In the neverending quest to make digital recordings sound analog, McDSP (AKA McDowell Signal Processing) designed Analog Channel. This plug-in for the Pro Tools platform is available in TDM, AudioSuite and Real-Time AudioSuite (RTAS) formats. Depending on the computer system, Analog Channel supports host-based Pro Tools systems, MIX and HD systems (including Mac OS X).
Product PointsApplications: Project studio, Studio
Key Features: AC1 replicates the characteristics of an analog amplifier; AC2 emulates various tape parameters found on analog tape machines
Contact: McDowell Signal Processing at 650-320-8452, Web Site.
The idea behind Analog Channel is simple. Create a software plug-in that emulates the sound of analog tape machines, analog channel amplifiers, and of course, analog tape. To accomplish this, McDSP modeled a variety of analog tape machines by manufacturers such as Studer, Ampex, MCI, Sony, Otari and TASCAM. And yes, these models (and much more) are available as presets.
At the heart of this plug-in are two modules. The Analog Channel Emulator AC1 is designed to replicate the characteristics of a fully adjustable analog amplifier. One of AC1’s main functions is to provide continuous soft limiting. The advantages of this type of compression are to smooth out the dynamic range while preventing any signal peaks from distorting at 0 dB. Keep in mind, Analog Channel is modeling tape machines. Therefore, it does not have the standard parameters found on most compressor/limiters such as threshold and ratio.
AC1’s onscreen controls are simple yet effective. To adjust how “hot” the channel processes the audio, simply change the Drive settings. Working hand-in-hand with Drive is a Compression control. As the name implies, this regulates the amount of compression or saturation. Also adjustable are attack and release times which determine the character of the preamp’s saturation and distortion. And for engineers who like to “see” their sound, an onscreen graph displays the compression curve.
Moving to Analog Channel AC2, this module emulates various types of tape machine parameters. For example, track width, playback head wear, tape head spacing, and calibration affect an analog machine’s low frequency and head ripple. AC2 handles these variables with Roll-Off and Bump controls along with a choice of six different playback heads. As expected, rolloff and head bump differs with each of the modeled head types.
Another characteristic of analog tape machines is “bias.” With AC2, there is no calibration or tedious maintenance required. Simply turn the onscreen Bias knob to adjust the dynamic range and frequency response. While Bias affects the tape saturation effect, a Release knob controls the rate at which the playback recovers from the tape saturation state. Very interesting.
As for tape speeds, McDSP provides the choice of 7.5 ips, 15 ips, and 30 ips. But unlike “real” analog machines, faster tape speeds in AC2 do not necessarily sacrifice the lower end – and vice-versa. Analog Channel also allows for the selection of IEC1 (European) and IEC2 (USA) equalizations standards.
Each equalization setting can be viewed with an on-screen graph. Also cool is a vintage and modern analog tape setting. As to be expected, modern formulations have a greater dynamic range and sonic accuracy. Whereas, vintage tape has more saturation (when overbiased) for added “character.”
While different in character, AC1 an AC2 share many of the same features. Also common to both modules is an input phase switch – handy for checking the signal’s polarity.
When I fired up this plug-in and checked out the presets, I was amazed at the dramatic difference it made. I realized, however, I was not comparing apples to apples. The problem is not a new one – how do you maintain a consistent volume level when comparing an edited preset to the original? When one signal is loader (even by 1 dB), the ear perceives it as sounding better. It’s tricky stuff and there’s no easy answer. You have to manually adjust the A/B levels so both are equal.
The good news is that the plug-in is capable of subtle as well as dramatic changes. Yes, it warms up the sound but it also can enlarge the soundstage. I used Analog Channel on a variety of instruments, voice, percussion and final mixes. Used properly, it rounds out the sound and fattens up the bottom. Try it on percussion to get an additional “punchy” feel. Gently used on a mix, it can be the “glue” that pulls everything together. On the other hand, used improperly, the sound becomes boxy, muddy and boomy. Many users place AC1 on individual tracks for the gain stage and AC2 on the master faders for the tape “feel.”
Analog Channel is one of those plug-ins that can hypnotize the user with its myriad of possibilities.
Many purists dismiss these types of plug-ins as simply attenuating the high-end to achieve warmness. This is not the case with Analog Channel. A quick look at the manual will reveal the intricacies involved in modeling analog gear.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t recommend throwing your Studer A80 mkII or Otari MX-80 into the dumpster. McDSP Analog Channel is not going to replace those beloved machines of yesteryear. This plug-in is simply another tool in the Pro Tools toolbox for creating new and exciting sounds.