It’s no secret I’m a big McDSP fan. With that in mind it’s easy to understand that I got pretty worked up when I first heard of the Retro Pack. McDSP is being retro without emulating anything. Let’s see if it’s worth having.
4030 Retro Compressor
In any new retro pack, a compressor is a given. This particular one has all the regular knobs (threshold, ratio, attack, release, gain, SC) plus a mix knob. Fortunately it also has some features under the hood, namely being ‘pushable’, meaning McDSP included some sort of soft limiter to give a different kind of distortion when it’s hitting the red. Personally I’m a big fan of this in plug-ins, and find it far too uncommon. It’s a workflow thing, and if you’re too used to non-McDSP plugins you might be surprised to find that you actually like your plugin to clip sometimes.
It’s of course tremendously interesting to compare the Retro 4030 compressor to Channel G. After all, McDSP decided, for some reason, to let Emerald Pack no longer be the ‘all bundle’ and sell the Retro Pack separately. Weird move in some regards, regardless, that’s the way it is.
Interestingly, the two can be tweaked to sound very similar, but Channel G is more advanced, especially with the superb knee control which is McDSPs ways to emulate other compressors such as API, SSL and Neve.
But don’t let this lead you to believe that the Retro compressor is a repackaged deal, while they can sound fairly alike, they are very different compressors that react differently. I was surrised to see that for a total squash effect, like something for a typical drum parallel compression, I actually preferred Channel G in my initial testings. I was almost certain I would pick the Retro compressor for this particular task. The lack of a mix knob on Channel G however makes the Retro compressor a better candidate workflow-wise, as you won’t even have to use two busses, but just set a crush setting then tweak it with the mix.
When it came to the ‘just adding some nice punch’-test my opinion changed. The Retro instantly sounded more pleasing to me. A little fatter maybe, Even after playing with the knee control on Channel G I still preferred the Retro Compressor.
Channel G comparisons aside, what are the qualities of this compressor? I like it on bass, a lot. “Got’s mojo” (damn, that word is worn out!) as some jazz cats I’ve met would say. The mix knob is a great addition. I really like mix knobs on compressors because of the fact that I don’t really like compressors or compression! This way I can better control it. But there’s great competition in the compressor field, and this particular one is currently hard in battle with Softubes FET Compressor. There are many out there, so be sure to try more than one.
4020 Retro EQ
The Retro EQ is a four bander with additional HPF and LPF filters. The HF and the LF (not the HPF and the LPF) are shelving, the two mid bands are of course not. There are settings for gain and frequency on all bands but no Q. Like the compressor, the Retro EQ is ‘pushable’. Oh, and I’ll say it right away, this is a musical EQ.
Like with the compressor, I’m quite fast comparing the Retro EQ to Channel G. I play around with a drum loop, boosting the bass a little, boosting the mids, the highs. Cutting this and that to see how they both react. I get the feeling Channel G is a little brighter and more ‘hi-fi’ the entire time but I actually wave the notion away, thinking I’m just not setting the Q like it is on the Retro EQ.
At one point I try to set the best EQ curve I can come up with for the loop with the Retro EQ and then try to duplicate it with Channel G. It works fairly well, strengthening my initial skepticism that they aren’t all that different. It doesn’t take long until this skepticism is challenged however, and it’s when I play around with the mids. There’s something in the Retro EQ that I can’t duplicate with Channel G. It’s always hard to describe these things, but again Channel G sounds a little brighter. I start thinking maybe McDSP is fooling us by writing frequency numbers that aren’t actually true so I start sweeping with Channel G. Nope, can’t find it. There’s something with a little hair there. Almost a little punchy. Saturation? Dunno. I like it.
So let’s put this newbie to the test! The filters get the toughest treatment ever as I compare them to Flux Epure, my favorite cutting EQ. Honestly, I can’t hear much different, but for some reason Epure seem slightly more pleasant. How to best put the top to the test? By going one on one, or one on three actually, with the Abbey Road Brilliance plug-ins. These plug-ins are my favorites for simply adding a little ‘brilliance’.
Before I even get to testing the highs, I can’t help to test the mids, the Abbey’s are good for that too. I pick the RS127 box and start cranking it at 3-5. Slightly surprised I hear how harsh the Abbey sounds in comparison. Even with the McDSP at +15 dB, and the Abbey at +10, it still sounds sharper and nastier. A little disappointed by one of my favorite EQ’s, I turn to the rack version instead. Here the Abbey doesn’t disappoint. Both the McDSP and the Abbey are good. The Rack Abbey actually sounds closer to the McDSP compared to the Box. Comparing them at the lower frequency as well (Abbey at 2-7) I’m actually struck by that they sound fairly close to each other at times.
Mids-schmids, what about the brilliance? Compared to the Abbey Rack at 10K I think this is the first time I feel the Retro EQ is harsh (everything is relative friends). I put it against the RS135 as well, which is stuck at 8K. There’s no doubt, the Abbey’s are still king of brilliance. But make no mistake, the Retro EQ’s top is very useable as well.
What if we had another Abbey to put it against? Luckily we have. The TG12414 is another Abbey Road EQ. Though not made by the same persons as the other Abbey plug-ins. I start checking the 4K area on the Retro EQ, again I find the extremely pleasing sound I found in the 1-2K area. The Retro EQ simply rules for mids.
So what’s the verdict? I’ve compared the Retro EQ to all my favorite EQs. The filters are nice, even if Flux still reign supreme, the top is good, but Abbey Road Brilliance Pack still got it. But those mids! Damn I love’em.
4040 Retro Limiter
I’ll keep the review of the limiter brief. Why? Because I honestly don’t think there’s much to say about it. It only has two knobs! ‘Ceiling’ and ‘gain’. So? What more do you need? As you might know, I’m a big fan of McDSPs other limiter, the ML4000, and I though it was simple enough, but it looks high-tech compared to the Retro limiter!
McDSP describes the Retro limiter as with “unique original algorithms with transparent yet vintage sound”. I don’t know about that. What I do know (or think) is that it has a sound. It can be ‘pushed’ like it’s Retro siblings, resulting in audible distortion. If you like this or not is of course up to you. In my opinion it’s better suited for bus work than than mastering fader work (even though I’ve actually used it there on one song).
When I first got the Retro Pack, the limiter was my favorite, but the longer I’ve had the bundle the less it gets used. It might make the cut and stay in my plug-in folder, but it’s far from certain. I still think the ML4000 in the ML1 form is the limiter, but it’s a rather different beast.
Retro Pack or Channel G?
You might think that there’s too much Channel G comparisons in this review, but I think it’s worth doing. McDSP makes awesome products in my opinion and you owe it to yourself and your songs to try them out. So which should you go for? Channel G or Retro Pack?
The boring conclusion of this comparison is that they’re very different tools. If I may offer a rather generalized opinion, I would say Channel G is ‘clean’, ‘hi-fi’ and ‘ultra-flexible’. It’s perhaps better compared to the Sonnox stuff. Retro Pack is ‘midrangey’, ‘very colored’, ‘fairly limited but very musical’. Which you most desire is completely up to you to decide.
McDSP like to say how well their plugins, and I’m thinking of Channel G now, maps to control surfaces. This might be the case if you’re running a Venue system or an ICON, but for mere mortals that don’t work in a high-end studio most of the time, the Retro Pack will map much better.
I also find there’s a workflow difference between the two. While you can push Channel G, I don’t find it at all as pleasing, but while EQ’ing with the Retro EQ I’ve found myself cranking way more dB’s than any old dog would let me if they’d see me, even hitting the red.
So do you need the pack? And do you need it if you have Channel G? Well, I don’t see why you would need anymore EQ’s and compressors at all if you have Channel G, it’s an incredibly flexible tool. If you’re one of those guys who just got to have different flavors, and you don’t consider Channel G’s flexible settings as different flavors, then you might want to check it out, but there are other fishes in the pond as well. If you don’t have Channel G, there are still other fishes in the pond, but if you’re looking for color you must at least try Retro Pack.
Retro EQ will do well in my soon posted EQ kill-off, it simply hits the spot I want it to. The limiter and the compressor will have stiffer competition in their respective shootouts.
Retro Pack is Channel G’s nasty cousin. When Channel G carves out nice rock frequencies and make them pop with the compressor, Retro Pack carves down-home dirty blues and gives them more hair than ZZ Top. The limiter is as simple as it gets (but I prefer another McDSP limiter), the compressor is good for fatness and punch, and the EQ… It’s mids are completely and utterly gorgeous. If you’re looking for flavor, you should check them out. Clean choir boys need not apply. Retro Pack strives to be retro without emulating any specific gear. A great decision by McDSP. Now can we have Retro delay, chorus, flanger and phaser please?