No More Waves Envy

Last time, I talked about my first impressions of the Waves SoundGrid/DiGiCo integration on the SD10. While it was overall very good, my conclusion is that I don’t really need Waves. See, I’ve spent a fair amount of time getting my drums, bass and vocals sounding really good using the built-in EQ, Dynamic-EQ, Compressors and Multi-band Compressors in my SD8. When the SoundGrid crashed one weekend, I simply turned off the inserts, and went back to my normal processing, and I was honestly hard pressed to tell a big difference.

With Waves, you can have an SSL channel strip whenever you want it.

Yes, there were some subtle character shifts in the sound, but they were different not better or worse. I like what the CLA-76 did on my snare, but I also like what I can do with the built-in processing. The CLA-3A sounded great on the bass, but so does the SD8 (or 10’s) built-in multi-band.

The final tipping point for me happened one weekend when I couldn’t getting the toms sounding good. I was playing with the EQs, comps and all kinds of stuff trying to make them work. Finally, I asked my ATD, Jon, to go look at the mic positioning. He moved them by a few degrees (literally!) and the sound completely changed for the better. I disabled all the plug-ins and went back to mixing. 

And thus ended my plug-in envy. Yes, the Waves plug-ins are fantastic. If you want to buy them and use them, by all means do so. They are great products, and they keep running super pricing specials on them. But before you do, make sure you have all your mic’s properly selected and placed. We dramatically improved the sound of our B3 earlier this year by buying two PR-30s for it. The toms sounded better because the mic placement changed. Get that stuff right first. 

Sometimes I feel like we tech guys can obsess too much with details. Now, if you’re making a record that will be listened to over and over, yes, obsess over the choice of compressor and all the settings. But in a church service, the song is there and then it’s gone. Most of us get one or two passes through the song in rehearsal to get our mix dialed in. We don't have time to choose between 12 different compressors. Of course we should make it sound as good as we can, but I can promise you that no one will be going to lunch after a Sunday service and wonder why you used the built-in compressor on your console instead of a CLA-3A on the snare. 

Now, if you’re mixing on a console that doesn’t sound good, Waves plug-ins might be a great way to improve it. But on a DiGiCo, it’s just not a big need—unless you’re going for a specific effect. For example, the SD8 has nothing like R-Bass that I could have used to make the earthquake effect sound as big as it did on Good Friday. And if you need some guitar cabinet modeling, well, Waves are a great way to go. But my worship leaders sends me some amazing sounds in stereo from his Fractal Designs Axe-FX II, so I don’t really need those either.

Before you start composing that angry comment, remember, I like the Waves plug-ins. I just don't need them. As a technical director of a medium sized church (2500-ish), I have a rather limited budget, and high expectations. We also have a lot (and I mean a lot) of outdated equipment that needs to be replaced. I would much rather save some money for a new PA than spend it on a SoundGrid server. I also need a new video switcher, and all new video wiring. And then there is the stage re-design we want to work on… 

I have to keep the big picture in mind—as much as I would love to geek out on audio all the time and fight for some cool toys. At the same time, I’m not going to begrudge anyone who wants to buy a SoundGrid system and upgrade their sound. I’ve been told by several people that an M7 with an external clock and Waves sounds like a whole new console. That might be worth it. 

But to all my fellow DiGiCo jockeys out there—and DiGiCo may not be happy with me saying this—don’t fret if the SoundGrid upgrade doesn’t fit in the budget. You’re doing just fine without it. The SD series sounds really, really good out of the box, and I would argue that we’re better off getting the right mic in the right place. 

At the end of the day, my conclusion is simple: Waves=Great, and for me unnecessary. What has been your experience (if any) with Waves? Do you suffer from Waves envy?

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