Wavelab 8 DAW review

1 Intro
Merry Christmas — the loudness war is over. Or so they say, dynamic range is back in town
and sophisticated measures of loudness are the order of the day, no more Mr. Loud Guy.
And right on cue Wavelab 8 has appeared down the chimney stuffing our stockings with
shiney new loudness metering, speaker management and a bucket of plugins. A new version
of Wavelab feels very Christmassy in its own right, it’s nice to have a present from Steinberg
Santa Philippe Goutier, and how time flies it really is well over two years since the arrival
of Wavelab 7 brought the ’Lab to OSX.
2 Loudness
There are several subjects guaranteed to wind up your average couple on the sofa but few
as contentious as the loudness of adverts compared to normal programme material and
so annoying is that that in 2010 the EBU published the R128 Loudness Recommendation
with a view to restoring calm to couches everywhere. Wavelab 8 implements the EBU
recommendations and enables an exacting and comprehensive approach to loudness control.
Within the standard Wavelab edit workspace you have flexibile display options with the
dockable meter probably the best starting point. The meter displays eight different aspects
of loudness from momentary loudness (aggregated over 400 milliseconds) through short term
loudness (3 second chunks) to integrated or overall loudness of the programme material so
far. You also get a display of your ‘target loudness’ and the dynamic range of each of the
three loudness measures. Now there really is no excuse for having viewers and listeners
reaching for the volume control in every ad break. And with the ability to view loudness on
a file by file basis in non real time checking the compliance to these standards is a straight
forward business. With loudness normalising available in both the edit workspace and the
batch processor this is a real boon to radio stations with audio material from multiple sources
all at different levels. Load them en masse into the batch processor, define your loudness
standard and hit start and boil the kettle. Sadly the integrated kettle interface is not yet
working within Wavelab 8 — maybe in version 9.
2.1 Speaker Setups
Another new feature of version 8 is the ability to define up to eight different monitoring
setups that are available only a mouse click away in the master section. Each preset can
be stored including its own setting for the volume control. For multi monitor setups in
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mastering rooms this is a real boon, making it easy to feed different speaker arrangements
for painless comparisons of your master on different loudspeaker systems. Each set up has
eight defineable outputs, making it capable of anything from mono to 7.1 surround. For me
it’s great to set up a channel swap setting and it’s also easy to use this feature as a custom
‘dim’ key, but actually an on screen ‘dim’ key would be great too. If I can be allowed a
little user interface niggle, I like a double click to set a pot to ‘zero’ — I’m not against Ctrl
clicking — I just prefer a double click.
2.2 Superclips and Submontages
One of the major new features in version 8 is the ability to nest montages and ‘freeze’ clips
with their effects into cached files so saving cpu horse power. In any montage you can select
a bunch of clips and designate them a ‘Superclip’. This Superclip is rendered and can be
inserted in any montage (excluding itself of course). However if you later decide to change
the effects applied to your Superclip or re-edit it in anyway then you can simply call up
the sub-montage make your changes and then save them. Saving the montage renders the
superclip and automatically refreshes the Superclip in any montage in which it is being used.
Neat eh? Superclips can be internal to your project in which case they are described as I
sub-montages or they can be external or X sub-montages. These x rated superclips and can
then be shared with other projects. You can nest sub-montages to any level to build up your
finished product. If you are absolutely confident of your superclip then it can be frozen and
rendered once and for all to produce a standard audio clip. The freezing process means the
clip cannot then be edited as a montage.
The Montage workspace supports montages from stereo up to 5.1 surround. You choose
the channel format when creating the montage and when working in a surround format the
audio clips can be routed to the surround outputs using the surround panner. The issue of
surround is a slightly thorny one. In the Montage workspace you can work with as many
tracks as you like and if you create a surround montage you can route the tracks to your
various channels. However what you haven’t got is direct support for surround tracks and
this is something you currently just have to work round. You can open a 5.1 surround file
into a 5.1 surround Montage but the audio tracks are not synced together as they would be
if you loaded a stereo clip into a stereo track.
2.3 Plug Ins
Every incarnation of every DAW and editor needs to field some plug ins to be taken seriously.
The tricky bit is striking the balance between quantity and quality. In version 8 the new
additions to Wavelab weigh in on the quality side of the scales. Advanced dithering and
bit reduction is provided by Izotope’s MBIT+, a chunk of the Izotope Ozone 5 package.
Izotope’s products come with a substantial reputation and the inclusion of their dithering
algorithms is a nice bonus. Also bought in for version 8 is Voxengo’s CurveEq. A smooth
sounding EQ with a tidy feature set, the Curve’s party trick is the ability to copy and paste
EQ curves from one piece of audio to another. To get the spectrum matching trick off pat
you will need to be willing to spend some thinking time in the interface, there’s quite a few
options in there. However you can just click and add points to a curve or even just draw
one freestyle if a more direct approach appeals. CurveEQ made an appearance in Cubase
7 as did the Tube Compressor and Brick Wall Limiter which also make the short trip over
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to Wavelab. As you might expect the Tube Compressor is warm and comforting while the
Brick Wall takes no prisoners. Both of these are welcome additions to the Wavelab audio
armoury but with your new found loudness metering you’ll want to be using these bad boys
sparingly.
2.4 And the Rest
Steinberg claim over 150 improvements over version 7 and some of the handiest are in the
edit functionality. The gain of a selected section can be raised with one click, volume handles
offering easy editing of subsequent gain changes. Trim to selection makes it a snap to discard
unwanted audio outside the selected audio area while you can also apply a sequence of plug
ins to the selected area with just one mouse click. Well after having defined your plug in
chain in the first place. Version 8 also ups the meta data game with a comprehensive meta
data editing environment, including a template approach where you can set up a meta data
preset for your recordings. With support for a raft of formats including CART and BWAV
Wavelab 8 offers a professional grade meta data solution.
2.5 The Wrap
Having spent much of my life in multi track DAW world I’ve always admired Wavelab
without being a signed up member of the fan club. Despite a very productive time working
on material from Tony Christie, Paul Carrack and Alabama3 in Wavelab in my younger
days, I tended to hang out more in Sadie, Sequoia and Pyramix world. But things change,
back then I was a big user of Word, now I’m a WriteMonkey monkey — simple yet powerful
distraction free text editing — it’s all about the content. And that I think is the attraction
of Wavelab, yes it has a blizzard of options and powerful tools, but increasingly it’s the focus
it brings to the content that I find more and more compelling. Wavelab 8 is all about the
sound and that is just fine by me.
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