Waves CLA Vocals Review

As audio engineers we all have our favorite DAWs and our favorite plugins that we tend to use in every mix. The Waves CLA Vocals plugin makes my list of top favorites and is always in the running to be used in my mixes because of its simplicity of use, and the instant noticeable improvement as soon as you apply it to a channel.  You can use it on the vocal channel itself, or on the vocal bus, or even in parallel if you like. These days I generally use it in parallel and feather in the effect to my overall vocal mix.

I’m really picky about what plugins I will bother to buy, since I don’t want to waste time and money on tons of plugins I will never use, or don’t use well. The basic requirements a plugin must meet for me to even bother adding it to my arsenal of audio tools are:

  1. Simple and intuitive to use
  2. Makes an instant noticeable improvement to the signal I am processing.

I don’t have time to fight with an interface, or struggle with plugins that make my workflow harder.  I strive for elegance and efficiency in workflow.

When I first saw the Chris Lord-Alge (CLA) series of plugins from Waves I will admit that my first impression was “oh no, another bunch of plugins made with a fancy analog-hardware-looking  interface that will be a pain in the neck to use, or will be a complete CPU resource hog”.  But I knew of Chris Lord-Alge’s work, so I thought I would take a look at the product he would be confident enough in to put his name on.  I read the Waves CLA vocals product description on the waves site, and then watched a couple of demos of it on YouTube.  One of the demos featured Chris Lord-Alge himself, and is really fun to watch as it gives you a glimpse into his sense of humor and how that intertwines itself into his workflow.  Take a look for yourself below.

After watching the demo I had to buy the CLA Vocals plugin right away. The interface is ridiculously simple to use. A fader for input level, a fader for output level, and six faders for the six available effects/parameters.  From left to right the effects you controll are, bass, treble, compression, reverb, delay, and pitch.  The first two control how much bass or treble you are adding or subtracting, compression, reverb, and delay are self explanatory, and pitch is a stereo spreader/doubler, that can give a bit of chorusing effect.

Image of iZotope Insight showing the processing noise that CLA Vocals plugin adds to the signal path.

Click to enlarge

One thing Chris Lord-Alge mentions in the video is that even just throwing the plugin on a channel and not changing any of the parameters will do something “good” to the signal.  I took a snapshot of the CLA Vocals plugin sitting on a channel with no signal running through it and here is what I found with the iZotope Insight metering.  It is definitely throwing some noise in signal path, with some interesting stereo spread.  This all at -91.8db, so in reality really quiet, but it is doing something.

Supposedly the plugin is combining a lot of modeling that Waves has done on some of their other plugins for instance:

The EQ is an SSL.
Compression – Spank is said to be an 1176.
Push is an LA2A
Wall is most likely the L1 or L2 limiter.

The real beauty of this plugin, and pretty much all of the CLA’s plugins in the series is that you have to work hard to make things sound bad.  Just put it on your vocal channel, go through your six parameters making your adjustments to taste, or start with one of the many great presets.  Then make final adjustments to your input and output levels, and you will have a great sounding track every time.  The first time I used the plugin it was such an improvement to the track I was working on, and so easy that I almost felt guilty at how little work it took to give a vocal track that final shimmer.

That is why I would highly recommend that any engineer add the Waves CLA Vocals plugin to their toolbox.  Make your life easy, and get great sounding vocal tracks at the same time.

If you have experience with the Waves CLA Vocals plugin and would like to share your favorite features please leave a comment below.  If you have questions about it please ask in the comment section below and we will try to come up with an answer for you.