The Tony Maserati collection represents a meeting of industry titans. Waves, one of the earliest and most enduring audio plug-ins companies, has made its reputation on quality bundles of their own plug-ins such as the Gold, Platinum and Diamond bundles as well as emulations of some of the most respected names in studio hardware from API to SSL.
Tony Maserati is a multi-platinum, Grammy winning engineer with mixing credits including Mariah Carey, Destiny’s Child, the Black Eyed Peas, John Legend and Kelly Clarkson. What Waves and Tony Maserati have done is to put together some of Tony’s tried and true combinations of EQ, compression and effects into a simple, intuitive package. Basically, we’re being invited into Tony’s audio world and getting a chance to benefit from his experience in our mixes.
What You Get
The Maserati collection is six plug-ins specifically designed for the primary instruments of most mixes. They are the VX1 for lead and harmony vocals, the ACG for acoustic guitars, the GTi for electric guitars (and horns depending on the preset), the HMX for keyboards, the B72 for bass and finally the DRM for all of the individual drums in a standard studio kit. Atypical of most EQ and compression plug-ins, the Maserati collection also offers built-in effects on each of the six plugs. These effects include reverb and in some instances a delay as well (like on the GTi and VX1). The FX knobs control the overall amount of the effect but in a very general way. On occasion you’re also offered some additional controls like a “Wet” knob(on the HMX) a “Tone” control (on the B72), “Excite” and “Pre Delay” (on the ACG) and even “Vibro” and “Chorus” (on the Gti). Overall, the effects are well thought out, appropriate and sound great.
The Look and Feel
The first thing I noticed about the Tony Maserati collection is that visually it stands apart from a lot of available audio plug-ins in that it’s more fanciful and artistic in its design and doesn’t have a hardware equivalent in the physical gear world. The best description I can give would be to say it looks like a cross between an old wooden radio and the dashboard of some vintage automobile. The way the knobs work and the lights glow has a very comforting, warm look and feel to it. There’s a method to this madness as well: By leaving out actual frequency notations, delay times and almost all numbers, we're forced (in the best possible way) to use our ears and not our eyes to mix. This is a borderline radical notion these days when we’ve become used to typing 200hz and minus 1.5 into the windows of our EQ plug-ins. By changing our workflow, we’re compelled to listen instead of simply expecting a result that we’ve gotten hundreds of times before.
Download and Setup
There’s no doubt that the folks at Waves spend as much time considering their marketing as they do their plug-ins and it shows on their website. As a promotional tool, Waves has a page on their website with video interviews of a variety of engineering and production luminaries. To immerse myself in Tony’s world, I watched his video that takes us through New York and into his studio while he discusses in very general terms his approach to mixing. It’s not a coincidence that Tony’s interview mirrors his plug-in collection in that he doesn’t talk much about the particulars but rather addresses his overall philosophical and emotional approach and leaves it up to us to listen to his work as proof that the details are working. Make no mistake. The video is not designed as a “how to” for the plug-ins. Tony briefly discusses the plug-ins at the end and while it’s not much, it’s definitely helpful to hear what he has to say. He discusses how the plug-ins are not meant to mimic any particular piece of gear but rather to act as a tool that he based on his favorite presets. While we don’t get any real nuts and bolts advice on how to use the plug-ins we do get to hang out with a multi-platinum, Grammy-winning engineer for about a half an hour which is pretty darn cool.
Download and Setup
The Waves website in conjunction with your iLok is the preferred method of installation. After a little searching around, I was able to find the download section that included the proper version and OS. After the download (which can take a while given we’re talking about hundreds of megs of data), the installation was a very straightforward process of clicking on the install button and following the instructions. I also went to the site and downloaded the pdf manuals for the six plug-ins but other than a few simple sentences about what made each plug-in unique, the rest was fairly repetitive.
Before & After
Recording and mixing drums is by far the toughest challenge for me as an engineer. I’ve spent years setting up and tweaking the gate, EQ and compressor presets in Metric Halo’s Channel Strip to provide a good baseline sound for the drums recorded in my studio. Within the DRM plug-in, there are presets for each individual drum in the kit and then a few additional tweaks written in layman’s terms like thump and snap. I was curious to see how the simple buttons, knobs and dials of the DRM plug-in handled the raw session audio. Other than the sensitivity (essentially input) and output knobs, the thump, snap and treble knobs were all that remained to tweak. Again, with no real number markings, it’s hard to be specific but I spent some time moving the knobs until I achieved what felt like the best drum sound I could get. At the end of the day, the drum sound didn’t quite hold up for me. After switching back and forth a few times, I felt like the Maserati plugs couldn’t bring the warmth and presence to the drums that the Metric Halo ones did. This is not to say that with a little additional EQ and possibly gating I couldn’t get it there but in a straight comparison, it wasn’t as strong as what I had.
ACG – Acoustic Guitar
My usual approach to mixing acoustic guitars involves a high pass filter at 120hz, which leaves room for the bass and kick drum. Every once in a while I’ll also add a bit of compression to either bring up the overall performance or even out some inconsistencies in dynamics. While the acoustic in my original mix was fine, I really liked what the ACG did for its sound in the new mix. I spent a little time comparing the two general settings, ACG1 and ACG2 finally settling on the ACG 1. Then I found myself pulling back a bit on the punch, mid and high knobs and boosting the output. Not only was there more presence but also the detail was better and more sonically interesting. If you’re looking to get an acoustic to hold its own in a full, dynamic mix, the ACG is a great place to start.
B72 – Bass
This bass plug-in has two settings. One for a DI which encompasses most actual electric and upright basses and then a synth setting which spreads out the sound and adds more effects. I liked the sound of this plug-in a lot and it compared nicely to my original Waves 4-band Renaissance EQ and the Waves Renaissance compressor. Although I don’t do much synth bass, I like having the option to get spacier effects in the rare instances when I do.
Before & After Pt.II
GTi – Electric Guitar and Horns
Wow! By far in a way the best Maserati plug in of the bunch. George Marinelli (Bonnie Raitt and Bruce Hornsby), the electric guitarist on the track, is one of the great players out there and I already loved his performance. Although his electric parts were recorded using an SM57 on an amp, I decided to try running them through the GTi’s Clean guitar setting. Not only did the electrics gain a real presence but I was also hearing details in the performances that I’d never heard and I know these performances! This will be a go-to plug-in on electric guitars for me going forward for sure. And, here’s where the Waves literature did me a good turn. At their recommendation, I ran the horn parts on the song through the Thick Rhythm setting and, after dialing down the vibro knob a bit, I was truly blown away by the results. The clarity, spread and presence of the horn parts were stunning.
I ran the track’s Hammond B3 organ tracks through the HMX plug-in and found that my results were mixed. While I enjoyed a little grittier detail and more texture on the tone I lost a little bit of the presence. I chose the Modal setting as opposed to the Bounce setting, which didn’t feel right for the B3. Then I pulled back on the Size knob and boosted the Amount knobs while also increasing the Spread. Unfortunately in Modal setting I wasn’t able to change the FX knob, which I wouldn’t have minded easing off a bit. To my ear, the original version run through the Waves Renaissance EQ and compressor and using the TL Space reverb gave me a sound I was slightly happier with.
VX1 - Vocals
To be fair, I agonized over the vocal tone in my original mix ultimately settling on the Waves C4 compressor, Renaissance EQ, the TL Space plate reverb and the Digidesign long delay. With the Maserati VX1 I chose the Contour 2 setting for my lead vocal and the Contour 1 setting for the harmonies. Other than that, I essentially left Bass and Treble alone and backed off the compression a little bit. While I liked what I heard with the VX1, it felt a little less round and a bit too edgy for my taste. I would think that this plug-in would work best on a singer with a bit of a darker tone and not one (like this singer) whose tone needed more taming than it did presence. I also have to admit I’m not sure about just sort of hoping that the reverb in the plug-in will work with the rest of the mix. I prefer the idea of all instruments and vocals sharing a similar acoustic space and the individual effects on each of the Maserati plugs felt a bit confusing to me. The background vocals benefitted from the compression and presence the VX1 provided but, again, they were just a bit too edgy for me.
Overall, I’d have to say the plug-in world is a better place with the Maserati collection in it. And I’m not the only one who feels this way as evidenced by it’s selection for the 2009 Musikmesse International Press Award for best new studio recording effects software. There is absolutely no doubt that each of the six Maserati plug-ins has its own personality and multiple personalities at that. You can think of these plug-ins as the audio equivalent to the Mac OS. In other words, there’s a lot under the hood and you don’t need to know all the details to get great results. The plug-ins are a bit CPU hungry and it was pretty much all my 17” 2.16 Intel Core Duo MacBook Pro could do to keep up with all the plugs at once. That being said, as a go-to spice for a particular job, these plug-ins are exceptional. As Tony Maserati says in his video, every mix is a custom job and if you keep that in mind then using the plug-ins from this collection, they’ll provide you with an exceptional palette for your future mixes. Price: $800 MSRP approx $600 street (the price of a decent mid-level outboard pre amp or compressor).