Anyone who makes a living producing, remixing or scoring tracks within a workstation environment is undoubtedly familiar with the Waves product line. Suffice it to say, Waves makes some of the finest third-party signal-processing plug-ins around. Various products — including the Renaissance EQ, the L2 Ultramaximizer and others — are integral tools that most professionals use on a daily basis. Until recently, though, the Waves team has kept to making high-quality products that handle standard mixing, mastering and restoration chores: reverb, EQ, dynamics, noise reduction and so forth. With the new Transform Bundle, however, Waves is stepping out with a suite of plug-ins that is designed to mangle, twist and alter audio in new and extremely useful ways.
The Transform Bundle includes four separate plug-ins: SoundShifter, Morphoder, Doubler and TransX. SoundShifter allows users both real-time and offline control of pitch and time, respectively. Morphoder provides various vocoder-style effects. Doubler allows as many as four independently adjustable voices to be derived from a single source. And, finally, TransX essentially lets users add or reintroduce greater dynamic range into a piece of audio.
UP AND RUNNING
Installing the Transform Bundle is a breeze. In the past, Waves has been famous for some, dare I say, elaborate authorization schemes to thwart illegal duplication. Now, thankfully, the company is a firm believer in iLok copy protection. To install the software, all you need to do is drop in the Waves iLok key, insert the CD-ROM (or download the latest revision), click on Install, follow the prompts and finish. The installer automatically drops the Waves Shell with the appropriate host applications. All of the main plug-in formats — including HTDM/TDM, RTAS, AudioSuite, Audio Units, Direct X, VST and MAS — are supported on both platforms.
It should be noted right away that these plug-ins require a fair amount of juice. For TDM users, this obviously isn't as much of an issue. For the native crowd, however, if you plan to use more than a few of these plug-ins in a larger multitrack session, be prepared to freeze or print some tracks. I tested the Transform Bundle on a G4/1GHz PowerBook, with 256 MB of RAM, running Digidesign Pro Tools LE 6 and Emagic Logic 6.3.3 with OS 10.2.8, as well as with a G4/450MHz tower, with 768 MB of RAM, running Emagic Logic 6.3.1 with OS 9.2.2. Performancewise, the amount of RAM made all of the difference. With the PowerBook, I was able to run two or three plug-ins before I got error messages, but with the significantly older G4/450, it took almost eight or nine instances of the various plugs to choke the system (even though Logic 6.x VST isn't officially supported). With an adequate amount of system RAM and a current processor, most users should be fine.
NO CHIPMUNK EFFECT
The first plug-in that I auditioned was SoundShifter. In all, SoundShifter sports three different views, or versions: Graphic, Parametric and Real Time. Graphic allows users to visually tweak the time and pitch of a piece of audio. For instance, a two-bar drum loop could be made to speed up or slow down or be repitched at various points, creating a woozy piece of audio that could be made to fall in or out of sync with the rest of the track. The Parametric mode is more akin to standard time-stretching/compression programs and is intended for use on entire files. And the Real Time version enables users to quickly and easily adjust the pitch of a piece of audio by interval, semitone or cents. Unfortunately, with the three versions, there is a small catch: Currently, the Graphic and the Parametric versions, which do their processing offline, are only available as AudioSuite plug-ins in Pro Tools. The Real Time version, on the other hand, works transparently on all platforms.
For my initial test, I ran a piece of guitar though the Real Time mode. Now, most real-time pitch shifters that come supplied with DAWs are, in short, pretty awful. For some subtle ±1-semitone shifts, they get the job done, but it's not pretty. Waves' take on this is quite different. Its goal with SoundShifter is to provide a tool that sounds natural enough that you might actually want to bring it to the front of your mix. With the guitar track I was using, I took it down a full octave, and instead of sounding like distorted, artificial mush, it sounded rich and full. All of the character of the original file was there, just an octave lower. And what was originally a distorted six-string could easily pass for a baritone or even a bass guitar. For vocals, this plug-in is now my hands-down favorite for creating artificial harmonies. I simply made a duplicate of a lead vocal track, added SoundShifter as an insert and brought the track up a third. And like the guitar example, the vocal sounded like a vocal instead of what many have come to expect in vocal pitch shifting — usually something sounding more like a neutered robot than a person.
The Graphic mode is a great tool for creating some really twisted pieces of audio. To use it, you need to load a selection of audio into the interface; from there, you can make various pitch and time changes graphically. In the center of the screen, users can simply select Time or Pitch and move the corresponding nodes over the waveform. To increase the pitch or raise the tempo, simply move the node up, and to lower the pitch or tempo, move the node down. A convenient line across the center of the screen allows you to keep track of the “zero” point. With this plug, it felt like I was using a MIDI sequencer and simply adjusting the tempo and previewing the effects. With a simple two-bar drum track loaded up, I was able to perform the same type of tempo and pitch tricks that I would use in a strictly MIDI environment. Again, the sound is top-notch. Regardless of what type of audio you alter with the Graphic mode, it still retains its original character. And not to be forgotten, the Parametric mode is just a great offline pitch and time tool. All of the smooth pitch and time algorithms that are brought into play with the Real Time and Graphic modes are available here in a simple, streamlined interface.
A NEW BLEND
The next plug-in I worked with was Waves' version of a vocoder, Morphoder. The plug-in allows users to create vocoder-style effects by either using the internal synth within Morphoder itself as the carrier signal or by selecting the output of another track. I tested Morphoder within Logic using it as both an insert and on a group bus. (Unfortunately, sidechains are not currently supported in Logic.) As an insert, the plug-in relies on an internal synth as the carrier signal. At the bottom of the screen, a keyboard display and menu allow users to select from a handful of synth types, ranging from breathy pads to some wavetable emulations. It's possible to just click on a few keys and create a static chord that you can bring in and out of the mix, but as an insert, it's a lot more fun to turn your DAW's automation abilities into a sequencer. Morphoder can play a maximum of eight stereo voices at once, and each voice will respond to automation data. Thus, it's possible to craft some fairly complex phrases with simple track-based-automation tweaks. The plug-in also includes an easy-to-use 5-band EQ control that allows you to tweak the frequency range specifically for vocoding.
When used on a group bus, Morphoder also allows users to use one audio track as the carrier and one as the modulator. On a group bus, the left channel can be selected as the carrier and the right as the modulator (or vice versa). There, the plug-in really shines. If you need to flesh out a mix with a little more sizzle, it's quite easy to grab two tracks — for instance, a synth pad and a backing vocal — and blend the two together into a completely new element. Guitars and vocals can be melded together; vocals can be used to modulate drum tracks — the options are limitless. Also, the company is planning to add MIDI control in a forthcoming update.
Although possibly the most straightforward module in the bundle, the Doubler plug-in is also one of the most useful. Doubler derives as many as four individually adjustable voices from a single source. With each layer, users are free to adjust the level, panning, detune amount, delay and EQ. This effect is essentially the world's most controllable chorus. Within the main interface, it is possible to graphically adjust the position of each voice in the stereo field, as well as the detune and delay of each. There isn't too much to say about this plug-in other than it does what it claims to do, and it does so flawlessly. It won't replace true double tracking, but it's about as close as you can get.
Finally, TransX is an interesting plug-in that brings greater dynamic range to a piece of audio. The plug exists in two versions: a full-spectrum set-and-forget version and a frequency-dependent version for more subtle tweaks. With the full-spectrum version, called TransX Wide, you can add varying degrees of dynamics back into an entire track. The controls are simple and self-explanatory, and they include range, sensitivity, duration, release and trim.
The multiband version, TransX Multi, allows users to increase or decrease the dynamic range of only a selected frequency range. The interface is centered on Waves' standard icon-based design, in which you can cut and augment certain bands by dragging plot points around the frequency spectrum. In testing, I ran a mastered piece of stereo audio through the multiband version and bounced a portion of the effected file to disk in order to visually compare the waveforms. It was clear, both audibly and visually, that the plug-in can work wonders on overcompressed files. Rather than simply adding a certain decibel count of gain to the whole track, the plug-in boosted only certain transients while leaving others essentially untouched. The possible uses of this plug-in are varied and include adding some punch to a drum track by singling out elements like just the hi-hat or snare; bringing extra breathiness into a flat vocal; and, in general, inserting extra energy into any track that lacks emphasis.
Overall, the Waves Transform Bundle is an excellent suite of unique sound-sculpting plug-ins that will bring a polished and professional level of sophistication to any project. The only sour points I have are centered on some of the support issues. I found the varying levels of support between RTAS/AudioSuite and Audio Units to be unfortunate. Hopefully, this is something that Waves and the other manufacturers can eventually work out, but these are small gripes. If you're serious about adding some unique high-end processing to your rig, the Transform Bundle deserves some serious attention.
TRANSFORM BUNDLE > $1,200
(NATIVE); $1,800 (HTDM, TDM AND NATIVE)
Pros: Excellent sound quality. Completely unique processing options.
Cons: Expensive. AU support could be improved.
MAC: G4; 256 MB RAM; OS 9.1 or higher/OS 10.2 or higher; supported host application
PC: Pentium III or AMD/500; 512 MB RAM; Windows 98SE/2000/ME/XP; supported host application