug-in, you can switch each module between three different modes: Stereo, which processes the same on each side; Duo, where you can set different processing for the left and right channels; and M/S, where you can have different settings for the mid and side channels. The Gate, DS2, and Compressor modules all offer internal and external sidechain access.

Open the default patch in Scheps Omni Channel and the first module on the left is called Pre, which allows you to add preamp-like harmonic distortion to your audio. The three Saturation types—Odd, Even, and Heavy—represent odd harmonics, even harmonics, and clipping, respectively. You can dial in the amount with the Saturation knob.

The Saturation can be subtle or noticeable, depending on how you set it. Either way, it sounds excellent and is an option you don’t typically find in a channel strip plug-in.

The Pre module also includes a filter section, where you can set highpass and lowpass filters, and adjust their frequency and slope (6, 12, or 18 dB/octave). The final section, Thump, lets you add in low-frequency resonance—which is tantamount to a bass boost—with either 2 dB or 4 dB of gain.

The next module is a Gate, which can be set either as a conventional gate or downward expander. It offers controls for Threshold, Range, Close (a threshold below which the gate will shut) and Attack and Release time.

A five-step attenuation meter shows when the gate closes and opens. Although you probably won’t need it as often as the other modules, it is nice to have it at your fingertips when you do.

The EQ module offers a great deal of control. You get four bands: High, Low, Mid, and Tone. All four bands give you a choice of three different filters—one fully parametric and two with fixed Qs.

The Low and High sections let you select between Shelf, Resonant Shelf, and Parametric filter modes. The Mid and Tone sections’ offer Wide, Narrow, and Parametric. In the Mid band, the Wide mode filter is broader than the one in the Tone band. Overall, the EQ section is powerful and quite musical, with the Mid and Tone bands being particularly impressive.

The DS2 module has two identical sets of controls which, like a de-esser, attenuate a user-specified frequency when detected in the source. When I first started using Scheps Omni Channel, I was a bit puzzled as to why I would need two de-essing channels. But I discovered that DS2 is way more than a de-esser.

Each of its two sections has an on/off button, frequency and threshold knobs, a gain reduction meter, and a choice of four different filter shapes. The Side Chain Listen button allows you to hear only the audio that is being attenuated, making your tweaking decisions a lot easier.

When you open DS2’s Expanded View, you can set its two sections to be linked or unlinked, and select an external sidechain source rather than the internal one.

In addition to reducing sibilance, you can use DS2 to tame all sorts of frequency issues. For instance, if there’s a midrange frequency that’s causing a track to sound boxy, you can set one of DS2’s channels to knock it down each time it occurs. Having two independent sections makes it a lot more powerful.

THE BIG SQUEEZE

The Compressor module may be the most powerful one in the plug-in. You can choose between three different compressor algorithms—VCA, FET, and OPT—giving you the three distinct flavors of compression in one place.

Below the Compressor Type buttons, you get a Threshold knob and a 5-step gain reduction meter as in the Gate module. Below that are Ratio, Attack, and Release knobs; an Output control; and a Mix knob. The last allows you to dial in as little or as much of the processing that you want, allowing for parallel compression.

Fig. 2. The Compressor module in Expanded View, showing
 the larger controls and the sidechain EQ section that is not
 available in the normal view.

Fig. 2. The Compressor module in Expanded View, showing  the larger controls and the sidechain EQ section that is not  available in the normal view.

But that’s not all: If you click the Expanded view, you will find a 3-band sidechain EQ that allows you to tailor the frequencies that trigger the compressor through the sidechain (see Figure 2).

The Compressor sounds excellent. The OPT (optical-style compressor) setting is sweet sounding and gives a pleasing silkiness to vocals and other sources.

The FET setting is more aggressive, perhaps designed to sound like an 1176. VCA mode is transparent on lower settings but can really crush when you turn down the threshold and turn up the release. I loved it on snares and on drums, in general.

All three compression types are incredibly usable and, as you would expect, can be subtle or noticeable depending on the parameter settings. Having three different algorithms is a luxury in a channel strip plug-in, and you’ll use the compressor on every patch.

TAKE IT TO THE LIMITER

On the far right of the GUI is the Master Section, with its sizeable VU-style meter that can be switched to show Input, Output or Gain Reduction level. You also get Input and Output faders and a phase reverse switch, which is always a handy thing to have.

On stereo instances of the plug-in, a series of buttons allow you to listen to the signal in stereo, mono, or just the left, right, mid, or side channels, giving you a lot of monitoring flexibility.

Last, the Master Section has a brick-wall limiter with a Threshold knob and a status light that indicates when the limiter kicks in. You can use it to keep signal from going over 0 dB or to add additional crush, depending on where you set the Threshold.

PRESET CENTRAL

Scheps Omni Channel provides a comprehensive channel-strip toolbox with the kind of fine parameter control that will allow experienced engineers to accurately sculpt the sound of a track. If you’re not as adept at tweaking, Waves has provided a wide selection of presets that give you an excellent place to start your settings for virtually any source.

In addition to a large bank of presets from Andrew Scheps, you also get settings from well-known engineers such as Billy Bush, Brad Divens, Tony Visconti, Jacquire King, and Dave Darlington. Between all of them, you’ll find presets for a wide variety of instruments, although focused mostly on the meat and potatoes: vocals, drums, bass, guitar, and keyboards.

I was impressed overall with the quality of the presets. However, I wish Waves would have provided the option to sort them by source type as well as by the name of the creator. If they offered that option, there could be separate lists for drums, bass, guitar, and so forth. The way it is now, if you’re looking for, say, snare presets, you have to hunt through each engineer-specific menu to find them. There may be one or two in each menu, but it makes direct comparisons a lot slower.

Waves provided another preset-related feature called Focus mode, which only works on the Andrew Scheps presets. If you turn on the Focus button in the Waves menu at the top, it highlights the most consequential controls in the preset, making adjustments easier.

OMNI POWER

With Scheps Omni Channel, Waves has produced yet another winning plug-in. Skilled engineers, in particular, will find it to be incredibly powerful. Less experienced recordists will find its huge preset collection and Focus Mode to be quite helpful for creating useful settings.

There are plenty of excellent channel strip plug-ins on the market, but thanks to its comprehensive feature set, smart design, excellent sound quality and reasonable price, Scheps Omni Channel is poised to become one of the top choices in this very competitive market segment.

STRENGTHS

Three types of compression. Flexible EQ. DS2. Pre includes saturation. Focus mode. Insert slot. Stereo and M/S processing. Limiter. Many presets. Sidechaining.

LIMITATIONS

Presets not organized by instrument/source type.

$149
waves.com

Mike Levine is a composer, producer, and multi-instrumentalist from the New York area. Check out his website at michaelwilliamlevine.com.