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Sunday, February 7, 2016

NAMM 2016: Waves

Photo by Patrick Young
The Waves booth at NAMM was busy as expected. Featured guests over the weekend included Eddie Kramer, Tony Maserati, Andrew Scheps, Dave Pensado, Manny Marroquin, and more. About half the floor space was dedicated to DiGiGrid, but being almost entirely in the box, I was more excited to learn what was new in the plug-in world. 

Greg Wells MixCentric, VoiceCentric, PianoCentric
Waves has introduced Greg Wells' new Voice, Piano, and Mix Centric effects plugins. (http://www.waves.com/bundles/greg-wells-signature-series#greg-wells-signature-series-overview) These are meant to be (nearly) one knob effects processors. Combining multiple effects under the hood, the Centric plugins are designed for specific use cases as their name would allude. MixCentric was designed for use on the master bus, compressing, EQing, and adding harmonic content to the mix. VoiceCentric is meant for vocals - duplicating Wells' personal effects chain he uses to processes vocals and includes individual control knobs for timing/spacial effects. PianoCentric is designed for piano recordings allowing the engineer to dial in a brighter or more lo-fi mono sound.
Element 2

Since a lot of my time is spent designing sounds for software synthesizers, I wanted to focus on perhaps a less publicized "new" plugin - Element 2. At first glance, you won't notice much difference between Element 2 and it's predecessor Element except a change in GUI skin. Waves updated some of the control, with tweaks to Unison, LFO1/2 sync, pitchbend range, bitcrusher model, and added ARP/SEQ hold and retrigger. The Waves representative at NAMM also mentioned some minor tweaks were done to the filter, ADSR envelopes and effects, but the biggest difference - and the reason it's now a regular synthesizer in my arsenal - is the reworked wave forms. The basic waveform shapes didn't change, but Waves new Virtual Voltage technology has added a whole lot of high-end harmonic content that gives the sound more presence, bite, and overall fullness over Element. The below screenshot is a comparison of the Sawtooth waveform from Element 2 and Element (with HD on). You can see a huge difference in high end roll-off:



In doing a side by side Saw wave comparison with other popular softsynths - Element 2's sawtooth has similar high end harmonics and presence as that of Massive, Sylenth1, and Serum, but had a fuller low end; almost like it had intentional sub added (even though Sub knob on Element 2 was off). This additional bass if probably why I found it so pleasant (and quick!) to make arpeggiated bass lines in Element 2.

Presets
Element 2 comes with a whole new set of Presets. Still categorized by sound type, Element 2 almost doubles the total number of presets offered in Element (original presets are included). The presets come out pretty polished, so you may need to dial the effects back when trying to get them to sit correctly in your mix.

Unison
I wanted to talk about the new unison 2/4 Voices option (Element only included a Unison button) since it's my only recommended improvement. I use multiple voices in nearly any patch I make, but from a usability and mixing standpoint I found that Unison of 2 (or even 4) was too wide in the stereo field.This is especially true for bass sounds that you may want to have more down the middle. The work around I have been using, but isn't ideal since it's an additional purchase, is using Waves Center to mono out some of the lows. A width slider within Element 2 would be much more preferable.

Overall, Element 2 is a win. The new waveforms jump out at you compared to Element and speed at which you can program this synth keeps you focused on the song. It's only bundled with Mercury and Dave Aude EMP Toolbox, but at the (current) price of $71, it's very reasonable.

Name: Patrick Young of Speaker Feature Studios

Bio: Electrical Engineer and sole proprietor of Speaker Feature Studios, Patrick Young spends much of his free time designing software synthesizer patches and plugins for other artists and content creators. 

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