Getting a fat but tight low end is the holy grail of mixing, but the trick is using the correct tool for the job. We compare 4 different bass and sub plugins – Submarine, LoAir, R-Bass and MaxxBass – to show you how to always get a perfect low end.
By Charles Hoffman
How do you enrich the low end in your production or mix? To get the perfect result, it’s essential to define both the problem and the goal. Are your samples lacking sub frequencies? Do your loops contain a balanced spectrum of information? Are you composing a film score to rumble a cinema audience? Are you mixing EDM tracks primarily for club dancing, or do you simply want your hip-hop mix heard on laptop speakers and earbuds? Once you’ve answered these questions, you can go about choosing the correct tool for the job.
Waves offers several different plugins capable of processing and enriching your low end, Submarine, LoAir, Renaissance Bass (R-Bass) and MaxxBass, each one achieving unique results for the right scenario. Here we’ll walk you through choosing the appropriate option for your needs.
On the one hand, there’s R-Bass and MaxxBass, which are essentially harmonic enhancement plugins that do not add true sub frequencies to your source. Rather, they rely on psycho-acoustic techniques based on the fundamental to create the perception of a richer, deeper bass, especially helpful on earbuds and consumer speakers which cannot reproduce those frequencies. The difference between those two plugins is largely internal features and processing intensity: MaxxBass provides the user with plenty of control over its input signal, whereas R-Bass provides less control, but faster results.
On the other hand, there’s Submarine and LoAir, both of which generate true low-frequency and sub-harmonic content from your source. Submarine is newer, utilizes Waves’ Organic ReSynthesis (ORS) Technology and creates clean sub content up to 2 octaves below the source. LoAir creates low-frequency effects (LFE) content 1 octave below the source and can work from mono, stereo and 5.0 source material, often making it the ideal choice for sound design and post-production work.
We’ll be using the following audio example of a bass guitar in a mix to compare each of the plugins being discussed. It’s important that you audition the audio examples throughout this guide using a pair of studio headphones or a set of speakers with a properly integrated subwoofer; you won’t be able to hear the full effect of the processing being applied otherwise.
Let’s begin by looking at Waves’ newest addition to their plugin family, Submarine. It uses Waves’ Organic ReSynthesis (ORS) technology to generate subs 1-2 octaves below the input signal. From there, the sub can be shaped with high precision using a dedicated frequency-range selector, mixed with the input signal and then sent straight to your mix bus or an LFE bus.
In a nutshell, ORS is a process that strips the input signal down to its core elements (pitch, formant, carrier and envelope) processes them individually and then reconstructs the signal to create new sub frequencies that retain the pitch and timing of the source you fed into it. The result is deep subharmonic content that is clean, musical and naturally blends with your source. Similar plugins often rely on formant shifting and resampling which can result in artifacts, and a low end that doesn’t sound as natural and clear as the subs produced by Submarine.
Aside from the more obvious use for Submarine, for example adding impact to kick drums for large sound systems with subwoofers, one of the most effective uses I’ve found for Submarine involves generating clean sub bass below intricate dubstep synth patterns. When creating a dubstep growl, you typically need to ensure that the synth’s sub oscillator is activated, or you can create a separate track specifically for sub bass. The problem with both of these methods is that it can be challenging to get the sub to move and modulate along with the higher frequency elements layered above it. Submarine’s ORS technology allows you to overcome this issue by creating sub bass that blends perfectly with your source signal.
The following audio example contains a synth arrangement that lacks sub bass. With the application of Submarine, musically relevant sub bass is added to the audio signal, instantly fixing the problem.
01 - Dubstep Sub Before Submarine
02 - Dubstep Sub After Submarine
If you’re making use of multiple different synth patches, getting them to sound cohesive can be an issue. I recommend disabling the sub oscillator in each synth patch and applying Submarine to your synth group. You’ll be able to benefit from the lively sub bass generated by Submarine while avoiding the stale results provided by a track dedicated specifically to sub bass.
Taking it back to our original example, let’s take a listen to how the bass guitar sounds after Submarine is applied:
01 - Submarine Audio Example
As you can hear, the sub bass that’s been generated sounds crystal clear. Within the context of a busy mix, the clarity that Submarine provides can be very desirable; it leaves space for other elements to breathe while still providing a rock-solid foundation. With its ability to achieve natural results on full loops as well as individual samples, Submarine is the perfect sub bass solution for music production and mixing hip hop or EDM where you need that clean thump.
LoAir is often used for sound design and post-production work to create LFE content from mono, stereo and 5.0 source material. It can also enhance and enrich the existing LFE content of 5.1 sources. Like Submarine, LoAir generates subharmonic content, but it does so by lowering and filtering the input signal by one octave, differing significantly from the way that Submarine uses ORS technology to create sub bass 1-2 octaves below the input signal.
In the following audio example, you’ll hear that LoAir does a great job of emboldening the low end. The subharmonic content being added sounds tightly glued to the original source signal.
Having applied LoAir, the bass is now conflicting with the kick. To resolve this issue while retaining the benefits of LoAir, one option would be to clear space for the kick using some gentle sidechain compression with a tool like Waves’ C6 Multiband Compressor. This compressor will allow you to selectively target the low end of the bass guitar with a frequency band, and compress only the conflicting frequencies when the kick plays.
If you’re simply looking to augment the bass response of a sound that you’re working with, but avoid a clearly defined separation between sub-bass and source signal, LoAir is an excellent tool to reach for. I wouldn’t consider the sub frequency content that LoAir provides to be as natural sounding as the signal generated by Submarine but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the point is that you have options, and can pick the best one suited for your project. Submarine’s features cater heavily towards music producers, while LoAir’s features, including its unique Feed section allowing differentiation for 5.1 sources, effectively serve sound designers and post-production engineers.
MaxxBass allows you to thicken your low end by adding harmonics to low-frequency signals. With more upper harmonic content present, you’re able to trick the brain of your listener into perceiving low-bass frequencies that may not be present in the listening device’s output. I previously explained this psycho-acoustic phenomenon of the “missing fundamental” in another Waves blog article:
The psycho-acoustic phenomenon creates an illusion for the brain, forcing it to imagine a “missing fundamental”. The brain perceives pitch not only by a tone’s fundamental frequency, but also by the relationship between the tone’s upper harmonics. If, for example, 200 Hz and 400 Hz are reproduced by the speakers, the missing 100hz fundamental absent from the speakers is still interpreted by the brain as being present.
Put simply, while Submarine and LoAir create actual low-frequency content, MaxxBass generates high-frequency content to make you think there’s low-frequency content.
One of the most effective uses for MaxxBass involves making low end audible on small consumer speakers and earbuds. If you struggle to make your basslines and 808s stand out on phones and laptop speakers, MaxxBass will allow you to generate harmonically relevant information that will appear on these consumer devices. Due to how the upper-frequency content is related to the fundamental, this plugin can result in up to 1.5 octaves of extended bass response.
When you listen to the MaxxBass audio Example back-to-back with the LoAir audio Example, it’s evident that LoAir provides a deeper, more guttural tone. One difference you may have picked up on is that the kick in the MaxxBass sample sounds much clearer than the kick in the LoAir Example; this is because there’s not as much masking occurring in the low end. By tricking the listener’s brain into thinking there’s more low end, you can avoid phase-related issues.
4. Renaissance Bass
Renaissance Bass uses the same processing technology developed for MaxxBass, but delivers it in a more streamlined form, with a stripped-down interface that lets you work quickly and easily. Since they rely on the same psycho-acoustic techniques, the differences between MaxxBass and R-Bass are subtle, but they do exist. I find Renaissance bass to have a slightly more modern and polished sound; this is likely due to the intensity of the harmonic content it generates.
One of the main differences between MaxxBass and Renaissance Bass is the controls. MaxxBass provides you with more freedom in this regard, offering the option to apply upwards compression, modify the slope of the filter’s cutoff frequency and solo the harmonics you’ve generated to apply further processing independent of the low-frequency content.
Renaissance Bass was clearly created with a “set it and forget it” mentality, making this plugin an ideal tool for engineers and producers looking for quick results. It doesn’t take much work to get a great sound from Renaissance Bass. I like to start with adjusting the Freq. (Hz) slider and then tweak the intensity of the harmonics being generated.
01 - Renaissance Bass Audio Example
If you run a sine wave through MaxxBass and Renaissance Bass at their zeroed-out processor settings, you’ll notice that the results they produce in a frequency analyzer are very reminiscent of one another. Renaissance Bass tends to produce more enhanced harmonic content than MaxxBass, but this doesn’t mean you can’t achieve similar results by modifying MaxxBass’ controls. Arguably, the most significant difference between these plugins is the user interface experience.
Another important thing to mention about Renaissance Bass is that you can use it for mastering purposes. If the bassline in a song is difficult to hear, an EQ may not be the most effective solution. When you boost the low end of a track, you boost everything within the targeted frequency range. Since Renaissance Bass allows you to generate harmonics that are musically related to the fundamental that you’ve selected, it can provide more pleasing results than an EQ, while intruding minimally on the mix.
It’s critical that you tackle producing, mixing and mastering from a “meet the need” perspective. What I mean is that it’s essential to identify the issue you’re facing so that you can select the most effective solution.
- If you’re producing music and your source signal lacks sub bass, reach for Submarine.
- If you’re doing sound design or post-production work and need to create LFE content, use LoAir.
- To ensure that your bass can be heard on consumer speakers, you have the option of using MaxxBass or Renaissance Bass.
- Use MaxxBass if you need detailed control over the harmonic content being generated, or Renaissance Bass if you’re looking for a faster, more streamlined solution that can be dialed in super quickly.
Best, however, is if you check out these plugins and compare them for yourself!
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