Waves MaxxBCL

Many of us were confounded when Waves announced they would no longer make the L2 Hardware Limiter — the closest to a “must have” unit for mastering engineers as anything produced in the last decade. Was it because of the people who abused it and made it sound wretched?But then the MaxxBCL was unveiled. Taking the L2 Ultramaximizer/IDR dither and adding the proprietary MaxxBass processing, digital converters, and, for the first time, a hardware implementation of the popular Renaissance Compressor (RC for short) — and a cornucopia of digital connectivity options — the MaxxBCL is a serious overhaul. So, let’s see if this next generation box can beat its predecessor at its own game. . . .
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OUT OF THE BOX

Before turning on the MaxxBCL, you must configure the unit for your local power supply (100, 110, 220, or 240VAC) using an adjustable fuse unit — choose correctly before proceeding.

Around back, the unit looks like a digital United Nations: Optical, coaxial S/PDIF, AES/EBU, whatever — and just flick a toggle for word clock termination. The analog ins/outs use Jensen transformers (Waves states that future models will be outfitted with their own brand of transformers), and can handle signals from 9 to 24dB in 3dB steps. Ground lift is also a toggle switch option, as are balanced and unbalanced inputs.

The MaxxBCL, at 8.8 lbs., has a solid feel. The input gain knobs and rotary controls are stepped; illuminated buttons make it easy to tell which mode is selected, and the multi-colored meters are discernible in low-light situations. Unlike the L2, Waves moved the power switch to the front panel — great, because no one wants to crawl behind a rack to turn a unit on or off.

THE MAXXBCL IN USE

Having always been a fan of the RC, I was excited to drop the MaxxBCL into my mastering chain and take it for a spin. In a rather cool twist, the unit was designed not only to allow the user to bypass any of the processes, but to choose whether the MaxxBass or the Renaissance Compressor comes first. However, the L2 Ultramaximizer always comes last which, given the dithering options at the chain’s end, makes sense.

The input gain knobs provide a good amount of gain, and even at maximum boost there is no hint of noise or harshness — something I attribute to the Jensen transformers. The MaxxBass works like the plug-in, as it boosts harmonics to improve the perceived low end. However, with the plug-in, I almost always encounter internal clipping issues; thankfully, the MaxxBCL’s 48-bit internal processing handled nearly every source I threw at it.

Tweak-wise, the RC differs slightly from the plug-in. There are no release controls, and the attack choices are fixed. As most people use the RC in Auto Mode, these controls are of little concern. But for mastering I want as much attack and release control as I can get. This is a minor quibble, but worth noting. The L2 and IDR dither section work exactly like the hardware version. If anything, the unit is slightly more transparent when used as a converter.

Speaking of converters, the A/D and D/A are stellar. They were more open, alive, and believable than the original unit. In all my tests, the MaxxBCL sounded better than the converters in our Pro Tools HD rig, and nearly as good as my Crane Song unit. (I say “nearly as good” because at the highest levels there is so much subjectivity; in any event, the MaxxBCL’s converters are in the top of the current class, for sure.)

I used the MaxxBCL as an A/D on a voiceover session (in front of the Digidesign Mbox 2 Pro) with great results. From good mic to good pre, the output hit the MaxxBCL’s A/D and, from there, I added a touch of RC and just enough L2 to keep things tight. This also used the MaxxBCL as an A/D for vinyl transfer (from a dedicated phono preamp). I bypassed the MaxxBass and RC, calling on the L2 only to prevents overs. The results were pristine.

CONCLUSIONS

The MaxxBCL is not the sequel to the L2; it’s a totally different tool. With incredible connectivity choices, it’s a unit for the current PCM era. Having the Renaissance Compressor and MaxxBass is a joy, especially in a unit that uses 48-bit double precision processing and boasts 125dB of dynamic range. Add the reliability of the L2 limiter, IDR dithering, and state-of-the-art converters, and the MaxxBCL could well be on its way to being the next “must-have” unit for mastering engineers . . . and more.