The scratchy-record sound has become a staple of contemporary music production, yet sometimes the ideal sample on a record is just too scratchy. Removing all that dirt and grunge from such a sample without completely killing its punch and frequency response is a tricky procedure that requires specific processing tools. Waves' new Native Restoration Bundle packs a suite of plug-ins — X-Noise, X-Click, X-Crackle and X-Hum — for exactly this type of operation.
The plug-ins work on Windows (95, 98, NT, ME and 2000) and Mac OS (8.5 or higher) platforms. As the bundle's name implies, the plug-ins support native formats such as VST, MAS, RTAS and AudioSuite on Mac, and VST, DirectX, RTAS and AudioSuite formats on Windows. No TDM versions are available, though RTAS will work in the TDM mixer using Digidesign Pro Tools Version 5.1 and higher. All of the plug-ins are conveniently packaged on one CD-ROM formatted for Mac or Windows. Copy protection is through Challenge/Response, and Waves allows the authorization of one hard drive per serial code.
A Pentium 266 MHz or faster (with at least 64 MB of system RAM) and a Mac G3 or better (with at least 96 MB of system RAM), are recommended. I ran the plug-ins on a Mac G4 400 MHz with 704 MB of RAM. My main digital audio sequencers are Pro Tools (of the TDM variety) and Emagic Logic Audio Platinum running in DAE mode. Consequently, I mostly ran the RTAS versions of the plug-ins. At the time of this review, all four Restoration plug-ins are Version 1.0.
If you have never used Waves' plug-ins, how they work in a system is rather different and worthy of explanation. Most plug-ins are simply dropped in a corresponding plug-ins folder during installation; VST plug-ins go in the “VstPlugIns” folder, RTAS plug-ins go in the DAE folder's “Plug-Ins” folder, and so on. Waves' plug-ins reside in their own “Waves Plug-Ins” folder and depend on a shell program (called a WaveShell) to communicate with the host application. A version of the WaveShell exists for each native plug-in format. During the bundle's installation, the proper WaveShell (the shell that corresponds to your host application's plug-in type) is placed in your digital audio sequencer's plug-ins folder.
It's extremely important that the right WaveShell makes it into the correct plug-ins folder in your system, or none of the Waves plug-ins will work. For best results, it's usually a good idea to use the most recent version of the WaveShell (updates are posted at www.waves.com). Currently, those versions are WaveShell-VST 3.2.1, -MAS 3.2.1, and -RTAS 3.3. And for the WaveShell to function properly, an extension that corresponds to your bundle of Waves plug-ins must go in your computer's System Extensions folder. In the Native Restoration Bundle's case, this extension is called “Restoration-Xlib 1.0” and should be installed automatically during the bundle's installation.
Like all of Waves' plug-ins, Restoration sports the handy A/B Setup button. This invaluable feature lets you create two completely different groups of front-panel settings — an A patch and a B patch — for easy comparing. Simply click on the A/B Setup button to toggle between your two patches. To protect against unwanted parameter changes, each plug-in has a dedicated Undo button right on its face. Loading and saving patches is also done directly from the plug-ins' front panels.
The Audio and Difference buttons on each plug-in are extremely cool. When the Audio button is on, you hear the full-bandwidth, processed audio. When the Difference button is on, you hear the audio that's being removed from the original signal. Because these processors focus on removing unwanted audio signals, the buttons are ideal tools to help dial in — or, more precisely, dial out — sound. Nothing is more accurate than actually listening to the pops, crackles, hums and buzzes you are extricating while, at the same time, tweaking parameters. In case you require visual cues, as well, three of the four plug-ins (the exception being X-Hum) have large display screens that show the processed and unprocessed audio in different colors — very informative.
All of the plug-ins but X-Hum include a Threshold fader for adjusting exactly when the processor kicks in. There are stereo output meters on all of the plug-ins. Dedicated attenuation meters are found on X-Click and X-Crackle, and a similar type of meter for noise reduction is part of X-Noise.
VANISHING CLICKS AND POPS
Waves recommends using X-Click first in your signal processing chain (followed by X-Crackle, X-Hum and X-Noise; of course, the order can vary according to your application). To use X-Click, adjust the Threshold and Shape faders to taste (see Fig. 1). The Shape parameter determines the width of the click-removal algorithm, a bit like Q on a parametric equalizer. Lower values remove smaller clicks (such as single digital overs), and higher values take out larger ones (like vinyl pops). Shape values are from 0 to 100. The processing is smooth and only becomes apparent when pushed to its extreme; for example, a threshold setting (it also goes from 0 to 100, no dB values) that's too high can interfere with an instrument's or voice's natural transients.
With X-Crackle, again, there are just two parameters to adjust: Threshold and Noise Reduction (see Fig. 2). The Noise Reduction fader affects the amount of attenuation (0 to 100) applied to the crackles (the small clicks and pops that make up the background noise of a vinyl recording) that fall within the Threshold setting. It works like a frequency-dependent compressor, though less heavy-handed. As with all compression-type processing, push it too hard, and you end up with pumping and notching of, in this case, the upper midrange (say, 900 to 1,100 Hz). But when the Threshold is set conservatively, the X-Crackle algorithm is very effective and hardly noticeable.
HUMS AND BUZZES BEGONE
You can remove annoying hums, like ground loops and turntable rumblings, with X-Hum. This plug-in looks different from its siblings because it is EQ-based rather than dynamics-based. Its two parameter sets are a highpass filter with either a -12 or -24dB slope with frequency control, and a group of eight harmonic notch filters with frequency, Q and cut controls. The highpass filter is wonderful for removing turntable rumblings as well as DC-offset. The gain of each harmonic notch filter can be adjusted individually or linked for global or odd/even control. The notch filters are good for dialing out steady hums with unique harmonic fingerprints. X-Hum is, for the most part, transparent, but as expected from this type of processor, too much cutting can lead to a thin bottom end.
Apply X-Noise to rid your audio of pesky broadband noise such as tape hiss or ventilation fans (see Fig. 3). It functions similarly to Digidesign's well-respected DINR TDM plug-in, in that it learns the sonic profile of the offending noise. Press the Learn key during a spot where just the noise is heard (at the head or tail of the original audio track), and the plug-in learns the noise and then extracts just that audio from the track during playback. Response can be fine-tuned with attack, release, high-shelf, resolution and the amount of reduction parameters. The algorithm works nicely with little artifacts.
NOT JUST FOR VINYL
First releases of software are infamous for hanging your system, but though the Native Restoration plug-ins are all Version 1.0, I experienced no crashes. However, they are pretty processor-hungry, and running four simultaneously ate up about 85 percent of my CPU's DSP power. If your computer isn't up to snuff, don't expect to use all four plug-ins at the same time.
Native Restoration retails for $1,200, which seems overpriced. Sure, the plug-ins are discrete and multiformat. Yes, they allow for tons of applications and host-program compatibility. You can restore audio from old vinyl, reconstitute an ancient cassette recording and clean up a noisy recording. They work in Logic Audio, MOTU Digital Performer, Steinberg Cubase VST, Pro Tools and so on. But other products sell for less and pack a lot more features (like playlisting, CD creation, auio editing and multi-effects processing) along with proprietary vinyl restoration plug-ins. Other plug-ins aren't as cool as Waves', but you can't ignore the price-to-features ratio.
Nevertheless, Native Restoration is a well-conceived software package. The plug-ins' front panels are nicely arranged, with easy-to-grasp parameters that are simple to use but powerful. However, be aware that even though the individual plug-ins are a breeze to work with, using them as a processing ensemble (in series) can require serious tweaking. Because they aren't a single, self-contained plug-in, getting good results is not just a matter of choosing the right preset. If you are looking for that type of all-in-one audio-restoration plug-in, look elsewhere. But if what you need is extreme control of each step of the audio-restoration process, Native Restoration might be a dream come true.
Native Restoration Bundle
Pros: Well-designed user interfaces. Excellent metering and difference monitoring. Easy-to-use discrete plug-in modules. When applied with restraint, the processing is very translucent.
Cons: CPU-intensive, especially with all four plug-ins open. No TDM version available. Four discrete plug-in modules makes dialing up a quick-fix preset impossible. Overpriced.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 3