Mix Music in Abbey Road From Your Bedroom With This New Waves Plugin

There's no shortage of music software plugins that emulate the gear found in classic studios, but what about emulations of classic studios themselves?

Today, Waves launches Abbey Road Studio 3, an entirely brand-new type of plugin that transports you into the expertly crafted mixing environment of Abbey Road's Studio 3 control room. Notably, this software does not give you the studio's SSL channel strips or custom EMI processors. Instead, it uses immersive audio to put you in the mixing engineer's sweet spot, as if you were sitting right there at the Studio 3 board.


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Abbey Road Studio 3
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It's an experience that is probably best explained through experiencing it yourself. Luckily, I was able to get a sneak preview.

In a living room, I listened to an album on a normal stereo system. Nothing too fancy, with two mid-sized speakers set up in a standard left-right formation and me on a couch in front of them. Sounded pretty good. Then, I turned the stereo off, placed a pair of headphones over my ears, and listened to the same album through the Abbey Road Studio 3 plugin.

Immediately, the sound was richer, as if I were listening through much larger speakers. While I could of course feel the headphones, the music sounded like it was still coming through the speakers set up on the wall several feet in front of me.

I got up to walk around, headphones still over my ears. As I approached the left side, I heard more of the left channel. I took several steps to the right and the sound traveled with me. Crouching down, it washed over my ears. Turning toward the couch, the stereo image flipped—as it would if I had turned around in front of speakers—with the music now rushing forward over my shoulders. Sitting back on the couch, it was like I was returning to my seat at the mixing board, with everything balanced again.

The audio was following the headphones thanks to a small, Bluetooth-enabled sensor clipped to the top of the set. (This device, the Nx Tracker, is an additional expense that lets the program more accurately follow your movements, but without it, the Studio 3 plugin can still track you through your computer's camera if you give it access.)

Introducing the Waves Abbey Road Studio 3 Plugin

While this might sound like a gimmick, the utility of the program quickly became clear. Gone were the less-than-ideal reflections from the walls and furniture of the living room, gone too the attenuated frequency responses of the hi-fi speakers I had been using for playback. The headphones, far from sounding restrictive, expanded outward into a virtual—and virtually quiet—room.

For those of us that mix in our bedrooms, spare rooms, or whatever corner of our apartment we can find, Waves' Abbey Road Studio 3 plugin grants the type of ideal mixing environment that would otherwise remain elusive or impossible to have.

It's a monitoring program that brings you into a world-class room. With it, you can make the same kind of knowledgeable, fine-tuned adjustments to your mix that you may not even hear on the monitors you have propped up on top of some books on your desk.

The Tech Within Studio 3

A few months ago, we ran a piece on immersive audio (aka spatial or 3D audio), which asked the question "Will Immersive Audio Change the Future of Music?" In it, we referenced the research of Abbey Roads' Mirek Stiles, who, as the head of audio products at the famed studio, is at the cutting edge of the field.

The technology is increasingly popular as it's applied to virtual reality. When playing a VR game or watching a 3D video, one expects the sound to move around as your eyes and head wander; immersive audio allows that to happen.

Even on a set of standard headphones, there are enough mixing techniques and algorithms being developed to allow 3D sound to envelop the listener and follow their perspective as they move through a virtual world. Having already found a foothold in gaming, there are nothing but open possibilities for immersive audio in music.

Perfect Acoustics on Headphones: Inside the Abbey Road Studio 3 Plugin

Waves' new plugin is the fruit of a years-long collaboration between the venerable music software firm and the Abbey Road team led by Stiles. And it's a unique, creative use of immersive audio that could be the start of a whole new class of plugins.

The benefits are manifold. While headphones can change low-end frequencies so much that they will give a completely unreliable sonic picture, immersive audio allows them to recreate the more natural bass response you'd expect from listening to full-sized speakers while positioned in the middle of a room. When at your standard position within the Studio 3 plugin, it's as if you're perfectly placed in the monitoring sweet-spot. You can even choose between listening on Abbey Road's far-, mid-, or near-field monitors to check different ranges and angles.

And, because you're tricking your ear into thinking you're not listening on headphones—which is, of course, an illusion—it can help combat the type of intense ear-fatigue you get from headphone-based mixing. If this sounds like a stretch, read Waves' own explanation of its Nx tehcnology and 3D audio here. In developing the immersive audio tools in its first Nx plugin, Waves sought to account for the type of inner-ear experiences that create listener fatigue, and it's using this same approach to Studio 3.

Waves' Abbey Road plugin also offers corrective EQ profiles for about a dozen popular headphone options, and the company plans to update more. With these profiles, it can automatically calibrate its EQ to make your headphones' frequency response flat, giving you a clear foundation before you start building the mix in Studio 3.

The exact code found with Abbey Road Studio 3 is a re-tooled version of what can be found in Waves' Nx Virtual Mix Room plugin. While that plugin gives listeners an abstract virtual room—allowing you to construct the environment around you through the amount of reverberation or the amount of space between the speakers—the virtual environment of the Studio 3 plugin matches exactly the dead-on, acoustically perfect Studio 3 control room.

As you can see in Waves' video above, the code mimics the angles crafted so that the world's top producers, mixing engineers, and artists—from Pink Floyd to Frank Ocean—could trust the mix they were hearing. Bringing that room into any room with a laptop and a set of headphones is a remarkable achievement—and a powerful new tool in the home recordists' arsenal.

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