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Waves plugins are arguably some of the best plugins for audio in the industry. There are many other developers of great plugins, however I’ve used the Waves Gold and SSL 4000 packages for quite some time now.
Another developer that is also well known for high quality plugins is Slate Digital. However, since I am yet to use their products, I will not be able to speak from experience on them. This post will focus on the plugins I have used, and continue to use.
There are affiliate links in this post. If you make a purchase using one of these links, you will not be charged a penny more, however I may receive some small form of compensation. You can read more in my affiliate disclaimer.
An Analog Approach In A Digital World
Since I’m a big hard rock kind of guy, I will be constructing this list mainly from that perspective. I also think it’s important to mention I try to record music in the most analog way as reasonably possible. I usually avoid trying to do something in the digital domain if it can not be done in the analog domain. For example:
- I don’t use autotune anywhere. Singers should be capable of singing, and autotune completely removes character and groove. In other words, it destroys the human element. No autotune plugins on this list.
- I don’t like to fix an offbeat snare hit or guitar strum. I’ll get the drummer, guitarist, or singer to do it again. No beat detective and transient alignment here.
Obviously there are some exceptions, and you might even find one in this list…
Ahem… GTR3… Ahem.
What’s Your Point?
Part of what I am trying to say is that I’m a big fan of plugins that are modeled after real analog gear. However you cannot discount great plugins that don’t have an analog counterpart. Waves is arguably one of the best developers of plugins, whether they are modeling real analog gear or creating something completely new for digital audio processing.
To summarize my point, just because you see a plugin on here that doesn’t have an analog counter part – or it’s a simulator for the real thing (GTR3), that does not mean it can’t fit within my theory of trying to record in an analog way within the digital domain.
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Furthermore, if you decide you want to pick up a plugin or plugin package from waves, I can get you an additional 10% off your order. Make sure you use the code you get in that link to get your discount.
In no particular order, here are my go-to Waves plugins when working on music:
1. SSL G-Channel & SSL E-Channel
These are usually one of the first plugins I’ll throw on every track. Except for guitars and bass – this might be the second plugin for those depending on how I record them. I’ll explain that when you see the next Waves plugin.
My reasoning behind this is because music has traditionally been recorded and mixed through analog mixing consoles. Even today with many guys including myself, mixing “in the box”, consoles are still used on bigger budget projects.
So to in order to best emulate that process and sound, I will pass every audio track through this plugin first.
The G-Channel is modeled after the world renowned SSL G-Series analog console. The E-Channel emulates the SSL 4000 console’s all discrete design.
At the end of the day the question becomes, ok but what’s the real difference in sound between the two?
I’ll be honest with you. There is a very subtle difference between these two channel strips. Most people will only hear it if they have a trained ear. The E-channel sounds a little brighter while the G-channel has a little more warmth. I tend to use the G-channel on rock projects.
2. GTR 3
Guitar amp simulators have come a long way. I remember when I first got Pro Tools it came with an early version of Amplitube. It was absolute garbage. I had heard other amp simulators as well (remember the Line 6 POD?) and frankly, none sounded like the real thing. I steered clear from them for a long time because it was so obviously a computer program.
You can never go wrong with throwing a microphone or two in front of a good cabinet and capturing the real thing.
Then when I got the Waves Gold package with GTR3 in it, I thought I’d give it another shot. The reviews and research I did online suggested this was going to be the new standard for amp simulators.
I am not disappointed one bit. This was the first amp simulator I heard that actually sounded like the real thing! I know for a fact it has been used on a number of songs I’ve heard on the radio already. Some like to use it in combination with real amps to get a fuller sound. Either way, whatever your guitar or bass application, GTR 3 is a great tool and I use it all the time.
Accurate Modelling of Real Gear
GTR3 contains over 30 amps, 30 cabinets, and over 25 stomp boxes to choose from – most (if not all) are modeled after real amps, cabinets, and stomp boxes. On top of that they have been able to emulate popular microphones and placements so you can further shape your tone.
Remember when I said I might throw the G-Channel on as the second plugin on bass and guitar tracks? That’s because this might be the first plugin I use on them. If I record my guitars and bass using a DI, then you can bet I’ll be using GTR3 as the first plugin on that track. That way I can simulate the signal chain that would happen in a regular recording studio. Guitar, to Amp, to mic, to console.
Trust me, you’ve probably heard this program before and thought nothing about the possibility that you weren’t listening to a mic’d up cabinet.
3. H-Delay Hybrid Delay
I love this delay. It’s extremely flexible and sounds amazing.
I really can’t say much about it other than you need to hear it for yourself. This is my go-to delay and it never disappoints. You can set it to a tap, the BPM of your session, or a specific time interval. The modulation, filters, and feedback options allow you to further shape the characteristics of the effect.
This plugin is capable of doing filtering, flanging, and phasing, to slap-back echo, & ping-pong delay – just to name a few.
Once you hear it and use it’s intuitive user interface, you’ll probably see why I love it so much.
4. Renaissance Reverb
The Renaissance reverb is my go-to reverb. The presets it comes with are great starting points – like all the presets on many Waves plugins. However the thing I like about this reverb is the fact that is has virtually any reverb I want. Furthermore, I can shape the characteristics of the reverb to my liking.
From the damping and EQ, to the early reflections, predelay, decay, and diffusion – you are in total control. I don’t think there has been a session where I did NOT use this reverb on something.
5. SSL Master Buss Compressor
Going back into the world of modelling real analog gear, we come to the SSL Master Buss Compressor. Originally this compressor would sit on the master buss (as the name suggests) providing a ready-to-go compressor for your mix. However it has some wonderful characteristics that make it a beast on drums.
I will use this as one of my compressors on my mix buss quite often. However, I almost always use it for parallel compression on drums for its natural punch. Using the SSL Master Buss Compressor in a parallel compression chain is one of your best options to achieve punch and “in your face” style drums.
6. Renaissance EQ
I’ll be honest. I don’t use this EQ because there’s something special about it. I actually use it to dial in to specific frequencies and cut them out to clean up a signal.
Realistically your DAW may already come with the same style of EQ, and within the context of how I use them that is all I need. I really only use paragraphic or graphic EQ’s to remove unwanted harmonic content. It can make a huge difference in the clarity of your instruments in the mix.
If I’m trying to shape a tone where I’m boosting and cutting a range of frequencies, then I’ll use the G-Channel, SSL EQ, V-EQ or something else. In other words an EQ modeled after a real peace of hardware.
Being able to have an extremely high Q value to zero in on specific frequencies is something I use all the time. I use this method most often on vocals and guitars, however it is not uncommon for me to do this on drums or bass either.
Typically I’ll start with the SSL G-channel, then follow it up with one of these EQ’s to do the touching up.
I strongly recommend every audio engineer have one of this style of EQ.
7. H-Comp Hybrid Compressor
This would be the compressor I use if I could only use one. It is extremely versatile and works great on virtually any instrument. Drums, vocals, bass, etc., and even on your mix buss.
Aside from the usual options compressors tend to have, you you can adjust how much “punch” you let through and you can use it as a limiter up to a ratio of 50:1.
The coolest feature of this compressor is the options for the release. You can actually set the release to the beat of the song (Host setting) or some other tempo (BPM setting).
Furthermore you have full control over how much of the signal his compressed using the “Mix” knob
If you’re looking for a versatile compressor that can be used in virtually any situation, this is it.
The Doubler is one of the coolest plugins waves developed. At its core, it is effectively a delay. However, it has a very specific way of operating. I love it on vocals and guitars.
The Doubler allows you to introduce anywhere from one to four delayed signals into the mix. From there you can place each signal in a specific location within the sound field, set the delay time for each, as well as how much to detune each signal (sharp or flat). That’s only the beginning.
Personally I almost always try the Doubler on vocals out of curiosity. I may not always keep it, but I always try it because it can really thicken those vocals up. Sometimes I’ll also use it on guitars to fatten them or widen a single guitar track.
I really think it’s one of those plugins that you’ll never want to let go of once you get it.
9. L1 Ultramaximizer
This is a great plugin to put on your mix buss. Personally I use it as the very last plugin on my mix buss. All the time.
It’s effectively a brick wall limiter and it’s outputs will never peak. It is great for controlling some wild transients and making your mix a little louder. I have also occasionally used it on drums to control a few intense hits, or bring up a quiet audio source a little bit.
However, just don’t over do it. It is a powerful limiter and dropping that threshold too low can quickly make it go from great, to bad.
I will admit that I haven’t used this plugin as often as I could or “should”. I think it’s because I kind of forgot I had it for a while. However, it has resurfaced in my mixes and I am starting to use it quite often.
Modeled after the vintage Neve 2254 hardware compressor, it is also a very versatile compressor. Personally, I think it is great on drums, vocals, and your mix bus.
Waves Plugins Summary
Waves has some great packages that offer amazing plugins. If you are getting into recording and mixing music then you owe it to yourself to pick up at least a few of these plugins. All of the plugins in this list are offered in the Gold Bundle & the SSL 4000 Collection.
However, I know that spending $598USD on two plugin packages, or even $299USD one one package can be a lot for some people. My recommendation would be to at least get the Silver Bundle ($99USD) as it has some of these plugins included, on top of other useful ones not mentioned here. However if you can afford it, definitely get the Gold package because it will have all of these plugins, except for the SSL 4000 series.
My Go-To Waves Plugins
- SSL G-Channel & E-Channel
- GTR 3
- H-Delay Hybrid Delay
- Renaissance Reverb
- SSL Master Buss Compressor
- Renaissance EQ
- H-Comp Hybrid Compressor
- L1 Ultramaximizer
10% off Waves Plugins
Remember, if you decide you want to pick up a plugin or plugin package from waves, I can get you an additional 10% off your order. Make sure you use the code you get in that link to get your discount.