Wave Rider Plug-In from Quiet Arts Ltd.
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by Barry Rudolph
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Wave Rider

From New Zealand comes Wave Rider a unique RTAS plug-in that automatically rides fader levels in Pro Tools. When inserted on an audio track in a mix, Wave Rider constantly "reads" that track's instantaneous level and writes real-time fader level automation data that "mirrors" all level changes. Wave Rider is switchable between increasing or decreasing fader levels predicated on the track's dynamics. There is no processing of the audio itself so there is no coloration, artifacts or any compressor controls to adjust. All level changes to the Pro Tools mixer faders are sent through HUI controller signals like any outboard fader controller.

The overall effect of Wave Rider is different than that of a compressor or leveling amp, in the case of level boost, or a ducker or downward expander in the case of decreasing level changes. Besides being much more responsive and adjustable than a compressor or ducker, Wave Rider sounds like having the world's finest mixer executing his/her most accurate moves on your mix.

Once a single pass of the mix is made and automation data is written, Wave Rider should be removed. The automation information is now ready for further refinement if required.

The advantages of Wave Rider are many: by way of careful parameter setup, Wave Rider maintains a nominal output level on the inserted track; once the automation is written, no host DSP is needed throughout the length of the mix as is the case for compressor or ducking plug-ins; Wave Rider will control up to 32 faders--the limit of HUI in Pro Tools; Wave Rider will control any track based on the level of any other track--great for automatically reducing a music backing track whenever the voice-over track is active. Another use might be to "parallel ride" vocal double or harmony tracks so they dynamically track the "ebb and flow" of the lead vocal.

In The Studio

Wave Rider (version 1.4.0.1 tested here), at this time, is a Native RTAS plug-in for Pro Tools and MAC OS X Universal Binary--10.4 and above. It works the same in PT 7 and 8 although numerical parameter value entry is not working yet in PT 8.

Installation went fine into my Pro Tools HD 3 Accel rig where I run PT 7.4 cs11 and MAC OS X 10.4.11 on a PPC Quadcore. WR authorizes using an iLok dongle and requires configuration of Setup/Peripherals/MIDI Controllers where HUI, Command 8, MotorMix and other controllers are assigned to any of four banks of eight faders each.

Since I already use a PreSonus FaderPort motor fader on the first bank, I still have three banks of eight faders each that I assigned to WR Ports 1 through 3 of the plug-in's 4 total ports available. HUI protocol (at this time) allows for up to 32 faders only and WR will address all 32 and also "play nice" with other controllers such as my FaderPort. However with WR assigned you cannot bank through sets of eight faders with the FaderPort's bank button. I developed a routine where once WR did my fader moves, I would go back to Peripherals and deselect it.

It would be extra great update if somehow WR's assignation in Peripherals was stored and then reestablished whenever you instantiated this plug.

Wave Rider As A Ducker

A good way to familiarize yourself with WR is do what I did for my first test: use it as a ducker. A typical use for this plug-in is for post-production work where a backing track would have to be "ducked"--reduced in level whenever the voice-over audio track is active. Doing this manually is tedious and mistakes are easily made.

WR also works well to duck automatically many different microphone feeds when all or some of the mics are in noisy environments and contribute to the overall noise floor of a recording and ultimately to the broadcast audio. In the case of live sound capture; the location soundman would not have to worry about an inadvertently muting a mic and losing audio. In the case of the post-production mixer, he would not have to figure out which mic track is added noise to his mix at any given time.

Without a suitable source available to try this, I used one of my record mixes in Pro Tools and put WR on the lead vocal track and set it to control the backing track's master fader.

Simple Setup

The first thing to set on the plug-in is to select the Duck mode and, from a drop down menu, the Port and Channel fader in your Pro Tools mixer you would like to control. I had three ports or 24 channels set up and in my 60 track mix I had to move the Master fader from the end of the mixer to the last HUI fader/slot at Port 3 Ch 8--this is another limitation of HUI control--you cannot freely assign faders across different ports. WR has a handy "test" button that, when clicked, will identify the Pro Tools mixer fader under control of the particular instance of WR you are adjusting.

I set the Output fader (in WR) to the default of -18dBfs (dB before full-scale) so the ducking range is referencing 0 (unity gain) on the Pro Tools fader. I also set the Park Level to 0dB (default). In Duck mode and with "Park On Silence" toggled, Park Level is the level the Pro Tools fader will go during silence. The silence level is determined by the value "Set Silence" fader. For my ducker, I set this to -24dBfs.

The Ducking Range fader tells how much the controlled fader will duck down in level. Since I wanted to reduce a roaring Rock track slightly to hear my tiny-voiced singer, I set this only to -5dB--a setting where you could just notice the track diving in level whenever she sang. Ducking range goes all the way down to -60dB if you want the controlled track fader's audio to disappear.

The Behaviour Fader is a kind of overall action control for Wave Rider. The two extremes are labeled "Lazy" and "Pedantic". As you might suspect, Pedantic exactly tracks and quickly reacts to ever nuance of level change applying as much change as possible. Lazy is very slow to react and changes are more subtle. I found a setting just above half way between these two extremes seem to work well.

In this setup, the resultant sound reminded me of the way certain broadcast stations sound--they use a big, multi-band compressor that "pumps" to music with super wide dynamics and loads of low frequency information. Since my song was loud all the time and my singer was, for the most part non-stop singing, the only time this effect stood out was a couple times during the one measure breaks where she didn't sing.

I ended up using this "effect" for a section where my singer talks over the track. I increased the Ducking range so the track attenuated much more. Tweaking the other controls eventually produced a chaotic moment as if my singer was trying to fight off the track from swallowing her up. I can only say you'll have to try this out yourself!

Now Let's Rock A Ride!

With the same singer but on a different song I tried WR as a rider. Essentially Wave Rider's forte, I had the same desire as I would whenever mixing Pop songs: keep the vocal steadily riding at a certain level above the track at all times. I would caution novices to lower your monitor level until you get the hang of the controls--there is a tremendous amount of gain available here.

With WR now set to Ride, the Ducking Range control is out of the picture--the plug-in should gray out this section whilst in this mode. In Ride mode, signals below the Set Silence setting are not acted upon and if Park On Silence is selected and the vocal level goes below the Silence level, the controlled fader will go to the Park Level setting within 400ms.

The Park level is the static level for the vocal track given no audio change or input. I found for this mix that -16dB worked well and I set the Output level to -30dBfs but that value is a little misleading. In this mode, Output level is the highest level the controlled track will ever reach--the upper limit or target level. Depending on your mix, you will have to adjust this to taste.

The rest of the tweaking involves Behaviour and Set Silence controls. Behaviour will run somewhere near the Pedantic end for more or less instantaneous action while Set Silence I found in the area of -24dBfs for vocals recorded at conservative (not hot) levels. All of WR's controls are automatable via standard Pro Tools automation methods.

I might add here that Wave Rider should be inserted after any processing plug-ins on vocal tracks so that it sees whatever dynamic and spectral changes you have made to the vocal track. Furthermore in general, your tracks should be as clean, sans any amp noise or headphone leakage--noise-free as possible when using WR in Ride mode. Obviously any low-level grunge (depending on setup) might be ridden upward during gaps in the vocal.

The Behaviour control interacts with the Silence level and determines how much level is added to low-level signals. With Behaviour towards the Pedantic side comes more boost and this worked well for my demure singer's delicate style.

Wave Rider always writes automation data automatically and works best in Latch mode. If there is previous automation data written on the track do not leave that track in Touch as you see WR's action "fighting" your previous rides.

I do wish Wave Rider reacted faster to dynamics but the manual points out that after a WR pass, you should shift the automation data 40ms forward so the level moves more accurately trace the audio waveform's dynamics. This is the icing on the cake for me!

I'd like to see small check marks on the "Choose Track" pull down menu that shows which fader is controlled by which WR--although the Test button is cool--if you were having several Wave Riders running at the same time it would be nice to know which faders are already assigned.

My overall appraisal of Wave Rider is great. I think it is a brilliant idea that will save countless hours of tedium as well provide a quick way to automatically get (at the very least) a passable rough vocal ride. It is not very tweaky like some other high-tech plug-ins I own. Once you get to know how it behaves and works you'll be storing presets like I have for even faster implementation of automatic mixing.

Wave Rider sells for $85 and is downloadable at: www.automaticmixing.com where there is a 17-day trial demo version.



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