Longtime readers with amazing memories may recall my review of WaveLab 6 [Tape Op #62]. I was already a veteran user of this mastering suite at that point, and back then I said, "Writing about WaveLab is like writing a review of my brain." So now, 11 years later, writing about WaveLab 9.5 is like trying to describe my DNA! It's difficult. I've spent most of the last 20 years sitting in front of a pair of speakers and staring at WaveLab. It's so ingrained in my life that I don't even think about it anymore. But of course, I need to think about it in order to write this, so for you, dear readers, I will do my best.
WaveLab 6 was a fantastic piece of software. It was sleek, easy to use, and really stable. With WaveLab 7, it was ported to Mac, and the GUI was changed, and well... it was somewhat problematic, so I stuck with v6 for years past its sell-by date because it worked so well for me. Eventually, I made the switch to v8.5, and it was alright, but definitely didn't run as smoothly for me as v6.
Fortunately, with v9, WaveLab creator Philippe Goutier ironed out all the kinks and restored the interface to the previous version's format (with some nice updates), and all WaveLab users rejoiced. Now, v9.5 adds yet more improvements and new features. It feels super stable, mature, and is just a pleasure to work with every day.
WaveLab has always been different from most other DAWs in that it's not meant to be a multitrack recorder like Pro Tools or Reaper, etc. It's really intended for use in mastering, broadcast, and post-production. You can work on a single audio file in the Audio Editor window, or you can work with multitrack files in the Audio Montage window. I spend about 98% of my time in the Montage window, so let's talk about that for a bit.
This will sound like hyperbole, but simply put, the Montage window is hands-down the best audio editing environment I've ever encountered. That's what I thought 20 years ago and my opinion hasn't changed. Any time I have to edit something in a different DAW it feels clunky, slow and imprecise. Of course, part of that is just familiarity, as I'm more comfortable in WaveLab than with any other DAW – the way the Montage window is designed is just really well thought out. Everything from default mouse actions, vertical/horizontal scrolling, the waveform display... it's all brilliant, quicker, and more intuitive than any other DAW I've used.
I feel like trying to describe that stuff in print would sound dumb, but if you were sitting here next to me in the studio and I showed you, you'd say, "Wow! That really is better!" Ever since I started working in the Montage window (half a lifetime ago), I feel like I have a closer relationship with my waveforms than I did in other DAWs. See? That sounds dumb! But it's really true. If you're performing extensive editing work, I really urge you to check out WaveLab and see for yourself.
While the main focus of the Montage window is the waveform display, there are a bunch of tool windows for basically anything you'd want to do: effects, files, clips, CD creation, metadata, notes, etc. All of these windows can be hidden, floating, or docked, which is great for keeping the screen clutter to a minimum while letting you customize the workspace to your liking.
On that note, and on first launch, WaveLab opens with a zillion things on the screen unless you're a previous user that has imported your preferences. The main window can be like information overload to those unfamiliar with WaveLab. I recommend new users start with the Minimal Desktop window configuration preset and then add more windows as needed. I find it really helpful to use multiple display monitors with WaveLab's windows. This way I have everything I need in view, and I never have to move or close windows, which makes for a quicker, more efficient workflow. Grouping Tool windows or Meters into a single Control Window is also a great option and saves a bunch of screen real estate. You can go nuts customizing the color scheme in the Montage window – of course I made the waveform colors and meters match the décor of my fancy new mastering room. A unified aesthetic is important!
The folks at Steinberg would probably appreciate it if I touched on some of the new features in v9.5. First, the audio engine is now 64-bit floating-point, and WaveLab will tell you what plug-ins are actually outputting a full 64-bit word, which is very cool. Also new is the redesigned Spectrum Editor, which now features Steinberg's Audio Inpainting technology, designed to repair dropouts and corrupted audio by intelligently using the audio from the surrounding areas. I gave this a try on some old cassette transfers that were riddled with dropouts. Not only was the Spectrum Editor quick and intuitive, it worked amazingly well – an impressive upgrade. The Spectrum Editor will be familiar to anyone who's used Spectral Repair software like Izotope RX [Tape Op #123], and while I didn't do any A/B comparisons, I did use the Editor to fix some gnarly string squeaks on acoustic guitar – it worked great. Other standout improvements in v9.5 include: a Modern Spectogram, a new Wavelet display, new RestoreRig plug-ins (DeClicker, DeCrackler, DePopper, DeNoiser and DeBuzzer) and a redesigned MasterRig plug-in set.
I've mastered a billion records (give or take) with this software over the years, and at this point it seems unlikely I'll ever use anything else. Another great feature for mastering engineers is that if you're working at higher sample rates (WaveLab Pro supports up to 384 kHz), you can effortlessly generate lossless files and MP3 files at lower sample rates by using the "Create Custom Montage" feature – a big time-saver. In this way it's also easy to generate hi-res Side A and B files for vinyl!
I'll wrap this up by saying that even though I've been using WaveLab since "forever", it's such a deep program that there's tons of features I've never even used. What's great is that the software's depth and breadth never overwhelm the simplicity of the interface. You can just use what you need and hide the rest. I really love that the Montage Window's workflow, in 2018, feels essentially the same as it did in 1999, while adding lots of new features and enhancements to improve workflow and functionality. It was great back then; it's even better now. If you're a mastering engineer, or working in broadcast/post,
I wholly recommend WaveLab.