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Waves RetroFi: The Ultimate Lo-Fi FX Tool?

Is this the new go-to choice for true analogue lo-fi sound? Waves describes its new RetroFi plugin as ‘the ultimate lo-fi FX chain’, with everything music creators need to produce authentic lo-fi textures, warm analogue sounds, and mesmerising nostalgic vibes. Headliner’s Spotlight Reviews editor investigates…

Firstly, you should know I’m a child of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and my parents were avid music listeners. From as far back as I can remember, they were far happier on the settee in front of the open fire with our Grundig Radiogram in the corner – mono and valve in those days – than they were in front of the black and white television. So I would fall asleep to the sounds of everything from the Beatles to The Ink Spots, Rachmaninoff to Mozart.

As the ‘60s became the ‘70s my father discarded the old radiogram in favour of a new fangled stereo system comprising HiFi separates and bookshelf speakers. I could now borrow the Dog of Two Head album from my Japanese Telecaster copy-wielding friend from down Stanhope Avenue and record it on cassette, so I could learn to play 12-bar like Rossi and Parfitt.

However, the Beatles and The Who records along with Elvis and Everly Brothers singles never sounded as good on the new HiFi as they did on the old radiogram. In theory they should have sounded better, especially the stereo ones, and for me this was a defining moment – a realisation that nothing stays the same, all things eventually come to an end and ultimately, everything moves on.

I can’t help but chuckle to myself when I remember the birth of digital Compact Disks in the ‘80s, and the slow but steady change to digital – first through mastering and then recording itself. I’m in no doubt that this change heralded a move from acceptable audio quality to superior audio quality, especially in broadcasting. But with regard to music, not everyone is convinced that the days of noisy old analogue should be confined to the dustbin of time.

No music business professional can dispute that on paper, the signal to noise ratio and dynamic frequency range of digital are vastly superior. So what is it about valves, transformers, vinyl, tape and cassette that create such a desire for old analogue character? Let’s find out.

Plug’n’Play

Harking back to my early days of warm and fuzzy, it’s not surprising that the whole industry surrounding analogue outboard is as buoyant today as it’s always been. Not to mention the plethora of plugins now available, all professing to do a better job of messing up your audio. I myself have used Waves Abbey Road Vinyl and Saturator even on podcasts to get a little of that broadcasting feel. So, I was more than willing to give Waves’ new RetroFi a whirl when it was released earlier this year.

Firstly, it has a very easy to understand interface where everything bar the preset menus – which are extensive – are on a single layer GUI. It is split into four distinct sections with the usual in-and-out trims, some additional pass filters and a mono knob along the bottom. All four sections can be switched in and out, offering one or more sections at any given time from which you can build sounds using the Device, Space, Noise or Mechanics sections.

Device

The first ‘Device’ section is dominated by a styler rotary with which to select the analogue decade that most takes your fancy – a nice touch. The ‘Device’ selector throws up a random selection of three EQ patterns and one flat EQ pattern. Although I’m neither familiar with or remember all the various devices that were around in these eras, with a little High Pass you can create something not far removed from the early transistor radios and those all-in-one record players that you could stack a few 45s at a time on. There’s even something in the 50s device that’s close to the bass heavy radiogram I mentioned earlier!

This is a good and comprehensive software plugin which can give you any retro audio flavour you desire.

On the right side of the Device section are the ‘Squash’ control, which is not unlike a single threshold compressor, and a somewhat fierce control labelled ‘Ringer’. This immediately reminded me of the AM atmospherics I used to have to put up with when listening to Radio Caroline and later Luxembourg in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. Luckily. there’s a mix control for this section so you can dial in as little or as much of your chosen device flavour.

Noise

There’s a comprehensive selection of noises via presets in the Noise section which can be either gated to (with the source) or ducked (in between the source material), and the threshold dictates when the Gate/Duck activates. In addition, there’s a very useful pre/post space button which will include the noise in the echo and reverb if desired. There’s also a Level control to blend in your chosen flavour of noise. The extensive range of noise available means there’s no scenario that can’t be effectively covered by RetroFi.

Mechanics

The Mechanics section is very straightforward but has independent controls for set A and set B. These are not for either channel but are slightly different in respect of the artefacts they produce – an endless array of tape and vinyl effects. Each set has Wow, Wobble and Speed controls which can produce anything from dodgy pinch rollers to chorusing. Set A seemed to be reminiscent of tape transports while set B seemed far more tuned to the components of a turntable. This is the section for enhancing that old vinyl sound as well as stretched old tape, worn out reel-to-reels, and suspect cassette copies.

Conclusion

Along the top of this plugin you’ll find the Preset menu, which is by far and away the largest collection of presets I can remember seeing in a plugin. The number of individuals who have lent their time to the creation of many of these is incredible, not to mention how good the presets themselves are. Rather than spending hours searching for sounds you want, just go straight for the presets, which are extremely well indexed and an excellent place to start.

This is a good and comprehensive software plugin which can give you, as its name suggests, any retro audio flavour you desire. It’s laid out in such a way with excellent presets to speed up the creation or recreation of whatever it is you’re looking for. I can see this becoming the key lo-fi tool in your studio arsenal for all things vintage. And more impressively, you can pick this plugin up at the moment for a mere $29.99 / £23.99.

One of the more obvious uses is the ability to keep your audience guessing, by creating what sounds like a very ‘retro’ sample but which is – in reality – a newly recorded piece with RetroFi recreating the vintage vibe. Equally, all creative possibilities are endless when it comes to RetroFi’ing sections, tracks and whole songs. This really is a very extensive tool, so while I’m going through a few more of these presets, don’t wait up!

RetroFi is available in all the usual formats for Apple including M1 support, as well as Windows 64bit systems.

2003