Waves is one of the most popular, if not the number one company for audio effects plugins and VSTs. With their high quality audio and user interfaces, as well as brilliantly modeled versions of analog gear, Waves offers a variety of plugins for mixing, vocals and instruments for recording, performing, and mastering. In this article we’ll take a look at the most essential Waves plugins for your arsenal as a producer and mixing engineer.
1. CLA-2A Compressor/Limiter – The Compressor That Sounds Great on Everything
The CLA-2A is easily one of the best compressors out there. Modeled after the classic CL-2A analog compressor and filled with Chris Lord Alge’s own presets, it sounds great on everything, but it especially shines with guitar, bass, and vocals.
The two knob layout is pretty simple and straightforward, so beginners shouldn’t struggle with using the plugin and dialing in the settings they need. Advanced producers and pro engineers won’t find the CLA-2A underwhelming either thanks to the limiter feature of this plugin.
- Sidechain frequency filter button
- Compresses or limits
- No adjustable knee parameter
The CLA-2A gets a spot on this list as an essential compressor and limiter for its versatility and slight analog warmth.
2. CLA-76 Compressor / Limiter – The Essential Drum Compressor
The CLA-76 is modeled after the famous Universal Audio 1176 Compressor with help from Chris Lord-Alge. Both versions of the compressor, Blue and Black, are featured, and each has a signature sound that will give your drums a tight punch. The plugin even features an “ALL” ratio button that recreates the analog hardware’s extra saturation. This is the perfect compressor for drums because the attack of these compressors is very fast and the saturation accentuates the punchiness of drums.
The interface of the CLA-76 plugin is a bit more advanced, with attack and release knobs as well as a ratio selector. A sidechain frequency filter is also featured. This plugin is great for producers and engineers of all skill levels, as it still remains fairly simple and easy to use if you know how compression works and how to use it.
- Includes both Blacky and Bluey models
- Has attack and ratio buttons
- No separate limiter area
The CLA-76 scores points for being a tried and true compressor that is mainly specialized for drums.
3. F6 Floating Band Dynamic EQ – The Most Powerful EQ Plugin for Dynamic Audio
The F6 Equalizer is an extremely powerful tool that sculpts sound so much better than the average 3-8 band EQ plugin. The F6 is a dynamic EQ, which means when certain frequencies of your choosing pass over a certain threshold, the EQ will activate, taking care of the problem frequencies. There are 6 parametric filter bands, and even mid/side processing and a frequency analyzer graph are built in if you want to get more advanced. The F6 is perfect for everything from vocals to guitar and everything in between. The most dynamic instruments will work the best with this EQ.
The layout is that of a typical advanced EQ, with controls for Q, gain, threshold, attack and release, and more. A beginner may be overwhelmed with these controls and layout for a little while, but intermediate and seasoned producers will be comfortable with the interface and its capabilities.
- Perfect for surgical, problem-solving EQing
- Better with more dynamic instruments or vocals
- May come with a slight learning curve
The F6 is an incredibly powerful EQ that will excel no matter the tonal qualities of your audio.
4. H-Reverb Hybrid Reverb – The Reverb Plugin That Blends Past With Present
H-Reverb, a plugin in the Hybrid line is especially top rated for being a very innovative plugin. H-Reverb allows you to customize the reverb decay in an infinite variety of ways without it ever going out of time with the rest of the song. The H-Reverb plugin adds air to your mix while at the same time providing thick reverb that doesn’t make the rest of the mix muddy. A special feature of this plugin is a drive control, which is rarely seen on digital plugin versions of reverb units and more so on top end hardware reverb modules. This makes H-Reverb the perfect blend between classic software and modern reverb technology. It’s great on everything and anything.
H-Reverb has a ton of parameters, but it also includes presets used by famous engineers and artists to help you get a starting point. EQ and dynamics modules are featured to further sculpt your sound, so it’s more advanced than a stock reverb plugin. This plugin is perfect for advanced engineers and producers.
- Extremely customizable
- Other modules for sculpting reverb further
- Slightly overwhelming layout
H-Reverb’s advanced customization makes it a top plugin from Waves. Its flexibility is unmatched.
5. J37 Tape Saturation – Saturation, Delay, and More in One
The J37 Tape Saturation plugin is made in part by the famed Abbey Road Studios, and is a model of their exact tape machine. This plugin has a variety of tape controls such as Wow and Flutter, Bias, Speed, Noise, and even allows you to choose between different tape formulas. A Tape Delay unit is also included in the plugin, which is what makes the J37 one of the best delay units out there. Overall it has a warm, saturated sound that is reminiscent of the 60’s and 70’s, and the Tape Delay section adds to that with 3 different delay types.
The J37 Tape Saturation plugin is perfect for adding warmth and richness or even giving a brightness and clarity to your mix. The built in delay module makes it easy to get your workflow going without distracting you. It’s a relatively simple and straightforward plugin that fits with many different instruments and vocals across a variety of genres of music.
- Adds character to your mix
- Tape saturation and tape delay controls
- Limited variety of delay types
The J37 Tape Saturation plugin’s warm character makes it an essential plugin because it sounds good on absolutely everything you use it on. Effects chains are completely changed for the better with the J37 on them.
6. CLA Vocals – The Best All in One Plugin for Vocals
CLA Vocals, developed with Chris Lord-Alge is a one stop plugin for some surprisingly nice vocal mixing. It features a variety of CLA’s everyday effects for vocals in one module. Each of the six effects faders also allow you to switch between different types within those faders so you can customize your vocal sound. The faders include bass, treble, compression, reverb, delay, and pitch spread.
CLA Vocals is very easy to use. Bear in mind that your success with the plugin also depends on the quality of the vocals recorded and your experience level. CLA Vocals is excellent for well recorded vocals. Beginners or inexperienced producers may take time to find a sweet spot with each of the faders. Overall it’s designed for those who want an easy way to mix vocals without creating a long chain, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only plugin you’ll need to use.
- Easy for mixing vocals quickly in recording sessions
- All in one plugin for keeping vocal chains simple
- Not always the only plugin you’ll need for vocals
CLA Vocals provides a simple way to get great sounding vocals without taking too much time. It’s great for rock, pop, and many other genres.
7. Abbey Road Studio 3 – Bringing the Perfect Reference Room to You
Abbey Road Studio 3 is a unique plugin that serves as a tool to bring the acoustic environment of the Abbey Road Studio 3 control room, allowing you to get a better reference for your mixes on headphones. The plugin recreates the 3D sound of Studio 3 in your headphones, so when you put it on your master chain it will reveal all the detail (and potentially anything that needs fixing or changing) in your mix. Abbey Road Studio 3 also features settings for surround sound 5.1 and 7.1 so if you don’t have access to surround sound speakers yourself, you can still mix it in stereo headphones.
If your mixing environment is less than ideal, this is the plugin for you. Even if you have a great studio already, this plugin works as a great extra reference. Beginners, intermediate producers, and professional engineers will get a lot of use out of this plugin since having a well treated room is key to a good mix.
- Perfect for headphones
- Compatible with head tracking technology
- Only accounts for headphone size
The Abbey Road Studio 3 plugin makes having a world class recording studio at your disposal possible, and it’s absolutely worth it for referencing.
Waves has a variety of plugins, but only some are deserving of being classic essentials. If you’re looking for essential Waves plugins, this list will get you started. From here you can check out their other plugins.