Review: Waves/Abbey Road Reel ADT Plug-In

Killer Modulation Effects and More

REEL ADT emulates the seminal double-tracking effect first created using two vintage tape machines during Beatles sessions at Abbey Road Studios in the 1960s. For the uninitiated, ADT is shorthand for automatic or artificial double tracking. The lush effect makes a track sound like separate takes of the same part played back simultaneously.

You can readily produce a generic ADT effect using any plug-in that modulates delay, but Reel ADT is different. Reel ADT’s deeper sonic complexity comes from emulating two tube-based tape recorders—one using Varispeed control— working in combination to re-create the historical effect. (Waves wouldn’t say which tape machines were modeled for the plug-in or whether they were the same ones used by The Beatles.)

An alternative configuration of the plug-in, dubbed ADT 2V, adds a second effect voice with independent modulation controls to double the effect’s intensity. Reel ADT can also produce excellent flanging, phasing, and chorus effects. Note to Pro Tools TDM users: Reel ADT is only available in Native formats.

Tape Operator In the display area at the top of Reel ADT’s GUI, you’ll see a virtual tape head for the wet (ADT) signal. Drag it left or right along a horizontal time axis to voice the signal up to 20ms before or after the plug-in’s input signal, respectively. This is the ADT signal’s initial time offset with respect to the plug-in’s source or dry signal. It’s important to realize that the time axis does not represent your DAW’s timeline but rather the relative positions of the source and ADT signals before modulation of the latter; a virtual tape head for the source signal stays immutably parked at the 0ms mark along this time axis, and the ADT’s tape head similarly stays parked wherever you place it. (A Varispeed tape head constantly moves along the time axis to illustrate the wet signal’s modulation; more on that in a moment.)

You use the LFO’s controls—Range, Rate and Shape—to automatically modulate the ADT signal by up to 20ms. Available LFO wave-shape selections include sine, triangular, reverse sine, reverse triangular, and random. You can sync the LFO to your DAW and specify how many bars it will take to complete one cycle; of course, sync-to-host mode precludes random LFO action.

Fig. 1. Waves/Abbey Road Reel ADT provides a Varispeed control that lets you change modulation patterns in real time. Left to its own devices, the LFO will modulate the ADT signal’s initial offset earlier and later an equal number of milliseconds. By dragging a rotary Varispeed control to the right or left of its noon position, you move the axis around which LFO modulation occurs either earlier (left) or later (right) in time with respect to the ADT tape head’s fixed position (see Figure 1). The sonic result is similar to what you’d get by automating the ADT’s tape-head position while keeping the LFO’s parameter values unchanged.

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Set the Varispeed’s range between ±1 and ±20ms to determine how far its rotary control can skew the modulation’s axis with respect to the ADT’s tape head. Choose either Latch or Touch mode to dictate whether the Varispeed control will jump back to 0ms setting when you release it. In the display area, the aforementioned Varispeed tape head moves along the time axis to illustrate the dynamically changing offset of the wet signal with respect to the source signal.

If this sounds confusing, it is—at least on paper. (The cursory and somewhat vague documentation doesn’t help.) But once you start using the GUI’s controls, you’ll pretty quickly grok how the plug-in works. The main thing to remember is that it’s the Varispeed tape-head’s changing position, and not the ADT tape-head’s placement, that denotes the wet signal’s time offset to the dry signal from moment to moment.

Why It’s Powerful The beauty of the Varispeed control is that it allows you to dynamically change the plug-in’s modulation pattern from moment to moment using only one control and, in Touch mode, instantly snap the wet signal back to the LFO’s original range. It lets you “play” the modulation in real time, achieving unusually complex variations that convincingly create the illusion of a recording artist tracking their performance twice and with varying degrees of synchronicity.

Once you’ve got the wet signal’s modulation dialed in, adjust the output level, Pan, and Drive (saturation) controls provided separately for the source and ADT signals. (Setting equal output levels produces the most intense effect.) Mute and phase-inversion switches are also provided for each signal path.

Fig. 2. The plug-in’s ADT 2V configuration adds another voice, with independent controls, to awesome effect. In stereo configurations, you can select whether the left, right, or both (summed) channels are input. Another switch lets you monitor the stereo plug-in’s output in mono to assess how much phasing the processing is introducing—nice! In the plug-in’s ADT 2V configuration, separate level, Pan, Drive, Mute, phase-inversion, LFO, and Varispeed controls are provided for the second ADT signal path (see Figure 2).

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Like all Waves plug-ins, Reel ADT also includes multiple levels of Undo and Redo, A and B workspaces and preset management tools. I was really happy to discover the Undo function could even reverse a preset recall. And like the dozens of other Waves plug-ins I use, Reel ADT is apparently free of bugs. Few other manufacturers are so conscientious.

How’s It Sound? I first tested Reel ADT on female lead vocals, busing the track to a stereo aux channel where the plug-in was instantiated. I dragged the ADT tape head’s position to +20ms, or 20ms later than the source. Setting the ranges for both LFO and Varispeed to 10ms, this made the effective modulation range +10 to +30ms when the Varispeed control was parked at 0ms. I liked these initial settings because they precluded the wet signal ever getting too close in time to the dry vocal to cause flanging. I raised the Drive controls for dry and wet signals a bit to add a little velvet. Panning the source and ADT signals to nine and three o’clock, respectively, the sound was lush and wide. But this was just the beginning.

On phrases where I wanted the vocal’s double tracking to sound looser, I cranked the Varispeed control fully clockwise (+10ms), instantly changing the modulation range to +20 to +40ms. Because I had the Varispeed control set to Touch mode, I could simply release my mouse at any moment to return to the original modulation range instantly and tighten the effect. I also lowered the ADT signal’s output fader a bit during verses to dry up the effect slightly. Whenever the song’s chorus began, I option-clicked the fader to snap it to 0 dB and parity with the dry signal, maximizing the effect’s intensity and putting an exclamation point on the vocal.

The Drive controls’ effect sounded more like tube than tape saturation. It varied in intensity from subtle distortion to overload, responding very dynamically to input level. For best results and to avoid over-the-top distortion and compression from happening occasionally, I automated the Drive controls, riding them lower during the loudest and brightest vocal passages. Other plug-ins provide more euphonious tube emulation, but Reel ADT’s is useful when you want to add a little grit.

The plug-in’s ADT 2V configuration lent the best fidelity to vocals when one of its ADT voices was earlier and the other later than the dry signal. Otherwise, the signal tended to sound phase-y at times. But if your vocal—or guitar, keys, whatever—needs an outstanding flanging effect, drag the ADT’s tape head position to less than 0.5ms offset relative to the source signal. To create phasing, activate the ADT’s phase button and plunge its LFO rate. I also created great chorus effects with the ADT 2V plug-in by boosting LFO and Varispeed ranges to the max and hard-panning the two ADT signals away from the center-panned dry output. Boost the Drive controls on electric guitar for extra attitude. Waves offers terrific phasing and flanging presets.

Two Thumbs Way Up I won’t mince words—Reel ADT sounds awesome. Whether doubling, flanging, phasing, or chorusing, this plug-in delivers the goods. Reel ADT is going to make a whole lotta mix engineers very happy.

Michael Cooper is a recording, mix, mastering and post-production engineer, a contributing editor for Mix magazine and the owner of Michael Cooper Recording ( in Sisters, Ore.


STRENGTHS Unique. Modulation effects sound terrific. No apparent bugs.

LIMITATIONS Saturation effect adds more distortion than sparkle. Operation manual is vague in key places.

$200 MSRP
($99 introductory price)