McDSP TDM Emerald Pack III

McDSP's comprehensive plug-in bundle provides high-quality effects and features at a comparatively low price.
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The TDM Emerald Pack III is McDSP's "everything bundle" that includes all of their plug-ins. I've been using McDSP plug-ins almost as long as I've been using Pro Tools, and I use them on every one of my mixes. I was initially attracted to McDSP because of their low system requirements, but I fell in love with them because of their stellar sound.

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Emerald Pack includes a dozen killer plug-ins, a pre-programmed McDSP green iLok, and a printed manual. Included are Analog Channel, Channel G, Chrome Tone, CompressorBank, DE555, FilterBank, FutzBox, MC2000, ML4000, NF575, Revolver, and Synthesizer One. The bundle supports Mac OS 10.4.x (Tiger), 10.5.x (Leopard), and Windows XP. [According to McDSP, Vista support is confirmed on all but Revolver for Emerald Pack III versions now shipping. Revolver Vista support is on its way — late Q1 2009. — Ed.] Except for Chrome Tone and Synthesizer One, all of the plug-ins support the Digidesign VENUE D-SHOW systems.

Analog Channel consists of two plug-ins, AC1, which emulates analog channel amplifier circuits; and AC2, which emulates analog tape machines. AC1 operates as a digital preamp, allowing even excessive amounts of gain without digital distortion. AC2 emulates recording to an analog tape machine allowing the control of standard tape machine parameters such as bias, playback speed, and IEC1/2 equalization, as well as controls beyond the limits of the real world, including adjustable low-frequency roll-off and head-bump (independent of playback speed).

DE 555 de-esser plug-in Channel G is a channel strip plug-in that provides the sound of a classic large-format console. It consists of four plug-ins: G Dynamics (a console-style dynamics section with an Expander/Gate, Compressor/Limiter and a flexible filter section), G Equalizer (a five-band console style EQ with a flexible filter section), G Console (a combination of the G Dynamics and G Equalizer configurations) and G Surround Compressor (a multichannel Compressor/ Limiter configured to work in surround situations).

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Chrome Tone is a virtual guitar rig that combines a collection of custom guitar amps, boutique outboard gear and pedal effects. It includes five plug-ins: Amp (guitar amp modeling), Wah (multimode filters configured as traditional "wah" effects), Chorus (frequency-modulation effects), Trem (volume-modulation effects), and Stack (a combination of Amp, Wah, Chorus, and Trem effects, plus tape delay).

CompressorBank is a compressor plug-in that emulates the sound of both vintage and modern compressors. It includes four plug-ins: CB1 is a basic compression plug-in, CB2 provides compression with pre-filtering, CB3 includes compression with pre-filtering and static/ dynamic EQ, and CB4 provides emulations of six of the world's most popular compressors including Opto-C (Teletronix LA-2A Compression Mode), Opto-L (Teletronix LA-2A Limiting Mode), S-State (UREI 1176), Tube (Fairchild 670), Tube 2 (Manley Variable-Mu), British (Neve 33609) and Over E-Z (dbx 165).

DE555 is a de-esser plug-in that provides accurate, flexible and transparent de-essing. Through the use of intelligent signal analysis, successful de-essing is possible at any signal level without using a manual input threshold.

FilterBank is a high-end equalizer capable of emulating practically any EQ. It includes 10 plug-ins: E2, E4 and E6 are parametric, high- and low-shelving EQ, high- and low-pass filters, in 2-, 4-, and 6-band configurations. P2, P4 and P6 are parametric EQ with variable Q modes in 2-, 4-, and 6-band configurations. F1, F2, and F3 are steep high- and low-pass filtering with resonant Q control. And B1 provides extreme notch filtering.

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FutzBox is a distortion and noise generator plug-in for creating low-fidelity versions of audio signals. At first glance, it appears to be a distortion plug-in on steroids, but a closer look reveals why it is easily finding itself at home in everything from sound design and remixing to music creation and post production. The plug-in is based around McDSP's SIMs (Synthetic Impulse Models) optimized processing format. Unlike impulse responses, which have significant internal latency, SIMs have none, so they can be adjusted in real time. The plug-in allows the user to select from over 150 simulations of the modeled objects (with corresponding photos). The list includes headphones, walkie-talkies, 8-bit game machines, telephones, transistor radios, megaphones, and tons more. In addition to the SIM library, FutzBox includes filtering and EQ, distortion, a noise generator, and gating.

MC2000 is a multi-band compressor plug-in designed to emulate the sounds of vintage and modern compressors. It includes three plug-ins: MC2 (2-band compression), MC3 (3-band compression), and MC4 (4-band compression). The MC2000 gives the user complete control of multi-band dynamic compression. In addition to output, threshold, compression (ratio), attack, and release, it includes non-standard Knee and BITE controls.

ML4000 is a high-resolution limiter and multi-band dynamics processor. It includes the ML1 mastering limiter and the ML4, which is a multi-band Gate, Expander, and Compressor fed into the ML1. The ML1 uses a flexible brick wall look-ahead design, combined with multiple stages of limiting for improved peak detection. The ML4 includes a 4-band Gate, Expander, and Compressor fed into the same limiter algorithm found in the ML1. Each band's linked together.

NF575 Noise Filter is a high-resolution filter set designed to remove a wide variety of noise types from audio. It provides HP and LP filtering and five bands of notch filtering with linkable frequency control. Selectable slopes of 6, 12, 18, 24, 30 and 36 dB/oct and frequency control range covering the entire audible spectrum make the plug-in extremely flexible.

Revolver is a high-powered convolution reverb that provides total impulse response control, dedicated and routable EQ, two sync-able delay lines, a reverb decay crossover network, and specialized stereo imaging. It incorporates a diverse collection of impulse responses (IRs) from all over the world, including hundreds of sounds ranging from typical to classic acoustic spaces. It includes everything from the wonderful sound of several halls, plates, and churches to a locker room, the inside of a vacuum cleaner tube and even the McDSP office lobby. Additional acoustic spaces and outboard gear can easily be modeled with the Revolver impulse response tools.

Synthesizer One is a soft-synth with a fat analog sound and endless programmability via its simple interface. It combines wave table and analog oscillators, a completely modular design, flexible filtering, and a dedicated effects section to produce inspiring leads, fat basses, and evolving synthetic textures. The Synthesizer One wavetable editor allows users to create unique waveforms for oscillators and LFOs. Waveforms may be drawn, generated from a suite of tools or imported from an audio track.

In Use

Second Opinion Do It with One Box: McDSP FutzBox
by Alex Oana

It's that moment in the song for the telephone voice. It's the camera perspective of the dialogue coming out of the intercom. Instead of hooking up filters, distortion, EQ, and gating to simulate speakers and electronics, do it with one box: the McDSP FutzBox.

I've chatted with McDSP chief rocket scientist Colin McDowell at tradeshows, and I've found that he thinks on a different level than most of us. McDowell said, "Futz you!" to typical convolution, instead creating SIMS (Synthetic Impulse Models), a format claimed to be more flexible and DSP-lite. FutzBox SIMs include cellphones, radios, TVs, walkie-talkies, speakers, headphones, and electronic toys. I often found inspiring presets then tweaked the filters, distortion, lo-fi, noise generator, and gating to suit.

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"Dial 9 to Get Out" by the Minneapolis hip-hop outfit, the Spectaculars, provided a perfect specimen to illustrate FutzBox's phone SIMs. I placed each instance of the vocal line, "XO XO," a lyric reference to texting, on a dedicated FutzBox track and called up a cell phone preset. The low bit rate, distortion, and narrow bandwidth smacked of cell phone, but I had to turn off the distortion to retain intelligibility. As a result, insertion of a limiter was required. FutzBox should have a limiter built into its output stage, but it does include a convenient wet/dry mix control. Futz-a-doodle-do.

I gave the guitar solo a unique texture by flying it on to the FutzBox track. Wow. Next, I simulated an answering machine. FutzBox allows one to audition the SIMs only, with no added filters, distortion, or noise. "Business Speaker Phone" followed by an L1 nailed the sound. I certainly hope McDSP continues to add more cool SIMS to its library.

One of the most powerful controls made possible exclusively by the SIM approach as opposed to if impulse response samples were used is the "Tune" control. In the case of the "metal washtub" SIM, for example, one can change the resonant frequency of the tub. I used the "Tune" control to adjust the business phone's resonant peak to work more favorably with the tone of the singer.

The ability to alter the tone of a track to make something distinct is a quality I prize in a plug-in. FutzBox is a shortcut to real-world electronic and object effect simulations. So, go Futz yourself. I love the design philosophy of McDSP. Instead of spending their time trying to create a digital model and a visual representation of an analog piece of equipment, the programmers at McDSP simulate the sound of analog processors by analyzing their output and writing algorithms to mimic what they're hearing, rather than trying to create a digital model of the unit's analog components. And I must say, they do this quite well. Additionally, in contrast to the industry norm, McDSP never charges customers for plug-in upgrades. It's always nice to use a product whose manufacturer thinks of its customers first.

The Emerald Pack III installation was quick and easy, and I found the bundle to be diverse, complete, and very usable. Over the last several months, I've been able to use every one of these plug-ins in the real world, not just in my review testing, and they never cease to provide excellent results.

I've found that Analog Channel works wonders on poorly recorded tracks or tracks that have been tracked through lowquality converters. It also excels on drums, percussion, or any sound source that naturally has sharp transients. I love being able to select from several playback head types, tape formulations, and even control the tape saturation recovery time. The plug-in includes a library of analog mixing system emulations and real-time display of saturation curves and calibrations.

I was already a longtime fan of Filter Bank and Compressor Bank before I used Channel G, and they were initially my go-to plug-ins for EQ and compression. Now I find that I'm reaching more for Channel G; I love being able to do so much within a single plug-in.

I have yet to encounter a guitar processing plug-in that can shake my addiction to real pedals and real amps, but Chrome Tone has come as close as any. Chrome Tone provides ultra-flexible distortion, compressor, and sustain circuits, gating, 3-band EQ, a preamp simulator, several guitar cabinet models, and amazingly convincing spring reverb and tape delay. When I record a guitarist with a limited guitar rig, I'll record a direct guitar signal with no processing in addition to miking his amp so if the amp sound can't hack it in the mix, I can save the part with Chrome Tone. It provides a surplus of believable amp sounds, from sparkling clean to deathly distorted.

The CompressorBank and FilterBank plugs are simply wonderful, and I use them constantly. Both plug-ins have excellent visual representation of what is being done to the signal, and the controls allow extremely quick and accurate adjustments. They are both very flexible, and I honestly haven't found a sound source they don't complement well.

Since its release a few months ago, the DE555 has become my favorite de-esser plug-in. The EQ and compression graphs make it easy to visualize the process and the included presets, along with the realtime displays of de-essing amounts and key filter response, enable quick and easy setup.

As far as unique plug-ins go, the FutzBox is absolutely the coolest thing ever. Its creative potential is unlimited. I've used it to turn massive drum kits into beat boxes, a beautiful acoustic guitar into a mid-20th century AM radio performance a 9-foot Steinway into a trashy tack piano and a pop vocal into a voice emitting from a kid's toy. It's a blast to use, and it finds its way into almost every one of my mixes these days.

I love the flexibility of the MC2000. Being able to create a multi-band compressor with each band modeling a different vintage compressor is amazing. I've found the ML4000 perfect for putting the final touch on my mixes. The unique Knee and Mode controls allow the ML1 to handle any kind of material with a variety of responses, ranging from transparent to aggressive. It flawlessly replaces the Waves L1 and L2, which I used for years before switching to the ML4000.

The NF575 works great for solving noise problems. It makes removing rumble, hiss, 60-cycle hum, and other audio problems quick and easy with minimal effect on the program material. The notch filters can be set to an extremely sharp Q, and the filters can be linked together and automatically set to harmonic intervals of each other, so upper partials of harmonic noise can be removed along with the fundamental.

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Revolver is an excellentsounding and easy-to-use convolution reverb. All of the parameter adjustments are heard immediately, and the outputs are not muted during any control updates. The user does not need to wait while the reverb is re-rendered. The only negative is that it doesn't support sample rates over 48 kHz, so it can't be used in a high-resolution session. [According to McDSP, 88.2 kHz and 96 kHz sample rate support for Revolver is coming within the next three months. — Ed.]

Synthesizer One has a high degree of flexibility and programmability, and can mimic many vintage analog synths. It has tons of presets that are logically stored in nine different categories, including Atmospheres, Basses, Brass, Comps, Leads, Pads, Sequences, Drums, and FX. While I'm not a keyboard player, I find that Synthesizer One gets used on a regular basis.


The McDSP TDM Emerald Pack is a comprehensive collection of very usable and wonderful-sounding plug-ins offered at a reasonable price. It includes great-sounding reverb, a huge variety of EQ and compression, guitar-amp and effects simulations, de-essing, noise filtering, a synthesizer, and analog tape and console simulations. I don't think there is another bundle available from any manufacturer that can compete with the "bang for the buck" value that McDSP offers in the Emerald Pack.

Russ Long, a Nashville-based producer/engineer, owns the Carport recording studio. He is a regular contributor to Pro Audio Review.