The plug-in market is packed with emulations of classic kit like API EQs and Neve compressors. With so many to choose from, what could be better? Why, a single plug-in that takes the best of the bunch and rolls them into a single channel strip with selectable input, EQ, compression and output stages — naturally.
The brand-new Classic Console Strip Pro (CCSP) from Unique Recording Software (URS) is just such a beast, a veritable buffet of delicious vintage modules that you can mix and match to your heart's desire. I couldn't wait to to spend a couple of weeks taking CCSP for a spin on individual tracks and stereo masters. I had high hopes that it would neatly bundle the company's authentically vintage-sounding A- and N-series EQ plug-ins that I loved a couple of years ago into a package along with new and improved gain stages and vintage compression.
PLUGGING IN THE PLUG-IN
Getting up and running with the CCSP is a breeze, but you'll need your own iLok USB dongle ($40; www.ilok.com) to run the program in fully licensed mode. I'm actually a fan of iLok protection — it makes for quick moves between workstations without losing serials and does away with annoying “installation-based” authorizations.
URS had deposited the license into my account, so I simply plugged in the iLok and transferred the license without any fuss. I then grabbed the mere 10 MB setup package from the URS Website and had the whole deal installed in less than a minute. After a quick reboot, I was ready to rock, and the entire installation/authorization process clocked in at less than five minutes.
Lists of emulation descriptions and processor starting points consume much of the terse, 32-page PDF manual, but it does do an adequate job of explaining CCSP's components and the specific input, EQ or compressor-emulation settings. A nine-page quick-start guide helps you coax beautiful tone out of CCSP without the larger manual.
At first glance, CCSP's interface reminds me of many other channel strips on the market, with separate sections for input, EQ and compression. At first I was put off by its static GUI; in reading about the plug-in's unique ability to emulate countless classic modules, I conjured up a mental image of a rack-style plug-in with elements that changed shape and color to match their real-world EQ and compressor counterparts.
However, CCSP has a completely static GUI. It isn't gorgeous, but it isn't ugly either. It's just rather plain, sporting the requisite faux brushed-steel faceplate and Bakelite knobs that grace most vintage emulations out there today, but with no really striking aesthetic detail or visual candy. Color-coding — even alternating shades of gray — would have been helpful to quickly zero in on different elements of the user interface.
Minor artistic gripes aside, after working with the CCSP's standard GUI for a while actually streamlined my workflow, allowing me to head straight for certain knobs to tweak common settings regardless of which algorithm I had in place. CCSP may not have a 3-D rendered wow factor, but the end result is sonically impressive and far easier to work with than complex chains of individual EQs and compressors.
THE FIRST LINK
CCSP offers 30 input-stage algorithms, 60 compressor emulations and five EQ models, so the range of sonic coloration offered is vast, from subtle and nearly inaudible to thick and heavy, with syrupy harmonics and distortion.
Started from the ground up, I stepped through all of CCSP's 30 input algorithms one by one, giving each a shot on a dry acoustic drum loop. Overall, switching input algorithms had a relatively minimal effect, ranging from virtually inaudible (the Year algorithms) to slightly peaky and hyped or bass-heavy (the Tape and Tube emulations). Tweaking the input stage's intensity slider didn't vary the character too much; it's more or less a set-and-forget decision. I gravitated more toward the presets that include tape characteristics just to get a little more bite out of the overall output, but the clean presets tended to work better on bus and master inserts, adding some subtle character while preserving accuracy and clarity. The two tube algorithms sounded absolutely juicy on just about everything.
SQUEEZE IT TIGHT
I've always felt compression imparts the most tangible vibe of any process when applied appropriately, and CCSP's 60 compressor presets are sure to please anyone who agrees. URS claims that the compressor models are based on vintage gear, and while brand names aren't explicitly listed next to each selection, it's clear that CCSP apes such classics as the Urei 1176 (“1967 Fet Limiter”) and Universal Audio (UA) LA-2A (“Opto2a”), along with a stable of roughly 10 other vintage compressors.
In the compressor section, the sound really begins to take shape in signal path. Each emulation has a distinct sonic character, with the VCA and FET compressors bringing punch to the table and Opto emulations imparting a smoother vibe. Tape compression is also emulated and pairs well with tape presets on the input stage. A basic array of standard compression controls — ratio, threshold, attack, release and knee — provides control over the unit's process, and a Gain Makeup knob boosts output by as high as 20 dB.
CCSP's emulation of the 1176 sounds pretty spot-on, so I dropped my usual go-to drum compressor, the UA 1176LN, in the chain and A/B'd the two to see if I could detect any big differences. Both were set to 12:1, and while some of CCSP's extra parameters no doubt influenced the sound slightly, I was rather surprised by how similar the two plug-ins sounded. I got the impression of a smidgen more richness and analog-like character from the UA plug-in — a bit more of a “realness” — but nonetheless, CCSP performed remarkably well. The differences would likely be imperceptible under circumstances with less direct scrutiny.
ALL YOU CAN EQ
With a more modest total of five selectable algorithms, the EQ section still manages to impress by running finely tuned algorithms for the high, high-mid, low-mid and low frequencies. These emulations are named by year — obscuring their origins somewhat — but the top end of the 1951 algorithm sounded particularly sweet and creamy when bumped a few dB above 15 kHz, adding a beautiful sheen to 2-track mixes. The 1970 EQs were a bit more biting on the high end and injected some in-your-face pop and sizzle. I would have liked the option to boost these models up beyond 20 kHz and get a true “air” setting, but the high-frequency module tops out at 20 kHz. That's unfortunate because CCSP's ability to process at sampling rates as high as 192 kHz could accurately handle audio in that range.
Each EQ section features a broad frequency range, a maximum 15 dB of boost or cut and a variable Q control, which notches problem frequencies in or out or alternately performs broad tuning on large swaths of the audio spectrum. Both the high- and low-frequency modules offer a peak/shelf switch, and all modules can be individually bypassed for quick spot checks. An additional independent filter section can be placed before or after the compressor module to pretreat audio before the EQ shapes it.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
While the all-in-one channel strip-style interface is handy and easy to use, it does'nt provide the parameters unique to each type of compressor or EQ. For instance, selecting CCSP's emulation of the Urei 1176 doesn't cause four ratio buttons to pop into existence, so it can't really duplicate every nuance of the original. URS partially makes up for that by providing presets that incorporate some of these basic settings — for example, “FET Limiter 20:1” or “FET Limiter All Buttons.” But without direct access to those controls and the same input and output knobs as the original, it's only a close approximation.
This issue also applies in reverse. The original 1176 didn't have a Knee or a Threshold control, for example. Ultimately you may find those bonus controls a boon rather than a bust. After all, a little fine-tuning on the Knee and Threshold may be just what you need to wrangle that last bit of renegade audio into line. However, if you're looking for pure emulations of classic gear that accurately model every last circuit of the original, you have to stick with discrete plug-ins that focus on authenticity over convenience.
Vintage emulations flood the current market, but URS has put an interesting spin on the segment by combining quality emulations into a single convenient interface. Presets for the entire plug-in can be stored and recalled at any time with a single flick of the mouse, rather than browsing plug-in after plug-in trying to re-create a perfect input chain. CCSP could be invaluable to mobile producers or engineers who hop from studio to studio; it brings multiple vintage algorithms together in a single interface with one simple installation. You could bring an authorized iLok and a USB flash drive with the installation package to each session and have access to a wide range of vintage tools in a single convenient package. Plus, it's compatible with every major sequencer and plug-in format.
CCSP isn't at the top of the heap when it comes to authenticity, but that's to be expected in a plug-in that offers such a generous number of EQ, compression and input stage algorithms. The price would be high for a single plug-in, but considering CCSP's mix-and-match nature, it's more like purchasing a plug-in bundle and wrapping it all up in a convenient one-stop shop that's straightforward and easy to use. Its unprecedented flexibility is well worth the price of admission.
CLASSIC CONSOLE STRIP PRO > $799 (NATIVE ONLY); $1,499 (TDM/NATIVE)
Pros: Great sound. Supports sampling rates as high as 192 kHz. Multiple units in a single convenient interface. Fully compatible with VST/Audio Units/RTAS/TDM. Four sweepable EQ bands. Pre/post EQ settings for compressor and filters.
Cons: Static interface graphics. Nonauthentic controls for vintage EQ and compressor algorithms.
Mac: PPC/Intel; OS 10.2.1; 10.3.9 or 10.4.10; iLok USB key (sold separately); valid iLok.com account
PC: Windows XP; iLok USB key (sold separately); valid iLok.com account