WAVES GTR 2.0 (Mac/Win)

Electronic Musician''s review of Waves GTR 2.0, a Guitar plug-in suite. Waves GTR 2.0, a hardware/software bundle for guitar recording includes hardware/software guitar amp-, cabinet-, and effects-modeling system.
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FIG. 1: The Waves Amp plug-in is the centerpiece of GTR 2.0, offering 10 amp models and a host of speaker cabinet emulations.

Waves and Paul Reed Smith Guitars are both companies renowned for producing high-quality products. Their collaboration on Waves GTR produced a hardware-software bundle designed for guitar recording. Waves GTR 2.0 is an upgraded version that was released earlier this year. It adds a number of new amp and cabinet models, among other improvements.

The bundle consists of the Waves PRS Guitar Interface (WPGI) and a collection of plug-ins that includes Waves Tuner, a fully featured chromatic tuner; Waves Amp (see Fig. 1), which gives you models of 10 amplifiers, 15 speaker cabinets, and 9 microphones; and Waves Stomp, a virtual pedalboard that can be filled with either 2, 4, or 6 (depending on which configuration of Stomp you open) of 23 stompbox-style effects. Each of the plug-ins in GTR 2.0 offers mono, stereo, and mono-in/stereo-out configurations. Waves Amp also features a dual-cabinet configuration, which routes the guitar amp model's output through two cabinet models in parallel.

Plugging In

Clearly, Waves understands that a great guitar sound starts with a great guitar signal. The WPGI (see Fig. 2) includes a solid-state preamp that can convert your signal from unbalanced to balanced. It gets the best results with a balanced mixer input or audio-interface input.

The WPGI operates with either two 9V batteries (included) or a 12V DC adapter (optional), and it has a ground-lift switch in case you are experiencing ground loop noise in your signal.

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FIG. 2: The Waves PRS Guitar Interface (WPGI) direct box ensures that you can get a clean, good-sounding guitar signal to the plug-ins.

From an I/O standpoint, the WPGI has a 1 MΩ, unbalance ¼-inch input that's impedance matched for passive guitar pickups and can output either a balanced XLR or unbalanced ¼-inch signal. Its XLR output can be set to either line (+4 dB) or mic (-28 dB) level.

I was surprised by the lack of a balanced ¼-inch TRS output. Waves recommends sending a balanced line-level signal to your DAW, but most line-level inputs on affordable audio interfaces use TRS inputs. In my case, I used an XLR-to-TRS cable in order to connect the XLR output from the WPGI to a line-level TRS input on my RME Fireface 800.

I wish the WPGI had a direct USB connection to the computer, because that would eliminate the need for an audio interface altogether. Incorporating USB would make the WPGI far more useful with a laptop or live rig.

The WPGI has minimal metering. Its 3-level indicator LEDs show if a signal is present, is at a nominal level, or is overloading. No dB indications are included on the meter. I would have preferred at least six LEDs; dB indications; and a dB scale around the gain knob.

While I have some reservations about the design of the WPGI, I have none about its sound quality. I own a number of rather expensive DI boxes, and the WPGI held its own sonically with all of them.

I tried out the WPGI with a number of different guitars, including a Koll Tornado and a Gretsch Duo-Jet (both with FilterTron pickups); a humbucker-equipped Patrick Eggle Berlin Pro V; and a single-coil Fender Telecaster. In each case the WPGI output a strong, clean signal. It had gain to spare, and introduced no additional noise of its own even when turned up. I was very impressed with how good my guitars sounded through it.

Tune Me Up

Tuners are not the most exciting of plug-ins, but they're a necessity. The excellent Waves Tuner features a pop-up menu with various modes for chromatic, guitar, or alternate tunings; you can adjust the tuning reference plus or minus 6 cents; and you can toggle notes on or off.

Those features are all solidly implemented, but what makes this tuner stand out is its response. Many software tuners are too jerky to be useful. I've found them to be so sensitive to even inaudible variations in pitch that the tuner jumps from value to value faster than I can tune up. But Waves Tuner captures that magical balance between accuracy and speed; it responds to changes in string pitch quickly enough to be accurate, but not so fast that I feel broadsided by the information.

Getting Amped

Waves Amp has a clean and easy-to-understand user interface, which, unlike some other amp-modeling software, doesn't change appearance to reflect the selected amp or cabinet model. Pull-down menus let you choose the amp, cabinet, and microphone model.

All of the amp models have controls for drive, EQ, and presence. You get a vintage-style VU meter for master volume, below which sits a master volume knob. Also included is a bypass switch and a standard Waves control bar for preset loading, saving, and A/B comparison.

The names of the amplifier models — Clean, Sweet, Edgy, Cream, Drive, OverDrive, Crunch, Hot, Modern, and Direct (a direct box model) — don't specify which actual amps they were modeled from. However, there are enough clues to deduce that they're emulating Fender, Vox, Marshall, and Mesa/Boogie amps, as well as other vintage and modern classics.

The ten amplifier simulations make it possible to generate tones that range from sparkling clean to heavily distorted. In general, the Clean, Sweet, Edgy, and Drive amps are fantastic. The clean and edge-of-breakup sounds they produce are better than in any other simulation I've heard. Adding to the realism, these models are very touch responsive and dynamic. The Edgy amp is my favorite. It gets some amazingly open, rich, and dynamic Vox-like tones (see Web Clip 1).

The more heavily distorted amp models sound overly compressed to my ears, and in some cases have an odd, nasally, notch-EQ'd tone that real high-gain amplifiers don't. Nonetheless, with careful tweaking I was able to get some believable tones out of the Crunch and Hot simulations.

Guest Speaker

The software includes 15 simulations of speaker cabinets, along with a No Cabinet option. Waves carried over a range of cabinet models from GTR 1.0 and added seven new ones — including 1 × 8, 1 × 12, 2 × 10, and 4 × 12 configurations — modeled from cabinets in the private collection of engineer Peter Dennenberg, who owns Acme Studios, just north of New York City.

GTR 2.0's microphone models include a number based on classic mics such as the Shure SM57, Sennheiser MD 409 and MD 421, and EV RE20 in both on- and off-axis positions. You also get a model of the AEA R84 ribbon mic. It's the first time I've seen a ribbon mic model in amp simulation. Ribbon mics are excellent for miking guitar cabinets (I use a Royer R-121 all the time), so it's great to see that Waves modeled one for GTR 2.0.

The cabinet simulations are very convincing. The cabinet models with single or double speakers and any of the on-axis mic models sound the most realistic. But all the combinations I tried sounded good. The closed-back cabinets and ribbon mic simulations sounded close to my own closed-back cabinets miked with a ribbon mic (see Web Clip 2).

One of my favorite tricks is to record a direct output from a tube amp and then use software speaker simulations to add the effect of a miked cabinet to the sound. Using Waves Amp, you can accomplish this with the help of the Bypass switch that's next to the Amp Type selector. When you activate Bypass, it effectively takes the amp out of the circuit but leaves the speaker and microphone simulation on.

Stomp on Me

Unlike most amp-modeling software, which includes pedal effects in the same plug-in as the amp emulations, GTR 2.0 puts its effects in a separate plug-in called Waves Stomp (see Fig. 3). You can select the number of pedals (two, four, or six) in each instantiation, and you can place any pedal in any available slot.

Because of this separation of the amp and effects models, some popular routings are a bit tricky. For example, to put the effects between the amp and speaker models, you first need to instantiate a Waves Amp plug-in minus the speaker simulation. Then in the next insert slot, open up a Waves Stomp, and finally another Waves Amp with the Direct amp simulation selected, along with a speaker and mic simulation. I would have preferred both the amp and stompbox models to be in the same plug-in interface to avoid such an involved setup, but it's not a major issue. At least this sort of routing is possible with Waves GTR, unlike with a few other simulators.

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FIG. 3: The Waves Stomp plug-in comes in 2-, 4-, and 6-pedal versions. You can arrange the stompboxes any way within the given pedal slots.

Waves also bucks tradition by offering effects models that — for the most part — aren't based on vintage stompboxes. Many use algorithms from Waves' own digital effects. Others, like Stomp Phaser, are based on composites of several effects pedals. The OverDrive effect is modeled on a modified Ibanez TS8 Tube Screamer.

Waves' effects are uniformly clean, of high quality, and quite useful, and such is the case with those in Waves Stomp. Even the pitch-shifting effect (Pitcher) is great, and pitch-shifting usually sounds mediocre in amp modelers. The place where I missed the vintage pedal simulations the most was with the distortion effects — OverDrive, Distortion, Fuzz, Buzz, and Metal. They all sounded too digital for my taste.

Doing the Wave

The Waves GTR 2.0 package has a lot to offer. For those who need a great-sounding guitar direct box, the WPGI alone may be worth the asking price. If you are looking for a guitar-amp modeling package with excellent speaker simulations to use with a real guitar amp, Waves Amp provides some of the best. And with a few exceptions (like some of the high-gain amp sounds), the amps, speakers, and stompbox simulations are very good.

I would have preferred more output options on the WPGI, and the shortage of emulations of classic analog stompboxes may dissuade some, as might the price. But if you are looking for a guitar recording package and it's in your price range, Waves GTR 2.0 deserves your serious attention.

Orren Merton, author and music-technology editor for Thomson Course Technology PTR (www.courseptr.com), likes to simulate being a guitarist.

5 = Amazing; as good as it gets with current technology
4 = Clearly above average; very desirable
3 = Good; meets expectations
2 = Somewhat disappointing but usable
1 = Unacceptably flawed

Specifications tables for EM reviews can be found at www.emusician.com/specs.

GTR 2.0

guitar amp- and effects-modeling system $600



PROS: Excellent-sounding DI interface. Tuner plug-in very responsive. Convincing clean to low-gain amp simulations. Great speaker and microphone models. Stompbox effects based on Waves plug-ins.

CONS: No USB or TRS balanced outputs on DI interface. Minimal metering on WPGI interface. High-gain amp emulations compressed-sounding. Distortion effects sound too digital. Pricey.