Paul White discusses the role of the software 'plug‑in' with Gilad Keren, co‑founder of Waves.
Digidesign's open approach to software design permits their core systems (such as ProTools) to run third‑party software enhancements, commonly known as 'plug‑ins'. One of the rising stars of the plug‑in field is an Israeli company called Waves, creators of the Q10 Parametric Equaliser, the L1 Ultramaximizer (a limiter/level optimiser), and the C1 Compressor/Gate. At the recent AES show, Gilad Keren was able to outline his company's origins and future plans.
"Waves was founded by Meir Shashua and myself; we met about 10 years ago when I was a recording engineer and Meir was in the military. We shared a common love of pro audio and were both fascinated by vocoders and the new possibilities opened up by DSP [digital signal processing] technology — which was very new at that time. It took us a few years to get off the ground and to acquire some basic theoretical and practical experience, but we finally did it.
"We realised that we first needed good digital filters to build this vocoder, so we focused on digital filter implementation and ways to design them to work in real time. That was around the time the Motorola 56000 DSP chip was launched, so we started work and came up with a product that was the basis of the Q10 Equaliser we produce today.
"The original version worked under Microsoft Windows version 2.0 on the PC, using a Motorola ADS board and Ariel A/D and D/A. We showed this at one of the AES conventions five years ago, but the established manufacturers didn't want anything to do with a GUI [graphical user interface] controlled EQ and many expressed the opinion that computers would never make it in the recording studio.
"Lack of financial resources and the market attitude at the time toward this technology forced us to work as 'grunts' for other companies in the pro audio industry. One company we worked with was very successful in raising money, but were never able to commercialise any technology. We realised three years ago that we must be independent in order to deliver our products to the marketplace.
"Around that time, Alon Zakai joined us as our general manager and significantly influenced our organisation, turning it into a real corporation. We spoke to Digidesign, who had a really open mind, and they seemed to like the idea of working with third‑party software vendors who could make use of their hardware to provide added value for Digidesign system owners."
At Waves we believe that it's no longer enough to have just great‑sounding processing, it is also very important to provide the user with appropriate visual feedback.
Gilad Keren cites their working relationship with Michael Gerzon as another very important factor in the development of Waves: "Michael has brought valuable experience and audio discipline to the company. He has been involved in the design of the L1 and IDR, as well as being a major contributor to the design of the newly released C1 Compressor/Gate. He also created an extensive set‑up library for the Q10 Parametric [version 1.1]. Michael's subjective optimisation and theoretical abilities are of the highest quality and we look forward to collaborating with him on future projects, both classical and new.
"Michael designed IDR [Increased Digital Resolution], a set of dithering and noise‑shaping tools which optimise bit‑depth reduction. We believe that the tools within our L1 allow conversion from 20‑bit to 16‑bit in a way that compares favourably with Sony's Super Bit Mapping or Apogee's UV22 — for a fraction of the cost!"
Software plug‑ins offer the obvious advantage that you can update or rewrite the software without having to buy a new hardware box every time, but what other advantages do they offer?
"Q10 is a great example of how powerful a graphical user interface can be," Gilad explained, "and in many aspects it can be much more powerful than any physical interface. The ability to gang controls is something that is very difficult or impossible to achieve with a regular interface, and with Q10 you can also create complex shapes of your EQ curve by dragging it about on‑screen.
"GUI‑based processing provides new insight into controlling the dynamics of audio, and I think our new C1 Compressor/Gate is a good example of this. At Waves we believe that it's no longer enough to have just great‑sounding processing, it is also very important to provide the user with appropriate visual feedback.
"Another advantage of plug‑ins and digital processing in general is that if latency [a small delay between a sound occurring and being heard] is acceptable, then we can perform new types of processing not previously possible in the analogue domain. For example, by inserting a short delay into the signal path, a dynamics unit can 'look ahead' at the audio coming in and have, in some cases, better control over it."
Michael Gerzon has a known interest in psychoacoustics, so does this mean that we can expect to see a more esoteric Waves product based upon some of those principles?
"We have a new product coming out soon called the S1 Stereo Imager, which is a classic Gerzon piece," explained Gilad. "It comprises four tools: a rotation control that will allow you to rotate the position of the centre of a stereo mix without affecting the sides; an asymmetry control that allows you to modify the level of the sides without affecting the centre; a width control that allows you to modify the balance of mono and out‑of‑phase information; and a shuffler control, which is an effect that, on certain programme material, can add spaciousness.
"There is so much hype going around about '3D' sound that we decided to focus on serious stereo first. The reality is that fundamental stereo tools, based on known and published information, are simply not widely available, yet they can be very useful if executed properly."
I asked Gilad to explain how the Waves plug‑ins work under Digidesign's TDM, in terms of available processing power. It's great being able to have one DSP give you 'x' channels of EQ, but there are still some users concerned with stereo editing, who would like to apply several DSP functions simultaneously.
"Under TDM you can run several plug‑ins on one DSP," he revealed, "provided that there is enough DSP processing capacity. The current L1 and C1 are really big applications and take up almost a full DSP each, but with smaller applications such as the S1 and Q10, and new TDM‑specific applications, you can take advantage of these capabilities.
"One of the great benefits of TDM is that you can run multiple plug‑ins at the same time; for example, Q10‑C1‑L1. This is great for many applications and will save a tremendous amount of time."
Looking ahead, did Gilad believe that a graphical user interface could ever feel as friendly and immediate as a dedicated hardware controller?
"I feel that with new types of screens and controls, sound engineers will actually come to prefer these to traditional knobs, buttons and faders. As new designs emerge, engineers will discover that they are able to do more, do it faster, have greater control, and have a greater insight into what is happening to their sound."
The latest Waves plug‑in is called WaveShell‑RT, which allows you to perform real‑time processing without first having to load your audio onto a hard drive.
It is a low cost utility that can run with Digidesign's Audiomedia II card, providing full 24‑bit processing via the SPDIF port. So, if you have the WaveShell and L1, you can sample your analogue tape with 20‑bit resolution, then use L1 to convert the audio to 16‑bit.
If you have a Pro Tools II system it will allow you to run two separate processes at once — two stereo ins and two outs, each being processed via a Waves plug‑in.