Review: Waves C6 Multiband Compressor, By Tommy Mokas

WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN: One of the first companies to convince scores of engineers that digital could be the future, Waves continues to innovate and push the limits of audio manipulation. Yet they have always kept their interfaces clean and simple to understand, even while packing in tons of features. The C6 Multiband Compressor from Waves continues a plug-in legacy comparable to the greatest of hardware manufacturers, taking simple ideas and continuing to rewrite the book on what can be done “in the box.”

I’ve always had mixed feelings about using multiband compression; it kind of feels like I’m cheating! In my recent experience with the C6, however, I’ve found there are certain times when using a multiband compressor is the best way to sculpt a signal into submission.

The risk in using a multiband compressor lies in the fact that you can almost instantly suck the life out of a signal. This is due to the nature of what you’re doing: compressing the total frequency range at multiple crossover points. For the uninitiated, a traditional compressor is used to reduce the dynamic range of a signal, a multiband compressor can be used to reduce the dynamics of a specific range of frequency within that signal.

Waves’ previous offerings – the C4 Multiband and the Linear Multiband – both offered you a seemingly simple way to calm offending frequencies while leaving the other parts of your signal in tact.  There were a lot of times, however, when that wouldn’t be the result.  There would be situations where the multiband compression would be working when you didn’t want it to, and finding the sweet-spot threshold(s) could be an impossible battle.

Of course, an experienced engineer would say, just use the sidechain. But alas, neither of these powerful multiband compressors HAD a sidechain! Sometimes, you could use yet another Waves plug-in for such a problem, the C1 Compressor/Sidechain, but this tool seemed designed to do heavy handed control. Even when using the Notch EQ on the sidechain, it was never surgical enough to tame certain things.

Enter the C6.  The magic feature that makes this baby kick certain sonic issues to the curb, fast, is there are sidechain inputs on every band of compression. This allows you to do some very complex compression on any signal, including in some very creative, esoteric applications. Have you ever thought of gating a pad of two different chords at two different frequency ranges for a progression in a song? NO?  Well I have! And let me tell you, to do that with your average plug-ins takes a lot of extra work, but with the C6?  No problem!

Waves C6 Multiband Compressor Plug-In With Sidechain

How about gating a certain frequency range in a kick drum so your bass synth cuts through while your kick still hits hard? All possible with the C6.  It’s like an entire world of chained plug-ins are possible with one single plug.

Granted, the Waves C6 has totally utilitarian functions as well, such as taming an extremely tough vocal track. Let’s say a singer has a gigantically wide range stylistically, and that the vocals range over a few octaves. With the Waves C6, you can totally tame the low end, in the lower range of their voice, while still retaining the top end.

In their upper range, you can maintain that smoothness while boosting the silky top end and avoiding any harsh frequencies – with the C6 you can tame all of this in a very simple and systematic fashion. One of the greatest features of the C6 is the two “floating bands” which along with the predictable ranges of a multiband compressor, allow you a couple of wild card frequencies, to tame (or boost) whatever it is that is bothering you without breaking up a traditional flow.

Now, I haven’t even touched on working with a stereo mix, which, when it comes to multiband compression, I personally find to be a bit taboo. I have always looked to mutiband compression as a last resort, when I’m up against a wall and nothing else will work. However, this is not so with the C6. A simple automation of a sidechain input on a certain frequency range can make a pesky thing disappear, ducking it in a very slick manner – especially if, as we are often asked to do, you are both mixing and mastering a track. Having access to all the elements, you can use your multiband compressor to calm jumpy parts of the mix, either on the 2-track mix or a grouped buss of an element.

Beyond the typical, expected applications for a multiband compressor, I found additional uses for the Waves C6 plug-in.  Imagine, if you will, that you have a horrible kick drum sound (I know, a total stretch). Let’s say you wanted to suppress 250Hz and boost 5k without totally cutting or boosting the sound.  This is what the C6 does in spades.  And we’re just scratching the surface!

There are so many exciting, creative possibilities for how you can use this plug-in. Not only can you creatively sculpt a sound, but you can truly shape it dynamically, based on external influences, such as other elements of the mix.

Let’s say you wanted to control the bottom end of a reverb return, for instance…you could set the very low end on a long release, and trigger the compression of the mid range based on the snare with a much faster release.  You could create a pumping, breathing, dare I say LIVING reverb based on a groove, just by triggering sidechain inputs alone. You could take the modern idea of making heavy guitars hitting with a kick drum and make it work with a truly modern and rhythmic sound, dividing up the frequencies and taking all the kick drum hits, splitting the same kick drum hits between two or three tracks, and triggering three different frequency ranges with each kick drum – creating an entirely new guitar part with it.

At first glance you’d just expect that as a multiband compressor, the C6 would get used correctively. But the more I continue to use it, the more creative applications I find for it. Also worth mentioning are the presets; they are a really great way to quickly see how flexible you can get with the C6. The one thing I’d really like to see added to the C6 is the ability to run multiple sidechain inputs on one instance of the plug-in. This would allow for more non-traditional uses of this already very flexible plug-in.

It seems to me that there are endless ways to fix audio in the digital realm, but only certain tools transcend that task to become a total creative tool. I feel the Waves C6 is one of those tools. The only way to really get into how creative you can get with it is to install it and see what can happen…I found myself instantly addicted, and I’m sure after trying it on a mix or two, you will find the same.

The Waves C6 Multiband Compressor is available as a Native ($200) or TDM ($250) plug-in (iLok-required) through the Waves online store. Mercury V8 and SoundGrid Pro V8 owners covered by Waves Update Plan receive C6 Multiband Compressor at no additional charge. For more information and to demo or buy this plug-in, visit http://www.waves.com/content.aspx?id=10907.

Tommy Mokas is a musician, writer, engineer/producer and co-owner of Casa Nova Studios in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He plays guitar/sings in NYC rock band The Dirty Pearls, and fronts the band Nova Clutch. He has engineered and/or produced for artists including Earl Greyhound, The London Souls, Lily and the Parlour Tricks, The Exit, and many more. He also frequently composes music for both artists and corporate clients with his partner in crime, Nick Rosenthal.