update- Since writing the review below, over 5 years have passed, so be sure to stay posted for a “5 Years with the Waves V-Series” post sometime fairly soon. Also, check out the rest of the site for useful resources and hit us up for mastering when you are ready!
Product – WAVES “V-Series” plug-in bundle (native)
Date purchased- 8/22/12
Purchase price- $188.00, or as part of Gold Bundle ($399)
I originally purchased this bundle to cover the need for a “Neve console-style” EQ plugin for my home setup, which didn’t have ANY console-style EQ plug-ins at the time. Since then, I have purchased many more console-style EQs (and channel strips, etc), including an UA “Apollo Quad”, on which to run my ever-growing collection of UAD plugs. The V-series must have been on special at the time, because I noticed that they now sell the bundle in individual components; and might have only bought the “V-EQ4” module, as opposed to the whole bundle, which includes the more limited (in my opinion) “V-EQ3” and compressor/limiter/de-esser, the “V-Comp”. I also happened to purchase the Waves Gold Bundle a few months later, which includes the V-series, so I guess I was “meant to have these” either way…
In the year since I bought this bundle, I have only used the “V-Comp” on one project and have used the V-EQ4 on more than I can remember. Why? Simple- The “V-Comp” has weird gain staging, odd features and no “go-to” magic, whilst the V-EQ4 fills a specific need(s) that I have constantly.
I really like using the V-EQ4 on acoustic guitars, vocals, drums, rock bass and almost ANYTHING needing “obvious” equalization. Yes- these EQs aren’t my first choice for mastering or surgical cuts, but they could be if needed. I always think of the V-EQs as Neve 1073/1081 “clones”, which just happens to be what they were designed to emulate. Sonically, I liken them a bit more to the EQs that we have in the Neve Melbourne Console at Uranus- somewhat limited, but always musical, punchy and almost a bit “crunchy”. I don’t think of these as my “warmest” equalizers, but more like something that lives directly between “clinical” and “lo-fi” with just enough character to be fun, without drowning out the rest of the party.
One thing that immediately became part of my workflow and defines the sound of the V-EQ3/4 is that they have a large gain range. It is almost too easy to be applying over 6 dB of boost/cut when it “feels” more like you dialed in a few db. This phenomenon is harder to describe than to “feel”- and that is another thing I really like about these EQs- their “feel”. Even though they can also do subtle boosts and cuts with class, I really like using these equalizers to do serious carving “all over the board”. On a recent mix (with over 50 tracks), boosting the low end (shelf at 220hz) by about 3dB made changed the acoustic guitar track from “inaudible and swishy” to bold, punchy and driving. Make that happen with your stock EQ plug! And why? Why can it do this? I am hearing some added harmonics and changes in frequency timing/”phasing” at increased boosts/cuts. Definite transistor vibe here, if you know what I mean.
Compared to the various Neve-style hardware in the studio and the UAD Neve 88RS plug-in, this plug-in sits very close to the Melbourne sidecar (as mentioned before) in that it has a slightly “hashy” or even “sharp” color to its action and sound. The V-EQ4 has more bands and frequency selections, so I use that more often than the V-EQ3, although that one sees action weekly. The midrange in these EQs is “where it’s at”. That is where I am a little confused, but definitely not depressed. In fact, I use the HPF/LPF and midrange WAY more than the high and low shelves. From what I understand and have experienced from real 1073 hardware, this is quite the opposite. Then again, I haven’t specifically ever just tried all that for fun…
As for the “V-Comp”, it has been implemented in a way that doesn’t suit my workflow. Being that it is an input/output style compressor, with no dedicated threshold knob- the compressor is gain-staged very weirdly. One must really bring the input control very low to keep even the lowest of track/bus levels from triggering huge amounts of compression and unreasonable “makeup gain”. Also, there is a “one-switch” de-esser, compressor and limiter sections and a knob named “Analog” that just adds anywhere from slightly noticeable to super-annoying amounts of hiss. I really don’t like that Waves makes this default and then doesn’t even explain what else it does (other than add loads of hiss). Even weirder, in my opinion, is that the “limiter” section has 2 attack settings and 4 release settings (incl. automatic), while the compressor’s attack is a”1-speed automatic” with 4 release settings (incl. automatic). So what gives? That’s like making a Corvette with 1-speed automatic transmission and 30mph speed governor… The only explanation is that this plug-in must really closely emulate certain features/sound characteristics of the Neve compressor it “clones” (the 2254/2264?). I don’t know because I have never used one or seen one used in my professional career.
One time I used an instance of this plug-in, it was on a drum buss for a pop/country project I was working on when I demo’ed/purchased this bundle. For some reason the drums were recorded very lowly and this kept the plug-in from hitting 30dB of gain reduction right off the bat! After adjusting the ratio, input and release time, the drums were pretty pumpin’ and punchy! I distinctly remembering listening back to the mix in my car and thinking, “Wow, that comp WAS worth the setup time!” In fact, writing this review makes me want to try the “V-Comp” on some other stuff like low-level samples, reverb/fx returns and maybe even a parallel drum buss…
On a different mix project, I decided to try the “V-Comp” on a piano (buss) that was buried in a rock mix that contained many, many instrument and tracks. Mixing everything in was a complete puzzle and then trying to squeeze a very active piano part(s) into the foreground didn’t seem possible without pushing off the fine balance I/we had worked so hard to create. I inserted the V-Comp on the piano buss and set it to 2:1 with a medium release, and even though it took some careful tuning of the input and output knobs, the resulting sound in the mix was PERFECT. The keys now jumped out exactly when and where they needed to without any resulting loss to the other elements. The compressor had really brought the RMS level up, while keeping the peaks at a solid level and made the keys come forward, and somewhat “warmed up” sounding, compared to the distant “tinkling” that the piano had been, pre-compressor. Anyway, it just goes to show that the second you doubt or “diss” something, it will come right back and prove itself- such is the case with the Waves Mercury Series “V-Comp”. I plan to try it as a parallel compressor on guitar and/or bass next….