6 Waves Plugins That Will Bring Your Drum Mixes to Life

Waves has been a staple in the audio community since they released the Q10 Paragraphic Equalizer in 1992. It was the first commercially available recording plugin that went on to spark a digital revolution that's still taking place to this day. Waves has since become synonymous with digital audio and mixing "in-the-box."

Today we're taking a look at some of their most iconic plugins—all faithfully executed emulations of classic studio hardware—and how they can help you achieve a killer drum sound. We'll be using the Scheps 73, an SSL E-Channel Strip, the dbx-160 compressor, API 2500 compressor, the InPhase phase corrector, and the PuigTec EQ to bring this session to life.

Shoutout to Glenn Fricker of Spectre Media Group for the amazing drum tracks.

Kick Drum: SSL E-Channel Strip and dbx-160

Waves' SSL E-Channel Strip—modeled after the original filter and EQ strip on SSL's 4000 series recording consoles—is great at removing excess drum bleed. By using the plugin's noise-gate, we've set slower attack times to allow the low-end of the kick to pass through and fast release times to keep it tight and punchy. Try to time the release of the gate to the tempo of the kick pattern.

You can hear how much cleaner this makes our kick demo tracks in our first playlist below, which also includes our isolated "kick sub" track, where we've treated the kick drum's sub-harmonic frequencies. We used the E-Channel Strip's high-pass filter to get rid of the lowest sub frequencies. While every song you mix will be different, this is a good way to leave space at the bottom of the frequency spectrum for a low bass guitar or synth sound.

Since this particular song is a little heavier, we used the strip's EQ to hype the highs and lows, and scoop the mids. For this particular track we wound up boosting with a bell around 90Hz, making a big, wide-Q cut around 450Hz, and adding a significant boost with a high-shelf around 8kHz.

Next, we pulled up the dbx-160 compressor for a little extra punch, applying between 5dB to 10dB of gain reduction at a 4:1 ratio, as well as 10dB to 20 dB at an ∞:1 ratio in parallel. (Check out our basics of compression guide if you need a little more guidance here.)

Snare Drum: InPhase, SSL E-Channel Strip, dbx-160

Since this session includes two mics at the top of the snare drum and one snare bottom mic, the first step should be checking the phase relationship. InPhase by Waves lets you monitor two waveforms and make adjustments to correct for phase problems. Thankfully, Glenn is an excellent engineer, so all three tracks of these tracks were already in-phase and didn't require any adjustments—but checking any similar multiple-mic'd drums is easy with InPhase.

Next, we opened up the SSL E-Channel Strip again and removed any excess drum bleed using the noise-gate. Snares have less low-end and longer tails than kick drums, so we used a faster attack time and slower release time.

To dial-in the timbre of the snare using the EQ section, we started by rolling off any unnecessary low-end with the high-pass filter. Rock snares tend to have a meaty bottom-end, so apply a moderate boost to the low-mids using a bell. Next, let's scoop out some of the midrange with a hefty cut around 500Hz.

To bring out the snap and "sizzle" of the snare, try a generous boost using a shelf around 10kHz. If you're still not getting the attack you want from the snare, try a gentle boost with a bell around 3kHz to 5kHz.

Next, we used the compressor to help control the dynamics of the snare and add a little snap while we're at it. We're aiming for 3dB to 6 dB of gain reduction at a ratio around 4:1. Slower attack times allow more impact, while faster attack times can help tighten up a performance. Release times should be set to the tempo of the track, with faster times adding more "punch" and slower times adding more sustain.

Finally, for a little extra "oomph," lets send the snare channels to a dbx-160 for some parallel compression. Just like last time, we'll use a ratio of ∞:1 to apply 10db to 20 dB of gain reduction and blend it in to taste.

Toms: SSL E-Channel Strip, dbx-160

Toms can be really difficult to record well. They tend to sound muddy and capture a lot of bleed. Some tracks are downright unusable—in which case you'll want to replace them with samples. If you go that route it's important to make sure the samples are in tune with the original kit. Torque by Waves is the perfect tool for dialing in your drums. Thankfully, Glenn did a great job recording this session, so there's no need for samples.

To start, we loaded up our SSL E-Channel Strip and removed the drum bleed using the gate. We took a similar approach to what we did with the snare, using a fast attack and slow release.

Next, we got rid of the unnecessary low-end by using the high-pass filter. Rock toms have a similar EQ curve to the other drums in the kit—boost the lows, scoop the mids, and crank the highs. Of course, the exact frequencies will change depending on the drum, but we wound up somewhere around here.

Finally, we added a little compression to help control the transients. For the toms, we really want to bring out the snap and attack of the stick hitting the drum head, so let's apply 6dB to 10dB of gain reduction at a ratio of 4:1 using the dbx-160.

Overheads & Room Mics: Scheps 73, API 2500

Drums in this genre don't rely too heavily on the overhead mics, but we used the Scheps 73 to trim everything below 300 Hz, and add a little shimmer to the cymbals with the shelf at 12 kHz.

Next, we added some compression to help control the dynamics of the snare in the overheads. For this, we needed a little more control, so we grabbed the API 2500. First, to preserve the stereo image of the overheads, we set the left/right link percentage to IND, meaning the left and right channels will trigger the compressor independently.

Overhead Mics
Room Mics

Set the attack and release times to taste, and don't be afraid to experiment with the tone controls. The thrust detector can be used to control how aggressively the each frequency band is compressed, similar to a multi-band compressor. The tone type can be used to dial-in the style of compression. Feed-forward gives a modern, punchier sound, while feedback has a slower, more vintage sound.

We used the same signal chain for the stereo room mics, but with more aggressive settings to bring out the excitement and energy in the recording. The biggest difference between the overheads and the room mics will be in the low-end. For the room mics, you want to be able to hear the kick in the room loud and clear—the trick is to dial-in the perfect amount of low-end using the HPF and a low-shelf.

Drum Bus: PuigTec EQ, API 2500

To add the finishing touches, we've added some subtle shelving EQ using the Waves PuigTec. These units are modeled after vintage Pultec EQs, and use unique EQ curves to gently shape the sound of the kit.

Finally, let's glue everything together with a little bus compression. We used the API 2500 to apply about 3 dB of gain reduction (with much gentler settings than we used on the room mics). Remember, the goal here is control. Use the attack and release settings to control the overall amount of punch the kit has.

These particular tips may not work for every mix, but the concepts are universal. Achieving a good drum mix is all about balance. Balance within the frequency spectrum. Balance between the level of each individual drum. Balance within the stereo spectrum. Even the balance of time, like the length of a reverb tail, or the effects a compressor has on rhythm. Thankfully, Waves has a plug-in for every occasion.

Waves Scheps 73
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Waves SSL E-Channel Plug-in
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Waves dbx 160 Compressor/Limiter
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Waves API 2500 Compressor
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Waves InPhase LT Phase Correction
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Waves PuigTec EQs
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