Grab Some Air
As indicated earlier, even Waveform Basic is now offered with a very respectable collection of effects plug-ins. The Artisan Collection contains over 60 individual plug-ins covering EQ, dynamics, distortion, modulation, delay, reverb, emulation, stereo imaging and filters. The ethos is simplicity and functionality, and they do a very solid job with a minimum of fuss.
Somewhat more highly specified is Master Mix. Intended to sit on your master output bus, this provides a sophisticated combination of eight-band EQ and three-band dynamics with plenty of user control, making it a very respectable offering for DIY mastering.
Waveform also bundles two third-party pitch-correction options. Auto-Tune Access, the baby of the Antares family (reviewed in SOS April 2019) is included alongside Celemony's Melodyne Essential. Considering that the combined price of these two plug-ins from their host manufacturers is $198, the fact that they are included in Waveform Basic at $129 must be considered a bit of a bargain. Either way, whether for basic pitch correction, or T‑Pain-style creative effects, you have what you need to get started.
If all the above wasn't quite enough, the Waveform Standard edition I had available for review also includes the DAW Essentials Collection, a bundle of 16 of Tracktion's own more upmarket plug-ins. They offer AU, AAX and VST support so can be used in other hosts and, again, cover EQ, compression, reverb, various delays, an interesting crossover filter that allows you to separate audio into various frequency bands for downstream processing, limiting, a gate/expander, ducking, a bit crusher, chorus, phaser, a very nice auto-filter and a very usable bus compressor. The visuals are clean and modern and the control sets offer plenty of additional options over and above those found in the Artisan Collection.
Waveform also comes populated with some impressive virtual instruments. As well as the previously mentioned Multi-Sampler and the Collective instrument, both of which are good in their own right, the highlight addition for v10 is Subtractive, a full-blown virtual analogue synth. Subtractive is quite a beast. Four oscillators are available, each offering multiple waveform choices, while dual filters, EQ, drive and an amp section allow you to shape the sound further. Comprehensive modulation options are also included, with four LFOs and four envelopes. The feature set is rounded out by a four-slot effects section and a very cool arpeggiator. And, if you don't initially want to get your head around the programming options, you can always get plenty of mileage by tweaking your way through the impressive collection of presets. It is very easy to find convincing analogue-esque sounds in a Stranger Things vein as well as lots of sounds suitable for modern EDM.
I didn't find Subtractive overly CPU-intensive, but if resources are an issue, the 4OSC synth is another four-oscillator synth that is somewhat lighter in both features and CPU demands. Don't dismiss it as a poor relative, because 4OSC can create some great sounds and is perhaps easier for those without a PhD in synth programming to get their heads around.
One obvious omission from the initial release of Waveform 10 was a dedicated virtual drum instrument. However, just as this review was going to press, Tracktion released the 10.2.0 update which added the Drum Sampler. This adopts a typical 4x4 virtual drum pad approach; it is only supplied with two simple example kits, based upon 808- and 909-style sample sets, but users can drag and drop samples into the instrument to build their own custom kits. Both round-robin and velocity-based sample playback with multiple samples on a single pad are supported, and I was easily able to build a decent acoustic drum kit from some suitable raw samples. The engine shares features with the Multi-Sampler and is also nicely integrated into Waveform's MIDI editing. No, it's not Superior Drummer 3 but, in terms of plugging a further plug-in gap, Drum Sampler is great to see.
Also included with my Waveform Standard edition package was BioTek 2, available to buy separately as a separate AU/AAX/VST instrument at $199. Tracktion describe BioTek 2 as an 'organic synthesizer'. The engine combines several forms of synthesis, including granular synthesis, and the oscillator sound sources can draw upon a collection of supplied samples derived from nature as well as user-loaded samples. In addition to deep programming options, there is also a more user-friendly macro-level screen called the Wild screen for top-level editing. Sonically, there is some truly inspirational stuff here and BioTek 2 is something both electronic music producers and media composers could get a lot of use out of.
Tracktion also have other virtual instrument offerings available for purchase, and one, the RetroMods Collection, was supplied to me as part of the review package. This is actually five separate instruments called LoFreq Classic, LoFreq Modern, Lead, 106 and Fat, based on iconic classic hardware synthesizers that most of us can't afford. In each case, a synth-based engine is applied to sampled waveforms as in IK Multimedia's Syntronik. The selection of instruments sampled to create RetroMods' sounds include the Oberheim SEM, Korg MS20, Roland TB303, SH101 and CMU-810, ARP Odyssey, Waldorf Pulse, Clavia Nord Lead and Nord Drum, various Roland Junos, various Moogs and, just for good measure, a few 'modern classics' such as the Novation Bass Station, Arturia MiniBrute and Behringer Model D.
Purchased individually, each RetroMods instrument is in the $49-79 range, but there are considerable savings to be made if you build a custom bundle. If you don't already own a collection of emulated 'classic' synth sounds, RetroMods sounds great and is a very creditable candidate to plug that gap.
While I've used Tracktion's software before, during the first stage of the review process I felt exactly the same sense of disorientation that any user might when displaced from their usual DAW/sequencer of choice (in my case, Cubase Pro 10). But, by the end of my review work, for all the usual core recording, editing and mixing tasks, I was most certainly beginning to feel very comfortable. Fluent? Well, perhaps not. A power user? No, not that either, but familiar enough to see that this is a very deep piece of software that's more than capable of handling the technical elements needed to record, edit and mix almost any sort of musical project.
Significantly, perhaps the major reservation I felt when reviewing Tracktion 6 back in 2015 — namely, the limited range of effects and virtual instruments included — has now been comprehensively addressed. At $119, even the Waveform Basic package is a heck of a lot of software for a pretty modest price. It's also worth emphasising that, aside from the single plug-in-related crash mentioned earlier, I experienced no technical issues, and Waveform played nicely with a range of third-party effects and virtual instruments (including Kontakt).
So how does Waveform 10 stand up to the competition? In the world of 'budget' DAWs/sequencers, the most obvious comparison used to be with Reaper, which starts at $60 for a non-commercial licence. Reaper has become a popular choice but is very different in ethos, being endlessly customisable and possessing features such as notation and surround support, which aren't in Waveform. On the flip side, it has nothing to compare with Waveform's now- impressive crop of virtual instruments.
The starting price for Waveform 10 puts it closer to something like Cubase Elements 10, which also features a decent selection of plug-ins and instruments. These include Groove Agent SE5 which, as supplied, is a bit less 'bare bones' than Waveform's new Drum Sampler and includes an impressive collection of presets. However, Cubase Elements 10 has some feature limitations in terms of track count and, in particular, audio editing features such as audio warping, quantising and multi-take comping. Whichever Waveform bundle you opt for, Waveform itself is the full version; the only differences are in the suite of extras included.
It will be a challenge for Tracktion to make greater traction into the DAW marketplace, needing to compete for new users with high-profile brands, and to overcome the inertia that disinclines established users of other products to switch. Jumping ship is a pretty big step, particularly in a commercial working environment where time always means money. However, if my own experience with Waveform 10 is anything to go by, the quality of the software itself is most certainly not an issue. Waveform 10 is a seriously good DAW that deserves genuine consideration alongside the very best. The workflow, albeit unconventional in some respects, is both efficient and flexible, the feature set is rich and, in its current incarnation, the effects and virtual instruments included make it a comprehensive and impressive starting point. My own DAW inertia is as strong as anyone's but, if I was in a position where I had to start from scratch, I'd have no doubts that Waveform 10 could meet my own personal needs.
Tracktion acknowledge that no program hosting third-party plug-ins can guarantee stability, so they provide Waveform 10 with built-in crash mitigation. This is a kind of auto-save on steroids: it's transparent to the user, but in the background, virtually every adjustment you make to your edit (project) is saved. If the software does go belly-up, in theory, you should be able to get back to exactly where you were with no loss of work.
Throughout the review period I only got one chance to test this out when loading a third-party virtual instrument for the first time caused Waveform to crash. As advertised, the recovery process was seamless, leaving me exactly where I had been immediately before the crash occurred. After I installed an update to the plug-in concerned, Waveform then allowed me to load it without any further problems. Crashes are a fact of life, and Waveform's elegant handling of them is a reassuring feature.
- Sophisticated feature set.
- Comprehensive range of effects plug-ins even in Waveform Basic.
- Some excellent virtual instruments are included.
- Drum Sampler could do with some additional presets.
- No notation features.
If Waveform is ever to become a mainstream DAW, version 10 might be the one that achieves this. This is a feature-rich music production environment and, despite a modest rise in the price of entry, it represents great value.
Basic edition $119; Standard edition $259; Extreme edition $499.
Basic edition $119; Standard edition $259; Extreme edition $499.
- Tracktion Waveform 10.1.5 and 10.2.0.
- Apple iMac with 3.5GHz Intel Core i7 CPU and 32GB RAM, running Mac OS 10.13.6.