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This article was originally published in issue #51
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Waves Nx Virtual Mix Room is a plugin that adds a room into your headphones. It features a single modelled room, and it takes whatever you’re listening to and makes it sound in your headphones as though you’re in that room.
Makes headphones sound like speakers
Simple, doesn’t swamp you in confusing options
Head Tracking works well and adds to the illusion of mixing on speakers in a high quality real space
Newly added headphone calibration is a great idea
Full price may seem a bit high for something that you’ll never hear on the final recording (unless my mate Dave mixes it)
Headphone calibration doesn’t have my HD650s on the list yet
Andi Picker takes a closer look at a new digital plugin from Waves, that aims to take the headache out of mixing on headphones.
When we’re mixing recordings we usually rely on monitor speakers to hear the effects of what we do. Those speakers have to be put somewhere, and that somewhere generally messes up the nice even response that the manufacturer hopefully designed into them. Add to this that anyone who is working at home is likely to have someone trying to sleep or watch Reality TV when we need to mix, and headphones start to sound like a pretty good idea. It’s a shame then that headphones always seem to sound a bit “wrong”.
When we listen to a pair of speakers, we hear both speakers with both ears. Sound bounces off the edges of our room, and some of it has to bend around the big heady thing that those ears are stuck on either side of. None of that happens with headphones, and while it makes what we hear a lot simpler, it just isn’t how we hear the real world, and given that we want to make mixes that will work anywhere, that’s just making life more difficult.
Waves Nx Virtual Mix Room is a plugin that adds a room into your headphones. It features a single modelled room, and it takes whatever you’re listening to and makes it sound in your headphones as though you’re in that room. Hmm? I admit, I installed Nx, tried it, and thought “meh, doesn’t really do much”. So I bypassed the plugin and heard (and felt) my mix collapse to two unrelated points located just on either side of my head. Nx went straight back on my monitor bus, and as I figured I was going to use it, I set it up with my actual head measurement for added realism, and aligned the virtual speakers dead-on with my real-world monitors. With a bit of critical listening I can hear that Nx isn’t exactly the same as working on monitors, but it’s close enough that at first, I kept taking my headphones off to check that I didn’t have the speakers running. With just a tiny bit of Room Ambience the effect is real enough to simply forget about it.
I worked with Nx for a few days before I got curious (well, grumpy) about the Head Tracker window that opened everytime I tried to use it. The Head Tracker tracks your head movement (!) and adjusts the sound so that you hear it as though you were moving between your monitors. There is an optional device that attaches to the band of your headphones, but I set it up to use my webcam and it works fine, so after a fun-filled half-hour checking the roll and yaw of my head, I left it on permanently. The sense of movement isn’t quite 100% right to my ears, I hear a little more difference for the same movement in the real world, but it’s better than close enough to support the illusion. Sorry – I can’t comment on the Waves Head Tracker device; the webcam option works so well for me that I didn’t bother to get one. I almost wish I worked with 5.0/5.1/7.1 surround mixes so I could play with those options too.
As an aside, I mentioned Nx to my mate Dave who does a lot of work on headphones; he messaged me the following day “NX – best plugin ever”. Dave is NOT easily impressed, AND he’s been cheating and using as an actual special effect. The irony, of course, is that most music today is listened to on earbuds attached to mobile ‘phones, so at some point we’re going to have to turn Nx off to check the real headphone sound. Unless we master a special “earbud” version with it on and invite the listener into our own head!