If you're looking to extend your sequencer's capabilities with some high-quality effects, you're exactly the sort of person Waves are trying to tempt with their most affordable plug-in bundle yet.
The name Waves has been synonymous with quality plug-ins ever since the early days of Pro Tools, and the excellence of their products has usually been reflected in their prices. This has put them out of the reach of many musicians and home-studio owners, who simply can't afford to fork out for a plug-in bundle that costs as much as the computer it runs on. With this in mind, Waves have now produced their most affordable product yet in the shape of the Musicians Bundle. Despite the lack of an apostrophe, this is not a bundle of musicians, but a set of five software plug-ins targeted at the musician. Or should that be 'at musicians'? Perhaps it's another case for Lynne Truss and her squad of highly trained pedants.
Musicians Bundle is available in all common formats on Mac OS 9, OS X and Windows — RTAS, VST, MAS, Direct X and Audiosuite — and four of its five constituents are plucked from other Waves bundles. Metaflanger and Supertap hail originally from the Pro FX bundle and Native Power Pack respectively, while Renaissance Vox comes from the Renaissance Maxx bundle and Doubler from the new Transform Bundle. The fifth plug-in, Renaissance Axx, is unique to the Musicians Bundle. The package can be authorised by challenge and response or using an iLok key (see box). All the plug-ins are accessed through Waves' Waveshell engine, which uses its own preset saving and loading mechanism rather than that of the host sequencer, and offers some nice features such as Undo and the ability to load two sets of settings simultaneously for A/B comparison. This means that in some programs, such as Cubase VST, you only see a single Waveshell plug-in in the plug-in list, though the individual plug-ins show up in other hosts such as Pro Tools.
You can authorise the Musicians Bundle to your hard drive in the old-fashioned way, but like many other software houses who develop for the Pro Tools platform, Waves have now embraced iLok copy protection as an option. In typical Waves style, however, they have chosen not to use the standard Pace authorisation procedure. Instead, you have to download a special Waves iAuthorizer utility from their web site. When you run this it asks you to plug in your iLok, which can then be authorised by a licence card or by challenge and response. Waves 'strongly recommend' that you buy a separate iLok key for Waves products, and they don't support the iLok.com web site. Waves iLok authorisations cannot therefore be managed, audited or transferred using the standard iLok.com tools, which is a pity.
I'm not sure what's 'meta' about Metaflanger (shown above), but like many of Waves' plug-ins, it does go a fair way beyond basic flanging. Of course it can mimic both the tape-based and bucket-brigade flangers of the past, but it can also produce phasing, chorusing and even some kinds of reverb. Also typical of Waves' thoughtful designs is that it achieves this versatility whilst presenting only a small number of controls to the user. There's a single stereo delay line, with delay variable from 0.1 to 50 ms, and this can be modulated by a single LFO at anywhere between 0 and 20 Hz. Clicking the Tape button delays the dry signal as well, so that modulating the delay of the wet signal can bring it 'through the null' (ie. level with and ahead of the dry signal), which is essential for some classic flanging and phasing effects. Both the delay-line feedback and the entire wet mix can be phase-reversed if you wish. The wet signal can also be high- or low-pass filtered.
Sound-wise, Metaflanger is very versatile; it can do most of the traditional flanging, phasing and chorusing effects, and also a fair number of more extreme treatments. It's a clear improvement over the modulation effects bundled with most sequencers, although with only one stage of phasing or flanging, and only a single LFO available as a modulation source, there are still a few occasions when the sound thins out or sweeps rather too obviously, and it can't quite match the complex yet subtle thickening and widening effects you get from something like Eventide's Instant Flanger or TLL's Everyphase. It's a shame the LFO can't be sync'ed to host tempo, but a big plus is the modulation Stop button, which allows you to use automation to trigger flanging or phasing sweeps at appropriate points in your song.
Supertap is described by Waves as 'the mother of delays', which probably also makes it the first cousin of reverb and the maiden aunt of chorusing. A six-second delay line is tapped up to six times, with independent control over the pan position, gain and equalisation of each tap point. Add global LFO modulation and feedback controls, and the results can be pretty potent, but again it's the well-thought-out interface that really impresses. Each delay tap has its own row of controls, with delay time set by simply clicking and dragging the appropriate slider. Delay times and grid values can be made to appear either in milliseconds or 16ths of a beat, although the latter is relative to a tempo set within Supertap — there's no way of sync'ing it to host tempo, which is unfortunate. Active taps also appear in the radar-style display at the top left, which provides a really neat way of visualising and adjusting their pan positions and relative levels.
If you do want to match Supertap 's tempo with that of your song, you can click rhythmically on a Tap Tempo pad. A neat Pattern mode also derives delay-time settings from a series of clicks on the Tap Tempo pad, making it easy to create rhythmic delays. The tap times can be made to snap to grid lines. Each tap has its own single-band EQ offering variable frequency and gain, with a choice of bell, shelf and filter responses. There are two feedback modes: Normal simply feeds each tap back into the input in the percentage you set, whilst Tap Feedback allows you to specifiy a separate delay time value for the feedback alone. This, again, is ideal for creating rhythmic delays — set up a rhythmic pattern using the individual taps, then set the feedback time to a bar. You can also filter the feedback for tape-delay-style effects and Rotate it in the stereo field, which offers a wealth of unusual possibilities.
You could probably recreate most Supertap effects with a generic delay plug-in and a lot of ingenuity, but that's not the point: it would likely be so much trouble that in real life you wouldn't bother. What's really impressive here is the ease with which you can create a huge range of delay-based effects, from slap-back echoes to chorusing, rhythmic patterns and gloriously cheap-sounding reverbs. The lack of tempo sync is missed here even more than in Metaflanger, but otherwise this is a creative and very useful plug-in.
Superficially, Doubler sounds like yet another variant on the modulated delay theme, but although delays are an important component of the effect, it works rather differently. The idea is to recreate the kind of doubling and thickening effects for which the original Eventide Harmonizers were widely used, and to this end, each of the two or four 'voices' on offer is routed through its own real-time pitch-shifter, and has its own independent LFO available to modulate the pitch-shift amount. Each voice also has its own Delay parameter; because real-time pitch-shifting requires a certain amount of lookahead, there's a latency on the shifted voices even when this is set to zero, but Doubler's Align parameter allows you to delay the dry component of the sound to compensate for it. The pitch-shift range for each voice is ±100 cents (one semitone), but each also features its own Octaver which can pitch the voice down an octave for special effects. The pitch-shifted voices, but not the dry sound, can also be put through a high- and a low-shelf filter.
Doubler displays many of the same merits as Metaflanger and Supertap: it makes it easy to recreate the classic effects in question, yet it also goes beyond them to open up new possibilities. Once again, the user interface is nicely thought-out, offering extensive control without drowning the window in buttons and sliders. And like its companions, it features a genuinely useful set of presets, which demonstrate exactly what the plug-in is capable of and serve as an excellent starting point for your own explorations.
So what is this plug-in for, exactly? Well, what it won't do is help to put a bad singer in tune, or pitch a piano loop up to match the tempo of your song. Although the early Eventide Harmonizers were designed for pitch-correction and pitch-changing, they were more often used in practice for special effects such as ADT (automatic double tracking), thickening, stereo imaging and for the distinctive chorus effects they made possible; and it's these sounds that Doubler is designed to reproduce. As ever, ADT is no real substitute for having a good singer double-track their own part, but Doubler makes it painless to achieve, whether you're after subtle widening and thickening or an Elvis-style slap-back. As you bring more voices into play, the possibilities open up: you can spread backing vocals right across the stereo field for that glossy, wall-of-harmonies feel beloved of pop producers, super-size your guitars and add excitement to percussion loops. Introduce some modulation into the equation and we're really into special-effects territory, whether that means sci-fi voices, chirping chorused guitars or truly heinous '80s bass sounds. Whereas Eventide's own H910 and H949 plug-ins faithfully recreate the low-bandwidth grunge and fixed delay time options of the hardware originals, Doubler sounds much cleaner and offers much more flexibility — and in any case, Eventide's TDM-only plug-ins won't be an option for most Musicians Bundle buyers.
Like so many of Waves' other plug-ins, Doubler takes a very simple basic idea and exploits it beautifully, offering a wide range of effects that would be difficult to achieve by other means and making it matter of seconds to dial up a patch that genuinely enhances your track. My only slight quibble is that even when you have the Align option on, Doubler doesn't seem to report the pitch-shifter's latency to the host program, meaning that even in sequencers that support plug-in delay compensation, its output will be late by either 7ms or 20ms (the amount depends on whether you tell the pitch-shifter to work down to 80 or 20 Hz). However, I never found this to be a problem in real-world use.
Finally, Renaissance Vox and Renaissance Axx both take the project of simplifying the plug-in user interface to extremes. Both are essentially preset compressors optimised for specific applications, namely vocals and guitar or bass respectively. In RVox, all the time constants are fixed and make-up gain is automated: user control is limited to specifying Compression and output Gain amounts, plus the threshold of a soft-knee expander for reducing unwanted noise between vocal phrases. And in very many cases, these controls do exactly the job you want, evening out and thickening up a vocal part without introducing clipping, distortion or obvious pumping, and without exaggerating sibilance.
RAxx is similar, but unbends slightly to incorporate an attack time control at the expense of the expander. Once again, Waves' chosen settings work well with the majority of guitar parts, though if you prefer gentle and transparent compression, it won't always be the best choice — I found it more obvious than I would have liked on some acoustic parts. Nevertheless, it's undoubtedly a useful addition to anyone's plug-in arsenal, and it's only going to take 10 seconds to find out whether it's appropriate to a track. Despite the limited control, both RVox and Axx offer the classy, solid-sounding compression that Waves' Renaissance Compressor is known for, and which most sequencer's bundled dynamics aren't.
At £199, Musicians Bundle is obviously more costly than the many excellent shareware and freeware plug-ins around, but still provides the most affordable entry point into the Waves range there's ever been. Some potential buyers will be disappointed that it doesn't include any of the basic studio tools such as EQs, reverbs or compressors on which the company's reputation for quality is founded, but don't get the idea that the plug-ins on offer here are fillers or novelties: they are all very useful tools in their own right. Renaissance Vox and Axx sound good and provide hassle-free dynamic control, whilst Metaflanger and Supertap both go way beyond what the generic equivalents provided in most sequencers are capable of. And apart from Eventide's TDM-only Harmonizer emulations, I can't think of any other plug-in that's comparable to Doubler. Anyone who's new to recording with a computer and looking to expand the palette of effects provided with their sequencer will benefit from the step up in quality and variety provided here.