Review: Waves Electric 200

Got Wurly? Stop reading this and download Electric 200. Now.
Image placeholder title

We can thank the Wurlitzer Electronic Piano—so named even though its sound was generated mechanically and the only electronic aspect was its built-in amplification—for one of the two iconic electric piano sounds of the 20th century. Where the Rhodes used cylindrical tines as half of an asymmetrical tuning fork-like assembly, the Wurly’s resonators were flat metal reeds. This resulted in a rich, somewhat clarinet-like tone that was closer to a triangle wave than the Rhodes’ flutey almost-sine. The Wurly canon includes Pink Floyd’s “Money,” the Heartbreakers’ “Breakdown,” and “Bloody Well Right” by Supertramp. Now, Waves has come out with a software version that’s not merely great for the price—it’s bloody well great, period.

Electric 200, which works as a stand-alone instrument or plug-in, offers two sample sets that are switchable on-the-fly: a rounder, mellower tone and a more nasal, reedy tone with additional bark and bite. At first I thought these might have been from a model 200 and 200A (which improved upon the amplification and noise shielding), but in fact they’re two different 200s. Earlier Wurlitzers, such as the 120 (non-unanimously agreed upon as the piano Ray Charles played on “What’d I Say”) and 140 aren’t represented, but you can get close to their more muted sound by trying out negative values of the Formant knob.

Speaking of controls, the complement is identical to Waves’ Rhodes emulation, Electric 88 (reviewed December 2016). In fact, you can use E88 presets in E200.

That Formant knob emphasizes or attenuates various harmonics; the subjective effect is like having presets-only access to a surgical multiband EQ. Next is the sample set toggle, then the four sliders for main tone, hammer, key-release samples, and mechanical noises. The one-knob compressor is followed by the amp simulation with its dynamic and condenser virtual miking options, then the bass-mid-treble EQ.

As in Electric 88, the effects rack comprises tremolo, auto-pan, phaser, chorus, and reverb. Effects with a Rate knob use its left side for host-tempo-syncable divisions (including triplets), and its right for free-running times in Hz. Again, the impeccable sound quality shows that these effects inherit a lot of high-end code from flagship Waves effects plug-ins.

Turning all this stuff off proves that Electric 200 doesn’t need to lean on effects for authenticity: These are some of the best Wurly sounds I’ve heard short of the real thing. The Wurly action was more complex than that of the Rhodes, with a geometry similar to a grand piano action. This resulted in a wide dynamic and harmonic range in response to finger velocity, and Electric 200 deftly captures the subtleties in this regard. That said, overall I preferred the mellower “Inst 1” sample set whereas the bite of “Inst 2” could run away from me if I played too heartily. Your mileage may vary.

Effects come more into play for capturing how the Wurlies on classic songs were processed and recorded, and the factory presets do an admirable job of showing this off. Highlights include “Ray Plays the Blues,” which nails that 120 sound I mentioned; I actually preferred “Fun Ra” for playing Supertramp licks over other patches whose names suggested that band; “Smooth Space Filler” was a natural for the Steely Dan “Black Friday” part, even though that was actually played on a Hohner Pianet.

If you need a virtual instrument dedicated to Wurly sounds, with much more sampled-in detail than the Wurly offerings in a workstation or broader keyboard library, Waves Electric 200 swings so far above its price point it’s not even funny.

Snap Judgment

PROS Spot-on, realistic, detailed Wurly sounds. Justright factory presets. Studioquality effects. Dead-simple to use.
CONS It would be nice to have sample sets for older, more rare Wurly pianos such as the 120 and 140 series.

Bottom Line

Got Wurly? Stop reading this and download Electric 200. Now.

$69 | discounted to $39 at press time