McDSP Retro Pack (Mac/Win) Quick Pick Review

Retro Pack (Mac/Win)
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Along with 4030 Retro Compressor and 4040 Retro Limiter, 4020 Retro EQ is one of three great-sounding plug-ins in the McDSP Retro Pack.

McDSP has released Retro Pack (Mac/Win), a suite of three plug-ins for Pro Tools (RTAS/AudioSuite, $495; TDM, $995). The bundle comprises 4020 Retro EQ, 4030 Retro Compressor and 4040 Retro Limiter. McDSP has been releasing plug-ins that emulate vintage hardware for more than a decade, but Retro Pack delivers completely new algorithms that don't attempt to ape particular pieces of vintage gear. The plug-ins have a generic old-school vibe, creating ear-pleasingly warm sounds that are perfect for rounding off a bit of digital edge.

Retro Pack has traded McDSP's trademark green color and extensive user control for brushed aluminum, big knobs and a slimmed-down feature set. There is virtually no learning curve — just turn the knobs and play.


4020 Retro EQ is a 4-band EQ with two parametric mid bands and high- and low-shelving EQ. It also has separate highpass and lowpass filters, input and output gain, and phase buttons. Each band has a ±15dB gain knob and a frequency knob. The plug-in has no bandwidth adjustment, as the algorithm uses gain-dependent variable Q, an important element of many vintage hardware equalizers.

I used 4020 on a large remix project. The original tracks were recorded to tape and mixed using analog consoles. Upon hearing the digital remix, the artist asked me to “take the razor blades” out of his guitar tracks — and to be sure, I heard a lot of harsh buzz in the high end that wasn't in the original. The EQ was the perfect choice for the job. I rolled off 2 to 3 dB around 15 kHz using the high-frequency shelf, and added a 1dB boost around 1 kHz to add a bit of midrange warmth. That did the trick, rounding the edges and adding power to the sound.


The 4030 compressor is well suited to a wide range of dynamics-processing tasks. It offers a standard set of user controls: threshold, ratio, attack, release and makeup gain. Light to moderate amounts of compression can sound somewhat transparent, bringing the sound forward, enhancing some detail and smoothing out the transients a bit. But you can also crush the signal flat with 4030, applying as much as 40 dB of gain reduction and as much as 48 dB of make-up gain. You can get some great sounds this way, but you need to be careful with that much gain applied, for if you raise the threshold (and thus lower the gain-reduction amount) without lowering the gain, things can get loud fast.

Retro Compressor also has a wet/dry mix knob that is terrific for drums. You can squash the living daylights out of the kit to get a thick, sustaining sound, and then adjust the wet/dry mix to bring back some of the sharper transients. The 4030 compressor also has a sidechain feature to compress the source material using a key input.


The 4040 limiter is designed for peak control on individual instruments and drum groups. You can also use it for mastering if you want to impart a bit of color on the master bus. The plug-in has just two knobs: Ceiling and Gain. Under the hood, things get a bit more complex as 4040 combines a look-ahead brickwall limiter with some subtle, proprietary tweaks to bring out a more-vintage vibe.

Retro Limiter is anything but subtle, imparting an exciting amount of heft to anything I ran through it. Drums shined in particular, becoming fat and rocking with the addition of just a few dBs of gain. Vocals, bass and guitar all benefited from judicious use of 4040, as well. The plug-in's sweet spot was between 1 and 6 dB of gain reduction; anything more sounded too extreme for my taste. When using 4040 on the master song bus, I liked it best when it generated about 1 dB of limiting at the peak levels. This enhanced the song's overall level without flattening the dynamics into oblivion.


Some of the most important tools in any mixer's arsenal are equalization, compression and limiting. McDSP has created a terrific new bundle comprising all three. Retro Pack is not exactly inexpensive, but considering how much use you'll get out of these processing tools, I think they are certainly worth the investment. The Retro Pack plug-ins are easy to use and sound fantastic. If your mixes are sounding a bit edgy, thin or brittle, then Retro Pack may just be the perfect solution.

Value (1 through 5): 3