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Waves APA32 Plugin Processor

An external audio plugin accelerator with power to spare By Frank Moldstad

Waves APA32
No matter how powerful a computer is, effects plugins can quickly overload the CPUs ability to process audio as it plays back a multitrack project. At a certain point, adding one more plugin to a computer with an already heavy load will cause playback to stutter, distort, and then stop completely.

Every DAW user is familiar with the difficult decisions that must be made when this happens. Should the EQ be removed from the guitar so compression can be added to the bass? Is it really necessary to have reverb on the snare? Those are the kinds of dilemmas an audio mixer really shouldnt have to face.

In response, developers have come up with dedicated hardware products that take this burden from the computer, allowing more plugin to be used in a project. They range from Universal Audios UAD-1 PCI card and TC Electronics PowerCore series to Manifold Labs Plugzilla. The latest hardware plugin processors to hit the market are the APA32 and APA44-M from Waves, which are able to host 14 different Waves plugins, including first-rate EQ, compression and reverb packages.

Waves APA44-M
I reviewed the APA32, a 1U rackmountable box that has a suggested list price of  $1,600. It is intended for installation in a machine room -- or at least in a place where its loud fan wont intrude on a listening environment. Other than the power button, access to the hardware interface is unnecessary because all interaction is through the computer. The unit connects to a computer via Ethernet, and a dedicated 1000Mbps port is recommended although not required. For those who need a quieter unit, or one for mobile use, the half-rack sized APA44-M (MSRP $2,400) features a fanless design that also has up to 30 percent more processing power. For the rest of this review, points made about the APA32 also apply to the APA44-M except for the number of plugins that can be run simultaneously.

Both of the APA units work with Macs and PCs, and there are five compatible DAW host applications: Pro Tools, Cubase SX, Nuendo, Logic Pro 7 and Digital Performer. There are specific versions recommended for each platform: Pro Tools 6.7 and 6.9 (Mac and PC); Cubase SX 3.0.2 for Mac and Cubase SX 3.0.1 for PC; Nuendo 3.0.2 for Mac and Nuendo 3.0.1 for PC; Logic Pro 7.1 (Mac); and Digital Performer 4.52 and 4.6 (Mac). I installed the APA32 on a PowerMac G5 running OS 10.3.9 using Logic Pro 7.1 as the host

Waves has been developing professional signal processing plugins for more than 10 years, from the Renaissance Compressor and MaxxBass low frequency enhancer to its newest IR-1 Convolution Reverb and Q-Clone EQ plugins. The company has also marketed outboard processing boxes such as the L2 Ultramaximizer and the MaxxBass hardware unit. But the APA series is a quantum leap forward for Waves users. The 14 separate plugins it hosts include many of Waves core signal processing tools, such as the L3 Multimaximizer, C4 Multiband Parametric Processor, IR-1 Parametric Convolution Reverb V2, Linear Phase Equalizer, Renaissance Channel (no external side-chain), and the new Q-Clone EQ.

While most  of these must be purchased separately (unless you already own the native versions), the APA-32 comes with two outstanding plugins, the IR-L Convolution Reverb (a ?lite version) and the Q-Clone EQ plugin. More about these two later, but the fact that they are included could practically justify the cost of the APA32 for some users. 

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Related Keywords:Waves, APA32, APA44-M, effects, plugins, DAW, Logic Pro 7,


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