Online Review: Native Power Pack, Waves



Tip: You will need SoundApp 2.4.1 or higher to listen to the MPEG examples. If you don't have SoundApp 2.4.1 installed, get it first, install it, set SoundApp 2.4.1 as your browsers helper application for MPEG audio files, and then start reading the Waves review. Of course, you can read the review without listening to the samples. In that case, start reading now about an interesting add-on to your Macintosh recording studio.

(by Peter J. Bloemendaal.)

Back in the late 80's, I managed to do my very first digital audio recording on a MacPlus, using MacRecorder. Great stuff, bad quality though. I didn't care: with a little help of the Hypercard scripting language, I managed to "compose" a song. It sounded like the RealAudio thing in it's early days: bad, mono, absolutely no brilliance or bass. But: back then, I realised the ultimate conceptual powerful possibilities of this way of handling audio in my (at that time) tape based analogue home studio. And: all my friends, who were so stupid to buy a DOS PC, couldn't do it at all ;-).

Today, digital audio recording and post-recording-production on Mac has taken a flight heavens high. On other pages in this site I already told you about the magnificent Deck II for recording and arranging your audio, and about sonicWORX to do the best professional heavy duty final post production you can get on the Macintosh platform today. On these pages, I add a new dimension to your Mac home studio: digital audio processing.

We invited Waves to send in it's Native Power Pack (NPP): a set of effect PlugIns, that work under a wide range of digital audio software packages that support native audio input on your Mac: Macromedia Deck II, Macromedia SoundEdit 2.0, Bias Peak, Opcode Studio Vision Pro, ProTools 4.0, Steinberg Cubase VST 3.02/3.5 and Adobe Premiere 4.0. For audio software that needs dedicated audio hardware (like SoundDesigner, ProTools 3.5 or Digital Performer), you'll need a different and even more professional set of plugs. But: most of us poor musicians will just have the money to buy a budget native Mac, so I tested the native PlugIns for you. I used a PowerMac 6100/66 with 24MB RAM. Not the fastest machine for audio production, but a good and affordable workhorse.

WaveShells.

The working principal of Waves NPP is in fact quite simple. When you install the software, a folder with the NPP PlugIns is installed on your harddisk. Then the installation program searches for software on your Mac that can work with the NPP, and installs a WaveShell in the PlugIns-folder of those applications. The WaveShell makes the interface connection between the audio software and the PlugIns. When you buy more PlugIns later, you can install them easily to the Waves folder: the WaveShells will "see" the new PlugIn next time you startup the audio application. Imagine: this way you can build a complete effectrack in your Mac, that expands the possibilities of the already rich equipped NPP. Remember those old racks with 19 inch babies in your local recording studio? It's all on your harddisk, ready for you to boost your music right into audio heaven.

That sounds great, doesn't it? But of course the main question here is: does Waves deliver? To find out, just read on.

Enhancing "Ups".

The Native Power Pack (NPP) contains 5 powerful Plug Ins with which you can bring your audio to a good and vivid audible life. Anyway, that is what Waves tells us in their promotion. Let's see if this is true.

When you buy the NPP, the software comes in a firm box, containing a very well written manual and a CD-ROM. After a smooth installation procedure, during which the Installer finds all programs the NPP will work with, a new folder in the root of your hard disk is made. In this folder the Plug Ins are installed. The WaveShells are installed in the plug in-folders of the supported software. Shells of software you don't have are installed anyway, but in a separate folder for later use. Any old plugs and shells you may have from earlier versions are moved to a special folder and kept apart there. They are not deleted. Good feature: this way you still have your older versions available if needed. Not very likely, but you never know... ;-).

In the plug ins-folder you will find a bunch of Plug Ins, plus a lot of additional stuff such as the WaveKey Utility. You will need this unique copy to install unlock Plug Ins you may buy later. The NPP itself is unique already and UnKeyed with your personal serial numbers. To prevent illegal copies of the NPP, the software comes with a hardware key, which plugs between your Macs keyboard and the computer. I've heard a lot of protests against software vendors that use this kind of protection. I do not agree with these protests: a hardware key (or dongle) is still one of the better ways to protect your investment (as a software developer, but as a buyer as well).

The newly installed folder contains demo-versions of other Waves Plug Ins (such as MultiRack) and programs (such as WaveConvert). An extra folder named Setup Libraries contains more then 50 predefined setups for the Plug Ins, so you can start experimenting right away. Well done Waves: by providing these presets Waves enables the newbie to get started without having to read tons of papers first. But: reading the tips, hints and tricks in the manual will help to improve the effects and thus the results of your post production activities. As is goes with any effect: use with care. Too much is too bad: overkill kills. Yip, for sure!

So: now the software is installed. Let's have a look what we've got (and we quote Waves between the parenthesis):

- Q10 - 10-band stereo equalizer: "Q10 is the "Swiss Army Knife" of equalisers"
- C1 - Compressor/Gate: "The ultimate processor for the adjustment the dynamics of audio signals"
- L1 - Ultramaximizer: "The world's best peak limiter. Ideal for getting hot sound with minimal side effects".
- S1 - Stereo Imager: "Provides detailed control, rebalancing and enhancement of stereo images, without nasty side effects".
- TrueVerb: "Reverb/Distance Virtual Space Processor, which simulates the actual sound of a good room".

OK. Let's test! We decided to use audio software that is widely spread: SoundEdit™ 16 version 2. Of course, the same goes for all software that can work with the NPP. Just by using SoundEdit we hope to find out if using this good and simple in use editor will bring us the professional results as Waves promises. And if that goes for SoundEdit, it will definitely go for other heavy software like Cubase VST or Peak as well.

The testfile: Ups.

We decided to put the four Native Power Pack Plug Ins to the test on a rather difficult AIFF file: the song Ups, which was composed originally as a movie soundtrack. We took about 1 minute of this file, that starts with some violins and a piano, then brings up a pan flute, and then bursts into an arrangement with drums. First we recorded the file as it comes directly from our synthesisers rack, using a Roland JV880 and a Korg M3R. Direct, using no effects at all. Except maybe for some minimal reverb that the synthesisers produce itself. Though these synthesisers are well know to produce very good quality sound, the result isn't as vivid as it should be: it sounds a bit flat, and the stereo image is a bit narrow. Here it is (a MPEG-copy of the original, thus having a bit less quality than the AIFF-file of course:


1 - Upsshort.mp3, the original file (1,29 Mb).

When you listened to the non enhanced file, you will agree with us: sounds nice but doesn't live and contains a bit narrow stereo image. So: here is where the Wave Plug Ins come in. By the way: we tested TrueVerb with another audiofile, the results of which you can find lower in this page. For now, we start with Q10, C1, L1 and S1.

Step 1: we make the stereo image more broad with the S1 Stereo Imager. The violins in the background now are broader in the stereo-image.



Step 2: now it is time to push the piano solo a bit forward and give it more brilliance than my Roland JV880 (a very good synthesiser by the way) can ever give me. A nifty combination of the Plug Ins Q10, C1 and L1 gives the file it's final better attention and more vivid looks.







It goes too far to describe all steps we did with each and every PlugIn: that would take half a website with text and images and you definitely do not want to read all that. It's the audible result that counts, not the words. Right?

Believe me: I was thrilled to find what these Plug Ins do to your recordings. Absolutely fantastic and professional, all in my very own PowerMac. The violins on the background sound a bit more warm, the piano's presence is clearly enhanced and the baseline in the middle of the file sounds more prompt, deeper and stronger. When the drums come in at the end, they now really come forward much more stronger than in the original file. Listen for yourself:


The "2-UpsShort.mp3"-file, now with the above mentioned enhancements
(1,29 Mb).

That sounded more vivid and persistent, didn't it? Yippo! By installing the NPP I just upgraded my PowerMac to an even better and more professional studio than it already was using Deck II and sonicWORX.

TrueVerb.

As said above, we tested TrueVerb somewhat different. We did that by playing a marimba in the cathedral. What? Read on.

With the Waves PlugIn TrueVerb you can position your digital recording into any environment you like. At least, that is what the promo on the Waves install CD says. True? Let's see.

I've always wanted to play on a marimba in a large cathedral, but never came to it. Carrying around a marimba instrument to our local church (which is quite a little cathedral by the way) never appealed to me that much. So, when I found the preset Cathedral with the TrueVerb PlugIn, I finally can make this dream come true without running a risk on getting a hernia.

I just fired up my good old Roland D50, which has a nice and dry Marimba patch in one of it's sound banks, and recorded a simple marimba tune in Deck II. Here is what that sounds like (a 217K MPEG 1 Layer 3 version if the original: with some lower quality compared to the original of course):


1-Marimba.mp3
(218Kb)

Quit a composition, he? Well, just wanted to keep it simple to get your attention focused on the PlugIn, not on my music. Having recorded this tune, I opened the TrueVerb PlugIn through the Wave-Shell, previous installed in the Deck II PlugIns folder.

I selected the fresh recorder marimba masterpiece ;-) and them told the Waves TrueVerb PlugIn to apply the cathedral preset. It nicely did. But: since Deck only works with mono SD2 audio files, the cathedral effect became....yes, mono. Not what I wanted to hear. Check for yourself:


2-MarimbaCathedralDeck.mp3
(218Kb)

No problem: when you buy Deck II as a separate product, you get SoundEdit 16 2.0 as well. Which I have on my harddisk too now, of course. SoundEdit 16 can handle Waves PlugIns as well. So: I did an undo on the mono cathedral effect in Deck II to get my "dry" original back, and then I mixed the marimba masterpiece to harddisk, in stereo AIFF 44Khz format. SD2-format stereo will work fine too. I then closed Deck II, opened SoundEdit 16 and opened this file into SoundEdit 16. Then, I fired up the WaveShell again (remember: within SoundEdit this time) and applied the Cathedral preset from TrueVerb again. As the AIFF file is in stereo, this time I really got what I wanted to hear:


3-MarimbaCathedralSE.mp3
(218Kb)

I must say: I was happily surprised that finally my dream was fulfilled: I played my marimba in a cathedral. Not bad, isn't it? Did you hear the long reverb at the end of the file? OK, that ended a bit too corruptly. So: I saved the "cathedralled" file again, quit SoundEdit 16, reopened Deck II and imported the "cathedralled" file back into Deck II. Now, you've got the full stereo effect in Deck, not the mono one. To finish this exercise, I applied a fade-out at the end of the file to give it a more professional ending. Here is the result:


4-MarimbaFadeOut.mp3
(218Kb)

Great, isn't it? For this example, I just used the presets. The TrueVerb interface gives you a bunch of parameters to reshape the effect. RoomSize and distance are two of them, but there is more.

For the effect on the marimba we used the Cathedral preset. This preset gives an amazing result, and even better: you can fool around with the cathedral in this example, as you can with every preset. You can do so by changing the values in the number boxes (by sliding your mouse while pressing the mousekey), or visually by sliding the crosspoints and vertical lines (yellow and blue with their slider holders).

Change the dimension of the church with the Dimension parameter and the RoomSize. Place yourself with your nose on top of the marimba, or a couple of feet away from the instrument in the back of the church. Determine the Balance between original and processed sound and give extra accent with the PreDelay and Density settings. Playing with these parameters, you can create any virtual church you want: from a small village chapel with 20 chairs to the Notre Dame in Paris.

Of course -as with any audio effect- use with care. If you do so, with this PlugIn you can realise amazing effects and put real life to your e.g. synthesisers. The Preview button will let you listen to a part of the recording, so that you will know in advance what the effect does to your original file. The Bypass temporarily silences the effect so you can quickly compare. When you've created your personal cathedral, Save it for future use and the press OK. Your pretty dry recordings you had to live with up to now will never be the same again.



I've seen quit a lot of freeware and shareware that provides some sort of reverbing, but it always was a disappointment when the effect came out. With Waves, you get a true professional verb in your Mac, which is really useful, provides high quality reverb, and gives high quality room to your digital recordings. Any room (size and shape) you want. I've just have this PlugIn in my Mac for about a week now, but I truly wonder how I ever could have produced my audio without it!

Conclusion.

In this country (Holland), the school ratings go from 1 (very bad) to 10 (great) in steps of one. I'd give this plug a
9. If somehow Deck or Waves would be able to work around the mono "problem" in Deck II, it would have been a 10. Just to be clear: not Waves is to be blamed for that, but Macromedia. Deck is great audio producing software, but it lacks just one thing: support for stereo effect PlugIns on native machines. They all work just mono. As you have seen above, there is a simple and quick work around using software like SoundEdit 16 of Peak, but it would have been nice of this extra step was not needed. Well, at least I can live with it ;-)


All reviews in AudioMac.net are written by Peter J. Bloemendaal. All rights reserved.

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12-09-99