Review: Waves NLS Summing Plugin
Waves has finally released their user requested NLS “Non Linear Summing plugin”. They not only modeled 3 individual consoles from 3 producers, they also did it on a per channel basis. Consoles included are: Solid State Logic (Mark ´Spike´ Stent), EMI (Mike Hedges), Neve (Yoad Nevo).
It’s great to see major plugin developers tackling the issues of “In The Box” mixing. For years many engineers have been underwhelmed with the summing and vibe that software Digital Audio Workstations have had to offer. Although they are rich in features, the super clean digital sound is definitely one that is not sought after by many engineers.
For many years now, producers and mixing engineers have been running their audio through various types of “analog summing” devices to try to achieve some of the warmth that they feel was missing from the digital domain.
In our Waves NLS Summing Plugin Review, we will take this new plugin through its paces to see if it helps give our electronic productions that sought after analog mojo.
Mark ‘Spike’ Stent – [SSL 4000G Console]
The first console model in the lineup is Mr. Spike Stents world-famous SSL 4000G. For those that may be unaware, the SSL 4000G is one of the most famous consoles in the world.
Not only is this console extremely sought after for mixing, it’s been quite the contender for analog modeling plug-ins as well. Although this console does not contain any tubes, the excellently designed circuit implementation gives this board its unique character that lends itself very well to being pushed to its limits.
Ranging from all styles of music, the SSL 4000G or in this case referred to as “Spike” is not really favored by any particular
musical genre. As the saying goes once you mix your song on an SSL 4000, it just sounds like a record.
One of the many unique characteristics of this particular console is its distortion sound. Known for being quite “mid rangy” and crunchy when pushed into the red, this is one of the sounds that makes this console so revered.
The idea is that you bring your levels in harder and push the meters just past the red, so individual channels start to saturate; this accumulative affect lends itself well to all styles of music, as it helps blend your tracks and mixes together into something much more cohesive.
Once the individual channels on the SSL are gain staged properly, they are then fed into the master mix bus section, which is then typically put through SSL’s world-famous quad bus compressor.
Now it is not publicly known what “areas and circuits” have been modeled inside of the SSL 4000G summing emulation here. Typically some of the characteristics of hitting an SSL 4000 hard are saturation, cross talk, and a wider fuller stereo image.
One of the problems I noticed with this SSL emulation plug-in is that the mix bus distorted rather easily compared to the other models. Doing further research on this, it appears in various interviews with the console’s owner “Spike” Stent, that his particular console is known for exerting these distortion-based artifacts. So with that said, I’m assuming this closely resembles the console that Waves decided to model.
Mike Hedges – [EMI TG12345 Mk 4]
Next in the lineup is Mike Hedges EMI TG12345 MK4. This console I refer to is more of the “cult classic” in the bunch and is revered by bands such as The Cure, U2, and was responsible for recording Pink Floyd’s dark side of the moon.
The amount of thickness and low-end that this console can add to a mix is amazing. Out of all the consoles tested, this model was defiantly the most recognizable.
The second “Mike” is engaged on the signal path you know it. Adding more thickness to kick drums, extreme bottom end to bass frequencies, and helping tame sizzled highs.
Although this model is quite rewarding in its own right, I felt it was a bit extreme. For some, this console might be exactly what they’re looking for, giving their mixes that instant gratification and helping take their productions the next(and much more bass filled) level.
I can also see the EMI being favored on indie rock tracks as well, when engineers are looking for more of that rugged thick sound. This will also help round-off reverb tails and thicken up all those Vox AC30?s.
Personally I can’t see myself using this console emulation across all my channels or entire mixes. I think it would be best suited being utilized in hybrid console formats. Anything that needs a little extra thump or increased bass frequency response would benefit from the EMI console emulation on those channels.
I can also see utilizing the mix bus version of this console emulation on string buses or anything you feel needs a little more sonic real estate in your mixes. Even on tracks that your you’re not looking for any additional “saturation” or “console emulation” this particular model would work well as a general thickening tool.
Yoad Nevo – [Neve 5116 Custom]
Last in the lineup (but certainly not least) we have Yoad Nevo’s Neve 5516 custom console.
With Neve mostly being sought after for tracking because of their extremely silky sound and thicker low-end characteristics, it is quite simply THE console when tracking rock ‘n roll. Still, to this day an old favorite of producers to at track all of the live drums through a set of Neve preamp modules as they exhibit a special character and low-end that been an industry standard for generations.
The Neve console that Waves modeled is based on Yoad’s custom designed console. What’s cool about this concept is while the rest of the world is modeling Neve 1073?s, Waves has decided to deliver a completely custom experience to the plug-in bundle.
I was actually a big fan of this console emulation and found it to be one of my favorites included with the bundle. When the mix bus plugin was pushed hard, the emulation responded well, delivering smooth rounded transients and an overall warmer listening experience.
Although the distinctive characteristics of the Neve console consists of nice warm thick low-end, it’s interesting to note, that in Waves emulation here, I felt a lot of highs were also introduced into the mix. Not being overbearing this console yielded a smooth sheen over the productions we tested adding a more well-rounded digital summing experience.
While the SSL model added a bit of sparkle and mid-range and the EMI console added tremendous low-end thickness to the signals. I felt the Neve emulation here was the most well-rounded of the bunch, adding thickness to the bottoms, warmth to the mid range, and a nice sheen to the top end signal.
Waves NLS Non-Linear Summer In Use
When reviewing and testing analog modeling and saturation type plug-ins, my personal preference will always be to utilize them in electronic music productions. Typically these types of tracks are 100% digital and have never hit air or any type of true analog devices in their lives.
The appeal of these types of plug-ins is that they can help add an additional edge and warmth that is often missing from digital audio workstations mixing environments, and also helps breathe new life into digital synthesizer and virtual drum machine based plug-ins. The grouping feature here also worked very well and I was able to switch between the console emulations gracefully and with ease.
Waves NLS Summing Plugin Full Mix (In Use)
In the following example, we apply the Waves NLS console emulations to an entire mix.
The effects of analog summing are always cumulative, so it definitely helps to hear more of a difference when the plug-in is engaged collectively across a multitude of tracks.
The order in this example is also the same as our second example (Bypassed, SSL, EMI, Neve), switching consoles every eight bars. Because all of the sounds in this production were digitally generated, it will help to show-case what the plug-in is actually doing to the input signals.
Just like their hardware counterparts, these emulations definitely favor the sweet spot and we felt that was located at the +6 drive setting. Typically going over that setting would yield unwanted distortion artifacts.
Consoles On All Of The Audio Channels / Switched Every 8 Bars:
Waves NLS Summing Plugin Drums & Bass (In Use)
One thing we can’t forget… Is that the characteristics of analog summing can be quite subtle.
In the following examples I’ve taken only the drum and bass tracks of this particular production. Starting with the plugin bypassed, then changing the models every eight bars.
After the first eight bars, the second console emulation is the “Spike” Stent SSL model. The third emulation is Mike Hedges EMI TG12345 MK4. The final emulation is Yoad Nevo’s Neve custom 5116 console emulation.
The settings for each console emulation were the individual channels driven to their “+6? setting. The mix bus was also set at +6. The channels were properly gain staged to help combat any distortion that might have come into play from driving the consoles at this setting.
Consoles On Only The Drums & Bass Channels / Switched Every 8 Bars:
Although the effects are subtle, it might be hard to differentiate between them wearing headphones. On our studio grade production mixing monitors, the effects were quite noticeable.
The Waves NLS Non-Linear Summer Conclusion
In our new found world of digital recording, producers and artists alike are learning more and more that although modern recording programs are extremely feature packed and fun to use, the sound they produce makes most people feel that something is missing. Waves has attempted to help solve this problem with this particular plug-in bundle. Although the effects of summing plug-ins can be quite subtle, when staged correctly and used across all tracks in the mix, it can definitely help add some of that mojo that has been missing.
The three emulations supplied were drastically different from each other. (which I found very refreshing). It was also very easy to tell them apart and I can picture these emulations working well in hybrid console configurations. For those of you having trouble hearing the differences between the emulations, I would suggest that this plug-in might not be the best fit for you. For the rest of you looking to get that other 10% back into your productions, the Waves NLS Non-Linear Summer could be exactly you have been looking for.
Pricing & Information
Waves NLS Non-Linear Summer: Native $249 + Tax. TDM $349 + Tax.
Waves (USA). T +1 865 909 9200. www.waves.com