The idea of digitally controlled VCAs is far from new — but this implementation feels like the future!
There have been several computer‑controlled analogue level automation systems released over the years, so to some extent Wes Audio’s ngLeveler reinvents the wheel. But what a reinvention it is! Essentially, you have 16 channels of VCA‑based level control in a black 1U 19‑inch rackmount box, with a bunch of LEDs that tell you what’s going on inside it. The specs are good, with low distortion and crosstalk, plenty of headroom, and hardware digital control resolution of 2500 steps per channel. This translates to a very clean‑sounding device, which offers very smooth analogue level adjustment. From an end‑user point of view, once you’ve hooked up your gear to the ngLeveler’s analogue I/O, it’s really all about the cleverness of the software control app (which usually runs in the background) and the DAW plug‑in (which runs in Mac OS and Windows hosts that support AU, VST2.4, VST3 or AAX). That said, there’s also the possibility of integrating third‑party control surfaces.
A good chunk of the 63‑page manual is dedicated to setting things up, not because the ngLeveler is complicated but rather because you have the option of USB or Ethernet connectivity, and the manual necessarily goes into some detail about the different scenarios. For the purposes of this review, all you really need know about that is that the ngLeveler supports direct connection by USB or Ethernet, or Ethernet via a LAN, and that I had the review unit working successfully in all those setups.
The software side of things (for my Mac, at least) is a hefty 472MB download, and this unpacks to install nearly 1GB of data on your computer. The reason for this is that it includes the control software and plug‑ins for all the ‘ng’ units in Wes Audio’s portfolio: the installer checks all connected units for their firmware version and updates any for which there’s a newer version. So while the download could be lighter, it’s great that owners of lots of Wes gear have such a low‑hassle way of update everything. With only the ngLeveler connected to an M1 MacBook Pro, this firmware check and update took under a minute.
Once installed, you have the two pieces of software I mentioned above. The GCon app opens automatically on boot‑up and sits on your OS’s menu bar. This is where you take care of all the admin: updating firmware, configuring MIDI ports for hardware controllers and so forth. The DAW plug‑in communicates with the hardware (and any configured control surfaces) via the GCon app. All versions that are compatible with your OS appear to be installed automatically, so in my Reaper‑based Mac system I could see AU, VST2 and VST3 versions; it might have been nice to have the option to install only those I required. The plug‑in can be inserted on any track in your DAW project, since it doesn’t receive or process any audio — it’s just for control and metering — but in practice, to make it easy to locate, I found it was best to give it its own dedicated, labelled track.
I’ve used plenty of Wes gear connected by USB over the years and it’s always worked smoothly right off the bat. This time, I found I had to iron out a wrinkle. Everything had appeared to install perfectly, and audio signals were clearly flowing through the hardware as they should, but when I instantiated the control plug‑in it identified no attached hardware, despite the hardware being connected via USB. Restarting both my DAW and the hardware didn’t solve this, so next I tried rebooting the Mac and, finally, it worked as I’d expected. A more detailed reading of the manual suggested that the installer should have prompted me to reboot my machine, which...
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