Among their vast array of plug-ins, Waves has a number of bundles in the category designated “Signature Series”. All of these collections were designed with the input of a well-known engineer or producer—the one we’ll be looking at here is the CLA (Chris Lord-Alge) Signature Series (you can Google Chris to peruse his extensive list of major album credits). Each of the plug-ins in the bundle contains the equivalent of a full mixer and effects rack, with simplified presets and controls to enable the user to not only quickly and easily achieve Chris’ preferred “sound”, but also to customize that sound with a straightforward set of options. The plug-ins may look simple—and they are simple to use—but there’s a lot of good stuff, and a lot of variety, packed into the controls. Here are a few tips & suggestions to help you get the most out of these capable processors.
One of the first things you may notice with these plug-ins is that the controls are not calibrated with the usual measurements—dBs, Hertz, milliseconds, etc.—the labelling is descriptive: bark, spank, push, bite, sub, top. This is by design—these plug-ins want you to use the right side of your brain, rather than relying on familiar settings. Don’t think “this might need 3 dB of boost at 50 Hz, or a 4:1 ratio”—instead, trust your ears to find the best sounds. At the default fader positions (±0), you get Chris’ preferred setting(s) for each control (except the EQs)—you can then customize with three (descriptively labelled) options for each fader, and dial up the strength of each effect to taste.
The Drum plug-in has a knob that selects different preset values for each fader’s three options, for six different drums: kick, snare, toms, hi-hat, overheads, and cowbell (or general percussion & cymbals). But don’t feel that you have to rigidly stick to that—go ahead and try the “wrong” drum setting, like choosing kick position on a snare track. You may find that the different preset values, though designed for one drum, provide an interesting or unexpected result when mis-matched, and that’s how great sounds are born.
CLA Drums has two dynamics faders: Compress and Gate. While basic in operation, there’s a surprising amount of variety in the sounds, especially between the three compression options. Engineers have always used compression and gating to coax a wide variety of sounds from a single drum kit—everything from tight R&B-style drums, to big, boomy rock drums. Despite the simple controls, you can do that here, too. The Compress fader’s Push (dbx160/SSL), Spank (1176), and Wall (limiting) settings move from thick boomy drums to tighter, stronger attacks, and you can further fine-tune the decay with the Gate fader, for a fair bit of control over the drum envelopes.
Audio Example 1—CLA Drums: Dry; then processed (with separate instances for each drum):
The CLA Bass plug-in has two ways to address the low end—the (Pultec-style) Bass EQ fader, and the Sub fader. Bass offers a choice of frequencies—Sub, Lower, and Upper select progressively higher ranges—while Sub enhances just the very deepest bass. If you use the Sub fader to dial up depth and fatness (instead of the Bass fader’s Sub setting), you’ll free up the Bass fader to add “punch”—a favorite for bass, available here from the “Upper” option. Getting just the right balance between these two key aspects of bass tone can really help slot the bass into the mix.
Audio Example 2—CLA Bass: Dry; then processed:
CLA Guitars is really a much more versatile plug-in that it may first appear, thanks to the Re-Amplify switch. On top of the EQ (API/SSL), compression (LA3A), and effects (which include a nice stereo doubler), Re-Amplify engages a full-blown amp sim, with four levels of overdrive and speaker simulation. This makes the plug-in a perfect choice for quickly pumping up either a miked-up or a DI’d electric guitar recording, but it can also add something extra to other instruments, like electric pianos, where it can give just the right edge to, say, an overly dry, clean Rhodes or Wurli patch.
Audio Example 3—CLA Guitars: 1) Dry; 2) processed: Re-Amplify OFF; 3) processed: Re-Amplify ON:
Though it’s officially designated for Vocals, this plug-in’s classic SSL-modeled EQ and tasty 1176-style compression would benefit most acoustic instrument tracks as well. CLA Vocals can impart a nice subtle presence to lead vocals, and a sense of depth and width to background vocals (thanks to its tight reverb and stereo spreader/doubler). In fact, if you utilize the three variations of stereoizing/doubling (Stereo, Wide, Spreader) on different vocal parts, you can make those parts nicely populate the L-R soundstage, without too much bunching up at the sides of the stereo field. And the more gentle processing here (relative to some of the other plugs in the series) can offer these same benefits to acoustic guitar, piano, or any acoustic track where a little subtle enhancement is exactly what’s called for.
Audio Example 4—CLA Vocals: 1) On vocals: dry; then processed; 2) On acoustic guitar: dry; then processed:
The two different reverbs in CLA Unplugged give you the ability to blend them for a more effective sense of depth. Reverb 1’s Chamber (Room) simulation is good for pulling tracks back into the virtual space, while Reverb 2’s Plate emulation can add a nice, smooth tail, without adding much depth, especially to drums and vocals. But together, you can balance them to get just the right sense of depth vs. wash. This can be especially effective if you set up two of these plug-ins, on different Auxes, and Send varying levels from different tracks in a mix, dialing up a slightly different blend for each—i.e. lead vocal towards the front (more Plate, less Room), harmonies and drums toward the back (more Room, less Plate), etc.
CLA Effects has so many classic effects built into it that you could probably handle an entire mix with this plug-in alone. Even though some of the features on tap here are also found scattered among the other plugs, there are FX here that are found nowhere else in the collection, like Phasing, Fuzz, dotted-value Delays, and even the classic Telephone Voice effect. Even if you run them in auxes as well as channel inserts, you could end up instantiating quite a few of these in a mix, but to manage resources more efficiently, a little Automation could allow one instance to serve double or triple duty, dialing up just the right effect or setting in different parts of the song. Plus, some of these effects are the kind that need to be tweaked on-the-fly, like rhythmic delays, or the echo “Throw” switch, which lets you add a repeating echo to, say, a single word in a phrase.
Audio Example 5—CLA Effects: A repeating echo effect, added only to the last word in a phrase by Automating the Long Delay “Throw” switch (on-the-fly):
Even thought these plug-ins are presented as all-in-one solutions for different instruments and vocal tracks, there’s no rule that says you can’t combine them for additional flexibility. Even though many of the controls are similar for each plug—EQ, compression, delay, reverb—the actual sound of those processors varies from plug-in to plug-in, as different kinds of EQs, compressors, etc., are emulated in each unit. So the Pultec-style EQ and 1176/LA2A-style compression available in CLA Bass might provide very different results than the SSL-type EQ and dbx-style compression on tap in CLA Drums. I wouldn’t hesitate to run one into other, but I’d take care to disable the features I don’t want in each, to avoid over-processing the signal. And that brings up to the last suggestion.
I’ve mentioned it already, but it bears repeating—just because each plug-in is specifically designed to process a particular instrument doesn’t mean you can’t run a synth or guitar through CLA Bass, or a bass or acoustic guitar through CLA Vocals, or any application you think might be worth trying. You may not always get the best results from mismatching, but then again, you may come up with something new and exciting. But whether you’re looking to experiment, or just to quickly and efficiently dial up some polished-sounding tracks, the CLA Signature Series plug-ins have a lot of good sounds packed into their accessible interfaces.