Review: Steinberg WaveLab 10
Steinberg’s latest version of its feature-packed mastering and audio-editing software could be your new go-to tool for all manner of projects. Surf’s up.
Way back in 1995, when studios were built around mixing consoles and the closest most of us could get to digital multi-tracking was via the souped-up videotape recorders that were the Alesis ADAT and Tascam DA-88, Steinberg released the inaugural version of WaveLab. Largely the work of a single developer, Philippe Goutier, the program was one of the first to bring detailed, interactive, onscreen audio editing within reach of home and semi-pro studios.
From the get-go, WaveLab’s capabilities dovetailed perfectly with the needs of audio professionals and hobbyists alike: it simplified the process of creating audio CD masters that could be sent for duplication; it provided a far, far better approach to editing and manipulating samples than poking around on the little LCD screens that adorned the hardware samplers of the day; and in broadcasting, its slick editing and rapid workflow were a massive improvement over the exquisitely expensive systems many broadcasters were then using.
In the years since its release, WaveLab has become one of the core products in Steinberg’s stable of thoroughbreds, receiving regular updates and improvements to keep up with the digital-audio art of the possible. This latest release brings WaveLab up to the same version-10 labelling as its stablemates Cubase and Nuendo – and brings a number of new features along with some general improvements.
WaveLab 10’s interface retains its standard look and feel, with moveable and dockable tool windows surrounding the main waveform view. New here is the Montage Inspector that replaces the Effect Tool panel found in previous versions (for the uninitiated, a ‘montage’ is WaveLab-speak for an album or collection of audio clips). This new tool consolidates clip-, track- and montage-level handling of plug-ins, volume and routing, packing all into a single control panel that, by default, sits conveniently in the same toolbox as the Master Section.
Along with the Inspector, montages have had some other improvements, too, with a new, smarter-looking track header design, the ability to freely resize tracks and two new track types. The first of these, Reference Tracks, allows you to include guide audio in the montage’s timeline, and to seamlessly switch between monitoring the reference and main montage output. You can even route reference tracks to their own output on your audio I/O hardware.
The second new track type – and arguably one of the most overdue additions to WaveLab – is the video track. This uses the same efficient video-playback engine as found in Cubase and Nuendo, and allows you to bring WaveLab’s advanced audio toolset to bare on video-based projects.
Another new addition to the montage editor is the ability to record live input streams and render them through the plug-in chain and master section. WaveLab can handle as many simultaneous streams and processors as your audio I/O and system resources allow, making this feature particularly useful in live and location recording, where it will allow input signals to be conditioned on-the-fly without the need for loads of bulky and expensive outboard equipment.
In previous versions of WaveLab, edits made in the montage editor are non-destructive, while those made in the audio editor are destructive. But the addition of montage Inline Editing means that changes made in the audio editor are saved as a new file that then replaces the corresponding clip or range within the montage. Coupled with updates to the History tool, which now works with the audio editor as well as with montages, this remedies many of the awkward differences between montage editing and audio editing in WaveLab.
Montage Inline Editing also works with the newly added support for external editors. You can define up to five of these, and then exchange audio between WaveLab and one of these allocated editors.
For example, if you wished to do some detailed spectral work that’s beyond WaveLab’s abilities, you could send the section of audio you’re working on from a montage to SpectraLayers, work on it there and then pass the results directly back into WaveLab, where it will replace the original audio clip or segment. This is a huge time-saver and even works with the History tool, so you can easily undo changes made in an external editor.
WaveLab’s various plug-in slots can load any of the processors that come bundled with the software, along with any other VST plug-in installed on your system (third-party plug-in support has been improved). Three of the best plug-ins found in Cubase and Nuendo have been added to WaveLab’s bundle as well: Frequency is a flexible, fully parametric, eight-band EQ that has a linear phase mode and mid-side processing support; REVelation is an excellent reverb processor based on classic digital units from the likes of Lexicon and AMS; and Magneto 2 provides a highly tune-able emulation of analogue tape saturation and compression.
The best news on the plug-in front, though, is that WaveLab now fully supports external plug-ins. These are configured in the updated audio I/O and routing setup panel and allow you to insert external hardware-effects chains into the processing path with as much ease as you can a software plug-in. Many mastering studios have high-end, specialised, hardware compressors and the like in their arsenal and being able to integrate these with WaveLab in such a simple way is very satisfying.
Passing signals through a well-specified analogue stage is also a great way of imparting additional character and warmth in a sound – you could even insert an analogue 2-track tape recorder, routing WaveLab’s send to the record head and the play head back to WaveLab, in order to inject genuine tape saturation into your otherwise digital mastering chain.
These headline new features are backed up with a number of other enhancements, such as improved previewing in the File Browser, an ever-present system performance monitor on the transport bar, improvements to the marker list and the ability to import markers from an XML file. The tweaks to the interface are welcome, too, although the layout and iconography retain a certain uniqueness when compared to DAWs with less-specialised credentials.
WaveLab’s idiosyncrasies do give it a steep initial learning curve, especially for those more familiar with conventional DAWs, but these are also the program’s biggest strength, setting it apart from other DAWs while making it the perfect tool for many essential audio-production tasks. The new features are significant, too, bringing some useful capabilities while also polishing existing ones and which together, reinforce WaveLab’s position as the master of mastering.
Do I really need this?
WaveLab is not an alternative to a conventional DAW that you would use for composing, tracking and mixing and nor is it a straightforward audio editor like those you may use for preparing samples or applying a quick bit of processing. Rather, it’s a complete workshop for audio design, editing, restoration and mastering. WaveLab includes features not typically seen in conventional DAWs, such as extensive support for mid-side bussing and processing, extensive amplitude, loudness and spectrum metering and the ability to export projects to many different formats; it can even write your masters directly to CD or save them as DDP files, as-used by duplication facilities. The cut-down WaveLab 10 Elements edition is an alternative for those who need some, but not all, of the program’s capabilities.
- Updates available starting from £85
- Workstation dedicated to audio mastering, restoration and sound design
- Exclusive plug-ins dedicated to audio mastering and restoration
- Can insert external hardware processors in effect chains
- New Video and Reference track types
- Improvements to montage editing and processing
- Live processing and rendering of multi-channel inputs
- Improved History tool
- Can link to external editors
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