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Posted by on Feb 2, 2011 | 4 comments

Inside the Waves Sound Design Suite [Pt 1] – Frequency and Dynamics Control

Welcome to the first of a series of posts dedicated to explore the whole Sound Design Suite of Waves. Apart of my own review, I’ll also include anecdotes, opinions, tips and tricks from professional sound designers that use these plugins everyday.

Today I’m going to talk about several tools designed for dynamics and frequency control, including the following:

  • L1, L2, L3 and L3-LL
  • C4
  • H-Comp
  • Linear Phase Multiband and Linear Phase EQ
  • Q10

I know there are other special tools included in the suite that also work with dynamics and frequency processing, such as the Renaissance plugins, V-Series, and tools like Trans-X and DeEsser. Those will be discussed in future articles.

L1, L2, L3 and L3-LL

Let’s start with some of the most popular Waves plugins: L1, L2, L3 and L3-LL. They’re very simple but incredibly effective. These dynamics processors combine different processing technologies oriented to different tasks, including mastering, maximization, limiting, etc. L1 and L2 work in a pretty similar way. Both are based on three different technologies, including peak limiting, level maximization and a resolution re-quantizer (Waves IDR technology). L3 and L3-LL implement other technologies based on multiband dynamics processing, offering different algorithms.

In the sound design world, L1/L2/L3-LL have been used for years for maximization purposes: to get big, loud and crunchy sounds. They work in this way: Limitation is applied  when the signal passes above the threshold. The signal below it will be maximized, according to Threshold and Out Ceiling values. Then you can also control the release, which can be automatic in the L2, using the ARC feature. L1+, L2, L3 and L3-LL feature several controls for IDR, a proprietary dithering system used to re-quantize the processed material.

So, “what are is the difference between the three?” “What should I use?” As Scott Martin Gershin said about the L3, these tools add a “special something” to the sound. In the sound design world, I honestly can’t explain technically what’s the difference between the three of them. It’s something that you learn over the time of working with them. At least it worked in that way for me.

For this kind of tools, I personally recommend to not understanding them just in a technical way, but also keep in mind what are the characteristics that these tools are giving to your sounds. In other words: you don’t only need to understand threshold and out-ceiling values to learn how to use these plugins. That’s the “easy” part. What I’d recommend you is to identify the sonic characteristics of those plugins (ie: Does it adds coloration to a signal? Does it more effective with a certain kind of content? Does it add destruction? Does it make the sound softer?).

In a sound design context, we constantly refer to sound effects using all kind of adjectives, such as “agressive”, “fat”, “punchy”, “resonant”, etc. If you start to identify your plugins in a similar way, you could find the sound/process you need more quickly and even better. It’s a simple but effective rule: first think about the flavor you need and then choose the ingredient.

With the L-series is the same thing. All these maximizers have almost the same controls, so those sonic qualities are what makes you choose between one or another. If I would have to simplify the uses of these tools in a sound effects design context -from my short experience and also from the opinions of the masters- I’d say:

  • If you need crunch, go with L1.
  • If you don’t want that heavy crunch, but need maximization, go with the L2.
  • If you want other results, try with L3/L3-LL. I personally don’t use these too much. Notice that these have a different approach and their sound depends on the multiband behavior.

“One of my favorite plugins. You can use it from anything as a final limiter to crunching your sounds to the max. One tip to try is to route two L1s together, one set to very light limiting, and one that crunches the sound to the max, and then balancing accordingly. Also, play with the release. Short releases create more distortion; longer releases smoothen out the sound” – Charles Deenen on L1.

A great limiter for different situations. I mostly use it in the output if I design single sound effects on single tracks or the master output. It sounds clear and tight, a bit cold probably which is why I don’t like it too much on whole mixing applications.” – Axel Rohrbach on L1.

“Similar to the L1, but safer to use on variable sounds due to the automatic release setting. It also will introduce less “crunch”, so if you’re just after smashing the loudness of a sound without additional crunch, this is your go-to plugin. It’s so easy to use in comparison to some other limiters. Set the amount of dB you want it louder and forget about it.” – Charles Deenen on L2.

L2 is not the better L1 – it really sounds different. It is softer and somehow “nicer” – which is meant absolutely neutral, since I don’t always want things to sound “nice”.” – Axel Rohrbach on L2.


This one is a big machine. I think it’s one of the most versatile of the dynamic processors included in the suite. C4 can help you on equalization, compression, limiting or expanding, can help you mastering, can give you control over single sounds or layers, and can even reduce noise of your field recordings. It just do almost anything you want.

This plugin is a multiband compressor which takes features from other effects and technologies. It allows you to control de dynamics of four different bands, giving you total control of each. If you already understand how a compressor work, then C4 will not very difficult for you. There are some differences that you’ll find in the road, such as the range control (similar to the Ratio you can find on classic compressors), the global controls, and others. Not a big deal though.

The GUI and control system is pretty good and the graphic section makes things even more fun. I personally love this section for its flexibility and great capabilities. You can manipulate and visualize a lot of things in a beautiful way, combining the style of a parametric equalizer and a compressor. This section is also great for visualizing and metering, giving different colors and lines for real time visual analysis.

If you need total control and lots of options in a powerful dynamics processor, you may want to try C4.

“Great for de-noising some sounds (using the multi-band gating functions), and awesome to “level” out frequencies on recordings (if you don’t mind them being compressed).” – Charles Deenen

“The C4 lives up to its name: It’s explosive! (Sorry, couldn’t resist that bad joke.) I’m a big fan of C4 especially as a multiband noise reducer. It’s used in a lot of dialogue sessions on the films I work on – an integral part of the cleanup processing chain. I’m also using it for voiceovers quite often as a compressor. The layout makes it easy to do adjustments and if a voiceover is cut up from several different recording sessions the C4 also comes in handy when making them more smooth and even. Recommended. ” – Peter Albrechtsen

“I use C4 for so many things, to help shape sounds dynamically. I like to use it as a broad-stroke threshold-based EQ, to contain 3kHz to 5kHz transients while expanding low end frequencies, or to control the area around 400Hz to clear up a design when summing numerous elements”. – Scott Martin Gershin


Let’s talk about H-Comp, one of the most flexible and  virtual compressors I’ve ever worked with. It was developed using top notch modern and analog-modeling technologies, combined into an amazing hybrid processor.

It takes features of different analog components, such as transistors, tubes and transformers and combine them to give you a fantastic compressor full of color and control. It also has control over the signal transients, which comes very handy for sound design, specially on hard effects.

Think about thins like stingers, guns, explosions, all kind of impacts, fight sound effects, etc. H-Comp can give you a lot of body and punch to any sound. Taking this guy to the limit can be incredible on your designs. Let’s try with fast attacks, extreme punches and different analog character. You’ll be surprised of the great potential of this plugin.

After running the guns through a Waves doubler with three voices pitched down slightly and H-Comp set to squash the heck out of it, I started to feel that it was no longer a gun or even a really BIG gun. I proceeded to add some RenBass and a whole ton of L2 limiting. The next thing I knew I had what is very close to an explosion sound. I messed around with a few of the settings on the plug ins and it really started to get big. H-Comp was instrumental in getting the sound fat. I really over squashed it and eventually pulled back on it some because the background noise and hiss was starting to get noticeable. I added some C4 high frequency noise reduction and expansion and it came out well. – Frank Bry on designing explosions.

Linear Phase Multiband and Linear Phase EQ

Linear Phase Multiband is a multiband compressor based on C4 but loaded with more innovations focused on getting a more puristic sound. You may want to use it mostly on sound effects mastering (if you like to add dynamics processing to it of course). This plugin will give you a lot of flexibility along with clean results. I still prefer using C4 most of the time. It’s simpler, easier and has something special that I love.

Linear Phase EQ features the same technology behind Linear Phase Multiband, but as a clean and fantastic equalizer, oriented to clean and detailed equalization tasks. This equalizer was created mostly for mastering tasks, so its clean behavior can be really helpful on treating your field recordings. An example:

“After recording on location, I like to use the LinEQ to master my recordings before I use them in the editing process. It allows me to clean up the sound surgically, without adding any color, just getting rid of those frequencies that I know I won’t need later.” – Scott Martin Gershin


Q10 is one of my favorite equalizers. Light, flexible and very easy to use. You can load it as one band filter (Q1) or as a powerful 10 band paragraphic equalizer (Q10), featuring 1 to 10 bands of processing.

Each of these bands offers common parametric controls (type of filter, gain, frequency and Q) with different types of filters and quite flexible range of operation. This EQ can be useful for a lot of tasks including both extreme and subtle tonal changes, filtering, surgical tasks, noise reduction, etc. It’s just a fantastic. Also, in the recent V8 update it comes with a new look that makes it even more intuitive and easy to use.

“Q10 has a neat little secret weapon buried down in the preset menu. If you click on the “load” button a list of presets will pop up and near the bottom you’ll find ones for “AM Radio” and one for “Telephone”. These are great for quick and dirty processing to create phone conversations or playing music or dialog as though it were coming out of a radio speaker. I used these to create some answering machine voice effects in another episode of “Fringe”.” – Bruce Tanis


  1. This is great! I just purchased the Sound Design Suite:)

  2. Has to be one of the most useful posts that I’ve read. Understanding the subtle differences between the dynamics processors has been something I’ve been curious about for a long time. Thanks so much! And I can’t wait for the next installments.

  3. Great Post Migue!


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