Are you passionate about the board game Trivial Pursuit? Then this could be a good question for a new pink card: “What do all hit records, major motion pictures, and popular video games worldwide have in common?” Well, for all those involved with professional audio, it shouldn’t be a big deal to answer, because ever since the digitalizations of audio, professional audio signal processing technologies and audio effects have become of paramount importance for recording, mixing, mastering, post production, surround, live, and broadcast sound. The world’s leading developer and supplier of these tools is headquartered in Tel Aviv, Israel, with additional offices in the United States in Knoxville, Tennessee and Shenzen, China. You got it? Of course, the right answer is Waves Audio Ltd.
ZioGiorgio.com had the chance to interview Mick Olesh, Waves EVP of Sales & Marketing, asking him about the history of Waves Audio, the process of creating new plugins, the importance of physical modelling of plugins and audio signal processing technologies for the live sound market.
ZioGiorgio.com: Founded in 1992 by Gilad Keren and Meir Sha’ashua, Waves Audio has been making plugins for 23 years. Can you give us just a quick overview of the story of Waves Audio?
Mick Olesh: Waves began in October 1992 with the introduction of the first audio Plugin, the Q10 Paragraphic Equalizer. The Q10 broke new ground in three major areas. First, it was the debut of the audio signal processor plugin, a tool commonly used today. Second, its graphic user interface gave users unprecedented control and eliminated the requirement for a DSP engineering background since it automated the filter coefficient calculations. Finally, the revolutionary Q10 offered sound quality equal to or better than many of its hardware counterparts.
Waves has gone on to develop a comprehensive line of over 200 audio plugins, including industry standards like the L1 and L2 Ultramaximizers, popular vintage console models, and innovative mixing tools like Vocal Rider and the Artist Signature Series. For its accomplishments, Waves received a Technical GRAMMY® Award in 2011, and the Q10 was selected as an inductee into the TECnology Hall of Fame. Waves technologies are now used to improve sound quality in virtually every sector of the audio market, from recording, mixing, mastering and post-production to broadcast, live sound, and consumer electronics. Waves has over 20 years of expertise in the development of psychoacoustic signal processing algorithms that leverage knowledge of human auditory perception to radically improve perceived sound quality. Waves’ award-winning processors are utilized to improve sound quality in the creation of hit records, major motion pictures, and top-selling video games worldwide. Waves offers computer software and hardware-plus-software solutions for the professional and broadcast markets. The company’s WavesLive division is a market leader in all live sound sectors, spearheading the development of solutions for all live platforms. Under its Maxx brand, Waves offers semiconductor and licensable algorithms for consumer electronics applications. Waves Maxx technologies dramatically enhance audio performance and are used by industry leaders such as Dell, Lenovo, ASUS, LG, Oppo, JVC, Denon and many others.
ZioGiorgio.com: Can you describe the process of making a new plugin project? And what determines the decision to create a certain type of plugin versus another one?
Mick Olesh: Every decision at Waves is a joint decision; we have a yearly plan that goes through an ongoing revision process. In addition, consulting sales, product management and colleagues in the industry – all contribute to the decision process.
In the case of partnerships: The majority of engineers and producers (which we call “Artists”) are Waves users. In many cases the interaction works both ways. They have ideas that they forward to us, or we open a discussion with them. We then proceed by developing a relationship via our Artist Relations department.
In the case of emulated plugins, the majority of the Waves emulated products are with an Artist or with a manufacturer. Each TM we use is covered by an agreement with the manufacturer or the Artist the product belongs to.
An emulation project can take anything from 10 to 36 months, depending on the complexity of the product emulated.The first steps to find the original documents of the gear that is being modeled, after which test recordings are run to evaluate its characteristics. Then we make rough builds of the plugins, and compare the plugin to the original hardware by A-B-ing. A process of intensive tweaking follows until we get the ultimate results. The next stage is testing, which involves a group of testers who effectively try to trip the plug-in up and break it across platforms and plug-in variants in a methodological way that can be backtracked and repeated. Then, it goes to our Q&A department which tests for bugs. Finally, the product is sent to a number of Beta testers. This is crucial for evaluating the overall user experience. In parallel to the above, our designers work on designing the plugin, focusing on aesthetics and functionality as well.
ZioGiorgio.com:How important was the step to creating physical modelling plugins?
Mick Olesh: The process of modeling at Waves involves not only respect for the cherished equipment being reproduced, there is also an element of preservation and especially, the opportunity and challenge to offer our users accessibility to rare and exclusive equipment. The majority of the Waves emulated products are made with an artist or with a manufacturer. Each TM we use is covered by an agreement with the Artist or in the case of modeling with the manufacturer or the product. This includes SSL, API, Dan Dugan and many others. An emulation project can take anything from 10 to 36 months, depending on the complexity of the product emulated.
ZioGiorgio.com: You are mostly known as a software company, even though to date there are a few hardware items in your product portfolio. Do you have plans to expand the hardware product range?
Mick Olesh: Waves Audio thrives to deliver better performance with ease of use and as long as these terms are met, we will continue to provide software and hardware solutions that create a platform enabling the user advanced working methods.
ZioGiorgio.com: Live Sound has become a very big part of your company. What are the determinants that made that possible?
Mick Olesh: The foremost factor in our expansion in to Live is the creation of Waves SoundGrid technology, an Audio-over-Ethernet networking and processing technology which provides extremely low-latency, high-channel-count audio processing, using standard Intel CPUs and 1 Gbps Ethernet networks for studio, live sound, and other real-time professional audio applications. Real-time audio processing is performed on standard Intel-based plugin servers, running a Waves-customized real-time version of Linux.
So, in short, Waves groundbreaking SoundGrid technology was the main factor in that it enables processing at almost zero latency, a crucial factor in enabling the use of plugins in a live environment.
Since, SoundGrid is a protocol for real-time, low-latency audio processing and networking, it enables applications such as Waves MultiRack and Waves SoundGrid Studio and DAW plugins such as StudioRack to share and control I/O devices and servers across a network. It brings flexibility, quality and economy to work environments ranging from simple project studios to complex networked recording and broadcast companies.
In addition, the SoundGrid infrastructure is open to third-party hardware and software developers alike. Waves is working closely with additional plugin vendors and several hardware manufacturers in order to create a wide range of solutions and expand even further the family of SoundGrid-compatible tools. Committed to this task, Waves invites additional companies to be part of this revolution. We guarantee to provide the necessary tools, support, and supervision in order to ensure the high-quality products that our industry expects and deserves.
ZioGiorgio.com: There’s still some misconception about using plugins live. Some people think that it’s unnecessary and all just icing on the cake. What could be the best arguments to convince these “disbelievers”?
Mick Olesh: Waves provide tools for an array of sound engineers, be it highly professional to small venue operators, for tours, for installations, broadcast etc. Hardware has its place but using Waves software plugins in Live environments solves mobility issues, keeping a processing chain consistent no matter what console, digital or analog, enabling the use of a processor on as many tracks needed, the ability to go from studio to stage and back with the same plugin set up, it is cost effective and offers designated plugins that provide subtle coloration to a mix, which at the end of the day – makes the difference between a good mix and a fantastic mix.
Waves have provided the industry, in addition to great hardware emulations, tools that are now considered to be indispensable and real problem solvers. For example:
The Waves Dugan Automixer, a plugin that automatically controls the gains of multiple microphones in real time, dramatically reducing feedback, studio noise and comb filtering from adjacent microphones. It maintains a consistent system gain, even when multiple speakers are talking simultaneously, and makes perfectly matched crossfades, without any signal compression, and without a noise gate that may cause unwanted sonic artifact.
The Waves C6 Multiband Compressor, which has become a must-have plugin for FOH and Monitor engineers. The C6 gives you all the multiband compression and dynamic equalization you need to control, tame, and shape your sound and it lets you zero in on problem frequencies with surgical precision.
The Waves MaxxBass, which uses psychoacoustics to calculate precise harmonics that are related to the fundamental tones of sound. This gives engineers the ability to get an impressive low end in challenging acoustic environments and, when systems can’t deliver.
The Waves SubAlign, soon to be released, gives live engineers a survival tool when mixing on systems with improper time-alignment without access to the system processor.
ZioGiorgio.com: What do you see as the future of Waves regarding the live sound market?
Mick Olesh: Waves are fortunate to have a long list of upcoming projects in the pro recording, live sound and consumer world. Waves does not release information on future products that are not planned for immediate release. We will be announcing new products at NAMM 2016.