Review: Waves OVox
Waves’ latest aims to turn your voice into a dynamic, and colourful instrument, but the processing power of OVox also seems to transcend its primary application.
As the human voice is the most immediate, primal and readily available musical instrument, it’s no surprise that it’s almost always the focal point of any non-instrumental track. Whether your song is a simple piece for vocal plus piano or guitar, or a multi-track behemoth for rock and roll band, full orchestra and electronic layers aplenty, the vocal line is the element you’ll be humming in the shower tomorrow morning. And for as long as recording technology has afforded the opportunity, what this in turn has meant is that creative producers and performers have looked for ever-more-elaborate ways to use hardware and software to make their vocal parts stand out.
Think about Vocoding, whether you first encountered that on classic records such as ELO’s Mister Blue Sky from 1977, the weirdly wonderful warped and portamento’d Intergalactic by the Beastie Boys from 1998 or Jacob Collier’s extraordinary Time Alone With You from late last year, to pick three of many examples from the past 40-odd years. And indeed, consider auto-tuning, first finding spectacular success in its most extreme form with Cher’s Believe and then drifting in and out of fashion in the years since.
As always, the records which have managed to capture the zeitgeist are the ones which have wilfully avoided the ‘intended’ purpose of the available technology to squeeze it, push it beyond its boundaries, apply it to the ‘wrong’ sounds, or use other techniques to tease out results the world has never heard before.
Waves OVox – as its name suggests – is a new plug-in whose purpose is to provide a whole tool-kit of techniques and tricks to turn your vocals into something truly extraordinary. However, as we’ll see, its capabilities go far beyond vocal processing, opening its parameters beyond the merely voice-based.
At its heart, OVox is a ‘Vocal Processor and Synthesising Suite’ according to its manual. In real terms, this means that it provides an array of techniques to process existing vocal lines (such as tuning, auto-tune style) alongside others which use synthesis techniques to artificially add new voices around the source material, to harmonise and layer new parts on top. It does this by tracking the sound onto which the plug-in is inserted, with the detected input signal then acting as a modulation source for OVox’s synthesis capabilities.
It can detect and track pitch directly, or you can feed external input sources to super-impose other notes on OVox’s parameters. As we’ll see, these are so extensive that the range of sounds which can be produced is staggering. But let’s get down to basics and take a tour of the interface to see how this magic happens.
Upon start-up, a pared back version of OVox is loaded, providing primary features only. OVox allows up to two separate processing and re-synthesis engines to run independently and simultaneously but, to start with, it’s worth enabling just one of these to familiarise yourself with what’s available; Waves’ decision to do precisely this when OVox is instantiated is sensible. Beneath the ‘power’ light which switches the OVox 1 engine on, is a Tuning dial to allow for immediate semitone tuning offsets of the source material, a Formant dial, to change the tuned ‘harmonic content’ of the processed sound and a Gain knob.
Along the bottom strip of the interface, from left to right, you’ll find blue Master Controls for Modifiers and Effects (both of which more shortly), before a set of black rotaries to control different aspects of Ovox’s processing engines. The first of these concern Sibilance. ‘Ess’ sounds don’t have a pitch and their detection can prove problematic for certain kinds of processing and re-synthesis.
By clicking ‘Exc(lusive)’, you can remove sibilant sounds from detection altogether or, if that seems too extreme, use the neighbouring Sibilance dial to attenuate their volume at the Input stage. Voice Correction comes next, letting you set the type of pitch-mapping you’d like OVox to apply to the input source.
The ‘desired’ note for re-tuning can be set in a number of ways – via the internal Note Mapper, plus internal Note Generator and Arpeggiator modules, as well as ‘external’ side-chained sources. There are three modes here; Normal and Hard, which track pitch and retune it either ‘naturally’ (Normal) or with more extreme, Auto-tuned settings (Hard). Both of these use the internal Note Mapper, which sets the scale for note correction. Notes mode ‘forces’ pitch to a wider range of input sources, meaning it can respond to changing chords, rather than just a scale.
The Voice dial blends in the volume of the originally detected source, whilst the Synth level lets you hear and use the tone of the synth engine at the heart of OVox’s resynthesis engine. The OVox dial is the overall Volume knob for the summed OVox 1 and 2 engines, whilst there is an overall Tone knob too, which offers a ‘Tilt’ Filter to set a ‘master’ tonal character for the sound you’re processing. The Output Level acts as a master Level control and also offers a handy brickwall Limiter to stop things getting out of hand, which they certainly can if left unchecked.
The heart of the machine
This ‘overall’ set of parameters allows you to shape signals in a huge variety of ways but, in truth, we’re just getting started. Clicking the ‘Display’ button in the top right-hand corner of the interface takes you into Expanded View Mode, giving you not only a wider set of tools but a greater insight into how OVox works. Its synth provides two identical oscillators, whose job is primarily to route signals to the Formant Filters in their respective engines (OVox 1 and 2).
A number of shapes are available to each Oscillator type, where an X-Y pad lets you pick a ‘standard’ waveform (Square, Saw, Pulse Spike, Triangle), or a blend from a position between these defaults. The Oscillator’s character is determined from a drop-down menu, which lets you choose an impulse response from a generous pool of 12 options.
The Harmonics dial sets the number of overtones generated by the Oscillator. This parameter might sound like a low-pass filter, but in fact what it does is influence the earliest stage of the wave generation, and literally determines how many harmonics the oscillator engine reproduces – it’s pleasingly extreme, meaning that there is a wealth of potential sounds on offer, from single-harmonic, purer sounds to ones which are immensely rich.
The Tuning dial (familiar from Basic View) allows for a four-octave range (two in either direction), whilst a Fine Tuning control is added in Advanced View as well. There is also a Noise Generator (whose Colour and Level can be manipulated), which also feeds into the all-powerful Formant Filter. This is really where the true power of OVox lies.
The Formant Filter constantly tracks the frequency response of the source signal. By extracting this filter from the source sound (the ‘Modulator’), it can be applied to OVox’s synth engines (the ‘Carrier’). Accordingly, a suite of dials lets you tailor the Formant Filter’s performance to your source signal.
You can Focus its frequency range, to target the formant detector at the frequency area you most want to analyse and shift Formants from deep, low voices all the way through to chipmunk, hyper-excited voices and everywhere in between. The Speed control sets the rate at which the Formant Filter shifts, providing pleasingly smooth and oozing results at slower speeds.
Getting into gear
The synth at the heart of OVox can be controlled by clicking the Gear button in the centre of the display. There’s a forced ‘Mono’ option, whilst you can also choose whether to insist that the synth follows the pitch of the Modulator input source. Pitch-Bend and Portamento ranges are set independently, whilst the latter also features a Time dial to set the speed of bend when one note overlaps with another.
This central area also contains the controls for Note Mapping, which set how tuning will be applied through OVox. This might be as simple as picking a Chromatic scale (to allow all notes) or those relating to a single major or minor key, but it can become much more sophisticated, with a range of Harmonies, Scales and Chords selectable from a drop-down menu.
You can also customise a scale, by clicking the ‘Edit’ button to add or remove notes from a selected choice. Of course, you might decide you want OVox to respond to ‘external’ notes rather than those selected internally. Above the interface, you can select ‘Side-Chain’ as the input source for both or either of the Voice and Synth engines, and the Tuning section usefully ‘greys out’ when its not using the internal synth for pitching, to indicate that it’s effectively bypassed. Route in your chosen side-chain source and you can apply any harmony you like, in real-time, as the starting point for OVox processing.
In Expanded View mode, the lower section of the interface is where you can warp, shape and morph the parameter choices you’ve made above. There are four purple ‘Modifiers’, each of which can either function as an LFO or a Sequencer pattern of up to 16 steps. Both LFOs and Sequences can be sync’d to tempo or ‘run free’, as well as loop, run forwards or forwards/backwards.
To assign one of these Modulators to a specific parameter, OVox uses a system which will be familiar to Native Instruments’ Massive users, in particular; simply drag the Modifier number to your parameter of choice. As you click on a Modifier to assign it, any potential target illuminates and, once assigned, you can then select the range for that parameter, to determine how ‘widely’ it will be affected.
Many parameters allow you to assign four separate controllers and, of course, this includes the Tuning dial. Which of course means that you can create pitched sequences of running notes with one Modifier, before the next one – say, a square wave LFO – shifts the whole sequence up or down a step or two. So suddenly, you can create sequences which evolve over several bars or beats. Oh and, of course, those sequences might be chords, if you’ve selected appropriately in the Note Mapper.
Starting to get a sense of how fun OVox can be? The LFOs are comprehensive too; as well as the ‘expected’ waveform shapes, you can draw one freely, or load one from a huge range by clicking the ‘folder’ icon within the LFO section. There are two freely assignable ADSR envelopes too, as well as a comprehensive four-band EQ, offering multiple filter types per band, plus Gain, Frequency and Bandwidth (‘Q’) controls for each band. Oh and guess what? The Frequency band can be modulated by any available source you like. Effects are available in individual modules, with up to five ‘chain-able’ at once.
Set against the generosity elsewhere, the effects suite seems a little light on options, despite each module offering a range of ‘starting points’ (six algorithms in the Reverb module, for instance). I’d love to see a Ring Modulator or Tape Saturator here in addition to the Compressor, Delay, Chorus, Reverb, Distortion and Auto-Pan modules.
OVox is an extraordinary plug-in. It manages to provide almost instant gratification upon start-up, with the Basic View offering parameters aplenty to get the creative juices flowing in record time. But lurking under the hood is an incredibly powerful engine; remember that what’s been outlined above in terms of operational workflow is effectively ‘doubled’ when you enable the second OVox engine. Whilst Modulators, Envelopes and Effects are shared, you have fully independent control over Harmonics, Tuning and all of the Resynthesis parameter tools OVox offers across its two engines.
Of course, as you’d hope and expect, the most immediate appeal of OVox will be to those looking to process vocals and to tease out a plethora of tricks to keep productions sounding contemporary and innovative, but less immediate usages also yield fantastic results. I’ve always enjoyed using drum loops and programmed beats to trigger chords, or to join percussion parts to the pitched centre of a track using Vocoding and the potential for those kinds of ideas is enormous here.
Used across an Auxiliary, multiple sounds in your mix can benefit from a unified OVox treatment, if you can imagine the vocoded equivalent of a shared reverb and all of the weird wonder that might produce. The presets are a great place to get your head around what’s possible. The company is brave enough to included treatments labelled Around The World and Harder Better Faster, proving that Waves is prepared to stake its reputation on building a plug-in which can allow for the sonic richness and innovation of some of the most classic vocoding treatments of all time. And OVox doesn’t disappoint.
‘Officially’, this plug-in costs $150 (£120) but Waves is famous for running discounts and ‘price drop weekends’ so keep your eyes peeled. At the time of writing, you can pick it up for $70 (£55) and it’s worth every penny, irrespective of whether you want to mangle vocals or find a toolset ready to do wonders to any source you like in unusual, formant and pitch-mangling ways. It’s rare to find a plug-in which makes you grin with joy when your expectations are surpassed. OVox does that over and over again, and, with the recent addition of a MIDI-out feature, allowing you to play your voice via any virtual instrument , the creative – and fun – potential of OVox appears to be limitless.
Do I really need this?
If you’re a singer, OVox will help you layer your voice in interesting, rich and innovative ways, helping you produce harmonies in real time (both in production work and, in standalone form, live). If you’re not a singer, it’s possible to tune and warp even the most out-of-tune, lifeless source material, meaning that your voice, no matter how unrefined, can become a worthwhile musical instrument.
If you’re a producer who is currently using Exhale, vocal sample packs or Output’s Arcade as sonic fodder for throwing a few key vocal phrases into your tracks, there is a much greater level of sophistication, parameter-wise, available here. And, of course, if those are indeed your sonic starting points, making them more unique, to differentiate your tracks from others using the same source sounds, is certainly something at which OVox can excel.
- Voice-controlled synth and vocal FX processor
- Powered by Waves Organic ReSynthesis technology
- Plugin or standalone app: no DAW necessary
- Innovative pitch/tune, harmonising and arpeggiation to classic vocoder and talkbox effects
- Automatic Note Mapper to trigger chords, harmonies or scales from your vocal tracks
- Built-in 8-voice synth with dual high-resolution synth engines
- Customisable LFOs/Sequencer, ADSR and ORS modulators
- 6 modulate-able FX: AutoPan, Chorus, Compressor, Delay, Distortion, Reverb
- Fully modulate-able 4-band EQ
- UPDATED VERSION: MIDI Out in real time (including Voice-to-MIDI)
- UPDATED VERSION: SoundGrid-compatible for real-time performance
- UPDATED VERSION: NKS-ready for NI Komplete Kontrol and Maschine
- UPDATED VERSION: 250 presets added, including 150 artist presets
- Buy: Sweetwater, Thomann
VocalSynth 2 £180
Like OVox, VocalSynth 2 is something of a swiss-army knife for some of the most classic vocal processing techniques, promising Vocoding and Talkbox effects alongside Biovox, CompuVox and PolyVox modules. It integrates neatly into the iZotope effects ecosystem if you have multiple iZotope plug-ins. Sophisticated and deep.
Vocalizer Pro 1.3 £160/$199
Like OVox and VocalSynth 2, Vocalizer Pro can be used as a MIDI-controlled effect, meaning you can play the notes or chords to which you’d like the Vocoded signal to correct in real time. Onboard performance pads offer more mangling aimed at those who favour using tech like this onstage.
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