The latest offering from Waves is a simple processor designed for everything from mixing to mastering. Greg Scarth puts it to the test.
Pusher is something of a departure for Waves. The Israeli software company is best known for its effect plugin bundles, which set the standard for native audio processing. Those bundles each contain dozens of individual tools, each targeted at very specific tasks: compressors, EQs, limiters, and so on. Pusher, developed in collaboration with trance act Infected Mushroom, is more of an all-in-one unit, a one-size-fits-all solution for mastering or for processing individual elements of a track.
What is Pusher? That question is harder to answer than you might imagine. Waves describe it as “an innovative multi-band sonic enhancer and limiter/clipper”, but the multi-band approach isn’t the same as you’d find in a typical multi-band compressor, for example. Rather than having multiple bands of identical compression, each of Pusher’s bands does a slightly different thing to the sound in that particular frequency range. The low band “enhances low frequencies and adds harmonics”, the ‘body’ band “adds low-midrange dynamics and frequency processing” and the high band “enhances the high frequencies and adds ‘sparkle'”.
It’s not entirely clear exactly what kind of processing is being applied to each of these bands (although you could certainly make some confident guesses about most), but that’s kind of the point: Pusher is designed to be intuitive and simple rather than analytical and precise. After installing the plugin (which requires you first to download and install the Waves Central software, which handles the rest of the installation process), there’s very little learning curve involved in using it. I tried it first on the master bus, as suggested by Waves, and found it effective if not precise enough for anything particularly surgical. Things are more creative on individual tracks. Across a range of synth sounds, drum loops, individual drum hits and even vocal samples, Pusher brought something useful to the table in almost every case, whether it was simply a question of emphasising one band with the frequency-based controls, or exploring the other options such as the central ‘magic’ control, which “excites and boosts the dynamics of all frequencies at once”.
The controls are intuitive and simple, with just enough flexibility to allow you to fine-tune the settings to match the source material. The ‘push’ control for overall loudness is simple and effective, with a choice of clipping or limiting modes and a simple gain reduction meter, while the stereo image knob provides easy control of the width of high frequency elements. In terms of simple processing tools aimed at electronic music production, the most obvious reference point is Dada Life’s Sausage Fattener, but there’s also something about Pusher that reminds me of PSP’s ever-popular Vintage Warmer. Like that plugin, Pusher lends itself just as well to individual tracks as it does to the mix bus. It’s also best when you resist the urge to crank all the controls to the max – take a more restrained approach and it’s more effective at helping to hold a mix together without muddying the sound.
Some have speculated that Pusher is a combination of other Waves plugins under the hood – perhaps a little bit of L2 mixed with parts of Vitamin and Renaissance Bass – but there’s more to Pusher than that. For a start, those three plugins alone would set you back $627. Just as importantly, setting up that kind of processing chain would make it a lot more complicated to dial in settings and balance the various elements. There will, of course, be a few purists out there who dismisses Pusher on the grounds that it’s somehow dumbed down. They’re missing the point. Pusher isn’t meant to be a surgical tool for precisely adjusting the sound of a mix – there are other tools in the Waves line-up to do that. Instead, it’s a creative and user-friendly tool. At $49, it’s also incredibly good value for money. For those who can cast aside their prejudices about simple plugins, I’m sure it’ll become a go-to option for processing everything from individual drum hits to stereo mixes.
Purchase: Waves Pusher
The Final Word
Simple and effective. Pusher is a truly versatile processing tool for almost any sound.