T.C. Electronic PowerCore PCI MKII

[$1,199, if you look hard, tcelectronic.com]

This hardware supported plug-in package can be a welcome addition to your setup for mastering or mixing applications. It has a full range of useful plug-ins that sound great and have a different quality than most software plug-ins. It’s dual-platform and the plug-ins work with any program that can run VST or AU plug-ins. But into the nuts and bolts of it: The PCI card was easy to install after running the software installer and it was up and running in seconds on my PC. The EQSat was the first plug-in I tried on a mix. I really liked the way it sounded and it seemed to do more at the same levels than a comparable software EQ. The reverbs all sounded nice and the Mega Reverb in particular has a cool interface. One of the plug-ins most suited to mastering was the Master x3 — the software emulation of the TC Finalizer. The 24/7-c limiting amplifier is also a very accurate nice-sounding recreation of the UREI 1176, which is always handy. The Tubifex plug-in — the virtual guitar amp — is nice with a lot of parameters to tweak, like individual tube voltages. Reading the box, the first plug-in that really drew my attention though was the Character plug-in. The literature states that Character can be used on any source material and the “algorithm intelligently identifies and enhances characteristics in the instrument or vocal source that are pleasing to the human ear.” Seems like a very robotic thing to say about adding something to a track to make it sound like nothing was added to a track (even if the plug-in does sound interesting and it definitely hypes up the source). The Denoise is also useful as are the Delay and the Voice Strip plug-ins. Also included is a great mono synth: the PowerCore 01. It’s very useable as a VST instrument and it sounds big for a software synth. The latency on it was still noticeable but just barely. The one critique I’d have of the unit would be that some of the plug-ins have slightly awkward interfaces. Oh, and that the plug-ins seemed to tax the processor a bit (but much less than some other intense software plug-ins). Overall though the PowerCore PCI MKII is an easy way to have a bunch of solidly performing, great sounding plug-ins just by giving up one of those unused PCI slots.