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Best Waves Mastering Plugins

Best waves mastering plugins

Waves has plugins for just about any type of processing you could imagine. However, when it comes to mastering, there are SO many excellent plugins from Waves that you’d never need to look to another manufacturer to get what you need. 

Today, I want to dive in and explore some of the best Waves mastering plugins so that you can start crafting professional-sounding masters from your home studio!


If You're Curious (or just in a hurry):  


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How to Use Waves' Mastering Plugins


Now, I'm a firm believer that just buying good plugins isn't enough. You need to know how to use them! That's why I've put together this library of articles on how to master your music. 



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Best Waves Tape Plugin for Mastering - Waves J37


Analog tape can provide mixes with vibe and warmth unlike anything else. There’s a reason why it is such a sought-after sound, and Waves' J37 nails that sought-after tone. Of course, real analog tape recorders are difficult to store due to their size, incredibly expensive, and often temperamental. The frustration in trying to upkeep a tape machine sometimes isn’t worth the results.



That’s why when Waves came out with the J37 tape machine emulation, engineers everywhere rejoiced. This emulation of the Abbey Road tape machine offers an easy path to get you from digital sterility to analog goodness, suiting just about any kind of production in any genre. 

You can find my full review of Waves' J-37 here.



Best Waves Multi-Band Mastering Compressor - C4 Multiband Compressor


Adding a multi-band compressor early in your mastering process can really help tighten up problematic dynamics in certain frequencies. Here's my guide on how to use a multi-band compressor. In short if you find one or two frequency bands have too much dynamic range (usually either the low end or the highs) you can strategically apply compression just to that frequency range to smooth it out or fatten it up.

The Waves C4 Multiband Compresssor offers a nice mix of compression, expansion, limiting, dynamic EQ, and traditional EQ, allowing for both dynamic and EQ adjustments with precision and ease. It's designed to tackle a variety of audio tasks, from correcting imperfections and boosting intensity to crafting distinctive sounds. It stands out from typical multiband dynamics processors by its ability to morph according to the specific demands of your project and tracks.



With the C4, you can:

  • Implement any dynamics processing across its four bands.
  • Utilize it as a four-band EQ by bypassing dynamics.
  • Combine different types of dynamics processing across frequency bands for tailored sound shaping.
  • Select from various release options or use Auto-Release Control for optimal timing adjustments.
  • Manage individual frequency bands separately or adjust them collectively through master controls.
  • Employ the unique Range control to confine gain adjustments within predefined limits.

This adaptability makes the C4 not just a tool for mixing and mastering but a dynamic solution for enhancing any track with unmatched flexibility



Best Waves Mastering Compressor - Puigchild Compressor


While there are many people that look to more transparent compressors to master their mixes these days, there’s a beauty to imparting a bit of analog magic on your mixes. What better way to get that analog magic with an emulation of one of the most sought-after hardware compressors of all time?

The PuigChild compressors from Waves model the Fairchild 660 and 670 from the late 60s. There is no sound that can compare to these two compressors, and they’ve been used on some of the top records of all time, from artists such as The Rolling Stones, U2, and Lady Gaga.



Even simply placing these compressors on your master bus without dialing in any sort of compression can yield fantastic results, giving your masters more harmonic detail and a distinct nuance you can’t find from any other hardware compressor emulation. 

It can sometimes be good to get multiple flavors of compression on your master bus. Plus, allowing two compressors to split the work instead of using heavy-handed compression on one typically yields more transparent results. For this reason, I often like to pair up the Puigchild 670 with the SSL G-Bus Compressor. 



Best Waves Dynamic EQ Plugin for Mastering - F6 Floating Band Dynamic EQ


Dynamic EQ takes parametric equalization a giant step forward, by letting you boost or cut a defined frequency range in a way that dynamically depends on the threshold of the chosen frequency. Read this guide on how to use dynamic EQ to clean up your masters and make them shine!

In the mastering context, the Waves F6 EQ becomes a powerful tool for refining the overall sound. It adeptly responds to the full mix's dynamic range, applying more or less equalization based on predetermined loudness thresholds. This capability allows for precise tonal balance adjustments and ensures that the EQ settings are perfectly tailored to the material's varying energy and intensity levels.



With the F6, mastering engineers gain an unprecedented level of control and precision. The plugin allows for the creation of highly specific filters, overlapping bands for detailed frequency shaping, and the application of EQ curves that are sensitive to the dynamics of the track. This level of detail is crucial for mastering, where the goal is to achieve a cohesive and polished final product that sounds great on any playback system.

Moreover, the F6's advanced mid-side processing options open up additional possibilities for creating width and depth in a mix (read this article to learn how to use mid-side EQ), allowing engineers to fine-tune the stereo image and ensure that each element sits perfectly in the master. Whether it's for subtly enhancing the clarity of a mix or for addressing specific tonal issues that emerge during the mastering process, the F6 offers a sophisticated, dynamic solution for mastering engineers seeking to elevate their work.



Best Waves Mastering Analog EQ - PuigTec EQ


The PuigTec EQ bundle consists of the MEQ-5, which focuses on midrange frequencies, and the EQP-1A, which focuses on low and high–shelf boosts and cuts. By using both of these analog-style EQs on your master bus, you get a broad range of frequency-sweetening options, taking your mix from boring to beautiful.



These two EQs were modeled after vintage PulTec EQs, giving you a warm, vintage sound no matter how you choose to set the parameters. 

While some people like having mastering tools that offer transparency, there are many cases where imparting a bit of analog vibe can go a long way. For example, if your mix is lacking that sparkle and sheen that you hear in other professional mixes, you can simply crank the high-shelf on the EQP-1A to get a musical-sounding high-end boost that would otherwise sound harsh coming from a digital EQ.



Best Waves Mastering Plugin for Sonic Enhancement - Vitamin Sonic Enhancer


Think of the Vitamin Sonic Enhancer acts as the sonic counterpart to Instagram's ability to enhance images by vividly boosting colors, sharpening edges, increasing contrast, and focusing details. It uniquely enhances the clarity and detail of individual tracks, groups, or entire masters, surpassing the capabilities of traditional processors. A little bit of sonic enhancement can be nice, but it can be really easy to overdo it and ruin a master.

So be sure to rest your ears before you hit "bounce" if you've just added one of these!



This multiband harmonic enhancer combines parallel EQ, dynamics, and saturation to deliver a vibrant and focused sound easily controlled through a user-friendly interface. Key features include stereo width control for each band, five independent frequency bands for precise adjustment, variable crossover frequencies, a punch control for transients, and input/output faders with meters for optimal gain staging. Solo buttons aid in selecting appropriate crossover frequencies, and users can mix the original signal with the processed sound for a perfectly balanced output.



Best Waves Stereo Imaging Plugin - S1


The S1 Stereo Imager is an absolute Waves classic. Even though it came out more than 15 years ago, it’s still one of the most relevant stereo imaging plugins around. The beauty of the S1 is that it not only allows you to enhance your stereo image but also readjust your stereo images and fix any issues you might be experiencing.  



The plugin relies on principles of non-destructive engineering, meaning you won’t produce any side effects that could ruin your mix. Limiting side effects is crucial for mastering work, which is likely why the S1 has become a staple. 



Best Waves Mastering Utility Plugin - WLM Plus Loudness Meter


Mastering isn’t much if the final product isn’t at the right level. This is where the WLM Plus Loudness Meter comes into play. This unique plugin provides precision loudness measurements, adjust and correction tools, and metering. Whether you work in the music world, the podcast world, the movie trailer world, or the broadcast world, you can use this tool to make sure your final audio file is up to par with professionals.



The WLM Plus Loudness Meter is compliant with current EBU, ITU, and ATSC specifications, offering True Peak, Long Term, Short Term, and Momentary Readouts. There is also a handy logging and warning system that keeps track of your various levels, sending you alerts when you exceed or fall short of them.



Best Waves Mastering Limiter - L2 UltraMaximizer


A limiter should be the final tool in your mastering chain, which is why you need to use a high-quality limiter that can maintain the integrity of your mix while keeping with loudness standards. 



The L2 Ultramaximizer is another classic plugin from Waves. Not only is it great for controlling peaks on individual tracks, including bass, vocals, and drums, but it’s also a go-to for many mastering engineers. 

This peak-limiting plugin pretty much sets the standard for other limiting plugins out there. Even with the simple and intuitive interface, the available features are surprisingly sophisticated, offering users a few unexpected tools. 

Some of the top features you’ll find in the L2 UltraMaximizer include look-ahead brickwall peak limiting, Automatic Release Control, Manual Release Control, Increased Digital Resolution (IDR), double-precision processing, and bit re-quantization/dither with the noise-shaping filter.  

Many people love the L2 because it is such a simple tool to use. Of course, it’s necessary to keep the settings fairly moderate when used in mastering, as there are also many producers and mix engineers who have completely sucked the life out of their mixes with harsh settings.  

With that said, it is still one of the most popular and commonly-used limiting tools around and, if used correctly, can create surprisingly subtle and transparent results. 



Best All-In-One Waves Mastering Plugin - Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain


The Waves Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain is a beautifully modeled emulation of the classic EMI TG12410 Transfer Console that is found in the mastering suites at Abbey Road. In fact, this model came about in the 1970s and has been a part of many iconic albums, including Dark Side of the Moon from Pink Floyd, Ok Computer from Radiohead, and In Utero from Nirvana.  



You’ll find four distinct sections in this plugin, allowing you to filter, compress, EQ, and stereo widen your mix with ease. Of course, if there are sections you don’t need to use, you can turn them on and off. You can even change the order of processing to better suit your mix.  

If you’re not used to working with old analog equipment, there may be a bit of a learning curve. However, the beauty of this Mastering Chain plugin is that it forces you to listen to the decisions you’re making.

With a warm, vintage characteristic, it’s great for adding a sense of cohesiveness and glue to any mix. Plus, this emulation has options for sidechaining and mid-side processing, making it far more versatile than the original. If you’re looking for a vibey mastering plugin that can get you great results fast, the Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain is an excellent choice!  



Easiest Way to Master with Waves - Waves Online Mastering


Or if you have no interest in learning how to master with Waves plugins, you can just use Waves' online mastering tool to automatically process your song. Simply upload your song and the AI will analyze its characteristics and provide a starting point. From there, you can tweak the track as you see fit.

While this is certainly easier - and it may be cheaper if you only have a few tracks that need mastering - I find the results to be lackluster. And if you master a lot of music, it will quickly become cost prohibitive.



FAQ: Best Waves Mastering Plugins


Here are some of the most frequently asked questions I get about the best Waves plugins for mastering.


Q1: What are some of the industry-standard Waves mastering plugins?
A1: Industry standards include the Waves Abbey Road Saturator and the EMI TG Mastering Chain. These plugins are renowned for their ability to enhance the mastering process with breathtaking transparency and fidelity.


Q2: How do linear phase filters benefit mastering with Waves plugins?
A2: Linear phase filters are a great tool in mastering because they prevent phase distortion when adjusting the frequency spectrum. This is crucial for maintaining the integrity of the original mix while ensuring precise equalization during the mastering process.


Q3: Can you recommend a Waves plugin for frequency band manipulation?
A3: The Waves Linear Phase Multiband Compressor is a good option for detailed frequency band manipulation. It allows for targeted adjustments across the frequency spectrum, making it a versatile choice for mastering.


Q4: Why is the Waves Abbey Road Reverb Plates considered a good thing for mastering?
A4: The Waves Abbey Road Reverb Plates plugin is celebrated for its ability to add depth and space to tracks without muddying the mix. It's one of the best ways to apply reverb in the mastering stage, offering a sound that's been a staple in Abbey Road Studios productions. However... I usually do not recommend adding reverb when mastering as it will make the whole mix feel muddy. It's far better to add it to individual tracks during the mixing stage.


Q5: How do Waves plugins like the Abbey Road Saturator enhance the mixing process?
A5: The Waves Abbey Road Saturator is a most used plugin for adding harmonic richness and warmth to tracks. It's an excellent choice for both mixing and mastering, providing stereo enhancement and a touch of the legendary Abbey Road Studios sound.


Q6: Are there any Waves plugins that offer both EMI TG quality and art plugins innovation?
A6: Yes, the Waves EMI TG12345 Channel Strip combines the classic EMI TG analog sound with modern plugin technology. It's a great price for the quality and versatility it offers, embodying both the historical essence of Abbey Road Studios and contemporary audio plugin innovation.


Q7: What makes Waves plugins a great option for mastering in terms of stereo enhancement?
A7: Waves plugins like the Stereo Imager offer precise control over stereo width, making them a great tool for enhancing the stereo field in the mastering phase. This can help achieve a more immersive listening experience without compromising the mix's balance.


Q8: How can I achieve phase distortion-free mastering with Waves plugins?
A8: Opting for plugins with linear phase filters, such as the Waves Linear Phase EQ, is key to mastering without introducing phase distortion. These plugins ensure that the frequency spectrum is adjusted cleanly, preserving the mix's original qualities.


Q9: What's a good Waves plugin for adding character to masters at a great price?
A9: The Waves Abbey Road Saturator not only adds character but does so in a way that reflects the iconic sound of Abbey Road Studios. It's an excellent investment for those looking to infuse their masters with the unique vibe of vintage gear while sticking to a budget.


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