Waves Non-Linear Summer

Apr 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Michael Cooper

Plug-ins Replicate Venerated Consoles With Unprecedented Detail


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Waves NLS

NLS Buss can be assigned to any of the same eight VCA groups as NLS Channel, or to none. This excellent design allows you to audition different console types on your master bus while using NLS Buss’ VCA Groups Console display to control the drive, trim, bypass and noise for all NLS Channel groups—all in one window.

Outstanding, Versatile Sound

Inserting NLS Channel on individual tracks, the Mike (EMI console) models sounded fantastic on electric guitar. Driven hard, they produced gnarly, authentic-sounding, transistor-like distortion. The Nevo (Neve) models were my favorite on rock drums and bass. Pushed hard, they made the drums sound trashy—without thinning—and the bass burpy. Electric guitars also sounded great on Nevo where I wanted a round but present tone with some hair on it. Vocals and acoustic instruments sounded beautifully clear with Spike (SSL) modeling, using light processing. These are just a few of the many applications NLS Channel excelled on. The wide compass of tones the drive control produced on the models for each of the three consoles ranged from subtle to drastically distorted. Activating the mic switch on NLS Channel pushed distortion over the top.

Each NLS Buss console—inserted on my master bus in turn—added subtle effect until I raised its drive control about halfway (to “6”). With this setting, Spike sounded the clearest and cleanest of the three models, lending tight bass and open midrange; the downside is it also made some instruments, such as snare drum, sound slightly thinner and paper-y. The Mike model produced a slightly fuller low-midrange and leaner upper-midrange band. It sounded more colorful than Spike; when driven moderately, it lent a subtle spanked sound that firmed up the mix and made high frequencies sound nicely ping-y. Nevo—perhaps my fave—sounded slightly warmer, rounder and fuller than the other two models. Nevo saturated the highs, making them sound less clinical but also less sparkly. It also brought the midrange forward (great for guitars!) and tightened the bottom end.

Of the three models, Mike saturated most readily; boosting the drive control too generously produced nasty distortion long before clipping occurred at the DAW’s output. I could drive Nevo and Spike much harder without the mix completely falling apart. At high drive levels, Nevo needed the least amount of compensatory trim to avoid clipping DP’s output and therefore produced the loudest masters. Spike processing actually reduced headroom; follow it with a limiter or maximizer to make your mix sound louder again.

Compared to What?

The most obvious product to compare NLS to is Slate Digital Virtual Console Collection (VCC). VCC is terrific but sounds relatively subtle; NLS can produce a much wider range of outstanding tones. And because NLS Channel is so efficient in its CPU use, I can use it on far more tracks than VCC. In its favor, VCC automatically regulates its output level for unity gain when its drive control is adjusted, making it much easier to use compared to NLS.

Both products are fabulous, but I have to give the rose to Waves NLS because of its exceptional versatility and superior coding. NLS is the leading-edge plug-in for console emulation.


Product: Non-Linear Summer (NLS)

Website: waves.com

Prices: $249 Native, $349 TDM (list)

Pros: Superb, highly variable sound. Flexible channel grouping. Low CPU hit allows use on dozens of tracks.

Cons: No auto-gain or trim link for drive adjustments. Meters lack clip indicators.


Color tracks for drums and electric instruments with heavily driven Mike and Nevo models. Use the Spike model with light processing on acoustic tracks and vocals. The contrast between luster and clarity will give your mix flattering depth.

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