REVIEW: Waves CLA Epic Plugin

Sound Engineer and lecturer, Jon Burton, casts an expert eye over Waves CLA Epic Plugin, designed in collaboration with Grammy Award-winning producer Chris Lord-Alge.

What is it?
The latest collaboration between software designers Waves and legendary mix engineer Chris Lord-Alge, CLA Epic combines Lord-Alge’s favourite go-to delays and reverbs in one plugin, that lets you blend, layer and internally route the effects.

What’s great?
A novel workflow-based approach to blending multiple effects using console type faders to get that ‘epic’ sound.

What’s not?
Lacks the simplistic interface of other CLA plugins that may put off some users.

The bottom line:
If you like to combine reverbs and delays then this is the place to do it. 

The verdict:
I have to start by admitting that I have more than a passing interest in echo units, and indeed reverbs. The proud owner of over twenty hardware echo units, from tape machines to early analogue and digital machines, alongside countless plug-ins, I am a bit of a ‘dub delay’ obsessive. When I read that Chris Lord-Alge was producing a new plugin for his CLA range for Waves I was suitably excited. 

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Chris Lord-Alge, he is a Grammy award-winning mix engineer, with a career that encompasses such giants as Green Day, Muse and Bruce Springsteen. However, for many software users, he is probably as well-known for his range of software plug-ins, the result of a very fruitful relationship with software designers Waves. His ‘signature series’ is a collection of all-in-one multi-effect processing chains which draw on Lord-Alge’s knowledge, experience and huge arsenal of outboard effects and processors. They have gained a very solid reputation amongst users and are often named as go-to units for many musicians and engineers. I, myself, can name several plugins from this range that are my first choice for many tasks, and the prospect of a new product from this union is always exciting.

Part of what makes the CLA signature series so useful, and popular, is its accessibility. Most plug-ins in the range have simple controls, usually a bank of six faders and a selector switch and some helpfully labelled buttons. This unified appearance has been dropped from the more recent plugins for practical reasons as the range has expanded, more recently with mix hub, a software recreation of Lord-Alges console and workflow, and his latest, Epic. 

Epic is by far the most ‘wordy’ of the CLA plugins. Its numeric display design is reminiscent of early digital units, such as the famous Lexicon Larc controller, often to be seen in pride of place on the console of many big studios. This plugin is an obvious nod to those classic reverbs, and other similar devices, not just in looks, but in the sound that it is capable of creating. Advertised as being four go-to delays and four go-to reverbs, based on Lord-Alge’s best studio gear, it is a creative assimilation rather than straight emulation of those sounds. This is what helps elevate Lord-Alge’s plugins above the rest. He knows what is needed. He knows what sounds each unit produces best, and how to use them. This artistic editing, an adaptation of the hardware sound in a very usable form, is the key to his success.

I found Epic initially somewhat daunting, it is a departure from the CLA range in terms of simplistic useability. However, it helps to understand the creative purpose that underlies this plugins design. Lord-Alge is adept at creating space and dimension in his work. Part of this is down to using a blend of different delays and reverbs to create an ‘epic’ depth to his sound. It is this combination of sounds, adding individual reverbs to the delay tails, blending with the other effects, that is the key to using this plugin. The choices are based on what Waves call modules. 

These are software recreations of favourite studio hardware, what they are based on I will leave you to guess, but to a certain extent it is unimportant, it is their effectiveness that is their key as there is no attempt at a faithful recreation of a device, rather a feel for it, what Lord-Alge probably considers the most purposeful sounds. These are presented as four delays, four reverbs that can be combined and blended easily and quickly.

My initial response was to delve into the screens, to get technical, but I believe I was missing the point. The fun here is blending the basic sounds to produce that combination of sounds that fit into the track. Once I had grasped the basic flavours I was soon at home crafting new combinations that had the right blend of delay and gentle tapering reverb tail. Only once I had got close to the sound I was looking for did I then delve into the individual units, switching between their screens to shorten a delay time here, lengthen a reverb tail there. 

In true Lord-Alge form, most of the work is done with the faders and the small high and low pass filters above them. Using the filters can help you tailor the highs and lows of the effects, deaden a delay to sit it more comfortably in a mix, or lighten the low end of a reverb to give a track space.

There is plenty to adjust and tweak but also there is often no need. The pre-sets have been designed by someone with an intimate understanding and knowledge of the sounds, as in other CLA plugins, they just sound good! Banks of pre-sets are provided from Lord-Alge, for drums, guitar, keys and vocal. These provide enough starting points for most sessions. There are also factory pre-sets, as well as a long series of artist pre-sets by other Waves users. I had to check out my colleague, Pooch’s, pre-sets, they weren’t bad. Very useable.

So where does this sit in the marketplace? It is undoubtedly a very powerful collection of reverbs and delays, many of which would hold their own against more sophisticated dedicated plug-ins. Epic’s strength lies in its ability to combine, blend, and cascade a series of complimentary effects to produce very useable sounds, in an innovative way. It can easily replace multiple plug-ins and in a more manageable way, that is both faster and more creative. Blending using the faders I found fun and easy and essentially a more creative process. Will I buy it when my demo expires? Probably yes, you can never have too many delays.

Included in the CLA Epic bundle is Echosphere. This stand-alone plugin contains just the slap and plate sections in a handy two fader unit! Almost worth the discount bundle price on its own!

Available now – RRP: $199 (currently subject to discount pricing at $29.99 that pricing may change on an ongoing basis due to sales and specials).