Review: Preshan John
I remember when I first tried producing a song entirely on cans — the track was bangin’, everything felt big and wide, the vocals cut through like a knife. Then I chucked it on some speakers and, to my dismay, the levels were all out of whack, effects were overblown, and anything panned centre was way too loud.
Waves’ new Nx plug-in is designed to marry the paradigms of headphone and speaker monitoring by maintaining the convenience and privacy of headphones while rectifying the deceptive auditory world they put you in. Namely, a dramatically wide stereo image, unconventional amount of detail, lack of ‘crosstalk’ between left and right channels, and the absence of any room reflections mingling with the direct sound before arriving at your eardrums.
Pop Nx onto your master bus and you’ll hear the difference immediately. The stereo spread narrows, the centre image softens, and you’re transported into a world filled with pseudo-room reflections and artificial depth. The overall effect is the comparative ‘blurriness’ you’d get from hearing real speakers in a real room, and Nx manages to present this quite naturally. There are plenty of settings that let you tailor your virtual acoustic environment. You can graphically adjust the virtual speakers’ width and position, and even place them behind your head. The Room Ambience controls let you alter the amount of reflections and trim the centre level. The soundscape Nx creates is very reminiscent of a binaural recording — it’ll even present 5.1 surround mixes on cans!
Head Tracking uses your computer’s built-in camera to follow your head movements for “enhanced realism.” Waves has really committed to this idea, even announcing a piece of hardware called Head Tracker that clips onto your headphones and pairs up with Nx to provide the same effect.
Over a period of time, Nx lulls you into a sense of spaciousness that really does feel like you’re monitoring in a room. In fact, it almost feels off-putting when you bypass the plug-in after an extended mix session.
But does it improve your mixes? It depends.
Personally, I’ve learnt over time how to compensate for the anomalies imposed by headphone mixing — so I can’t say Nx will revolutionise my production quality. And if you’re not a heavy headphone user, then it’ll scarcely make it beyond your plug-in menu.
But if you’re a laptop producer or engineer who works primarily on headphones, then maybe Nx will help provide that extra bit of objectivity in levels judgment and stereo spread that’ll help improve your mixing consistency.
Regardless of the regularity of your headphone usage, Nx is still a great ‘hearing aid’ to have tucked in the toolbox for whenever monitors aren’t in reach. I reckon it’s a justifiable purchase even if only as a quick mix-checking device. Head over to www.waves.com, download the free 14-day demo, and give it a whirl. At the very least, you’ll find it rather entertaining spinning the virtual speakers around your head.