Computer-Based Music Production on a Budget

Computer-Based Music Production on a Budget

Got something to say?

Share your comments on this topic with other web professionals

In: Reviews > Product Reviews

By Jesse Nieminen

Published on April 21, 2004

As Web and multimedia firms broaden their service repertoires to stay competitive in today’s tight market, many of them are bringing music and sound production for their projects in-house. This is especially true of smaller companies that are operating on small budgets. Granted, it has been a few years since sound production was the sole domain of super-expensive and elite studios, but only recently has the quality of equipment and software been so good for so little money. Add to that a very easy learning curve for getting into it, and you can see why creative pros with musical inclinations are jumping on the bandwagon.

Of course this phenomenon centers around the same computer on which you push pixels or code around. Even a laptop (with a few caveats, of course) can transform into a virtual studio for performing versatile audio tasks. Just as with high-end graphic and video software, you need a powerful machine to run the latest and greatest audio applications. The fastest processor and the most RAM you can cram in your computer are great, but thankfully most of the software I’m covering in this review is forgiving or provides workarounds for those with less.

I am writing this article for a number of reasons. I personally have a great interest in music and sound production and have done it in a limited professional capacity. I know a number of creative professionals who are at least music hobbyists, and we always love to figure out a way to make a living out of doing something fun. I have also recognized a trend of Web/multimedia firms branching out into doing audio, whether it be for a specific medium or for cross-media campaign work. This also marks the advent of the AUDIO section of our product reviews, which will continue coverage of worthwhile audio software and gear that is appropriate for those working creatively in the digital realm.

While there are myriad products available for sound and music production, I am focusing here on a few good choices for those of you who are seriously considering setting up a small-scale studio based around your computer. I chose to cover these products in particular because they all feature a combination of relatively low cost, versatility, professional quality, and fun. By no means do I cover every aspect of computer-based recording. For most people it’s a process of learning as you go, as I have.


Setting up your studio for audio production might be a small investment, but an investment nonetheless. There are a few basic pieces of equipment that you will need to have to produce audio on your computer. In addition to making sure your computer is well-suited to this type of work, you will also need an audio interface to get sound into your editing environment. A good microphone is very important if you will be recording vocals/voiceovers or live performances on instruments. If you have more than one piece of outboard gear or an array of microphones that you are using simultaneously, a desktop mixer is a wise investment. For listening to your work, you’ll need a quality pair of headphones at least, and a good set of small studio monitor speakers if you can afford it. Your local musical gear shop can provide good advice on equipment that will perform well according to your budget.

Computer Considerations

As with graphics and video, when it comes to the computer you use, newer/bigger/faster is always best. Audio recording and software can be VERY processor and RAM intensive, and there’s nothing more frustrating than getting “out of memory” messages at the same moment you are trying to capture a perfect creative moment. That said, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go buy a new computer. Most experts recommend that you run your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) with a computer that’s not used for anything else, but I’m doing fine running everything on my machine.

If you are considering using a laptop, there are some important factors to consider. Laptop hard drives are generally much slower than those in desktop machines, and consequently too slow to do a lot of serious audio work. You will need to look into getting an external Firewire hard drive specifically for music purposes. Also, laptop screens may not provide an adequate amount of real estate for the important interface components like track and mixing windows.

The debate about whether Mac or PC is better for music production basically boils down to whether your machine will run the software that you choose. Personally, I use a Mac and have chosen some software that is specific to that platform.

Other World Computing Mercury Extreme G4 / 1.25-1.33 GHz processor

Other World Computing Mercury Extreme G4 / 1.25-1.33 GHz processor Obsolescence is an inevitable fact when it comes to computers, unless you plan to use the same software forever. My Mac’s now-measly 400 Mhz processor was starting to groan under the weight of some of the work I was doing, so I knew that I had to do something before getting serious about using it as a DAW.

The best alternative to buying a new machine is to upgrade the processor and add as much RAM as you can. While I was pleasantly surprised to see that several third-party manufacturers offer G4 processor upgrades at very reasonable prices, I was cautious and somewhat skeptical about reliability and performance.

Of course, just like with RAM, there is a point at which processor speed will stop making much of a difference to your personal machine. Bus speeds and other factors limit the effect of new components, so there’s no need for overkill. Consult with the manufacturer to choose the best-performing processor for your particular machine.

In the case of my G4/400, Otherworld Computing recommended their Mercury Extreme G4/1.25-1.3 GHz processor upgrade. After researching several manufacturers and looking at processor upgrade testing Web sites, OWC’s product looked to be the best-performing and most problem-free unit at a very competitive price.

This particular upgrade includes a 256k L2 cache plus a 2MB L3 cache, with up to 1.3 GHz speed on my machine (/files/includes/10.css0 Mhz bus). The operation speed is controlled by moving jumpers on the processor chip before installing. Technically, this is known as overclocking, and in some situations certain people will experience technical problems if they try to push their upgraded processor faster than they should. But I have been running mine at maximum speed with no problems whatsoever.

Installing on my Mac was as simple as popping out the old processor and sticking this one in, which took about /files/includes/10.css minutes. OWC’s /files/includes/print.cssed directions were very clear and easy to follow. Technical support was also top-notch and friendly before and after deciding on the upgrade. As with anything I evaluate, I never tell tech support that I am writing a review on their products.

The Mercury Extreme has its own built-in heat sink and fan to ensure cool operation. The only downside to this is slightly more fan noise in your machine, which can be a hindrance if you happen to be recording in the same room with the computer and need total silence. However, fan noise is a problem with any computer, which is why you’ll see computers set in sound-proof installations at professional recording studios.

The whole point of upgrading is speed, and the OWC processor delivered well beyond my expectations. Instantly my Mac left the ranks of feeble has-beens to become an able competitor. Performance testing in all areas has proven this thing to be rock solid and FAST. It may not be a G5, but I genuinely feel like I have extended the useful life of this machine another few years, which is really something considering that it only cost a little over $400.

The added processor speed not only quickens my work in demanding graphic applications, but paves the way for smooth audio performance and the ability to use more tracks and effects in some music software. Audio can choke a processor almost as quickly as video, so it’s important to be running as fast a machine as you can afford.

The Mercury Extreme’s operation has been totally reliable, but with any upgrade like this, I recommend that you keep the original processor just in case. OWC provides a generous 3-year warranty, as well as a 30-day money back guarantee. I have been more than pleased so far and don’t feel so bad about pushing that inevitable G5 purchase back a good while longer.

M-Audio Ozone

The Ozone is a USB MIDI controller keyboard and audio interface rolled into one very portable package. Aimed at laptop musicians and small or home computer-based studios, the Ozone features 25 full-sized keys and 8 assignable MIDI knobs, 2 Midi ports and a built-in 2×2 24 bit/96kHz audio interface. This includes an XLR mic input with phantom power, plus zero-latency monitoring.

What does all that mean? Let’s break it down to the two main technologies involved: MIDI and audio.

MIDI is a musical instrument interface technology/language that lets hardware devices communicate with other devices and computers. The Ozone’s keyboard allows you to send note information (as well as other parameters) to a MIDI sound module or a software instrument/sequencer via the keys and knobs. It’s just like playing a piano via remote control, except that this is much more powerful—capable of controlling any kind of hardware or software synthesizer, sampler, sequencer, etc. that is MIDI compatible.

The Ozone’s abilities are somewhat limited, but more than adequate when you take into consideration the small size and the added audio interface. Some musicians may balk at only having 25 keys, but they are full size and have good playing action. Moving the note range up or down is easily done with the octave selector, and the 8 knobs can be assigned to dynamically control various parameters such as a synth’s LFO frequency. The only real disappointment is the lack of any MIDI – in port, which would be useful to use in conjunction with another piece of MIDI hardware. If you have a number of MIDI devices, you may need to purchase an additional MIDI interface if you are using the Ozone.

Quality audio is crucial if you’re going to make a serious effort, so plugging a 1/8″ jack into your computer’s sound card just won’t cut it. The Ozone handles audio very capably for what it is, and provides great results considering the skinny pipe (USB) it’s traveling through to get to your computer. There are Firewire audio interfaces out there, but none with a MIDI keyboard attached. 24-bit sound means better than CD quality (16 bit), and is the standard quality at which many audio professionals work these days.

The Ozone impressively captured good-sounding audio with no glitches or any noticeable latency in my testing. The stereo and mic XLR inputs sound clean and clear, and should be appropriate for most types of applications. That said, this audio interface will not rival the recording capabilities of a professional recording studio armed with thousands of dollars in gear. The quality of the microphones you use will also determine how good your recordings will sound.

The Ozone is very easy to use, and the documentation provided made operation a snap. I have heard some complaints in the past about M-Audio’s technical support, but I have had nothing but positive experiences with them (I also own other M-Audio products). The build quality of the Ozone is pretty good. It is all plastic, but nothing is loose or too flimsy. At 4 pounds it’s light enough to carry around with you, although you certainly would not want to drop it.

If you are looking for an integrated audio/MIDI solution, the Ozone is a good choice. It comes bundled with limited versions of both Reason and Live (also covered in this article), plus other music-making software. If you’re just starting out, there’s enough in one box to keep you occupied for a while.

Tech 21 Trademark /files/includes/10.css amplifier
$249 (street price)

It’s important to note that although we’re mainly talking about computers, software and digital sound here, there is analog gear out there that is very worthy of your consideration. While digital guitar amp modeling is impressive and getting better all the time, it still usually sounds a bit unnatural. Plus, there’s no way to use a microphone with a digital modeler.

Tech 21 Trademark /files/includes/10.css amplifier

Enter the Tech 21 Trademark /files/includes/10.css. It looks like a nice little practice amp, but in fact is much more. Basically it’s the company’s well-respected Sans Amp in small amplifier form. The Trademark is an analog modeling amp, which means it’s utilizing analog circuitry to emulate different guitar amps. Among the impressive array of features are an active EQ section, real spring reverb, effects loop, headphone jack and XLR direct out. The /files/includes/10.css is also quite attractive with its top-mounted control section and tweed grill cloth.

The Tech 21 Trademark /files/includes/10.css control panel

The control panel features several knobs and switches for creating custom tones. The “character” section has a DRIVE knob, plus 3 selector switches with 3 positions each: amp, gain setting and speaker type. The 3 amp types are “Tweed” (a warm clean sound), “British” (a sharp classic Marshall-like tone) and “California” (a more modern distortion tone). The 3 band active EQ section allows you to further sculpt your sound, plus there’s a real spring reverb in there that works pretty well.

Selecting different combinations dials in a variety of classic guitar tones, plus a decent variety of your own. The included literature provides settings diagrams to emulate famous guitar sounds, such as AC/DC’s Back in Black. It’s very close.

Although it’s only a /files/includes/10.css-watter with an 8″ speaker, this amp is loud. It can also drive a 2×12 or 4×12 speaker cabinet or plug directly into the PA if you decide to play through it live on stage. But the Trademark /files/includes/10.css is really a stellar performer in the studio when you are aiming for a variety of tones but don’t have the money or space for the real thing. For a solid state device, the sound is remarkably warm and does a good job emulating tube tone, without the reliability problems and maintenance issues inherent to tube amps. The tweed tone stands up very well to my Fender tweed amp, which is much larger and more expensive, and not nearly as versatile.

The Trademark /files/includes/10.css offers a number of options for recording situations. The XLR direct out provides the best direct sound, but the effects send can also be used to plug into a 1/4 input. Things really get fun when you start experimenting with a microphone in front of the amp. There are mic placement techniques that you can use to expand your tonal options even more. Most people don’t believe the huge sounds emanating from the speaker.

This amplifier is quite fun, useful, and will serve your needs well if you need a good range of guitar sounds in a small package. I have found myself playing more through this amp lately than my other amps, and more guitar, period, because of this amp.

There are only a couple of downsides to using the Trademark /files/includes/10.css. First, there is not a transparent clean setting on the amp. The tweed clean is good, but a little too warm and round when you want clarity. Consequently, using distortion type effects with the Trademark /files/includes/10.css is disappointing. If you are looking to record the character of a particular effects unit, then you’ll need to use a different amplifier. That said, the distortion tones produced by the trademark /files/includes/10.css are amazing, so you may find yourself using these pedals less anyway.

The only other disadvantage is the inability to quickly switch to a favorite setting. Because it’s all analog, you’re stuck twiddling knobs. Tech 21 provides blank custom settings diagrams that you can fill in to help remind you how to get back to a specific sound—not a bad tradeoff.

At $250, the Trademark /files/includes/10.css is considerably more expensive than most guitar amps the same size but you must consider that this is much more than a practice amp: the features make it money well spent. I was turned on to the amp after several musicians and producers recommended it. They mentioned how often they ended up using it in the studio in place of vintage gear, and that was enough to get me interested. While it won’t suit every need for recording guitar in my home studio, it performs venerably in most cases.


For those of you who are either total novices or are unsure about making any kind of investment on music software at this point, let me point you to a good freebie that will start you off on the right foot:

Pro Tools Free

Pro Tools Free is a limited version of Digidesign’s flagship music production software, supplying up to 8 audio tracks and support for included and third party plug-ins. I have actually used PT Free for a couple of professional audio editing jobs, including dialog assembly for animation and sound effects creation. I’ve also used it just for fun with some music production.

This software offers enough pro-level editing features to make novice to intermediate users happy, but the limits are frustrating enough, once you know what you are doing, to make you want to step up to a full version. Fortunately, PT Free doesn’t require any special hardware to use, and there are both Mac and Windows-compatible versions. Mac OS X users will de disappointed to learn that the Mac version is OS 9 only and will not work in Classic mode.

If you are past the beginner stage and need more features, then there are a number of professional audio editing software packages. I am just focusing on a few here, but I encourage you to investigate for yourself to see what works best. Several audio interfaces on the market already come bundled with software that may work for you. I came upon my personal decisions through a lot of research and talking to knowledgeable people.

Logic 6

Logic 6 box shot Recently acquired by Apple computer, Emagic has dropped the development of their products for the Windows environment and gone Mac-only. Logic Platinum 6, their flagship music production product, is aimed at professional musicians and production environments. Logic’s lineup has very recently been revamped to fall in with the naming/features convention put forth in other Apple software offerings. Logic Platinum 6 is now Logic Pro 6 (bundled with several software instruments and plug-ins) and Logic Express, which offers fewer features and a lower number of tracks with which to work.

Logic is a full-featured audio recording / production and MIDI sequencing environment that offers an amazing amount of control and creative tools to work with. One chief advantage it has over applications like ProTools is that it doesn’t require proprietary hardware (aside from a Mac) to operate. All you need is some kind of audio and MIDI interface to get you going, and frankly not even that if you will just be editing digital audio files.

Logic 6 main interface

Like most audio sequencers, Logic’s main interface is track-based, displaying your sound and MIDI data in a linear sequence. Arranging is quite easy, and Logic’s track-based automation system makes complex control over parameters quite easy.

My personal setup includes a number of instruments connected to an audio mixer, which is connected to the computer via a USB audio interface. Recording into Logic is as simple as enabling an audio track to record, pressing play, and performing. Since live performance is always unpredictable, it’s easy to set up Logic to loop and record the same part of a song either as an overdub or replacement track.

In addition to traditional musical instruments, Logic features the ability to play software synth plug-ins, outboard sound modules, and even other pieces of music software. This is done through powerful MIDI routing and control capabilities in Logic. For example, just by selecting from a pulldown menu for a track’s audio source, I can switch between an outboard drum machine, one of Logic’s own software synthesizers, or an external software sound module (see Reason review below), or any other available device, and control it with my keyboard MIDI controller.

MIDI data can be edited in a variety of different ways:

Track freezing is an invaluable new feature that temporarily renders the audio in a selected track and leaves more CPU resources available for other tasks. Large numbers of tracks and effects like reverb tend to eat up CPU power, and if the load is too great you’ll either get memory errors or audio glitches. Freezing effectively takes away those worries.

Working with Logic requires juggling a myriad of windows and menus. It can be daunting, but Logic allows you to save custom screensets to jump quickly between tasks. Even better, the program allows comprehensive control over keyboard shortcuts, allowing users to customize Logic to their preferences.

Once you’ve correctly set up your /files/includes/default.css production environment, you are ready to make professional-quality music or perform just about any type of audio editing task. Logic also features the ability to import Quicktime movie files to aid in scoring and multimedia sound production.

Like several audio editing applications, Logic’s functionality can be expanded with plug-in effects. Logic 6 provides full support for the Audio Units format, a new plug-in architecture that takes full advantage of OS X’s Core Audio. Covering all the plug-ins available out there could fill several more reviews, so I suggest searching the Web for more information. There are lots of great free plug-ins out on the Web for the taking as well. Those included for free with Logic are enough to keep you going for quite some time. There is an impressive array of reverbs, eq’s, and special effects which offer excellent realtime processing of your audio tracks.

Simply put, Logic is not easy to use at all; it will require a considerable investment of time to learn. This is not one of those things that you just pick up by doing—you’ll need either some sort of training or a good book to get you going. That said, once you know what you’re doing, you can work quickly and do a lot of incredible things.

The Getting Started guide provides good orientation to the basics, but the Reference manual is somewhat difficult to approach if you’re trying to learn the program in-depth. I would recommend a couple of books to pick up if you’re serious about learning:

  • Logic 6: Professional Music Creation and Audio Production by Martin Sitter and Robert Brock
  • Logic Audio Workshop by Dave Bellingham

The Sitter/Brock book is part of the Apple Pro Training Series, and is a comprehensive tutorial that will take readers from a novice to intermediate user level. It’s very easy to follow, and the book I’d recommend if you can only buy one. Logic Audio Workshop expands on some of the basics, and offers numerous tips and tricks you won’t find elsewhere.

Although Logic is a very complex application, it’s also very rewarding once you get the hang of it. Its capabilities are incredible and the quality of work it helps produce is always very high. While other audio/MIDI software might be easier to use at first, I would still choose Logic for its great interface, wealth of features and the ability to customize it to my own studio. I’d recommend it to anyone looking for serious production software, even if you have to buy your first Macintosh to use it.

Propellerheads Reason 2.5

Propellerheads Reason 2.5 box shot If you are short on instruments, look no further than this jaw-droppingly great application. Effectively rolling a mountain of amazing gear into a single, easy to use package, Reason has gained a huge following in the music community.

Reason’s interface very effectively emulates rackmounted gear: mixers, samplers, synths, drum machines and effects, along with an intuitive sequencer and editing environment. All of the gear looks fantastic, with simulated buttons, knobs and LED screens – all very reminiscent of classic music gear.

Reason's module-packed interface

Because all of the units together couldn’t possibly fit on the screen at the same time, the gear window scrolls as needed, plus each module compacts simply by clicking on its twirl-in arrow. Hitting the tab key will reveal another surprise – the back of the virtual gear, complete with patching cables for virtual signal / control routing! It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

Reason could very well be the “reason” you won’t need any actual instruments to get started making music. Its array of synths, samplers, drum machines and effects provide endless possibilities for sound – most importantly, unique sound. Everything is infinitely tweakable, meaning that your music will be a product of your creative expression. While you might think that this application lends itself to a particular style of music, that’s not the case. Professional musicians across many genres are using this software every day.

Reason differs from some of the other software covered here in that it cannot record audio. Using Reason will require the use of a MIDI controller, such at the M-Audio Ozone. Recording and editing are very easy to understand, and the documentation is easy to follow. Thankfully, its cooperation with recording software is also amazing. For example, it’s not only possible to route Reason’s audio into Logic, but you can also play your Reason instruments directly through the Logic interface. This is made possible through Reason’s “Rewire” technology, something which other software manufacturers are cleverly taking advantage of.

The most impressive ability of Reason is to expand beyond just what comes in the box. There are numerous samples, loops, and instruments available for sale and, in some cases, free of charge. The loyal user community that has grown around Reason has become a great resource for sounds, tips, and technical help. All in all, it’s one of the most inspirational pieces of software I’ve ever used.

Ableton Live

Ableton Live box shot Live is a very original piece of music software that allows users to approach it as both a recording/composition tool and a live performance tool, hence the name. It really breaks away from the traditional sequencer and makes performance and interactive decision-making integral.

Many musicians and DJs have really taken to Live because it offers the ability to perform the same piece of music/collection of samples in infinite permutations. Usually computer-based music making and sequencing is a very linear process. Live offers both the traditional way and total improvisation, plus spots in between.

Ableton Live's sesison interface

Live’s operation centers around the very familiar concept of loop-based music, but its approach to triggering sound is what sets it apart. At first glance, it might strike you as some kind of spreadsheet, but it’s actually a very well-organized interface that lays out your samples for easy access. A handy file browser is built into the left side of the screen, and the info window in the bottom corner provides helpful contextual information for everything your mouse rolls over.

Here’s how it works:

In session mode, sound samples are dropped into “track” columns, and can be triggered either individually or together with all other samples across tracks in the same row by selecting that row in the Master section. Samples automatically loop by /files/includes/default.css, as well as “warp” to match the song’s tempo while retaining the original pitch. Changing the song’s tempo automatically changes the tempo of all looping samples. It’s really quite amazing how well it works. Of course, you can always specify that a sample does not loop or warp, in case you wish for it to just play once when triggered.

Samples can be triggered either with a mouse or a MIDI controller. Activating the MIDI map function allows the user to quickly assign keys to trigger specific sounds. Any MIDI controller keyboard that you can attach to your computer will work, and in fact Live comes bundled with some keyboards.

In arranger mode, Live functions more like traditional sequencer/recording software with one big exception. Tracks are laid out in the traditional timeline, but you can switch to session mode and trigger samples live along with your playback.

It’s an impressive and very fun piece of software which lets you make music out of seemingly disparate samples. While Live may be more popular among electronic and dance musicians, it could be used for just about anything. I’ve seen experimental noise performances done with Live on a laptop, and could imagine classical music arrangements constructed with it.

Live can also record audio, although it doesn’t offer many of the complex capabilities found in applications like Logic. The process is intuitive, as is working with samples in the bottom pane of the interface.

If you are looking for just one piece of music software to buy, I would probably recommend against Live, unless you are specifically planning to base a lot of your music on loops. But if you are excited by the possibilities of improvisation, this is an application which you should definitely consider.

Bias Peak 4

Bias Peak 4 box shot If your main concern is stereo audio editing or mastering your tracks to add the finishing touches, Bias Peak 4 is an excellent choice for Mac OS X users.

Peak is a very popular stereo editor that has been around for several years. A good friend of mine who is a composer uses Peak as his main tool for restoring and remastering archival recordings of electroacoustic music. He swears by Peak because of its ease of use and powerful features.

It’s a stereo editor instead of a multitrack recorder/arranger, so the interface is quite simple. Because the buttons and menus are arranged so well, operating Peak is a very intuitive experience. If you can think of a better way to use Peak, then you’ll appreciate the ability to customize the interface. I highly recommend reading the manual, but it’s easy enough to get started without cracking a book.

I should also mention that Peak is good as a complementary tool to your audio/MIDI seqencer. For some operations, it’s easier to manipulate audio in Peak and then import into a track in a program like Logic. Also, some people choose Peak to do their final mastering before burning their audio to CD—as opposed to using special mastering plug-ins directly within Logic. CD burning is built into the program, and it outputs Redbook standard audio CDs in addition to a variety of other formats.

Peak 4's interface

Waveform editing is very easy to do. Selecting regions to work with is as simple as clicking and dragging. Unlimited Undo/Redo means you can experiment infinitely without worry. Peak 4 is loaded with numerous powerful DSP effects, useful for anything from radical sound warping to detailed audio sweetening. Furthermore, Peak supports both Audio Units and Carbonized VST plug-ins, so you can bring in any compatible third party effects.

In addition to working with audio files, Peak can import Quicktime and DV movie files for audio enhancement. This is a great feature if you are handed a bunch of movie files for the Web and need to clean up the audio.

For a rigorous production environment, Peak 4 offers batch processing options. This allows users to simultaneously apply DSP effects to several pieces of audio at once.

Among Peak 4’s new features, ImpluseVerb is the coolest. It actually applies the room ambiance (impulse response) from a selection of different spaces to the selected sound. Say you have a dry guitar sound, and you want it to sound like it’s being played in a large auditorium—just select the space! Even better, you can record and import your own impulse responses to apply to audio. In essence this is like digital reverb, but the difference is that the algorithms model actual physical spaces, making it more realistic. And since you can import your own spaces, you have total control of the creative possibilities. I know of someone who records impulse responses in grain silos.

Peak is a great, easy-to-use application with impressive professional features. It’s very solid and performs reliably. Whether you just need a stereo audio editor or something to master and compile audio into a finished product, this is the one to get.

Waves plug-ins
price varies by bundle

Waves plug-ins are among the most widely used for processing and mastering in the digital environment. Consisting of a vast array of compressors, EQs, reverbs, sweetening tools, spatial arrangers, and special effects, the plug-ins are available in both VST and Audio Units format. In my research, I found numerous positive references to Waves products by successful audio professionals.

Waves offers several bundles targeted at specific tasks and industries, such as broadcasting and music production. The prices of the bundles certainly reflect this, running into the thousands of dollars.

The ease of use ranges from very intuitive to indecipherable, so I highly recommend studying the documentation carefully. Knowledge of the concepts behind things like compression, EQing, reverbs, etc. is a prerequisite to really using these plug-ins properly, so you have a good bit of homework to do before making the investment.

If you are knowledgeable, you’ll be quite pleased with the comprehensive selection at your fingertips. The wide range of options enables users to fine-tune and transform audio with a great deal of power and detail. Mastering can be quite a tricky task, but Waves plug-ins do an incredible job of making things sound “right.” It’s amazing to see how life can be breathed into a dull, lifeless track just with some compression and EQ.

The Waves Doppler plugin In addition to the professional audio tweaking tools, there are also some good effects plug-ins here. My favorite is “Doppler,” which applies spatial and pitch warping characteristics to your track.

Given the price, only professionals who do a lot of audio production work will be considering one of the bundles. Some plug-ins are available separately, so combining a few of these may give you the mastering arsenal you’re looking for.

Overall, the high quality of results, using Waves plug-ins with Logic, in my testing, surpasses Logic’s built-in mastering tools to a considerable degree. Quality mastering can make all the difference for your final product, and these plug-ins make the task easier. Considering the high price, it may be worth sending your important audio work to a professional mastering studio.


If you are an aspiring musician or producer, or see potential in bringing small-scale creative audio production into your studio, there are a lot of options to consider. If you’re unsure, there are plenty of cheap or free applications out there to help you get your bearings.

Helpful links

  • TapeOp, an excellent messageboard patrolled by audio professionals
  • OSXAudio, a great resource for modern Mac musicmaking
  • Harmony Central, a very large site containing tons of information, press releases and user reviews on gear.

Related Topics: Audio