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  • Steinberg WaveLab 7

    This pro review is personal – I’ve been using Wavelab since version 1, and while I also use other digital audio editing programs, Wavelab gets the call most often. So when Steinberg wanted a pro review on Wavelab 7, I was totally up for it – I could get educated on how to use it, while we all discover what it can and can’t do.

    We’ll also be able to give it some serious exercise, because I do a lot of mastering – I have a couple tracks coming in the next few days, so the timing is great.

    One of Wavelab 7’s main features is that it’s the first version that also runs on the Mac (I guess Apple’s decision to throw in the towel on RISC and go for Intel made life easier for developers). I’ll be using it primarily on Windows, but will also test it on the Mac to see how it responds.

    As with most pro reviews, we don’t want to re-invent the wheel – there’s plenty of background information on the Steinberg web site. There’s a good rundown of the new features, which also provides a “road map” for what we’ll be covering. A lot of this has to do with workflow, so any benefits will reveal themselves while using Wavelab for real-world projects; but there are many new plug-ins, including restoration tools from Sonnox, that will provide plenty of review fodder.

    You can get a free trial version that lasts for 30 days, and is fully functional. Feel free to follow along with what we’re doing here Also, note that there are actually three different versions of Wavelab 7. We’ll be reviewing the full version, but the Elements version is excellent value if you don’t need some of the more advanced features (there’s also an LE version). You can find a useful comparison chart on the Steinberg site.

    As with most pro reviews, the review starts when I start working with the program. So, let’s take a look at installation.

    Wavelab 7 is multi-lingual - German, English, Spanish, French, Italian, and Japanese – and the installation wizard starts by asking you which language you want to use. Next comes the EULA, and yes, I read them. The main item of interest is that although Wavelab is protected by an eLicenser and USB dongle (“key”), when using the Steinberg key you are allowed to install the program in up to three computers, although you can use only one version at a time. This is great for me, as I can have a version on my main Windows machine, Intel Mac machine, and PC Audio Labs 64-bit Windows laptop. (Incidentally, Wavelab will run with 64-bit operating systems, but is not a true 64-bit application – Steinberg says there’s no real advantage to being able to access huge amounts of RAM, as would be the case with virtual instruments that have huge sample libraries and don’t stream from disk).

    Activation is painless, assuming you have an internet connection. You open their eLicenser Control Center program, enter the activation code, then download the license. That’s it.

    However, I do need to add a sidebar here. I used to hate Steinberg’s eLicenser (formerly by Syncrosoft) - even more than iLok, if such a thing is imaginable. In a review for Keyboard magazine of a product that used Syncrosoft protection, I really ripped into the protection for being unreliable and user-hostile. At the next Frankfurt Messe, I met with a Syncrosoft representative and he started asking me why I hated their system so much. I started talking, he took out a notepad, and began scribbling furiously. And you know what? They fixed the problems I mentioned in the next rev. I found that impressive, to say the least, and although any protection system that uses a USB dongle adds a tiny bit of CPU overhead, on my system the eLicenser protection system has been solid as a rock for a couple years now. I certainly understand the need for companies to protect their software, but I’m glad some companies understand the need for legitimate users not to have to jump through hoops to actually use their software.

    But I digress.

    After opening Wavelab, it checked all the plug-ins in my system. Wavelab recognized all but a couple of the virtual instruments, and instead of hanging or crashing, gives you the option of skipping the plug-in or continuing to try and recognize it. Eventually Wavelab opened up, and the attached image is what greeted me. (Well actually, this has been “squished” to fit our forum constraints of images being no bigger than 900 x 700 pixels; the “real thing” has a more open layout.)

    But then I went to open a file, and the program froze. Uh-oh...
    _____________________________________________
    There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

  • #2
    Steinberg officially supports Windows 7, but informally, I was told by Steinberg it should work fine on XP and Vista. So, I had installed it on my XP SP3 Windows machine – it’s a PC Audio Labs speedster, with two dual-core Xeon 3.0GHz processors and 8GB of RAM (useful when I use the 64-bit version of Vista, which is installed on a separate, removable system drive). Yet I couldn’t get the program to load anything.

    Upon closer examination, opening the program would cause the “infinite hourglass,” and clicking on the UI caused it to turn white and become useless. I uninstalled and re-installed the program in case that was the problem. Nope.

    I then switched over to 64-bit Vista and tried to install WaveLab 7. I use this OS almost exclusively for video; the only programs installed on it are 64-bit Sony Vegas and 64-bit Cakewalk Sonar X1. WaveLab had no problems, opened up fine, and loaded files. After using it for a while I did get a crash when trying to do several things simultaneously, but I figured that was par for the course with a x.0 version (a bug fix update, 7.01, is due any day now).

    So obviously the program worked. I then went to the Steinberg forums, and after poking around a bit, found someone who had mentioned having the same problem. Philippe Goutier, the man behind WaveLab, responded that it was likely a driver issue, and suggested going into the registry at HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\ASIO and deleting driver keys to see if that solved the problem. So, I would highlight the key, export it for safekeeping, delete it, and try opening the program. If I had the same problem, then I’d import the key to return the registry to the way it was, and move on to the next key.

    It turned out there was a driver for a SCOPE PCI card that had been removed because I ran out of card slots, and once I deleted that key, WaveLab opened perfectly. Problem solved! However, it seems like it would be a good idea to have WaveLab show a message if it encounters a problem (e.g., with Sonar, if it encounters a non-working driver, it shows a message you need to dismiss in order to keep loading drivers). Granted, most people won’t have “dead” interface drivers sitting around, but the more user-friendly an experience can be, the better – and messing with the registry is not something I’d consider user-friendly.

    While I was looking through the forums for a fix, I also saw a lot of complaints about the new user interface – they found it hard to get used it, it was very different from WaveLab 6, they were intrigued by WaveLab 7 but when they wanted to get work done they booted into WaveLab 6, etc. Frankly, that wasn’t my experience at all. I had no problem loading an audio file, processing it with plug-ins, and creating a data DVD-ROM. The master section was pretty much the “same as it ever was,” and everything struck me as logical. I think the reason some people have difficulty is because the new version is a much stronger program, and it goes way beyond WaveLab 6. It’s almost as if this was really WaveLab 9, and there had been two intervening versions.

    The paramount change is that WaveLab 7 is now essentially four programs in one, each with its own workspace: Audio Files, Montage, Podcast, and Batch Processing. A toolbar with four buttons, visible toward the lower middle right of the image in the previous post, lets you switch among these. These functions used to all be combined in WaveLab 6 (although the handling of the Montage feature was a hint of things to come), but breaking them out independently allows for more sophisticated handling overall. The one quibble I have is the name of the “Podcast” section; it really should be called “Publishing,” as this is also where you create data CDs and DVDs. That’s a minor point, but intuitively speaking, someone looking to back up their data would not likely think to look under “Podcast.”

    To help ease the transition for new users, there are several possible layouts you can choose when you call up one of the four functions, from basic (which exposes a minimum number of options) to advanced. I believe these are also customizable, but I found the defaults to be well thought out. The [COLOR="Blue"]attached image shows the New Workspace option in action.

    Within minutes, I had loaded an audio file and was checking out the new plug-ins. As to the “It’s too different, I can’t handle it” issue, I just don’t get it. You can use WaveLab 7 as you did before without having to go through too many mental gymnastics. It’s only if you want to take advantage of all the new features that you need to go digging, but how could you expect anything else? It’s a new version with more than just a few changes here and there – WaveLab 7 represents a radical, intelligent, and forward-thinking reworking of the program. Let’s investigate further.
    _____________________________________________
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    • #3
      The more I get into WaveLab 7, the more impressed I am. There’s a very helpful document for Wavelab 6 users on the Steinberg site that contrasts the differences between 6 and 7, and recommends various ways of approaching the new features. This is required reading! If Microsoft had included a document like this with Vista, it probably would have been a success.

      With WaveLab consolidating several functions into sub-programs, it’s necessary to not be confused by options that apply to, say, only the Audio Files workflow when you’re working in the Montage. So, WaveLab’s Options Menu has two distinct options: Global preferences, such as audio streaming settings, global look and feel preferences, plug-in settings and organizations, etc. Referring to the [COLOR="blue"]attached image, this is the group of four options above the first line in the menu (outlined in red). These options are the same for the Audio Files, Montage, and Batch Processing sections, but simpler for the Podcast option because the latter is about publishing, not editing.

      Below the line, you’ll see Audio File editing preferences because I’m currently in the Audio Files workspace. If you’re working in the Montage, you’ll see Montage preferences. Batch Processing and Podcast don’t really need these kinds of preferences, so you have more general options like folder assignments and command customization.

      Now, it may seem silly to get into this level of detail on preferences and options, but it helps underscore the grander nature of WaveLab 7, and the thinking behind the workflow. When you create a program with this level of sophistication and complexity, it won’t do anyone any good if no one can figure out how to use it. By segregating various elements of the program, each element becomes more approachable. In fact, I was never much of a Montage user because I found how it related to standard editing as being confusing. After spending five minutes checking out the Montage section with WaveLab7, it now makes perfect sense.

      Anyway this is a review, not a manual, so I don’t want to get too deep into all the options that are available in WaveLab; the main point I want to make is that clearly, a lot of thinking went into how to organize the new functionality to make it as useable as possible. I believe those who find the new interface confusing simply don’t realize that WaveLab 7 is now a far deeper program, and as a result, there will of course be areas that are unfamiliar. However, if you want to treat WaveLab the way you worked with it before, it’s customizable enough that you can do just that, then explore new features at your leisure.
      _____________________________________________
      There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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      • #4
        When you drag multiple files into WaveLab 7, they fall into neatly tabbed views, as shown in the [COLOR="blue"]first attached image. (By the way, we have an image size restriction of 900 x 700 pixels in this forum, so many of the pictures you see will show a piece of the overall WaveLab 7 workspace, not the whole thing. And in some images, the workspace will be “scrunched” more than it would be in a real-world work situation so we can fit what needs to be shown in a single image.)

        However, if you prefer the tiled view, you can go Tabs > Tiled and the files are tiled (see the [COLOR="blue"]second attached image), the way they were in previous versions of the program. This is good for getting an overview. This image also shows how the top view above the main waveform view can show the waveform, spectrum, or loudness. Also note the splitter bar between the two sections, which lets you do anything from minimize the overview to make it bigger than the main waveform.

        The other option is Cascading the files, which you can then rearrange as desired in the workspace – see the [COLOR="blue"]third attached image. This is a view I use a lot, where I put on file above another to compare before and after versions of files.

        This is a good example of what I mean about being able to use WaveLab as you had used it before, or you can take advantage of new capabilities.
        _____________________________________________
        There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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        • #5
          Let’s get into the audio files section, as that’s probably the function that will be most necessary to former WaveLab 6 users. As a real-world example, I have a file to master from Canadian singer/songwriter Rick Parnell; his files usually just need tweaks, not a salvage job.

          Bringing up the file, I first noticed a bit of low-end boominess which I attributed to the “body boom” of his acoustic guitar. The high end was fairly well-balanced, but I felt the midrange needed a bit more definition to bring out the guitar and vocal, and that a little “upper midrange air” would help add to the human quality by bringing out more of the expressiveness of the vocal.

          I’ve also found that with many files, adding a steep lowpass filter at the very highest frequencies adds an almost subliminal “non-digital,” more natural quality. You can’t really hear it unless you take out the filtering. Also, it seems that if someone converts a file into MP3 format, this reduces high-frequency artifacts. I tried it with Rick’s file, and felt it was an improvement; but by using a fairly high Q, the cutoff not only became steeper, but added a little bump around 10kHz that gave the little bit of air I wanted.

          To confirm my impressions visually, I went to the Tools menu and opened the Spectroscope. I don’t see any way you can switch this to monitor the processed signal; it only monitors the raw file. But, that’s still plenty useful, as ultimately, my ears decide whether I like the EQ changes.

          The [COLOR="blue"]attached image shows the results of the editing, including the EQ curve and spectral response. Also note I added a bit of stereo widening; I feel that helps with a file that doesn’t use a lot of instruments, as it fills out the stereo field more.

          Finally, as you can see from the raw waveform, Rick doesn’t slam the dynamic range – for which I am always grateful . But that also means the raw file doesn’t take full advantage of the available headroom, so it’s time for some loudness maximization. Personally, I don’t have a problem with maximization but I do if it “squashes” the signal. With singer/songwriter material, I feel it’s crucial to maintain a satisfying dynamic range so I wanted to see if WaveLab 7’s built-in maximizer could add a light touch, or whether it was a sledgehammer. I added about 3dB maximum of maximization, and think it added just the right amount of boost.

          There are several aspects of the Master section that are essential for mastering. You can bypass individual effects, and also, solo effects to hear the results of using only that plug-in. Or, bypass all effects, or bypass the entire master section. This is of course essential for “reality checks.”

          Speaking of reality checks, I’ve always appreciated that WaveLab makes it easy to check a file in mono, which you do in WaveLab 7 simply by clicking on the mono button to the lower left of the faders. This is particularly important when using “widening” plug-ins.
          _____________________________________________
          There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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          • #6
            When mastering, I always save a preset of the various plug-ins and settings. If the client listens to the mastered version and wants a small tweak, it’s always easier to call up the preset and make the tweak than start from scratch.

            But WaveLab 7 adds a really, really great feature: You can save up to five temporary presets for quick comparisons. This is another example of the kind of “small,” but very thoughtful, features that have been added to WaveLab 7. Also, the whole preset creation process has been streamlined – none of that “update settings” stuff, you just Save or Save As. Nor do you have to right-click on a plug-in and select "Show" to see its GUI; there are check boxes next to each effects slot in the master section that make it easy to show/hide the GUIs for particular effects - see the [COLOR="blue"]attached image.

            Next came rendering. It sure seems that WaveLab 7 renders faster, but that may just be because I didn’t add very complex effects to this particular file. After rendering, I wanted to confirm visually that the file wasn’t too “squashed,” whereupon I found another cool feature: The scroll bar along the bottom lets you zoom in and out depending on where you grab & drag. This isn’t a new idea, of course, but it’s new to WaveLab 7. You can also zoom in and out using a rotary-looking control toward the window’s lower right, so it’s kind of a “have it your way” situation for zooming.

            The final step is trimming the top and tail. I also add a very slight fade-up from black at the beginning, and fade-out to black at the end. Another WaveLab 7 surprise: Normally I just used to hit Ctrl-D and add a fade, but this time, when I selected the beginning of the file, and went Process > Fade-in, WaveLab 7 gave me a choice of 7 different fade-in curves. Nice. I chose Exponential+ as I wanted a very quick transition from black to full audio.

            I added the fade-out, saved the file, and sent it to Rick. Hopefully he’ll dig it. I’ll ask him if I can post a brief before-and-after audio example.
            _____________________________________________
            There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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            • #7
              Well, Rick was very happy with it, except he wanted a little bit of a fix on the very first vocal phrase; it had some distortion that wasn’t too audible on the original file, but when put under the microscope of mastering, you could definitely hear it. He also wanted it a little “warmer.” I added some Waves De-Crackle (the Sonnox plug-ins included with Wavelab don't have a similar function) to reduce the spikiness of the distortion, and also, took just a tiny bit more off the high end.

              Also he was cool with posting a before-and-after excerpt (thanks Rick!), so I chose a song (“Desire”) with the most obvious difference between the unmastered and mastered version. The original mix had a big bump around 500Hz, which created a sort of “boxy” quality. The mastered version takes that out, and if you ever needed proof that cutting can sometimes be better than boosting, check out the audio example—there’s no other significant equalization, but dropping at 500Hz really brought up the lower and higher frequency ranges. I added a bit of dynamics maximization, and took off a bit of the extreme highs to warm up the mix a bit.

              Instead of spreading out the stereo image, though, in this instance I brought it in a little because I felt the vocal should be emphasized a bit more. As the vocal was mixed to the center, narrowing the image brought up the center a little bit, and the vocal fell into place quite nicely. Click on the audio example to hear an excerpt from the original, unmastered mix (normalized so the peaks hit zero) followed by the mastered version.
              _____________________________________________
              There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

              Comment


              • #8
                Before moving on to the next mastering project, Rick had sent three songs for mastering, and I wanted to make sure the loudness was matched among the three of them. Normally I just listen for what’s right and leave it at that, but WaveLab 7 has a “loudness” view you can call up instead of the waveform. So, I thought it would be instructive to look at the cuts, and see how close my ears came to what WaveLab 7 considered as matched volumes.

                To show how easy it easy to compare loudness, I made a short video. There are two versions, WMV and MP4 (which is also iPod compatible) so choose whichever you prefer. This shows six tabs: The left three call up the original mixes, and the right three call up the mastered versions. You’ll note as I click through the tabs on the video that the left three have some significant, albeit not huge, loudness differences. The ones on the right are louder on average (the result of the dynamics processing) but also note that they’re matched really well. I must say it was comforting to have WaveLab 7 confirm visually that my ears are working properly when judging relative loudness! Thanks again, Rick, for letting me use your music to demo some of the WaveLab 7 features.

                Next, as luck would have it, an album project just came in for mastering from David Bryce, who’s a moderator for the Keyboard Corner forum at www.musicplayer.com. He’s also given permission to let me use his cuts for before-and-after examples of the various plug-ins and processes; as he’ll be turning this into a CD, we can also explore the CD assembly and burning options with a real-world project.
                _____________________________________________
                There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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                • #9
                  The 7.0.1 update has been released, which addresses a lot of the "x.0" bugs that people have reported. I'm downloading it now...

                  At this point I've mastered one album and a bunch of singles with WaveLab 7. It hasn't crashed or pouted, and the workflow has definitely sped up the mastering process compared to using WaveLab 6.
                  _____________________________________________
                  There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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                  • #10
                    The Master section is an important part of WaveLab, as that’s where you add effects, apply dithering, do rendering, save and load presets of particular effects configurations, and the like. Let’s cover the section as a whole because it is quite improved over WaveLab 6.

                    I already mentioned that it’s possible to bypass individual effects easily, but that’s just one small feature. Referring to the [COLOR="blue"]attached image, there are four main elements in the master section. From top to bottom:

                    Effects slots. This is where the effects go, but with WaveLab 7, you can show/hide slots (up to 10 slots total). For example, if you only have two or three effects loaded, you can hide the empty slots to either allow more space for the faders, or “compress” the master section to create more screen space overally. You can also “fold” the effects area into a strip to save space.

                    To the left of each effects slot you have three buttons: Bypass (but this is for playback only – the effect remains in play for rendering operations), Solo (great for when you want to hear what only one effect is contributing to the overall sound), and “Monitoring Point.” When selected, the meters monitor that point in the effects chain – very handy if you want to know what’s happening to signal levels within the chain, not just at the output.

                    There are also three buttons to the right of each effects slot. One shows/hides the effect’s GUI when clicked. The “Lock” option makes sure the effect persists, even if you load a different preset, or solo a different effect. The “Power” button disables the effect from both playback and rendering. Seems to me this could have been combined with the bypass to have three states – off, playback only, and playback/rendering – thus eliminating one button and simplifying the interface a tiny bit.

                    One other function not found in WaveLab 6: When you right-click in an effects slot, not only can you choose the effect, you can also shift effects up or down starting with the slot from where you clicked.

                    Meters. Aside from showing levels, this section is also where you can monitor in Mono, unlink the meters so you can set separate levels for the two channels, and reset peaks. These meters are for overall monitoring; there are many more additional metering options using a dedicated meter window, which we’ll get into later.

                    Dithering. You probably won’t be too shocked to find out this is where you can add dithering. It has the options of other effects slots except for Solo (which you probably won’t find shocking, either).

                    Rendering and Presets Section. This is another area that is far more advanced than WaveLab 6. You can bypass all effects for playback but not for rendering, bypass master section and disconnect all master section plug-ins from the CPU, dock/float, reset everything (gets rid of plug-ins and resets meters), smart bypass, and rendering options.

                    Smart bypass is both clever and wonderful. In a nutshell, it can compensate for level differences by matching the loudness between the dry and processed sound. No longer can you be misled about whether an effect sounds better because it’s just a shade louder – you can do truly accurate A/B comparisons. I absolutely love this feature, it’s genius.

                    Rendering also has some useful twists. You can process in place, or create a named file (in which case it appears in the main window). Other options are to add crossfades at boundaries, render multiple sources, and an option that I first found very confusing but then learned to appreciate, “Bypass Master Section on Resulting Audio File.”

                    Here’s how you’d use this. You have a raw file and you’ve added some processors. You render this to a new named file, but check this option. Now you can keep the same processors in place, maybe making a few tweaks, and generate another named file. You can then compare the two named files (which will not be re-processed by any master section effects, even if they’re enabled) to the raw file, which is still going through the processors.

                    As a practical example, I recently did mastering for a client where I felt the vocal had a boxy quality. The arrangement was pretty sparse, so I could EQ to optimize the vocal and “open it up” without causing too many repercussions. However, the client felt that I opened it too much, and he wanted some of that boxy quality. As I was doing “long-distance” mastering, I couldn’t just have him listen to a file. But with WaveLab 7’s rendering options, I was able to create two variations and not have them affected by the master section processors, as well as tweak the original file using the processors, and bounce back and forth among all the files to find a sound somewhere in between the original file and my first mastered file.

                    As far as presets are concerned, you can import presets from WaveLab 4-6 so no worries – you can uninstall WaveLab 6 and still use any presets you developed. But overall, the process is far more streamlined compared to WaveLab 6’s bizarre combination of new/update/etc. This uses a straightforward "save/save as" paradigm, you can open presets from various locations (not just a dedicated folder), and as mentioned previously – but it’s worth mentioning again! - you can save five temporary presets.

                    The bottom line on all this is that you can manage effects far more, uh, “effectively” and also, WaveLab 7 makes it super-easy to compare multiple files, with and without effects. The more I get into WaveLab 7, the more impressed I am with the attention to detail.
                    _____________________________________________
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                    • #11
                      WaveLab 7 handles documentation somewhat differently from other programs. When I was checking out reactions to WaveLab 7 on the Steinberg forums, there were quite a few snarky comments about the “lack of proper documentation” . This is kind of like someone seeing a car for the first time, and saying it obviously was flawed as a method of transportation, because it didn’t have “proper horses.”

                      Basically, WaveLab 7 is about online documentation and help files – that’s the conventional part. But what’s really helpful is that it has taken the “tool tips” concept to a higher level. When you hover over a button you get a terse description of the button, along with a hyperlink (not a link to the web, but internally within WaveLab) that says “more.” When you click on this, you see a more complete description that pretty much tells you all you need to know about that function. For example, the [COLOR="blue"]attached image shows what you see if you hover over the Lock button in the Master section, then click on More.

                      Now, here’s why I think this is brilliant. First of all, if you can’t remember what a function does, the information is right there and it’s pretty much all you need to suss out the details. But also, if you want to learn about the program, you can learn about it in context. For example, when I was writing about the Master section, I had already used it during the course of several projects. But there were still some fine points I hadn’t explored – a little “tool tip time” filled me in.

                      To me, this is far superior to having a printed manual. Environmental and cost issues aside, if I wanted to find out what, for example, the lock button did, with a printed manual I’d have to find the right chapter and the right section, or hope that the term was indexed and didn’t have 46 entries I had to look through in order to find the complete, correct definition. With WaveLab 7’s approach, I just hover over the button and click on “More.”
                      _____________________________________________
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                      • #12
                        I'd mentioned that David Bryce had come to me for mastering, and I expected that this would provide lots of opportunities for talking about a real-world album mastering project with WaveLab 7. It didn’t quite turn out that way, for several reasons. But, there’s still an interesting twist.

                        The album had to be completed in order to meet a Christmas deadline, and I basically had one day to do the job. Ouch – I never work that fast, as I at least like to have a day to let my ears reset and listen to a project again. However, Dave had already trimmed the files the way he wanted, and frankly, the mixes were already pretty "hot" so I didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver. Nor was that really necessary, because he’s been down this road before, and knew the sound he wanted. The material definitely needed some EQ, imaging, and level-matching tweaks, but that was about it.

                        So I loaded all the songs, and started work on one of them. I created a preset that was pretty much a template; I used iZotope’s Ozone 4 not because the WaveLab 7 plug-ins weren’t up to the task (we'll be covering them next), but because of time constraints – I know Ozone 4 like the back of my hand, and didn’t have time to learn all of WaveLab 7’s new plug-ins (that said, I still did use the Stereo Widener and some other plug-ins included with WaveLab 7). I then made a few tweaks to the preset for the different songs, and when rendering, used the “save named file” option so they were all available for auditioning at the same time, and only a tab away.

                        This is where the loudness view became indispensable, because I was able to check for loudness mismatches visually, then listen to determine whether these were beneficial (e.g., a softer song needs to be softer!) or due to mixing issues.

                        As a result I was able to bang out the masters, do instant comparisons, match levels, and get the whole project done in a day. David was totally happy with the results, except for a couple tiny tweaks that he ultimately decided weren’t important enough to delay the project, as he noticed these issues only on one specific set of speakers. I doubt that I would have been able to get the project done that fast, with such good results, working with WaveLab 6.
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                        • #13
                          When WaveLab first hit the world, it didn’t have particularly impressive effects. It didn’t have to: Steinberg’s VST concept was mature, and a wealth of plug-ins existed that you could use with WaveLab. Over the years WaveLab has raised the “effects ante” somewhat, but WaveLab 7 includes a pretty impressive array of signal processors that go well beyond what was included in WaveLab 6. Let’s give an overview of the available effects first, then describe some of the more novel ones (if we covered each effect in detail, this pro review would still be going when WaveLab 8 comes out).

                          First up: The legacy effects. These are Windows only (there is no legacy of Wavelab on the Mac!), and are included for compatibility with older projects. The documentation pretty much dismisses them by saying “Their use with new audio projects is not recommended and they are not documented.” A little harsh, maybe, but I for one don’t miss the EQ-1, and the VST3 replacement processors are definitely a cut above. For example, why use the old “DeClicker” when you can use the shiny new one from Sonnox?

                          Speaking of which, there are three Sonnox effects for signal restoration: DeClicker, DeNoiser, and DeBuzzer. If you know Sonnox, you know these are great additions. They don’t have some of the graphic bells and whistles of the “full” versions, but the “meat” of all these effects is present.

                          In addition to VST-type plug-ins, there are also “built-in” plug-ins that are more utilitarian in nature. These include:

                          Crystal Resampler. Resampling in many programs has been iffy, but WaveLab 7 now has serious, high-quality resampling courtesy of the Resampler. You can resample in 17 steps from 6kHz to 384kHz, including all common sample rates and with four quality choices (the tradeoff is additional processing time for higher quality).

                          Leveler. This is not a limiter, but a way to correct gain imbalance between left and right channels. An additional Leveler Multi allows fading all channels of a multi-channel input equally.

                          Peak Master. This reduces peaks so you can have hotter mixes, and offers parameters for Input Gain, Output Ceiling, and “Softness.” I mention the latter because with several of these effects, some parameters are cryptically named, or uncalibrated. For example, softness ranges from -5 to +5. Sure, we should be using our ears anyway to make adjustments, but I’d like a better idea of exactly what “softness” does. Does -5 mean the softness of kitten fur, and +5 the hardness of a steak cooked at Denny’s? I don’t know...

                          Silence. This is one of those “why doesn’t every program have this?” kind of functions. It can inject up to 60 seconds of silence, with 1ms resolution, at the beginning or end of an audio file.

                          Stereo Expander. This has already become one of my favorite WaveLab 7 effects. It’s great for stretching the stereo image, but does so with zero apparent effects when summing the channels to mono. I’ve used this several times when mastering to make each instrument a bit more distinct in the mix, and it’s extremely effective.

                          To hear what I mean, check out the [COLOR="blue"]attached audio example. The first 40 seconds don’t use the expander, but from there on, it’s set to maximum width. Of course, you probably wouldn’t want something this drastic; this is just to show what the plug-in can do. Regardless, it’s impressive.

                          Next, we’ll take a look at the VST3 effects. It’s a very useful roster.
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                          • #14
                            I love going to NAMM shows, but they sure cause havoc with pro reviews...so let's pick up where we left off, and get into the VST3 effects. We'll do basic descriptions of the more conventional effects, while in subsequent posts, we'll cover more esoteric effects by giving detailed descriptions and including audio examples.

                            Autopan

                            This is a conventional autopanning effect, but the only modulation source options are sine and triangle. I would like to have seen a smoothed sample-and-hold, and some type of envelope detection.

                            Chorus

                            This is a standard, single-voice chorus. The only significant departure from most choruses is the addition of high and lowpass filters for the processed sound.

                            Compressor

                            Again, the usual parameters with two exceptions: An Analysis control determines whether the compressor reads the peak or RMS signal, in any proportional (it's a control, not a switch - nice), and there's a hold option in addition to the usual attack and release parameters. You can also turn off "look ahead" for live processing, where you want minimal latency.

                            DeEsser

                            The usual controls and funtionality for reducing sibilants.

                            Mono Delay

                            As expected, except that there are low and highpass filters for the feedback path. I consider this an essential feature when you don't want echoes to "step on" the main, dry sound.

                            Expander

                            This is similar to the compressor, but does dynamic range expansion instead of compression.

                            Gate

                            The cool thing here is an internal sidechain (i.e., it monitors the input) with multimode filter (highpass, lowpass, bandpass) that includes resonance. Like the compressor, it also has an Analysis control to determine whether it monitors peak, RMS, or a combination of the two.

                            10-Band Graphic EQ

                            This has a very interesting Mode option with six different filtering "characters," including variable Q and constant Q. Another option, Resonant, lowers the gain in adjacent bands when raising the gain in one particular band.

                            30-Band Graphic EQ

                            Same as the 10-band, but with more bands.

                            Limiter

                            Your basic "clamp-the-output-level" limiter.

                            Maximizer

                            Like other maximizers, e.g., Waves L2 etc.

                            Downmix 6 to 2

                            Makes it easy to mix six channels of surround material down to two. It adds no effects or enhancements, it just mixes.

                            Downmix 8 to 2
                            Similarly mixes eight channels of surround material down to two.

                            Mono to Stereo

                            Creates a pseudo-stereo signal from a mono source, mainly through delay and other enhancements.

                            Multiband Compressor

                            A typical, four-band multiband compressor.

                            Ping Pong Delay

                            Stereo delay that alternates echoes between channels.

                            Stereo Delay

                            A conventional stereo delay, but like the mono delay, includes high and lowpass filters in the two feedback paths. Cool feature: It has a side-chain input for control from another signal source.

                            Studio EQ

                            This is a 4-band, parametric EQ. The two middle bands are conventional parametric stages, while the outer bands offer different modes (shelving, peak, and lowpass/highpass).

                            Those are what I consider the most "standard" processors. Next, let's look at some of the "special sauce" effects.
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                            • #15
                              We'll start our look at the more unusual effects with distortion. Don't think of this as an amp sim, it's really about distortion. However, it has some non-standard controls that I found very useful.

                              Boost is pretty obvious, and turning it up all the way turns anything into almost white noise. Feedback, according to the documentation, "feeds part of the output signal back to the effect input, increasing the distortion effect." What it sounds like to me is that with increased feedback, the distortion is more focused. I really like the high feedback settings, although it seems most effective if I generally keep Boost fairly low.

                              Tone is as you'd expect, but Spatial applies different distortion characteristics to the left and right channels, which creates a stereo effect.

                              The [COLOR="blue"]first attached image shows the settings for the [COLOR="blue"]first attached audio example, which processes drums (from the Discrete Drums sample library). The distortion setting is relatively tame compared to what this module can do, but pay particular attention to how the kick sounds when distorted - it's a full, solid kick that would be fabulous for dance tracks.

                              The [COLOR="blue"]second attached image shows the settings for the [COLOR="blue"]second attached audio example, which processes electric guitar chords. This showcases more of the "splat" type of distortion you can get with this module.

                              In general, I prefer using this with simple sound sources, like individual drums, rather than program material. It's not the Perfect Distortion of All Time, but can add useful effects for sound design and remixing, is fabulous if you want to add some real power to drums, and can also give totally over-the-top effects if that's what you want.
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