April 21, 2015


Hello everyone, for this blog I would like to go over some Audio Engineering Tips on 3 Great Waves plugins that are really useful and fun to use. These plugins are very easy to use and can add tons of creativity and impact to your mixes. A great way to achieve high quality commercial mixes is to approach your craft like the masters that have come before us, and the masters used (and still use) analog tape, analog consoles, and analog compressors. Thankfully, Waves has created three awesome emulations of some of the most famous and most used pieces of gear used throughout music history.


If you want your mixes to stand the test of time and hold up to standards such as The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Steely Dan, then applying time tested mixing techniques to DAW mixing will help get you there.


One of the complaints I hear about DAW mixes or beginning engineers is that their tracks sound too separated and don’t mesh together in the final mix. Do the toms not sound like a part of the drum kit anymore? Is the vocal riding too high above the mix and sounds separate from the music? Are the bass synth and kick drum not moving together? Well, here is a plugin that can help remedy these common mixing ailments.

A primary goal of mixing is to put all the separate parts back together into a believable and enjoyable whole, and Waves has emulated the SSL Master Buss Compressor to help us with this.


Many mixing engineers like to use master buss compression to “glue” the mix together. The SSL 4000 master compressor has been used on countless hit records for this purpose, making your mix seem less like a bunch of separated multi-tracks and more like a solid stereo record.

Try placing this compressor on your Master Fader or Aux Track you are printing your mix through. One of the critical tricks to making this work is starting with the compressor plugin on the track at the beginning of the mixing session. If you try to compress your entire mix after you are finished adjusting everything, the entire sound and dynamics will change your blend, and usually not for the better.

So before you even move a fader or turn a pan knob, make sure that the SSL Master Buss Compressor is inserted on the proper track. For this example, let’s say your Master Fader. Try setting the compressor for a gentle compression at first, don’t be too heavy handed with this as it can quickly squeeze the life and dynamics out of your mix. A setting of a very slow Attack (let’s use 30), a low Ratio (start with the 2:1 or 4:1 at most), and a fast Release (.1 or even Auto) should work well.

Once you have the plugin set, start mixing your track as usual and pay close attention to the changes as you work. The compressor should round off some transient spikes and help “glue” all the different instruments together. It will take some time to find your favorite settings, and they will change with each mix, so pay close attention. Using a master buss compressor can really work wonders, but used with too much gain reduction, it will ruin a mix quickly.


Another great emulation plugin from Waves is the Abbey Road Studios J37 tape machine. This plugin tries to recreate the harmonic distortion, tape compression, and equalization curves or the famous J37 tape machine used on countless recordings of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and just about any other early 60’s British recording artists you can name.


There are several aspects of analog tape that engineers and producers still want for high-end mixes. Using tape to record and mix to (which several major label engineers and artists still use on every project) adds harmonic distortion and natural compression when used in audio production.

For many decades, we have become used to hearing these qualities on famous records, and using some of the emulation plugins Waves has created can help you achieve this pro sound. Without spending too much time going over all of the creative and useful functions of the J37, I will give you some ideas on how to use this great plugin on your tracks.

I have found that a great way to use the J37 is on audio subgroups within your mix. This way, you have more control over the effect and can decide what instruments it works on and what it doesn’t. Start by grouping all like instruments together on a stereo aux track, for example, set the output of all your drum tracks to one stereo bus, and then feed those to one stereo aux so you can process everything at once. This not only saves on processing, but it can help “glue” the drums back together and give them a fuller and more pleasing tone.

One trick here is to be sure to play with the SAT (saturation control) and SPEED (tape speed). The saturation will change the sound from extreme distortion to very subtle timbre changes. Speed will adjust how fast the tape is moving and will affect the low and high frequencies of the instruments you send through it. This can be a good way to tame harsh high frequencies or fill out the low end of a track in a creative and interesting way, much more subtle and realistic sounding than just boosting the low frequencies with a stock equalizer.

This is also a great plugin for mastering an entire mix if it sounds harsh or needs some excitement or “glue” to make it really stand out. There are tons of uses for the Waves J37 and I highly recommend you experiment with it on your mixes. As Waves states in their literature, “The Waves: Abbey Road J37 tape emulation plugin will bring stunning analog warmth to your digital recordings, delivering a level of hardware realism never before experienced “in the box.””


The last emulation plugin that I want to go over is the Waves NLS (Non-Linear Summer). Basically, this plugin recreated the spatialization, harmonic color, and mix depth that analog consoles provide us. Even in this digital era, the top mixing engineers still use analog consoles or analog summing boxes. Why? Because they create a sound that is identifiable with hit records throughout history. Analog consoles can also provide a better depth of field, imaging, and rounding of harsh transients without overuse of compression or artificial stereo widening effects.


Waves has modeled the consoles of renowned mixing engineers like Mark Stent, Yoad Nevo, and Mike Hedges to capture the tone that has been heard on countless hit records. The brand names of these consoles include Neve and SSL, two of the most common in the industry.

So how do you use the NLS plugins? Well, there are many ways as always to creatively use a plugin, but I recommend using

these on subgroups or even the Master Fader. What is really great about these plugins is that you can use the summing section on your master and put individual NLS groups on subgroups or single tracks, almost recreating a console in your DAW.

There are so many routing and tonal possibilities with the NLS plugins, and I use them all of the time to help tame transients and thicken up digital tracks. By using your busses and sub grouping the different elements of your mix, you can end up using the unique sounds of three different consoles in one mix! Instead of using a compressor to tame a kick or snare, try running it through the NLS first. You could end up with a fuller, punchier, and louder drum sound without the some times negative effects of compression.

Try sub grouping all of your background vocals through one NLS channel to “glue” them together in one smooth analog bunch. Many times this is enough to set those background vocals right in the mix where they belong, without over compression or excessive equalization (two things that are abused in many novice mixes). A trick that I will share with you is that the Drive control is your best friend with this plugin. Use it and listen closely as you go from a subtle saturation to full blown harmonic distortion as you turn the drive up. This is a very creative function of the NLS, and the Drive gives you almost endless sonic possibilities.

Once you have experimented with each of these great plugins individually, the Waves SSL Buss Compressor, the Abbey Road J37 tape emulator, and the Non-Linear Summer, start combining them into one glorious signal path of tone. Take those sterile digital tracks and give them some much needed analog goodness, and even if it’s an emulation, it’s way better than nothing at all. Remember have fun, be creative, and make great music!

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