McDSP Project Studio Bundle

My first introduction to McDSP plug-ins was back when I was driving a Mix+ rig.
Author:
Publish date:

Fast Facts

Applications
Project studio, studio, live, audio post, broadcast

Key Features
PT|LE plug-in bundle with equalizers, filters, compressors, a virtual synthesizer, a guitar amp modeler, a convolution reverb, a mastering limiter, and an analog tape machine simulator.

Price
$495

Contact
McDSP | 650-318-0005 | www.mcdsp.com

PRODUCT POINTS

Review Setup
Apple 2 GHz Dual Processor G5 w/2 GB RAM
Digidesign ProTools 7.3
Lucid Gen-X-96 Clock
PMC AML-1 Monitors

Plus

  • Plug-ins incorporate the same algorithms as the full-versions
  • CompressorBank LE and FilterBank LE plugs are simply wonderful
  • Affordably priced

Minus

  • Compared to other software synths, Synthesizer One LE plug is a bit limited

The Score
If you only have $500 to spend on plug-ins then this is the best place to spend your money. My first introduction to McDSP plug-ins was back when I was driving a Mix+ rig. With one core card and one farm card, I had extremely limited processing power, yet I discovered that I could actually have a 48-track session with a McDSP EQ and compressor on every channel. In contrast, I was only able to have five or six Sony Oxford EQs and compressors running simultaneously. When I upgraded to Pro Tools|HD a few years ago processing power became less of a concern, but I still found myself gravitating to the McDSP plug-ins because of their fantastic sound and ease of use.

McDSP has traditionally aimed its products (TDM, RTAS and AudioSuite plug-ins) at the pro audio market. With Project Studio, the company has embraced a wider range of users without compromising sonic quality. This has been accomplished by filling Project Studio with LE versions of its plug-ins in RTAS and AudioSuite formats. These plug-ins incorporate the same algorithms as the full-versions, but with slightly limited configurations. The McDSP Project Studio Bundle ($495) is comprised of seven exceptional McDSP plug-ins including Analog Channel LE, Chrome Tone LE, CompressorBank LE, FilterBank LE, ML4000 LE, Revolver LE and Synthesizer One LE. It also includes a pre-programmed McDSP green iLok and a Printed Quick Reference Guide.

Features

The McDSP Project Studio Bundle plug-ins are compatible with both Mac OS 10.4.x and Windows XP. Pro Tools 7.0 or higher is required for TDM, LE and M-Powered systems. The Mac version supports both Intel and PowerPC-based computers, and the Windows XP version requires an Intel Pentium 4 or greater processor. Optionally, the plug-ins can be used with a third party software application that supports the Digidesign RTAS standard.

Analog Channel LE is a tape simulator that offers the Playback Head control from the original McDSP Analog Channel. The plug-in is designed to make tracks sound as if they were recorded on analog tape. The plug-in offers models of common tape machines manufactured by Ampex, MCI, Otari, Studer, Sony and Tascam. The input level is adjustable, allowing control of the saturation effect.

Chrome Tone LE is a guitar-amp and speaker simulator. When a signal is routed into the plug, it passes through the Pre, Noise Gate, Compressor, Distortion, and EQ stages. Each of these stages has a set of parameters. The Output provides a reverb mix control, a cabinet selector pop-up (to choose between eight different cabinet simulators) and the ability to select either close or room mic placements (or a no cabinet/direct setting).

The CompressorBank LE configuration is a bundle in itself, with emulations of eight of the world’s most sought after classic 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). While the plug-in only provides one of the four configurations of the full version of the plug-in, it happens to be the CB4, my go-to configuration when using the full version of the plug-in anyway. Unlike most plug-in emulations of classic gear, CompressorBank models don't copy the look of the originals. Rather, they feature the staple green McDSP graphics. The various models provide a different set of controls that don’t always correspond to those on the original units but still offer similar functionality.

FilterBank LE is the EQ component of Project Studio. It includes the E4, P4 and F1 configurations — three of the 10 configurations contained in the full version. These configurations are made up of powerful variable Q parametric EQ and shelving EQ algorithms that incorporate unique peak, slope and dip controls and resonant peak filters. The E4 configuration (my favorite of the three) offers a high-pass filter, low- and high-shelving filters, and a fully parametric band. The high-pass filter lets you select the center frequency and gives you a choice of two slopes: 6 dB per octave or 12 dB per octave. In addition to frequency and gain controls, the low- and high-shelving filters have peak, slope and dip controls rather than a conventional Q parameter. These three parameters provide precise control over the shape of the shelf. The P4 configuration provides four parametric bands, each with Gain, Frequency and Q controllers. A pop-up switch gives you access to four different Q modes that can be globally selected each time the P4 is used. The plug also provides input and output level controls. The third configuration, the F1, is simply a low-pass filter.

ML4000 LE is a high-resolution limiter designed for music, mastering, post and live sound. The plug-in, which offers the ML1 configuration from the full ML4000 plug-in, has four parameters: Ceiling, Threshold, Knee and Release. The Ceiling establishes the maximum level, the Threshold determines the level that the limiter becomes active, the Knee (continuously variable from 0 to 100) determines if the limiting will be soft or hard, and the Release sets the time it takes the limiter to release after squashing a peak. The Ceiling and Threshold parameters can also be adjusted with handy arrows that move up and down vertically along the meter display.

Revolver LE is a powerful convolution reverb that incorporates a diverse collection of impulse responses (IRs) from all over the world. It includes 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. The plug-in provides control for Reverb Time, Wet and Dry Level, Pre-delay, Attack, Low and High Frequency EQ, plus Input and Output Level. Like all convolution reverbs, Revolver LE can work a processor hard. Settings for low-latency or medium-latency operation (the former uses more CPU) allow the plug-in to be optimized for various situations. In addition, the Tail Cut control lets additional CPU resources to be saved by raising the amplitude threshold at which Revolver LE stops processing a given signal.

Synthesizer One LE is a three-oscillator, two-filter synth that offers the same sound engine as McDSP's Synthesizer One plug-in, but with a stripped-down user interface. Sounds can't be programmed from scratch, but existing sounds can be tweaked for days. The front panel's Main Page includes Volume, Tune, Transpose, Bend Up, Bend Down, Velocity and Voices (up to 12 voices per instance) controls. The Voice edit page provides Detune, Poly Mode (Poly or four different mono mode options), Unison (the number of layered voices for each note) and a Glide control. There are also pages for editing the amplitude and filter envelopes and for controlling the arpeggiator.

In Use

I installed Project Studio on my dual-processor 2 GHz Power Mac G5 and on my 2.33 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro. In both instances the installation process was quick and painless. I find the entire bundle to be very diverse and very usable. Over the last several months I’ve used every one of these plug-ins several times in the real world, not just in my review testing and they never cease to provide excellent results.

Although I don’t use the Analog Channel LE plug very often, one excellent use I’ve found for it is for processing the drum kit. I’ll create a stereo aux track and route all of the drums through it before assigning them to the stereo bus. I’ll place the Analog Channel plug-in across this aux and then adjust to taste. It adds a nice, warm texture to the sound. I've found that it works best to add the Analog Channel before doing a lot of EQ adjustment on the drums because the plug-in has significant influence on EQ and dynamics decisions.

The Chrome Tone LE is quite useful. I’m not a big fan of guitars recorded direct, but it still ends up happening from time to time; in these situations the Chrome Tone plug is perfect. I also record a lot of young bands with lame amps. In these situations I’ll record a direct guitar signal with no processing, so if their amp sound can’t hack it in the mix I can re-amp it or create a sound with AmpFarm, Guitar Rig or Chrome Tone LE. I found Chrome Tone equally adept at creating a usable tone as either of these other plug-ins. It provides a plethora of believable amp sounds from sparkling clean to deathly distorted. The spring reverb is especially nice; I’ve always been a fan of spring reverbs and I find the Chrome Tone emulation to be quite believable.

The CompressorBank LE and FilterBank LE plugs are simply wonderful. These are my favorite two of the bunch 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, frankly, I haven’t found a sound source that they don’t compliment extremely well.

The ML4000 LE is sonically superb and in most instances I found that it flawlessly replaces the Waves L2 plug-in. I was mixing a documentary earlier this year and I ended up with over 30 dialog tracks. My session ended up having over 30 instances of the ML4000.

I don’t use reverb very often, but when I do I find the Revolver LE can easily cover any situation. The only real negative is that with the LE version you can't use outside impulse responses, which is somewhat limiting; the included responses, however, are very good and versatile, so they should handle most situations.

I found Synthesizer One LE to be a bit limited compared to other software synths. The presets are logically stored in nine different categories including Atmospheres, Basses, Brass, Comps, Leads, Pads, Sequences, Drums, and FX. Most of the presets aren’t that usable, but many are very good. I would be surprised to find many keyboardists making extreme use of this plug, but as a studio owner it’s great to have these extra sonic options to offer my clients who often have more limited resources than what’s found in this plug-in. When tweaking sounds this is one plug-in that leaves me wishing I had access to the full version.

Summary

The McDSP Project Studio Bundle is a comprehensive LE bundle that features equalizers, filters, compressors, a virtual synthesizer, guitar amp modeler, convolution reverb, mastering limiter and analog tape machine simulator. The bundle raises the bar of any Pro Tools LE or M-powered rig, allowing tremendous processing power without exhausting system resources. If you only have $500 to spend on plug-ins then this is the best place to spend your money.