Review: Waves CLA Classic Compressors & Eddie Kramer PIE Compressor and HLS EQ

As the necessary adaptations and skills for producing and mixing in the box have become more and more ubiquitous, users are looking for more unique digital tools which carry over the unique sonic personalities of their analog counterparts. Personally, I’m always on the lookout for new plug-ins or virtual instruments that will give the end listener as much of an organic and analog aural experience as possible.

Any modern engineer is of course familiar with Waves who have been at the forefront of plug-in design from the very beginning of the DAW age. Many of the Waves plug-ins have become modern classics in their own right. Of late, Waves has shifted a lot of attention towards the trend of modeling classic analog gear. Within the last few years, we’ve seen them introduce emulations of the de-facto API, SSL, and Neve analog pieces that engineers and producers have used for decades.

Continuing that trend Waves has recently introduced two new lines of classic emulations:

CLA Classic Compressors

In collaboration with the luminary engineer and mixer Chris Lord-Alge, Waves has modeled four of his personal go-to compressors:

CLA Classic Compressors, developed by Waves and legendary mixer Chris Lord-Alge

1.  The CLA-76 “Bluey,” modeled after the silver-face blue-stripe revision B version of a famous solid-state FET based compressor from the 1960’s.

2.  The CLA-76 “Blackie,” modeled after a later version (revision D-LN) of a solid-state FET based compressor from the 1970’s

3. The CLA-2A, modeled after a famous tube opto-compressor.

4. The CLA-3A, modeled after a well-known solid-state opto-compressor

Kramer PIE Compressor and HLS Channel

In collaboration with legendary engineer/producer Eddie Kramer, Waves offers modeled versions of:

1. The PYE compressor. A solid state compressor manufactured in the 1960’s by Pye Telecom, an English company. Used predominantly in Olympic Studios in London during the 60’s and 70’s.

The PIE Compressor, developed with legendary producer/engineer Eddie Kramer

2. A Helios channel EQ, complete with input amplifier modeling.  Based on the second generation silver-face channels, including the rare and original Lustraphone transformers.

Waves has a an extensive 8-12 month long process of testing and modeling each hardware unit in order to capture all of its characteristics before delivery to the end-user. This modeling process is exhaustive, and presents many challenges. A simple emulation of the circuit design is not enough, given that the inherent personality of each unit is exemplified by the non-linear response of each of its component parts.

Waves goes to great lengths to model these distortions and idiosyncrasies in a way that is both convincing and CPU friendly.

Obviously, given the continuously variable nature of a piece of analog hardware, a tremendous amount of data can be generated running different types of signal through a hardware unit, and not all of it can be reproduced. However, as a user will not typically employ the full dynamic range of a unit, it is easier to model a “sweet-spot,” or a set scale of amplitudes.

Once this data is collected, it is then fed into a complex harmonic distortion algorithm that can interpolate those unique response characteristics across the full dynamic range of the unit. It sounds complex, and is, but thankfully, better heads than mine are developing this software, and so I am left to just twist the knobs and enjoy the results.

With that said, over the last couple of months I’ve been fortunate enough to add these plug-ins to my ever-expanding arsenal of vintage emulations and I must say that these have become some of my favorite tools to use.  They behave as you expect the original hardware models to, and offer excellent emulations of the overt eccentricities that engineers have always found so appealing about them. Additionally, there are very CPU friendly and can be used liberally without too much concern for processing power.

CLA-76

Waves offers two flavors of the same compressor topology in this plug-in: “Bluey,” based on an earlier (blue-stripe revision b) version of the 1176, and “Blackie,” based on the later revision D-LN iteration of the same model. Both are exact models of two of Chris Lord-Alge’s favorite units.

CLA-76 "Blackie"

They offer the same familiar interface with input and output levels, variable attack and release times, compression ratio (4:1, 8:1, 12:1, 20:1, ALL), metering preferences, and a compression bypass switch.

Waves also adds analog noise and hum, which can be bypassed completely or set to create hiss and a very low level DC hum at either 50 or 60 Hz; and depending on your nationality I suppose, you may find one or the other more familiar.

The major differences between the two compressors are most easily perceived in levels of distortion and noise. “Bluey” distorts more easily than its counterpart, yet has a lower level of hiss than “Blackie” when the analog section is engaged.  Conversely, the 50-60 Hz hum is virtually inaudible in “Blackie.”

I should emphasize that this hum emulation is very subtle in both cases overall, and you certainly would not find it distracting should you choose to leave the analog section engaged.  If anything, I found it pleasing as it reminded me of days spent behind an analog console.

Ironically, after so many years working digitally, it seems I now miss the higher noise floor I used to spend so much time trying to diminish.  As with their hardware counterparts, these compressors have very fast attack times (slowest setting is 1 ms, fastest up to 50 microseconds) and thus lend themselves well to material in which a more aggressive approach to controlling dynamic range is in order.

CLA-76 Bluey

Given the aforementioned differences, it is up to the user to decide what works best in a given situation. I have more often found myself attracted to using the Bluey version of the plug simply because of the attitude it imparts.

Inserting this plug on a lead vocal or drum room mics and engaging the “all” button instantly gives an explosive and in-your-face quality that is at once familiar and very exciting, and radical changes to the resulting sound can easily be accomplished with very subtle adjustment of the input level.

On the other hand, you can easily back the ratio and gain off and have a more subtle version of the same thing. Of course, this is what one expects from a compressor, but I was struck at how musical it was, and how many different colors were achievable in quite an overt way. I found Blackie a little more useful in situations where I wanted a lot of control over the sound, but with a little less coloration; bass guitar being a good example, where often one wants to employ a healthy amount of compression without adding too much fuzz or loss of low end to the signal.

I often used Blackie on piano and vocals as well, offering an audible compression effect without compromising a clean signal and totally eliminating all dynamics of the source.

CLA-3A

This is a model of a famous solid state opto compressor, first introduced in the early 1970’s.  It offers a very simple control set:  An input level control, a peak reduction control, a switch that lets you choose between limiting and compression, a metering selector switch, a high frequency control, and the added feature of the Waves analog controls which are detailed in the above description of the CLA-76.

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  • Huckrosenberg

    Well, to me Waves plugins are just as good as any other plugin. Way overhyped on the market. Interfaces are the best part of those plugs.

  • Arbiteruk

    Great that you have an opinion but many believe the plugs are great. Why would you post something so banal and subjective after a nicely worded review?