Craft Deep, Articulate Sub-Bass with Waves Submarine

Do you keep wondering why your tracks don't stack up to some of the pros when you play them on a loud system? They sound good in your headphones and your near-field monitors, but they can't seem to provide an immersive low-end story on a loudspeaker system. Something's missing, that thud that hits you right in the chest when the kick drums and bass are working out a loudspeaker system.

Sometimes it's hard to hear, but it's very easy to feel the difference. If you don't want to change the sounds, but want them to provide a more compelling bass-range experience, you may need just need a little extra help from of a subharmonic generator/synthesizer.

The Waves Submarine is a new sub-bass synthesis tool made to give deep, clear subs without getting in the way of the rest of your mix. It builds on a tradition of sub-bass tools—both hardware and software—to give contemporary producers and engineers a new tool for heavy-hitting low-end.

Below, let's take a quick look at sub-bass history, before diving into the details of Waves Submarine.

A Short History of Subharmonic Synthesizers

The immersive, visceral audio experience we get at most nightclubs comes from decades of incremental technological improvements to the craft of live sound reproduction. However much has changed, the same goal has always been shared across these generations, and that goal is to make the listener feel the music, not just hear it.

One early invention to developing this aural experience came from a legendary sound reinforcement and systems designer in New York City, Richard Long, from a system he implemented at a dance music institution, The Paradise Garage.

Richard Long and Larry Levan

Long was a cutting-edge loudspeaker system designer, operating mainly in the nightclub business, where an emotive and enveloping sound experience was required to keep revelers going for hours (or even days) on end. His client list of venues includes some of the greatest dance clubs in history: Studio 54, Area, Bonds International Casino, Zanzibar in Newark, The Box and Warehouse in Chicago, the Colosseum in Tel Aviv, Dorian Gray in Frankfurt, and New York City's Paradise Garage.

It was at The Paradise Garage that his innovations in delivering a subsonic bass experience were mastered. Beyond using just subwoofers in the system, he designed custom sub-bass speakers called Levan Horns—in honor of the pioneering resident DJ Larry Levan—that were able to reproduce these ultra low-end frequencies that could be felt and not heard.

During the vinyl era, most frequencies under 60Hz were nonexistent in pressed records, because to get the most fidelity out of a record pressing, frequency ranges that had more musical information (those being above subharmonic frequencies) were prioritized to deal with the limitations of a 12" vinyl record. To counter this limitation, Long used a newly created device across his system called a subharmonic synthesizer.

Released in the late '70s, the first subharmonic synthesizer was the dbx 100 Boom Box, which takes audio information in the 50–100Hz range and synthesizes a signal one octave lower, around 25–50Hz.

Long saw the potential for this device to be creatively used in nightclubs, and he designed his system around it. He took the low frequencies outputted by the Boom Box and summed them back into the system. Especially when running through those custom Levan Horns, the subharmonic richness at The Paradise Garage made the club one of the most revered audio experiences in nightclub history, ushering in a new era of subharmonic standardization.

Sub-Synthesis for the Modern Music Producer

Fast forward a few decades and these techniques and tools—which were initially created for corrective processing—have become standard utilities of the modern music producer and audio engineer. With the addition of new features, like synthesizing additional octaves lower or adding dynamic tools such as compression and expansion, subharmonic synthesizers are more relevant than ever in the creation of sub-heavy contemporary music.

While previous subharmonic products such as Waves Renaissance Bass and MaxxBass do a good job of beefing up the low-end as a whole, they are mainly designed to add effects processing to frequency ranges that are only 1–1.5 octaves lower than the fundamental. This will sound good on small speakers and headphones, but won't be as effective on a loudspeaker system where you want to feel the music and not just hear it.

Waves Submarine
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For the sound designers and 5.1 mix engineers, there's also Waves LoAir, which I find is great to complement stereo field and surround subharmonic imaging, but I always need to build out a chain of dynamic processing to control some of the transients when they get out of hand.

Improving upon these early iterations—and being complementary to them as well—one such new device is Submarine by Waves Audio. Developed for the contemporary music producer and engineer, Submarine is designed to be used on most elements needing that extra subsonic boost—quickly, precisely, and by leveraging a newer Waves Audio technology, Organic ReSynthesis (ORS).

ORS is a contemporary approach to digital signal processing, especially within the realm of available subharmonic generators and synthesizers on the market. This ORS technology strips the audio to its core elements—carrier, pitch, formant, and envelope—and manipulates them individually, then reconstructs the audio.

This technology allows the changing of one aspect of a sound without changing others—preventing artifacts and maintaining the clarity of transients—while following the timing of the original signal. The overall effect is better clarity and resolution of all frequency ranges, especially the low-end, where even small harmonic artifacts can obscure the overtone series, leading to unforgivingly muddy mixes.

Submarine allows for the radical sound manipulation that yields clearer subsonics with precision. Incorporating a frequency range selector, for enhancing a specific range of the source—from 20Hz to 240Hz—two enhancers that can add subs up to two octaves below the original signal, additional compression and drive components for added color and character, and collapsable stereo/mono switch.

Submersive Subsonics You Can Feel

I put this easy to use subharmonic solution to use on a beat, which you can hear above, that needed some more low-end. First, I needed to get the bassline, which is a three-note sustaining pattern, to fill out space around and below it. Then, I needed to get the passing 808 bass fills to jump out. Finally, I needed to get the drums to stand out in the mix more. I found that Submarine was able to meet these three critically different subharmonic use cases very quickly and effectively.

There's a two-track mix with Submarine and one without to compare. Get the Submarine to craft your own deep sub-bass here.

About the author: Neal Gustafson, Reverb's former digital category manager, is now the marketing partners manager at Waves.

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