Steinberg´s WaveLab is one of those evergreen bits of music software. It seems to have been around since the dawn of time and it´ll probably outlive everything. The first version actually came out way back in 1996, and since then, WaveLab´s reputation as an audio editing and mastering heavyweight has never really been questioned. It´s always been a top-flight application, providing metering and tweaking options that enable you to perfect your mixes with a high degree of accuracy.
At £470, Wavelab 6 is still a tad expensive for most, so Steinberg have now launched this cut-down edition. The question remains, though, as to whether most musicians really need a dedicated editing and mastering program these days, since many of the tools these contain are now available in DAWs.
WaveLab 6 Studio installs easily, though it requires a Steinberg Key (you get one in the box). Start the software up and you quickly discover that its feature-set is truly enormous: there are non-destructive multitrack editing tools, versatile clip-grouping options, a video track for syncing your sounds to picture and complex crossfades and transitions. What´s more, the program is powered by an excellent sampling engine that runs at up to 192kHz.
The editing aspects of the program are as flexible as you could possibly want them to be. Studio is suitable for all types of engineering -- whether you want to perform a quick top-and-tail or adopt a sample-accurate approach, it´ll get the job done. Keyboard shortcuts and mouse modifiers make navigation simple, even for WaveLab newcomers, while batch processing and lightning fast undos of even the most complex functions mean there´s little to frustrate you. Creating fades and cuts is a breeze -- you can even draw directly onto the waveform with the handy pencil tool -- and if you´re a HALion owner, Studio can be used to define sample regions and loop markers.
The features mentioned so far are all well and good, but the fact is that most of them are also available in Cool Edit. Happily, though, WaveLab 6 Studio has plenty more to offer: once everything has been organised in the Audio Montage or wave editing section, you can apply a vast array of processing functions. There are all the offline effects you might expect, as well as the fantastic DIRAC timestretching and pitchshifting algorithm. This is one of the most artifact-free technologies on the market (at this price, anyway), so its inclusion is more than welcome.
Both the VST and DirectX standards are supported, but WaveLab´s built-in plug-ins are so superb that it may be a while before you´re tempted to try out any third-party mastering software. The multiband compression, EQs and limiters are all perfectly intuitive and very musical. There are also some professional audio restoration tools. Both DeNoiser and DeClicker could become essential when you need to recover messy takes or perhaps spruce up those old tape and vinyl recordings, while the Crystal Resampler is a deceptively simple plug-in that hides a beautifully clear-sounding algorithm to ease those sample-rate conversions.
The Master Section
The Master Section makes plug-in soloing, bypassing and tweaking profoundly simple, and WaveLab´s comprehensive CD mastering tools will make you realise just how primitive the process of limiting a bunch of waves and stuffing them into Nero really is. If you want to add your own ‘magic touch´ to the path between exported mix and recordable media, Studio gives you a custom-built tool that´s designed for the job.
Similarly, if some aspects of recorded sound are still a mystery to you, Studio´s amazing analysis and metering options could be exactly what you need. Although the advanced Katz Metering is missing, you still get the Level/Pan Meter, Phase Scope, Spectrum Meter and Oscilloscope to help you out with your analysis duties -- this is especially useful for mastering. While daunting at first, these are great learning tools and have a good many practical applications. Casting a critical eye (as well as ear) over your mixes will really pay dividends.
While some compromises have been made in order to keep some distance between it and the full version (see the Spectral delivery boxout for more), WaveLab Studio certainly justifies its existence. It´s perfect for those times when you really need to go ‘in-depth´ with your waves, and mastering outside your DAW is generally to be recommended. On the downside, Studio is a bit on the pricey side, although it does offer a hell of a lot. Only the highest of the high-end functions from WaveLab 6 have been cut out, but Studio costs less than half of that version´s £470 asking price. Unless you´re a total audio nut, you really won´t miss the things that have been removed.