Review: Waves Electric 88

A stellar sounding go-to-worthy virtual EP cleverly masquerading as a "character" plug-in
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If you’re lucky enough to have a real Rhodes in your studio, you probably have only one; the years have given it a certain tonal profile, and though there are many like it, this one is yours. You EQ, compress, and process it to fit the task at hand, because that yields a lot more character than calling up a workstation patch.

That’s the philosophy behind the creation of Waves Electric 88, a virtual instrument based on samples of a single “road-worn” (their words) electric piano. As opposed to trying to eliminate any key-to-key differences in response, Electric 88 embraces them. Nonetheless, this VI’s raw materials and parameters offer a wide range of tonal possibilities all within the instrument’s interface.

Central to Electric 88 are four mixable sample sets—the main tone, the sparkle of the tines, key-release samples, and mechanical noises. If you know your EPs, dialing in any model from a Mk I to a Mk V is super-quick. The Formant knob is described as adding harmonic qualities of higher or lower notes, as though you’d transposed the piano; to my ears it sounds more or less like a tilt EQ.

Next on the main panel is a one-knob compressor that really nails that Hall and Oates, comping-straight-eighths kind of punch. An amp simulation (ostensibly a Fender Twin) lets you crank up the drive from a day’s stubble to full fuzz and offers dynamic and condenser virtual-mics. A 3-band tone control rounds out the sculpting tools, and it’s warm and non-antiseptic.

The effects rack has tremolo, auto-pan, phaser, chorus, and reverb. The Rate knobs can set tempo-synced time divisions (including triplets) or free-running times in Hz. These effects sound good, I suspect in part because they contain DNA from other Waves plug-ins.

Overall, Electric 88’s sound is beautiful, with factory presets that showcase classic rock and R&B tones (“All Roads Lead to Cyprus” and “Easy Street” are favorites here), effects-drenched outliers in the Creative bank (try “Dreams of Glass” for some Vangelic meandering), and much in between. Throughout, Electric 88 can bark angrily in response to extreme playing or lilt and sing at moderate ones. A ton of dynamic range is on tap, unless you purposely mix and compress it away. Is there anything to find fault with in the samples themselves? No. There’s a fidelity and fullness here I’d expect from keyboard libraries that take up more room on both your hard drive and your credit card statement.

In fact, the audible non-linearities are more subtle than Waves’ use of the term “road-worn” leads you to expect. Can Electric 88 sound like a quirky, beat-up Rhodes? Sure. Can it sound like a well-maintained studio or rental unit the likes of Donald Fagen or Richard Tee would ask for by serial number? Certainly, all while preserving the touted vintage character.

This is a keyboard player’s virtual EP, with the musically useful controls right in your face. It could work quite well as the only “tine EP” in your software-instrument collection, but at this price, you might just as well impulse-buy it as another color on your palette. Like I did, you’ll soon discover you got far more than you paid for.

Snap Judgment

Pros Large and excellently recorded electric piano sample- set with mixable sample layers. Killer effects cover everything you need and nothing you don’t. Very easy to dial in the sound you have in mind.

Cons The term “road-worn” doesn’t do justice to its tonal and stylistic range.

Bottom Line

A stellar sounding, go-to-worthy virtual EP cleverly masquerading as a “character” plug-in