Waves Vocal Rider 7.0.1.2 (Mac/Win) Review

“Riding the faders.” If only this task were half as breezy as it sounded. But Waves'' new Vocal Rider ($400) plug-in—which supports AU, RTAS, and VST formats—automates this time-consuming, carpal-tunnel-inducing process, leaving you free for other things, such as fine-tuning the levels or making more music.
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Vocal Rider automatically rides the vocal track in real time, keeping the levels within your desired range.

“Riding the faders.” If only this task were half as breezy as it sounded. But Waves'' new Vocal Rider ($400) plug-in—which supports AU, RTAS, and VST formats—automates this time-consuming, carpal-tunnel-inducing process, leaving you free for other things, such as fine-tuning the levels or making more music.

Ticket to Ride
Vocal Rider is a cinch to use. Insert it on a vocal track, hit Play, and Vocal Rider jumps right in, automatically raising and lowering the level (as indicated by a large central rider fader) to keep it within a consistent loudness range. From there, adjust the target level using a transparent slider, and the vocal''s range using a pair of sliders for setting the boundaries of the riding range. During silence, the fader parks midway between the two extremes to avoid huge jumps in volume and provide better tracking against the vocal. You then simply adjust the output to set the overall vocal volume in the mix.

Two Sensitivity controls (Vocal and Music) let you fine-tune Vocal Rider''s work. Vocal Sensitivity sets conditions for the riding process—turn it up to emphasize nuances in the voice, but turn it down to de-emphasize unwanted nuances such as breaths. For each performance, Vocal Sensitivity helps you to find the right balance. Music Sensitivity adds a powerful dimension to this plug-in. Turn it up, and Vocal Rider will be sensitive to dynamic changes in the rest of the mix. To activate this feature, you need to send every other track to the same bus (or those you''d like Vocal Rider to respond to) and choose this bus as the sidechain input in Vocal Rider. Music Sensitivity is subtle and will influence the rider fader''s behavior but not overrule it, responding to changes in the accompaniment''s loudness to maintain a more consistent vocal/playback balance during any changes in the playback''s intensity.

Vocal Rider''s default processing mode is Slow to provide smooth fluctuations, but certain performances might benefit from Vocal Rider''s Fast mode, which results in more granular changes. Used with the Sensitivity knobs, these modes allow for a wide variety of automatic fader movement.

Vocal Rider Live is identical to the regular component except for a Spill control to prevent the fader from flying around in response to wind, crowd noises, or stage leakage through the vocal mic when the talent moves away. I found that Spill worked much like a coarse Vocal Sensitivity control. When off, sensitivity was normal; turned all the way up, the fader stayed ±1dB of zero. Used sparingly—in noisy, live situations—this would prevent strange jumps in volume.

Riding on Auto-Pilot
Vocal Rider can also write all of its moves as automation, which lets you re-touch fader movements to your heart''s content, using a mouse or a control surface. Vocal Rider doesn''t automate the volume fader in your mixer; it automates its own fader. I found this a bit confusing at first, as I expected the automation to be written to the track''s volume parameter. The only downside to Vocal Rider''s arrangement is that you must leave Vocal Rider on the track permanently; I expected to be able to lose it once I had automated the level. Quiet Art Wave Rider, a similar plug-in for Pro Tools, does behave this way. But I could add many instances of Vocal Rider without any errors or performance issues, and editing Vocal Rider''s fader automation is identical to editing volume automation.

Testing Vocal Rider on a variety of tracks, I found it enlivened every one with cleverly placed dynamic changes (see Web Clips1 and 2). Using default settings, it didn''t overly promote breaths while evening out uneven performances. It also deftly rounded out a spoken-word track (see Web Clips3 and 4).

Waves offers a good amount of Vocal Rider information online (such as the details of enabling automation and assigning sidechain input for each major plug-in format), but I could have used this information in the PDF manual that''s accessible from the plug-in window. I also would have appreciated a few presets, if only as a way to learn its controls.

Ride Away
Nits aside, Vocal Rider would be an incredible boon and time-saver to any studio that can afford its non-inconsequential price tag, whether for the production of music, theater, speeches, podcasts, or broadcasts. It takes care of the basic leveling, using a range of controls to bring out the best in a vocal performance and leaving the producer free to do the more artistic fine-tuning.

Overall rating (1 through 5): 4
Waves Vocal Rider Product Page