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PSP MasterComp

April 1, 2006

FIG. 1: PSP MasterComp is a high-fidelity stereo dynamics processor with 64-bit floating-point, double-sampled processing.

PSP MasterComp ($249) for Windows from PSP is a VST, DirectX, and RTAS compatible compressor plug-in. The stereo-mono MasterComp has a 64-bit floating-point engine and double-sampled processing that PSP calls FAT (Frequency Authentication Technique), which is designed to operate transparently even at extreme compression settings and high sampling rates.

Installation of MasterComp went smoothly on my machine, an IBM tower with a 2.26 GHz processor, 1 GB of RAM, and Steinberg Cubase SX3. Copy protection uses a typical challenge-and-response scheme, which is carried out the first time the plug-in is instantiated.

What You See

The MasterComp control panel is pleasingly clean, with high-contrast control markings that pop out nicely (see Fig. 1). Two large meters with overload LED indicators fill the top third of the panel. The meters display values on both VU and PPM scales. A 3-way switch between the two meters lets you view the signal pre- and postcompression or view the amount of gain reduction.

Everything is centered around the all-important Threshold knob, which sets the compression or expansion threshold between -30 dB and +6 dB. An 11-step, detented Ratio knob on the left offers seven compression ratios, three expansion ratios, and no compression (1:1 ratio). Attack can range from 0.01 ms to 1 second, whereas release can be set from 0.1 to 10 seconds. A Make-up knob adjusts makeup gain before the mix, output, and limit sections. Auto buttons are provided for attack, release, and makeup to achieve maximum transparency.

More unusual compressor controls grace the right side of the MasterComp control panel. An extremely handy sidechain signal processor lets you cut or boost frequencies between 25 and 400 Hz on the low side and between 1 and 16 kHz on the high end. Sidechain monitoring is also available. The Link and Tilt knobs provide an even higher, and subtler, degree of control. The Link knob sets the amount of compression dependency between sidechain channels, and the Tilt knob adjusts the sidechain balance.

A convenient Mix knob sets the wet/dry output mix, and an Output knob sets the output gain between -12 and +12 dB. Four toggle switches along the bottom turn FAT on or off (reducing CPU load), toggle between hard- and soft-knee curves, select between peak and RMS modes, and engage the brickwall limiter. A preset selector and A/B comparison buttons occupy the bottom of the panel.

What You Get

I used MasterComp to master several rock and electronica tracks, and in most cases I was extremely pleased with the results (see Web Clips 1 and 2). With FAT engaged, MasterComp added significant musical depth to the mix, bringing out a wealth of details with heightened sonic clarity. Depending on how I set the attack, release, and threshold, MasterComp brought a delicious degree of sparkle to the mixes. Adjusting the makeup gain added an aggressive bite when required. The sidechain controls proved especially handy for mastering material when a dose of EQ correction was desired. That went a long way in reducing muddiness in one song, and left me free to make very fine corrections in my EQ stage later on.

MasterComp was also valuable for mixing, bringing crisp definition to an electric guitar track and beautiful squashy oomph when the Heavy Drum Kit preset was used on the drum bus (see Web Clips 3 and 4). Used in conjunction with PSP's other mastering plug-ins, MasterQ and VintageWarmer, MasterComp's impact was even more dramatic.

My complaints are few. MasterComp's A/B controls are not intuitive, and their operation is not explained in the manual. Few presets are provided, and they often have names that give little clue as to their actual effect. Automatic toggling between a control's name and its value worked sporadically. But these quirks are not that important, and on the upside, PSP's tech support staff always responded within 24 hours.

I've long searched for one killer compressor plug-in and have found it in PSP MasterComp. It offers great transparency or musicality as needed, its controls are flexible, and it's a very good value. MasterComp will certainly meet the needs of any discerning PC-based engineer or producer.

Value (1 through 5): 4

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