Best Waves Plugins of 2020 – Ultimate Round-up

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There are small companies that can make one or two really good software and there are companies like Waves that deliver you an incredible array of plugins and because of good organization and great vision, they all work flawlessly, just like you read on their specification pages.

Our Top Picks for Best Waves Plugins

  • Pure analog workflow
  • 8 channels per 8 bucket
  • Dual interface view
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  • SSL 4000 Series emulation
  • 4 plugins in collection
  • Based on SSL E & G series
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  • 5 modular modules
  • Insert another Waves VST
  • Ideal for live mixing
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Comparison of the Best Waves Plugins

IMAGEPRODUCT
  • Pure analog console workflow
  • Up to 8 channels per 8 bucket in total
  • 4-band EQ with semi-parametric dual mid-range
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  • SSL 4000 Series analogue mixing emulation
  • 4 plugins in collection based on E and G series
  • G-Master Bus Compressor ideal for mastering
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  • Flexible channel strip made my Andrew Scheps
  • 5 modular modules
  • Insert slot to load another Waves plugin available
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  • Rare EMI TG12321 compander and console saturation
  • Detailed pre and post-gain 3-band EQ
  • Based on Abbey Road Studio model
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  • Perfect emulation of EMI TG12410 Transfer Console
  • 5 original interchangeable TG modules
  • Dual compressor mode with side-chain filters
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  • 6 basic sliders for several vocal effects
  • 3 effect types per slider
  • Simple interface, ideal for beginners
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  • 10 different distortion shapes
  • Unique M/S distorting feature
  • Go Berzerk randomizing button
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  • Hybrid reverb with very long decay capabilities
  • Standard 4-band EQ with parametric Mids
  • Delay, de-esser, compressor, and ducker included
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  • Emulation of Urei 1176 FET compressor
  • Two hardware revisions modeled
  • Superfast attack and zero latency
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  • Precise loudness measurement tool
  • 4 readouts modes
  • Includes presets for podcasters and YouTube
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Waves Plugin Brief History Overview

Waves Audio Ltd. began in October 1992 with the Q10 Paragraphic Equalizer plugin and it was the first audio signal processor plugin ever made. Soon after that, in 1994, L1 Ultramximizer was created and it was considered as a benchmark tool for more than a decade.

In 2009 Waves started with the new idea called Waves Signature Series that included collaboration with the famous music producers such as Eddie Kramer or Chris Lord-Alge which resulted in getting a Technical Grammy Award in 2011.

Nowadays, Waves has over 150,000 users worldwide and offers the broadest selection of VST plugins.

What Plugins Does Waves Offer? 

While the best answer would be “all plugins”, the truth is that they are much more famous as creators of VST effects than VST instruments. They have even tried and made some guitar-oriented effects as well. Some of their VSTs are based on a digital algorithm, while others try to emulate the original vintage hardware.

In both cases, Waves has made some seriously good products so you can expect from it to give you probably one of the best compressors among the VST effects, interesting algorithmic reverberations, analog-based channel strips, or tape saturations effects for both advanced or inexperienced music producers.

Pros and Cons of Waves Plugins

Let’s check what are the traits and flaws of Waves plugins in general:

Pros

Below are the main pros:

Simplified Setup

Waves have a centralized system for managing licenses and installed effects which makes handling a plugin much more convenient for inexperienced users.

Signature Series

The signature series was designed by professional mixing engineers. Their knowledge and workaround tricks may save you a lot of time experimenting with what works the best.

Dynamic Effects

Vocal effects are Waves’ gems. Some Waves compressors are consideresd as not just one of the best compressors out there, but even considered to be one of the best VSTs ever made.

Cons

Below are the main cons:

Guitar Effects

Every company has a flaw and our opinion is that guitar effects don't match the quality from the rest of the arsenal. It is useful, it’s just that other companies have much better products to offer at a similar price.

Interface Cosmetics

To be completely honest, there is something about the Waves user interface that could be improved visually. It’s not that it looks bad, but, we have the impression that audio quality surpasses visual appearance. Since general workflow can be heavily based on how something looks, we can just hope that Waves will address this issue in the future.

Quick Take: 
Top 3 Picks

Review of the Best Waves Plugins 

It was hard to hand-pick and categorize just 10 products out of so many wonderful Waves effect, so we hope this list will help you out if you have the same struggle:

Best Overall:
Waves CLA MixHub

PROS

  • Single channel and bucket view
  • Up to 8 channels per 8 bucket in total
  • Insert any Waves VST effect into Virtual Channel
  • 4-band EQ with semi-parametric dual mid-range
  • Pure analog console workflow designed by Chris Lord-Alge

CONS

  • Low-cut switch wouldn’t harm
  • Sections order can’t be switched

Features and Specifications

CLA MixHub has a dual interface. First shows a single channel layout and others allow you to stack up to 8 channels into a bucket view and track specific parameters altogether.

Every channel is designed with 5 sections - input, dynamics, EQ, output and insert point which allows you to load any Waves VST effect. 

The Dynamics section is made from a dual compressor, gate, expander, and a ducker with the hold control including side-chain support. The output section contains a VU meter with monitoring switches, stereo imager knob, and a dedicated knob for panning.

Why it Stands Out to Us

This is probably our favorite Channel Strip plugin ever made. Once you try it, you may find bucket mixing a much convenient way to get the desired results fast and the best part is that a single plugin supports up to 64 tracks which should be enough for probably most regular audio projects.

Simple, intuitive, great-sounding, well-organized - it’s really hard to find a bad word about it. It sounds unique and brings a lot of analog vibe to your tracks, especially thanks to dual compressor settings which also includes the emulation of the famous Urei 1176 FET compressor.

PROS

  • Presets made by Chris Lord-Alge
  • Dedicated x3 and Bell buttons for HF and LF EQ
  • Sound of SSL 4000 Series analog mixing consoles
  • 4 plugins in the collection based on E and G series
  • G-Master Bus Compressor perfect for tightening up final mixes

CONS

  • Requires some learning time
  • Low-pass filter may not be so steep

Features and Specifications

This collection is made from four plugins based on EQ and dynamic sections of the legendary SSL 4000 hardware mixing consoles. 

You have a choice of E-Channel, G-Channel, G-Equalizer, and G-Master Bus Compressor plugins. Channels combine dynamic sections and specific EQ, 242 Q Black Knob EQ for E-Channel, and 383 G EQ for G-Channel. Those panels are placed side by side for a much more convenient view.

Both EQs are based on a four-band interface with adjustable Q for two mid-range knobs while a high pass filter is made out of 18dB/oct and 12dB/oct for low pass filter.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Our general impression is that if you want to get deep into music production, you will need it, eventually.

SSL 4000 was almost a mandatory piece of top-class pop and rock music due to its flexible dynamics chain and punchy trademark sound. This plugin claims it sounds so much like the real hardware that Waves engineers and SSL people couldn't tell the difference. 

Any of these modulus will work great as a final touch on your mixes, but we feel it could be used on a drum bus as well. 

Best for the Money:
Waves Scheps Omni Channel

PROS

  • 5 modular modules
  • Zero-latency, ideal for live mixing
  • Various advanced options for every module
  • Flexible channel strip made by Andrew Scheps
  • Insert slot to load another Waves plugin available

CONS

  • 24db/oct filter is missing in Pre module
  • Gain reduction LEDs could’ve been more detailed

Features and Specifications

Scheps Omni Channel a zero-latency channel strip made out of 5 modules in a modular fashion so they can change order.  

Pre module comes with three types of analog saturation, Compression also has three different compressor models, while EQ is made out of four full-parametric bands ranging from 20 to 20k and the gain structure ranging to 15 dB. DS2 module is an advanced de-esser with two bands and four filters and finally, Gate provides you with all necessary controls for required noise reduction jobs.

Why it Stands Out to Us

There is probably no better way to enrich your input signal in a subtle and non-invasive way than using a good channel strip. It can bring the breadth of analog sound to your track without affecting overall sound so much. 

It also may bring you with all the necessary effects in a single screen, especially if you’re looking to mix or post-produce some live performance. And just in case it’s not enough for you, thanks to the Insert slot, you can load virtually any Waves VST effect directly into this channel strip, including an additional span of Omni Channel modules.

Best Waves Saturation Plugin:
Waves Abbey Road Saturator

PROS

  • Unique M/S audio processing
  • Based on Abbey Road Studio model
  • Tube & Solid-state analog saturations
  • Detailed pre and post-gain 3-band EQ
  • Rare EMI TG12321 compander and console saturation emulation

CONS

  • Not so logical headroom adjustment button
  • Additional parameters for Compander would be great

Features and Specifications

This plugin precisely emulates the original TG12321 hardware chained with either with TG12345 REDD17 mixing desk for saturation effect. The former results in warmer sound while the latter has a more edgy and aggressive character.

The user interface has several knobs for input, output, and saturation with a VU meter that can display both input and output signals. It can work in both mono and stereo mode, and stereo mode also supports M/S layout.

Both Pre-EQ and Post-EQ are equipped with bass and treble shelf while mids are set to be full-parametric.

Why it Stands Out to Us

We bet you would agree that having a piece of original Abbey Roads Studio hardware is really something special and Waves did it once again for us. EMI TG 12345 is the first mixing console specially designed for this British Studio.

If you’re looking to get that vintage vibe this plugin will work every time. You’re going to love the simplicity of the interface and how much you will achieve with so little parameters included.

It can work on every track and thanks to the REDD 17 console you can go really vintage all the way back to the ‘50s.

Best Waves Mastering Plugin:
Waves Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain

PROS

  • Used in Abbey Roads studio
  • 5 original interchangeable TG modules
  • 4-band semi-parametric EQ in Tone module
  • Dual compressor mode with side-chain filters
  • Perfect emulation of EMI TG12410 Transfer Console

CONS

  • Tape parameters could be more comprehensive
  • EQ frequency in step might feel like an unnecessary limitation

Features and Specifications

This Mastering Chain is based on EMI TG12410 Transfer Console and it is made in the form of 5 cassettes modules - Input, Tone, Compressor, Filter, and VAL Output module. Order of these modules can be changed and completely switched off excluding Input and Output modules.

The compressor comes with 48 dB/Oct sidechain HP and LP filters with two flavors suitable for Vintage (Original) or Modern music. The tone is organized as a 4-band EQ, while the Input module comes with Tape Equalizer knob and Output has a knob dedicated for stereo image spreading. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

Mastering doesn’t need to be an expensive process. Sure, every product range has its pros, but, if you're new to this process, this Waves product may be more than enough for a while. After all, it was an integral part of the Abbey Road Studio up to this date.  

If you’re into rock music, we believe that names such as Pink Floyd, Nirvana, and Radiohead will probably mean something to you.

And while it is oriented towards the mastering section, it could be also used for mixing purposes as well because of the beautiful saturation EMI console provides.

Best Waves Vocal Plugin:
Waves CLA Vocals

PROS

  • 3 effect types per slider
  • Convenient vocal channel strip
  • 6 basic sliders for vocal editing
  • Simple interface, ideal for beginners
  • Based on personal vocal track settings by Chris Lord-Alge

CONS

  • 3-band EQ would be better
  • May be shallow for experienced producers

Features and Specifications

CLA Vocals is a channel-strip made by famous music producer Chris Lord-Alge based on his personal mixing style. He simplified settings he uses most of the time on vocal tracks and transferred it into 6 very comprehensive basic sliders.

There are two EQs for bass and treble, compressor, reverb, delay, and pitch which actually represents chorus effect. All sliders have a 3-way button above so you can bring some variations to the specific parameter, so delay can be slapback, quarter and eight and the compressor can go up to the brick-wall limiting, for example. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

There are just so many plugins made for real professionals. Waves CLA Vocal had something different in mind and we believe that many beginners will appreciate it. It wasn’t designed to impress or provide you with various options. It was made to do the job quickly and easily for those who don't have the skills required for music production.

There is no probably better way to include so many effects with so little sliders and switches. And while it says it was made for vocals, we also feel that you may use it on any kind of guitars or typical synths as well.

Best Waves Distortion Plugin:
Waves Berzerk Distortion

PROS

  • Artistic distortion plugin
  • 10 different distortion shapes
  • Unique M/S distorting feature
  • Go Berzerk' randomizing button
  • Temperature feature set overall color & warmth

CONS

  • Several hidden functions
  • Metering would be a great add-on

Features and Specifications

Berzerk is a distortion unit that comes with 10 shapes that cover a wide range of distortion types. 

The user interface is made from a single panel containing various knobs, such as feedback that can run a tunable sine wave or oscillate the input. Speed knob will help you to shape the groove, along with octave, pitch, and range. 

There is also a semi-parametric 3-band EQ with adjustable Q factor while the Dynamics panel has a simple blend and threshold knobs along with up/down and rider/dyn switches. Side-chain compression is also supported.

Why it Stands Out to Us

It’s amazing how many creative options Berzerk comes with. We can’t think of another unit that allows you to apply M/S distorting so that you may apply distortion only to the sides or middle getting some really interesting results.

Go Berzerk button is a very interesting feature that randomizes the selected distortion shape. It may come really handy when you need to break the usual workflow or jump out of your regular mindset. It may go literally on any instrument or a vocal track and you may be especially surprised how good it sounds on the drums.

Best Waves Reverb Plugin:
Waves H-Reverb

PROS

  • Support for 5.1 channel setups
  • Bunch of handy factory presets
  • Standard 4-band EQ with parametric Mids
  • Hybrid reverb with very long decay capabilities
  • Provides you with delay, de-esser, compressor, and ducker

CONS

  • Meant for experienced users first
  • May require slightly more CPU power than expected

Features and Specifications

This software is actually a hybrid version. It’s generally based on FIR reverb that provides richer and deeper reverb tails that allows H-Reverb to better fit the mix without compromising the overall crispiness so much wanted in the high end. But, it also comes with synthetic parameters typical for algorithmic reverb. 

It comes with two software versions, so if you need decay time longer than 6 seconds, there is a dedicated Long version of this same plugin. Both software is virtually the same and can load any given factory preset bundled with the purchase.

Why it Stands Out to Us

While the key feature of this unit is reverb, this software also comes with a delay, de-esser, compressor, and ducker effect. Reverbs can emulate both artificial or natural reverbs and with other sections such as EQ, delay, compressor, de-esser, and ducker you may easily finish all-vocal editing within a single plugin. 

Envelopes for attack and decay can be edited individually which may lead to creating unique gated reverbs and even reverse reverb. But, it also allows you to be surgical about your reverb as it removes any part of the reverb that makes the overall mix muddy. 

Best Waves 1176 Compressor Plug:
Waves CLA-76

PROS

  • Exclusive ALL control
  • Pre-amp distortion modeling
  • Two hardware revisions modeled
  • Superfast attack and zero latency
  • Emulation of Urei 1176 FET compressor

CONS

  • Wet and Dry mix knob would be awesome
  • Attack and Release values could be represented in milliseconds

Features and Specifications

CLA-76 comes with two Urei 1176 models emulated with the original preamp noise - Revision B (Silverface Bluestripe) and Revision D-LN (Blackface). Those two models have slightly different gain stages and noise levels.

The user interface is built to resemble the original rack visual interface so you have exact knobs for Input, Output, Attack, and Release and several buttons for Ratio and VU Meter display for Gain Reduction, Input, and Output level.

Software is also capable of undoing and redoing the last 32 actions with an option to store two compressions simultaneously that could be recalled instantly.

Why it Stands Out to Us

Urei 1176 is probably the most used FET hardware compressor ever. It was made in the ‘60s and thanks to its 50ms attack response it worked excellently on the drum bus because all the transients could be captured musically.

As a true emulation, we can confirm that CLA-76 is no different. Even the hum coming from the power current was captured in both 50Hz and 60Hz so it may match the hum of your region.

Total Harmonic Distortion is faithfully transferred into the software world along with All-Ratio-Buttons-In Mode which allows some really aggressive compression useful for parallel compression.

Best Waves Meter Plugin:
Waves WLM Plus Loudness Meter

PROS

  • 4 readouts modes
  • Support up to 5.1 systems
  • Precise loudness measurement tool
  • Includes preset for podcasters and YouTube
  • Gain and Trim controls for loudness normalization and correction

CONS

  • Doesn’t support 32-bit OS version
  • Not all industry standards supported

Features and Specifications

WLM plus is a loudness measurement tool that provides you with the Momentary, Short Term, Long Term, and True Peak readouts and tracks down where your files have loudness problems. 

Short and True Max values are monitored in real-time and you can define Short Term time from 400ms up to 2 minutes. However, in EBU mode, it is fixed to 3 seconds duration.

It also comes with Gain and Trim controls for correction of loudness levels and a True Peak Limiter and it’s fully compatible with the ITU 1770-3, EBU and ATSC industry broadcast standards.

Why it Stands Out to Us

DAW metering may not be enough sometimes, especially if you’re looking to get to the certain loudness required by the digital platforms as a standard. That’s why you’re going to love presets provided with WLM Plus as they come with the dedicated presets for podcasts and YouTube.

Also, we like the fact that it did trade some features for price as it may not overwhelm you with so much technical information and features while still doing its job correctly. Regardless of your actual needs, it will work for broadcast, movie trailers, games, or any other digital media.

How to Install, Activate, Recover, & Update Waves Plugins

All plugins can be installed using Waves Central. From this app, you can also manage all your licenses and move them on several devices.

  1. Plugin installation. To use the Waves plugin, you will have to install the plugin and activate the license. You will have to create an account on the waves website and use it to login to Waves Central. By selecting plugins you want to install from My Products tab and device where you want to install plugins you will start the installation and product activation process.

  2. License activation. However, the license may be removed so you can install a plugin on a different machine. This way you can transfer your license temporarily by using Waves Central and clicking on the Licences tab on the left. From this menu, you will need to select your Waves account and simply choose the product you wish to activate. Please note that the license will be removed from your list upon installation.

  3. License recovery. In case you lose your USB flash drive, you may recover them. Go to the Licences tab and select disconnected devices, click on the arrow to expand the list and choose the plugins you wish to recover.

    Please note that licenses can be recovered only once a year unless you find the missing device which automatically resets this limitation once you connect it to the Waves Central.

  4. Update plugins. Waves Central shows you when the minor updates are available for your products. If you wish to update older Waves plugins such as the v10 series, you will have to update your licenses for those plugins first.

  5. Supported OS. Currently, Waves plugins are running under v11 that is officially supporting Windows 10 and macOS Sierra 10.12 and up. If you have an older OS we don’t recommend updating your software from v9 or v10.

If you prefer graphical step-by-step reference, check the video below for a full overview of what was just described: 

Waves Plugin Tips

Here are some tips regarding using Waves plugins in general:

Mixbus Chain

Everyone has their favorite for buses, but a Tape Machine with extra analog summing is always a good choice. They will color your sound with a pinch of harmonic distortion. It may be a great call to use it from the very beginning.

Multiple Compression

If you’re recording modern music, you will need vocals upfront. This may require several stages of compressing including parallel compression. So, don’t be afraid to put your vocals through several stages of compression.

Signature Series Plugin

Creating a professional track is a work of art sometimes. That’s why Waves Signature Series may come handy as many top-class professional mixing engineers made not just presets, but also a simplified interface so you can focus on less technical demands.

Don’t Push Too Hard

The creative part of the music production should take more time than technical and, please, remind yourself of that occasionally.

If you feel you’re investing too much time on getting tracks together, make some radical cuts, decide and move along with composing. After a while, when your ears get rest you may revisit the problematic part and check if it still sounds wrong.

Conclusion 

Companies such as Waves were there from the dawn of the VST era. They have moved the complete industry forward and they have proven their quality so many times on so many projects that it’s really hard to not consider them at least an option no matter what effect type you’re looking for. 

People Also Ask

Now we will review some of the most frequent questions regarding technical terms mentioned in features regarding Waves plugins such as parallel and side-chain compression, also, we’re going to tell you a little bit more about Chris Lord-Alge and his importance to modern music and what should you expect from purchasing Waves plugins.

What is Parallel Compression?

Parallel compression is a process of duplicating the original track so that a copy will be processed with the compression and then blended with the original track to personal taste. The compressed copy will be affected by the heavy compression ratio or even limiter with a gain reduction going even up to 40dB. 

What is Side-Chain Compression?

Sidechain compression is a type of compression where the compression level of one audio track is applied based on the volume level of another track. For example, bass compression could be controlled based on the volume of the kick drum. This prevents a lot of frequency conflicts and results in a much cleaner mix in general.

Who is Chris Lord-Alge?

Chris Lord-Alge is an American mix engineer famous for his approach for dynamic range compression. He has been with many artists including Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Rolling Stones, Bruce Sprinsteen, and others. 

Back in 2009, he enrolled with the Waves and made several CLA Signature Series plugins.

Are Waves Plugins Worth the Money?

Waves are one of the oldest software companies out there. While the quality may vary depending on what plugin you’re using, they have both the reputation and the quality to prove our point in general. And the best of all, they provide users quite often with the discount codes and sales.

How Many Waves Plugins Are There?

As Waves are in this business for more than a decade, there are more than 200 Waves plugins at the moment and they probably handle all the effect types possible. Sure, some are outdated, but some are holding great even today, like Waves Tune for example.

How to Check Waves Plugin Version

You would have to open Waves Central app and go to the My Product Tab. By simply clicking on the plugin you want to check it should provide you with the information of the current version and also alert you if there is a new version available for an update.