WavesLive MultiRack Native ReviewVIRTUAL PROCESSING RACK OFFERS PLUG-INS ON THE GO 1/01/2011 4:00 AM Eastern
I’ve been awaiting a hardware plug-in “player” that would run in the same way that I employ analog inserts on a live sound console. The ability to host plug-ins under a shell that has the I/O of a DAW without the recording capabilities would eliminate the need to carry a ton of rack hardware; it would allow the use of my favorite plugs with most analog consoles; and—as I already travel with a laptop—the only addition to my road pack would be the audio interface. I’m familiar with Muse Research products, but they don’t have sufficient analog I/O and only run VST plug-ins. Waves has answered the call with the MultiRack, a virtual rack that runs Waves Native plug-ins and works with a wide variety of audio interfaces.
MultiRack comes in two flavors: Native and SoundGrid. The subject of this review is MultiRack Native (PC/Mac). MultiRack SoundGrid runs with Yamaha’s WSG-Y16 mini-YGDAI expansion card in a variety of Yamaha digital mixers. I ran MultiRack Native on a MacBook (2GHz Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM) and on a MacPro Duo (2x 2.66GHz dual core, 5GB RAM) using MOTU Traveler and 2408 Mk3, as well as Digi 002R interfaces. It’s important to realize the MultiRack is a platform and though Waves bundles it with IR-L (convolution reverb) and H-Delay (echo), you’ll probably need to purchase additional software. MultiRack does not host plug-ins from other manufacturers and it requires an iLok (not included).
EASY LOAD AND GO
MultiRack has an easy learning curve, the only tricky part being the assignment of hardware I/O to the virtual rack (details to follow). The software opens to an empty box into which you install effects racks. One “rack” can include up to eight plug-ins. Double-clicking a blank panel opens a message asking how many racks you’d like to add and whether you’d like them to be stereo or mono. You can add up to 64 racks, and you can change a mono rack to stereo or vice versa at any time without corrupting the signal flow. Click on “+” in the main rack window, and a plug-in menu drops down. Select a plug and it’s loaded into the rack. Each rack has an on/off switch, bypass, mute, Name window, Group menu, meters and faders for I/O level, and buttons that you use to open the I/O menu.
A MultiRack Session contains the rack(s), I/O settings, plug-in assignment and sequence per rack. Sessions run in either Show or Setup mode. Setup mode lets you change I/O, add or delete racks, and add/delete/edit plug-ins. Show mode locks I/O assignment and negates the ability to add or delete racks or plug-ins. (Plug-in parameters may always be edited.) In Setup mode, I created a rack for each console channel I wanted to process, added the desired plugs and then used snapshots to store settings on a per-song basis. Snapshots don’t change the routing or plug-in complement per rack (no big deal), but they do store plug-in parameters. This was a great tool for working with a band that had more than one lead vocalist, where I’d want a delay on the lead voice for one song and wanted to turn it off when the same person was singing backup. MultiRack’s Overview displays small graphics of every rack in a session, with the ability to open them by double-clicking.
In Setup mode, clicking on the None button (which is situated alongside the input or output faders) opens an I/O menu. The first time I used the MultiRack through the MOTU Traveler I hadn’t read the manual, yet after patching the console’s analog inserts to Traveler’s eight I/Os, and assigning racks 1 through 8 to Traveler I/Os 1 through 8, respectively, MultiRack came to life. Unlike most DAWs, MultiRack assigns sequential numbers to I/Os without honoring the names used in the host’s audio system. So when using the Traveler with Digital Performer on my laptop, inputs 1 through 8 show as up “MOTU Traveler Analog (1-8),” and inputs 15 through 22 (via ADAT Lightpipe) show as “MOTU Traveler ADAT (1-8).” In MultiRack, these simply appear as numbered I/Os. It was a bit confusing at first but certainly not a disaster. Perhaps a future revision of MultiRack could acquire the I/O names used by the audio system.
AM I LATENT?
One thing that concerned me was latency: No matter how you slice it, AD/DA conversion and sending the signal to a computer for processing equals a slight delay. In a live setting, it was not noticeable, mostly because there’s already “latency” (delay due to the speed of sound) from the backline and/or stage to the mix position. However, I did notice when processing drums that at times I could hear a slight flam, typically when I MultiRack’d the kick, snare and toms but not the hi-hat and/or overheads. The processed tracks would be subject to latency but the unprocessed tracks would not, so, for example, any leakage of snare into the hi-hat mic produced a flam.
There are a few ways around this. First, MultiRack’s Preferences let you set the buffer size. Reducing buffer size increases the processor load while reducing latency, and vice versa. Tune this to your needs by listening for clipping and watching MultiRack’s SYS indicator. Second, MultiRack can organize channels into Groups, providing time alignment of group members (automatically or manually) by delaying all channels to match the one with the most latency. Some plugs are more latent than others (e.g., in-ear phase EQ, linear phase multichannel compressor, etc.), so it is obvious that Waves’ developers have done their homework in this area because the alignment worked perfectly. Latency may be more apparent in the studio so you may have to record the return from MultiRack and manually align the processed track to match the position of the original.
As for the processors, I used a couple new Waves plug-ins—the H-Comp and H-Delay—and they sounded great. I also liked the API bundle and used the 550b EQs across my drum inputs, especially on certain live consoles where the EQ left something to be desired.
READY FOR PRIME TIME
Stringing a chain of processors into a channel easily with minimal patching provides incredible flexibility. I don’t have the luxury of traveling with production, so being able to use my “rack” at the next venue (and console) was fantastic. I do, however, have a minor wish list: It would be nice if mutes could be linked in a group, and I’d like the ability to create and recall templates. Finally (I suspect this is easier said than done), MultiRack outputs cannot be shared. If they could, users could then “save” console channels by returning more than one processor back to the same input.
All that aside, MultiRack was easy to use and trust. I found it extremely stable, which is a must in live situations. And once you have the buffer size dialed in, you won’t hear a click, pop or glitch. MultiRack may be the coolest addition to touring since Internet on the bus.