Paul White checks over Waves' multi‑process plug‑in for Digidesign TDM systems, Macromedia Deck II and Adobe Premiere.
Software audio processing plug‑ins are immensely useful but, unless you have a powerful Digidesign TDM system, you're very restricted as to how many you can run at any one time. To help overcome this limitation, AudioTrack combines the functionality of two plug‑ins in one, but it only counts as a single plug‑in, which helps a lot when you're in a tight spot.
To use AudioTrack within a Digidesign system, you'll need a dongle in the form of a Wavekey, and a single Wavekey can be updated by entering new codes to validate it for use with any Waves plug‑ins you have purchased. Adobe Premiere users, apparently, have a disk‑only install system.
Essentially, AudioTrack combines simplified sections derived from existing Waves plug‑ins — namely the Q10 paragraphic equaliser, the C1 compressor and the gate section of the C1 compressor. To make all this work at once, the equaliser section has been reduced to just four bands rather than the 10 offered by the Q10, and there's no independent control over the left‑ and right‑channel EQ, but in most circumstances a 4‑band parametric is about as much as most people can make sense of anyway. The compressor has basic threshold, ratio attack and release settings; the gate provides control over threshold, floor (attenuation when closed), attack and release. An overall input level fader enables the user to compensate for any gain increases caused by EQ boost, and the output fader allows the output signal level to be optimised.
I tested an original version 1.1 of AudioTrack with Sound Designer II but, sadly, Waves have seen fit to discontinue the SDII version and concentrate on the TDM market, which I think is a bit of an oversight. SDII is still very much a mainstream product in the UK for album editing, and Pro Tools is not yet a satisfactory substitute for CD compiling. The version of AudioTrack tested here is 2.2.
In Pro Tools under TDM, settings can be adjusted in real time, which is rather more satisfactory than the Preview mode of earlier Sound Designer plug‑ins; as in all TDM applications, you can process external audio without first having to store it to disk as an audio file. Procedures may differ if the host program is not Pro Tools TDM — I've yet to meet Adobe's Premiere on a social basis!
Installation is straightforward, though the actual installation process is slightly different depending on what platform AudioTrack is to be run. Like all Waves plug‑ins, it has a user interface that's both intuitive and consistent, with each function occupying its own distinct area of the screen. The usual TDM buttons run along the top and include a bypass function. The plug‑in is available as either a mono or a stereo module, and TDM users have the ability to deploy several AudioTrack modules depending on their DSP capability.
The EQ has a graphic display, below which are the frequency, bandwidth and gain parameters relating to the four bands. Data can be changed by using the mouse to scroll values; you can type new numbers directly into the relevant boxes, or simply drag the EQ points shown on the graph and listen to the changes as you do so. Bypass switches are available for each of the four bands and the maximum cut/boost range is a generous 18dB — but there's no overall EQ bypass other than the main plug‑in bypass, which is a little frustrating. In addition to their parametric modes, the individual filters may be switched to low‑shelf, high‑shelf, low‑pass and high‑pass modes.
The compressor operates with a soft‑knee characteristic, and can function either as a compressor or as an expander (with a maximum expansion ratio of 0.5:1). Two meters show the signal level and the amount of gain reduction taking place, while small arrows on the leftmost meter show the compressor and gate thresholds relative to the incoming signal. You can move these by dragging as an alternative to changing parameter values directly. Gain‑reduction and peak‑hold indicators are located above the two compressor meters and the main output fader. A level meter accompanies the main output level fader as well as a clip monitor, but the rather nice gain‑reduction graph available in the C1 plug‑in has had to go for space reasons.
I've used many Waves plug‑ins at one time or another and they tend to be pretty straightforward. They also work consistently well. AudioTrack is a very useful general‑purpose package of tools, because it enables you to apply a little EQ and a degree of compression at the same time. The gate may also be useful to ensure complete silence at the starts and ends of individual sections or between sung phrases, and, of course, the overall signal level can be changed at the same time.
The 4‑band EQ has all the finesse of the Q10, but with fewer bands, though it's rare that I've ever needed more than three or four bands of EQ at once anyway. I've always been surprised at how positive and well‑behaved the Waves equaliser algorithm is — for audio sweetening, this may be as much processing as you need. However, the compressor is also controllable enough to allow you to add a little density to a complete mix without spoiling the sound. On the other hand, if you want to take an individual vocal or instrumental sound and then use heavy compression as an effect, there's plenty of range to do that too. The gate behaves in much the same way as its analogue counterpart, with no obvious vices.
I like this plug‑in, not because it does anything the other Waves plug‑ins can't do, but because it can effectively take on three jobs at the same time. The sound quality hasn't been compromised and, though the facility count has been reduced compared with that of the individual plug‑ins, there's still plenty of functionality for all routine jobs.
For my own editing jobs, I find the Q10 equaliser and the L1 limiter among the most useful tools, and I can't help but wonder whether Waves could produce a similar hybrid combining those two functions, presumably omitting their IDR dithering system to make it all fit into a single plug‑in. If Waves are reading and think this would be a good idea — please provide a SDII version as well! The combination of compressor and EQ is still a useful one, though, and to my mind AudioTrack is a very sensible and flexible way of deploying limited plug‑in power. This is a very practical plug‑in with lots of applications, but why the SDII version was discontinued remains a complete mystery to me.
- Three processes at once.
- Same quality sound as the major Waves plug‑ins.
- No individual EQ, Compressor and Gate bypass buttons.
A useful three‑in‑one processing package that makes full use of available processing power.