The McDSP Emerald Pack Native covers a lot of ground. Packaged with a printed manual and a pre-programmed green iLok key, the bundle comes complete with McDSP’s Analog Channel, Channel G, Chrome Tone, CompressorBank, FilterBank, MC2000, ML4000, Revolver, and Synthesizer One. To make matters more interesting, several titles play host to multi-application configurations within their specific plug-in. If you want the full spec rundown, shoot on over to www.mcdsp.com.
The Analog Channel actually has two channels: AC1 emulates a Class-A gain stage, and AC2 emulates popular tape machines. My first impression is that the AC1 is simply killer on a mix bus—especially the Channel 1 preset. I almost hear some SSL love with this puppy.
One of my favorite applications for the AC1 is to use it as a clip remover for tracks that were recorded a touch too hot. Simply select an attack speed that is fast enough to catch the offending transient, and the AC1 will smooth things out and make the event sound more like analog distortion than digital lightning.
In addition to sounding good, the AC2 is a veritable see-and-do classroom for analog tape enthusiasts. Parameters such as bias, playback speed, and alignment equalization are included. You can even pick different tape formulations. A small display window shows the frequency response for each model, making it easy to see how giants such as Studer, MCI, Ampex, and Otari earned reputations for their individual sounds.
FilterBank is comprised of 10 plugs, from filters to shelving circuits to parametric EQs. To organize this array, FilterBank is divided into four series: B-Series (band pass and stop filters), F-Series (high- and low-cut filters), P-Series (parametric EQs), and E-Series (shelving EQs).
Of course, features such as gain and Q width are here, but the hidden power of FilterBank lies in its peak, slope, and dip controls. The peak function lets you tailor the transition from shelved to non-shelved frequencies, while slope/dip lets you adjust the over/undershoot of the shelf. So, in addition to your daily EQ tasks, you can coax some of the wildest and unexpected non-symmetrical curves out of FilterBank. This is great for carving out the sonic interplay between bass guitar and kick drum, or for harmonic notching of synth tracks.
CompressorBank and MC2000
In the CompressorBank plug-in, almost every major compressor topology is covered. In simplest terms, we’re talking about detection circuit, knee/curve shape, side chain, and pre/post EQ. In the real world, each of these areas represents a crucial design decision, as the choice of approach and materials significantly affects the final sound of the compressor. Again, McDSP lets you lift the hood and see the internal workings of different compression designs. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve sat with CompressorBank to woodshed my compression skills (and, in the process, created my ideal Franken-Compressor).
For audio production, CB1 is the basic unit, giving control over standard compression factors such as threshold and ratio, while bringing the McDSP’s multiple peak-detection circuits to the party. CB2 adds a pre-filter, and CB3 adds a static/dynamic EQ to the features of the CB2. Finally, CB4 provides a large set of McDSP-tweaked emulations of many popular compressors, including vintage and current favorites.
Pay extra attention to the side chain area. The key function lets you pick what signal is used to trigger the compressor, and the key listen button lets you hear the exact feed the compressor will use to do its work. This is the foundation to de-essing, frequency dependent compression, and other clean-up tasks. Instead of slapping a wide-band across an entire spectrum, use the smallest tool required for the task. In short time, you’ll start to hear a major improvement in the quality of your mixes. These are the kind of things that separate the pros from the weekend warriors. Should you require more than one compression band, the MC2000 is the multi-band version of the CompressorBank.
Chrome Tone is a guitar amp factory, providing amp modeling and effects. Changing tone and speaker settings is straightforward. Chrome Tone is fine in this area—especially on the distorted stack sounds—but it really shines as an effects unit. From mangling drum loops to flanging the whole drum bus, it’s all good with the Chrome Tone. In fact, try Chrome Tone on vocals and keys. Pull up a blues break-up box, and add some grit to that virtual instrument track, or make your voice sound like it is in a collapsing hole. On slow bass-guitar lines, pull up a really clean amp, and add the slightest hint of chorus for a thick, fretless feel.
If you think you need a full-blown TDM system to power a convolution reverb, it’s time to reconsider. Revolver handles the job perfectly, and it comes with a massive profile library that includes halls, plates, and rooms, but also some really off-the-beaten path spaces (staircases, a water bottle, a vacuum tube, etc.). Users can also capture and import their own impulse files.
Revolver has some convincing room spaces—especially for drawn-out operatic aria work—and it sounds great on techno tracks. In addition to spaces and plates, I liked many of the hardware files (especially the Eventide DSP4500 and T.C. M5000), but I was less impressed with the EMT 250 settings.
While it may be efficient, Revolver is a computational beast. Even with a new Intel Mac, we had to do some tweaking to get the most out of our CPUs. Fortunately, the tweaking windows are here. I suggest setting latency to low, and printing the reverb (recording it to an audio track, and playing it back instead of making the plug-in process during each play), or moving to medium latency. Depending on your source mix, you may be able to adjust the Tail Cut value to something like –100dB, thus freeing up CPU power. (Note: Unless it’s a solitary instrument, most applications are fine at the –100dB level.) Unless you need it, try setting the stereo mode to summed stereo. This lets Revolver process a combined source instead of two independent L/R channels.
Channel G is comprised of four plug-ins: G Dynamics (a large format console dynamics section that includes an expander/gate, compressor/limiter, and filter section), G Equalizer (a five-band EQ/filter section), G Console (the console models plus a combination of the G Dynamics and G Equalizer configurations), and the G Surround Compressor for multi-channel work. Channel G emulates many of the great names in mixing desk production, including API, Amek, and SSL. The sonic character of each brand is readily apparent, as are unique topologies, such as the API feedback or feed forward compression scheme. Seriously, this is the bus plug-in. You can use the less CPU intensive Dynamics or Equalizer configurations if the G Console takes too much CPU power. Plug-in settings will be retained when switching to other Channel G configurations.
The ML4000 is a high-resolution limiter designed for single or multi-band configurations. It’s actually two plugs: The ML1 mastering limiter, and the ML4—a multi-band gate, expander, and compressor fed into the ML1 mastering limiter. As a wave hammer, the ML1 has a look-ahead brick wall design. Each sample is reviewed in triplicate to make sure the max output wall set by the user is not violated.
For me, the crucial controls here are Knee, Mode, and Release. Knee is the slope of the limiting onset curve, and it can range from a hard, immediate type knee to a gradual introduction to the max output. This control has a significant effect of how the limiter sounds. From transparent to pump, the starting point is here.
Mode provides five settings ranging from Clean to Crush. These determine the algorithm used—and the subsequent artifacts—of the actually peak limiting. There’s no such thing as “just pushing the peaks down.” How that task is accomplished can have harmonic and phase implications. Mode gives you some choices in this area. Of course, Release controls how long it takes to recover from the limiting process—too fast and you pump, too long and you put your audio in a permanent vice. The multi-band side of the ML4000 strings a bunch of ML1s together, but adds a gate and expander to the compression/limiting.
Dave Hidek—who is a mixing wizard—related to me how he used the ML4000 to save a stellar drum take from problematic mic bleed. Evidently, a cymbal was accidentally hit during a fill. The other toms were all clean, but the middle tom had the crash bleeding into the mic. Using the frequency-based gate, he was able to reduce the cymbal decay, while leaving the tom hit intact. Only someone who knew what happened would even hear it now.
Another great ML4000 use is in smoothing out clean guitar lines or background vocal takes. Setting it to skim the top can give a track the even buzz cut it needs to make things more manageable for the next plug in downstream. Finally, mix engineers who need to give client’s take-home references can slap on an instance of the ML4000 on the master bus, and provide a decent approximation of a more-finished master.
Synthesizer One is a full-featured wavetable-based synthesis engine that combines both wavetable and analog oscillators in a completely modular design—including filtering and a dedicated effects section. My favorite tweak-zone on this plus is the Waveform Capture feature—an AudioSuite plug-in that can capture and import a piece of audio from your Pro Tools session. From there, it opens on the Wave Edit page, where you can edit away. I used it on some spontaneous laughing from a vocal outtake with cool results, but there’s nothing stopping you from using recorded drums or bass as the foundation for your new synth pad.
I’ll keep it short and sweet—I don’t know of another bundle that lets you handle almost any production task as well as McDSP EPN. If you want analog-like sound out of your Pro Tools rig, the McDSP Emerald Pack is hands down the native bundle to own.
PRODUCT TYPE: RTAS and AudioSuite plug-ins for Pro Tools users running Mac OSX 10.4 or higher/ Windows XP.
TARGET MARKET: Pro Tools users looking to get great analog sounds out of their DAW.
STRENGTHS: Convincing “analog” sounds. Presets provide good sounds while parameter-tweaking options allow power users vast flexibility. Apps like Chrome Tone and FilterBank useful in both mixing and non-traditional effects applications.
LIMITATIONS: Compatible with Pro Tools only.
PRICE: $1,395 retail (Various upgrade paths are available to owners of individual McDSP plugs. Check the website for more info.)