Buyer's Guides

Best Waves Plugins: Essential Tool to Supercharge Your Studio

Remember that time when getting music to a professional standard would involve a state-of-the-art studio with a giant console with innumerable buttons, faders and knobs? There’s an entire generation of people who weren’t alive the last time this was the case. This is partly thanks to the Israeli plugin Maestros Waves, a company that has played a significant role in bringing forward a reality in which incredible music can be made on a laptop rather than just a gigantic, unaffordable desk.

They’ve been doing this for over 30 years now; the only downside to this is there are now almost 200 of their plugins to choose from. But don’t let this overwhelm you, as Headliner swoops in with this handy guide to the best Waves plugins on the market. So whether you’re looking for reverb, delay, analogue emulation, mix and mastering tools, let us gently help you ride the wave through the selection process. Surf’s up!

Waves Abbey Road Reverb Plate

  • Original plates were loved by The Beatles

  • Fantastic emulation

Abbey Road is such a legendary studio, The Beatles famously spent an afternoon walking across a Zebra crossing to get to it. Waves would like you to have access to one of its most celebrated reverb sounds, from the reverb plate that was installed just prior to the Fab Four working at the studio, which would become integral to their sound, and later Pink Floyd, Radiohead and more.

Reverb plates are known for being particularly difficult to emulate for a plugin, but Waves have done so quite immaculately here. You can get a stunning, clean ‘verb, or turn up the Drive for a bit of grit. There is also EQ-tweaking galore. As history might suggest, it sounds particularly stunning on piano, vocals and guitar, but you really can experiment with any sound source.


CLA MixHub

  • Puts a full SSL Console digitally at your fingertips

  • Excellent EQ and analogue distortion

As mentioned earlier, you arguably don’t need a physical mixing desk anymore in this day and age, which comes as a relief as a full desk can cost you tens of thousands. Especially when you have Waves plugins like CLA MixHub, which instead emulates a truly classic mixer from Chris Lord-Alge, his SSL 4000. Grammy award-winning sound is placed at your fingertips.

This plugin is fantastic if you're keen for your digital emulations to have a sense of analog character and warmth, along with access to fantastic EQ. Many users absolutely love its multitrack functionality, gladly replacing the more bog standard DAW mixer. The processing is premium, to say the least. A very powerful plugin indeed.


Waves Abbey Road Saturator

  • Incredible analogue emulation

  • Two brilliant distortions included

We’re back in Northwest London for another plugin modelled from Abbey Road Studios, their Saturator. As the name suggests, you will get professional-level saturation, as expected from Waves plugins and the lauded studio. But also, depth-laden distortion. Like previous entries, the analogue emulation is truly top-notch, as are the subtle harmonics you can add to your music.

There are two types of distortion available: the tube REDD sound, and the solid-state TG12345 tone, which both mimic the original device's Abbey Road appearance wonderfully. This is a plugin that you can really push to its limits. The saturator itself is modelled after the original TF 12321, and it's remarkably close in sound.


Waves Vocal Bender

  • Makes vocal editing and experimenting a joy

  • Great user interface

If you’re looking for one of the best Waves plugins that’s also an outrageous amount of fun, enter Waves Vocal Blender. If you’ve ever listened to a hip-hop or dance track where the vocals go from scary-monster low pitch to chipmunk high pitch, or they get chopped up and match the instrumental, you may have thought to yourself ‘I wish I could do that in my tracks!’ Well, you can, with this plugin.

You may have also felt such vocal effects are probably too esoteric and complex for us muggles to achieve, but this gem from Waves keeps the user interface simple and easy to follow. So you can get experimenting without any worry of being overwhelmed. The total lack of lag when applying these effects is also very impressive, also. With all the automation and modulation possibilities on offer, you could easily lose an afternoon (and evening) with this joyful plugin.


Waves H-Delay

  • Plenty of modulation and echo effects

  • Yet more top-level analogue recreation

If you ask a pro producer about their favourite Waves plugins, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll mention the Waves H series. The first of these to get a mention here is the H-Delay, among the most beloved delays in a producer’s toolkit. Whether you’re after a simple repeat or black hole-esque dubs, H could be the letter you are seeking.

Add to that modulation effects like phasing and flanging, and there’s a lot to be achieved here. And while some of the newer contenders have a distinctly digital sound (H-Delay has been with us for over a decade now), the Hybrid Delay delivers hardware warmth in both appearance and sound. Give it a whirl and you’ll quickly get a sense of why it’s so beloved.


Waves L2 Ultramaximizer

  • Takes away the fear of pushing your tracks too far

  • Vital for getting your songs to industry-standard volumes

Are you seeking to push your music right to the limit? In that case, one of the best Waves plugins for you is their L2 Ultramaximizer, the very popular limiter from their arsenal. The age of platforms like Spotify, Apple Music et al have made it more essential than ever to get your songs to the industry standard of loudness, otherwise, you risk them sounding unprofessional and meek.

This peak-limiter plugin works like an ultra-fast compressor, with a minimum 20:1 ratio. It essentially removes any fear of your tracks going over that all-important volume boundary. One of its excellent features is the fact you can join the ‘ceiling’ and ‘threshold’ faders, with resulting loudness increasing at the threshold, while the output decreases.


Waves Retro Fi

  • Vastly superior to a lot of competing lo-fi plugins

  • Vast array of sounds and features

Ever since that video of an animated girl studying and nodding her head to retro-sounding beats with her cat sleeping in the background was uploaded to YouTube, many producers have become obsessed with perfecting the ‘lo-fi’ sound on beats. Thus, the demand for plugins that can achieve the lo-fi aesthetic has gone up sharply, and for this goal, you could do much worse than Retro Fi from Waves plugins.

This Waves offering has everything from cassette and vinyl style, bitcrusher and distortion effects, and an enormous library of lo-fi noises and textures. You can create lo-fi percussive effects with ducking and gating, and its smart noise generator is genius — it keeps the textures in a constantly changing loop so your music doesn’t sound like a boring, prerecorded loop. Another Waves plugin that’s ridiculously fun to mess around with.


Waves Tune

  • Great at delivering a more human pitch correction

  • Great editing potential

There are a lot of tuning and pitch correction plugins out there — and if you’re keeping it Waves, one of the best ones out there is Waves Tune. And the thing that makes Tune stand out is the amount of tweaking and editing on offer. You can get really macro here, doing note-by-note edits if you so wish. If that sounds like a pain, you can let the powerful software do the heavy lifting for you.

A very nice thing is that you can achieve human-sounding pitch correction here — just play around with the Note Transition and Speed to determine how natural it will sound. Don't worry, though, if you're after that Cher/Kanye-esque robotic vocal effect, you can gleefully dial it up.


Waves Abbey Road Chambers

  • Flick through all the classic speaker and mic models

  • Iconic sound

Meanwhile, at Abbey Road Studios…the studio’s iconic Studio Two houses one of the world’s most famous echo chambers, and in a pre-plugin world, tracks would have reverb applied to them by being played on a speaker in a reverb-laden room, and a microphone would pick up the resulting washed out sound. To make life quite a bit more convenient, Waves plugins have recreated this magic with the Chambers plugin.

Studio Two’s renowned chain is also recreated with all the speaker and mic models that would have been used for you to choose from, as well as the tape delay emulation. So this isn’t just a one-size-fits-all reverb — you can tweak your way into the classic ‘verb sound that is perfect for your track.


Waves Kramer Master Tape

  • One of the warmest tape sounds out there

  • Effects range from dub-echoes to Wow controls

Made in collaboration with famed engineer Eddie Kramer, this Waves plugin does a remarkable job of serving up analogue tape on a digital plate for you. It models his Ampex 350 ¼-inch machine, with all the playback levels for getting the input and output gain for your liking. The Flutter, Noise and Wow controls are good fun also, to tweak the ‘instability’ of the response.

Also on offer is Delay Time, Slap and Feedback settings, and you can add a low-pass filter to achieve those wonderful and fairly infinite tape dub-echoes. You can get some really crunchy saturation with this Waves plugin, so all in all, Kramer for the win!


Waves Vocal Rider

  • A must for vocal production

  • Brilliant time saver with clean results

Many producers who work with vocals a lot have really come to rely on this particular Waves plugin. And it’s easy to see why — its volume automation tools are so impressive, and it even adjusts levels automatically. The results are very clean, and it doesn’t add any unwanted colour to the input signal.

It’s a brilliant time saver for your workflow, as you can rest assured that your vocals will be at the industry standard volume and won’t be lost in the mix, without heavy compression ruining the sound. It’s great for live mixing as well as in the studio and expect a latency-free experience.


API 2500

  • Flexible controls for different sounds

  • That classic warm Waves sound

The API 2500 is famous for being one seriously versatile bus compressor, and Waves' official software version does an incredible job replicating the original hardware's revered design, behaviour, and tone.

Just like the OG, it's rocking the VCA design. The Tone section lets you pick between feed-forward or feed-back modes, and, much like its hardware counterpart, there's a lot of room for tweaking the input sidechain signal. You've got three Knee settings and a trio of Thrust options to add some unique 'tilt' filtering to your sound.

In action, the API 2500 stands out where other compressors struggle. It can give individual sounds, submixes, and masters that perfect punch and 'glue,' thanks to all those customisation options at your fingertips.


Waves Kaleidoscopes

  • Breathe life into your sounds at the touch of a button

  • A deft combination of classic effects

As the Waves universe has so many plugins, there are some that are naturally underrated compared to the likes of H-Delay. And the producers that do use them will be shouting about them from the rooftops to try and spread the word. Waves Kaleidoscopes is one such plugin, which creates stunning sounds by combining flangers, phasers and a tremolo.

I’m sure you’ll have had times when you’re working with some sounds, perhaps MIDI, and everything is sounding a little flat. This is a great instance where Kaleidoscopes is your friend — inspired by classic analogue sounds from the ‘60s to the ‘80s, the three mentioned effects above combined will have your VSTs brimming with life almost instantly. You may even feel guilty about how easy it is. A very fun feature is being able to stack the different effects on top of one another.


Waves PuigTec EQs

  • EQs based on hit records

  • Resonant sound

Waves most certainly have you covered in the EQ department with the PuigTec. Meet the PuigTec EQ's, crafted by the legendary Jack Joseph Puig – the man behind chart-toppers from U2, Lady Gaga, and The Rolling Stones.

What sets these EQs apart from the crowd is their ability to boost and cut the same frequency simultaneously, conjuring up a unique, magical resonant shelving sound. Once you experience that unmistakable PuigTec sound, you'll understand why these chaps are considered some of the finest Waves plugins your hard-earned pounds/dollars can purchase.


Waves Submarine

  • Controls are great to use

  • Formidable bass generation

Fire torpedoes! Here is a Waves plugin that will take your tracks to the bottom of the ocean sonically, if you desire. There are bass-boosting plugins that typically exist to enhance an existing bass and its low frequencies. Submarine, on the other hand, generates completely new bass content for your track, no matter what sound source you feed it.

In other words, stick in vocals, a clarinet, a triangle, and this plugin will bring new depths to your track. It analyses the pitch, formants, dynamics and more to generate its sub-bass signals, two octaves below. There are then several options for you to play around with, for example, harmonic distortion, custom dynamics, and an onboard EQ. Ahoy!


Why use Waves instead of a DAW’s own plugins?

There are several compelling reasons to consider using Waves plugins instead of the stock plugins supplied with your digital audio workstation, be it Logic, Cubase, or even Pro Tools:

  1. Enhanced Sound Quality: Waves plugins are renowned for their exceptional sound quality. They are designed using advanced algorithms and meticulously modeled after analog hardware, resulting in a richer and more authentic audio processing experience. This can make a noticeable difference in the final mix, helping you achieve professional-grade results.
  2. Versatility: Waves offers a vast catalog of plugins covering virtually every aspect of audio processing. Whether you need precise EQ, powerful compression, lush reverb, or creative effects, Waves has a plugin to meet your needs. This versatility allows you to expand your sonic palette and explore creative possibilities beyond what stock plugins may offer.
  3. Industry Standard: Waves plugins have become an industry-standard in music production and audio engineering. Many top studios and audio professionals rely on Waves plugins for their projects. Using these plugins can help you achieve a sound that is consistent with what is heard in professional recordings.
  4. Ease of Use: Waves plugins are known for their user-friendly interfaces, making them accessible to both beginners and seasoned professionals. Their intuitive controls and informative visual displays simplify the audio processing workflow, allowing you to focus on your creativity rather than technical complexities.
  5. Additional Features: Many Waves plugins come with unique features and functionalities that can't be found in stock plugins. These features can streamline your workflow, enhance your creativity, and give you more control over your audio processing.
  6. Customization: Waves plugins often provide more extensive parameter control and preset options, allowing you to fine-tune your sound and save your own presets for future use. This level of customization can be invaluable when crafting a signature sound.

Ultimately, Waves plugins empower you to achieve professional-level audio production and mixing. While it's completely possible to achieve great results with stock plugins, premium plugins like Waves can often help take your music or audio projects to the next level.

Further reading:

Best plugin bundles

Best plugins for mastering