Review: Steinberg WaveLab Pro 9

Alistair McGhee delves into the latest version of the audio editing and mastering software and discovers there’s a lot to take in…

WaveLab 7 and 8 are powerhouse programs; you know that because when you launch them, the interfaces have more bells than the top shelf of a Glasgow pub and more whistles than a ref’s convention. Now if you were brought up with that or if you used the ‘Lab every day, no problem. But for a first time user, or someone like me who uses WaveLab alongside a range of other audio software, that blizzard of options could be a little overwhelming.

Enter WaveLab Pro 9. Don’t worry, yes there are more bells to ring and whistles to blow but the Number One change is the interface. First, WaveLab Pro 9 keeps the main thing with a single window paradigm. Making this approach work, and hiding the complexity, is a ribbon and tab interface that aims to give you the options you need at the time you need them. This works best in conjunction with another new feature – file groups. Here you can corral all the files belonging to a project under one tab. At its simplest you have a montage containing individual audio files, the montage and the files in it are stored together in the file group and your ribbon tools change to match the selection of the file you want to work on. You get montage edit tools for a montage file and file edit tools for editing an individual file. Brilliant.

And there’s more: four configurable control windows to which you can assign tool sets and meters. I loaded them up with the file browser, the loudness metering, the marker window and the MasterRig (more on the MasterRig later). Then I dragged these onto the second monitor, allowing me to max out my edit space and the peak metering. All the power is still there, and more, but topically presented as you need it.

I have to say such is the magnitude of the rewrite that I struggle to believe that developer Philippe Goutier and his team have managed such a mammoth task; I’m sure elves must have been involved somewhere along the line. However they managed it, WaveLab Pro 9 has a revolutionary new interface.

Master at work

Probably the next biggest deal is the MasterRig in the effects section. MasterRig is a mastering workspace environment where you can combine a selection of processing modules to tune your audio to the peak of perfection.

In the Pro version of WaveLab you have eight plug-in slots and processing options in Dynamics, EQ (including dynamic equalisers), Saturation and Imaging. Out of these building blocks a processing chain can be quickly assembled and the quality and flexibility of the effects on offer make for a very satisfying experience. The ability to bypass not just the effect but also the source (allowing you to hear only the effect generated by your processing) is a great feature. Using the Dynamic EQ plug-in you can apply equalisation in a level dependent way – ideal for subtle mix brightening or for easing back a hi-hat that threatens to overpower your top end. Once you have your processing package in place, MasterRig allows you to save it to a scene, copy it to another (you have four scenes to play with) and then A/B any complex changes you want to make, all from the comfort of your own mouse.

And finally, MasterRig features one of the big changes – M/S (or Mid/Side) processing. WaveLab Pro 9 has gone all-in on M/S and it’s a feature that really makes you ask: ‘Why has no one done this before?’ Yes, some high-end DAWs allow you to work with audio that has been recorded in M/S rather than X/Y stereo, but ‘Lab 9 takes a different approach – by allowing you to treat an X/Y file as an M/S file and then allowing you to use any of your standard X/Y tools and indeed stereo plug-ins as M/S processing. In the bog standard file view, with a bog standard stereo file loaded with a single click you see the track in M/S. And now of course you can edit it in M and S. Hack something embarrassing out of the mono leaving the S to cover your tracks or dry up the mono by adjusting the gain of the S. The master section plug-ins can be inserted into just the Mid or just the Side and the returns can be limited to just the M or the S or indeed routed back to the stereo bus. The world is your oyster. The whole system is seemless as your M/S is turned back into X/Y post the montage mix, or when you render out. In fact the only thing missing is automatic ingest of M/S recorded material – something for the elves in a future update no doubt.

Process automation is something WaveLab users have been asking about for some time, and Phillipe has gone some way to meet them. Here is the workflow, remembering it is only available for ‘Clip’ effects. First, add an effect and then head off to the routing options and change the setting from the default, which is ‘Insert (Standard)’ to ‘Blend Wet into Dry (Send)’. Now you can automate the amount of Send. In the ‘Envelope’ tab, use the drop down to select ‘Effect’ as the ‘Envelope Type’ and now the automation line controls the amount of processing.

So, in essence, what you have is an automated send level – you choose the process and then you have an automation curve, fully editable, to achieve the amount of processing at any given point in your clip. And this can be applied to left and/or right, mid and/or side. But it isn’t effects parameter automation, which I guess will have to wait for another day.

I haven’t covered everything here (Cubase interchange for instance) but to be honest the big deal is the interface. It’s no good having the biggest tool set in the world if the interface holds you back. No one has doubted the power of WaveLab and with version 9 this power is harnessed to a wonderfully effective interface.

Key Features

  • ‘Revolutionary’ new user interface
  • MasterRig high-end mastering plug-in suite
  • Full M/S support
  • WaveLab Project Manager
  • Direct exchange with Cubase and Nuendo

RRP: €579

Alistair McGhee began audio life in Hi-Fi before joining the BBC as an audio engineer. After 10 years in radio and TV, he moved to production. When BBC Choice started, he pioneered personal digital production in television. Most recently, Alistair was assistant editor, BBC Radio Wales and has been helping the UN with broadcast operations in Juba.