Skip to content


Plugin purchase #3

The third choice is a real swiss army knife. It’s an EQ and a dynamic EQ with a very clever UI. I’m talking about the McDSP AE400 Active EQ.

Active EQ

If you need a great EQ on steroids, I recommend to take a serious look at this beast. It’s low-latency, Native and AAX DSP and has some really helpful features which I love.

It has a permanent place on my buses and on my masters, even on certain instruments. The fact that it’s an active EQ if you want is more than helpful. Basically it means it only affects the predetermined band if the signal passes the threshold (going above or falling below… more on this later). This is the best thing we can ask for. Only affect the for example the low-end, when needed, but don’t touch it until the signal rise above the threshold.

One of my favourite thing is to clear up things on master buses. With today’s film scores we usually have a huge orchestra with very dense orchestration plus additional midi stuff and electronic things to make things even more interesting. In the huge forte events, the low-mids can terribly build-up and we might have another problem in the mid-high area where things can get that too piercing, hurting sound. In this example, if you start to EQ the individual tracks, you might loose your basic sonic picture. If you start to EQ the buses, you loose frequencies that you actually need, but they are too much only at the loudest parts. This is a situation where the ActiveEQ is here to help. Only attenuate the problem areas when the huge forte passes happening, but leaving the whole spectrum alone in any other case. Meaning you still have your fat low-mids all the time except when it’s too much.

Let’s see a few gems:

key listen

ae400 key listen

You can use the built-in keys or key the Active EQ from an external source. While you use the built-in band per band key, you can listen to them in isolation makes it extremely easy to spot problem areas or recognise weak spots that need some more care. As the bands are fully overlapping, you can sweep through the spectrum in order to find the territory you want to treat.

peak indicator

ae400 peak indicator

Each band has its own peak indicator which makes the threshold setting process incredibly fast. No guessing, just keep the transport playing and you’ll see exactly where each band is peaking. I’ve found this to be very helpful to find the ballpark in seconds, then tweak from there.

band linking

ae400 band linking

There are times when I have the right settings, but want to make some further adjustments on more than one band at once. No problem here as I can quickly link the necessary bands together and from that point on, I’ll have linked interaction.

ratio control 

ae400 ratio

It’s a pretty unique feature, most dynamic EQ doesn’t have this feature. At first I thought maybe it’s not that of a big deal, but after a short test it showed its value. Cleverly using the ratio control allows you to do quite big adjustments with incredible transparency. I tried some other Dynamic EQs and believe me, this ratio feature is really helpful

Active plot

ae400 active plot

Once everything is set up, you can see what’s happening on the active plot, it’s a very nice representation of what’s going on. If I would ask one thing, that would be resizable plugin window to see the action in big.

So, this is the third one, McDSP’s dedication to the AAX DSP platform and the quality of their plugins bought a permanent place here on most of the master buses and solo instruments.

Comments closed

Plugin purchase #1

At least once a year me and my colleagues get together for a brain storming session to discuss which are the best plugins of the year. Which, in our case means, what plugins we want to purchase for our workstations.

We can’t buy everything, but we can buy the necessary things, which includes new developments, desert island plugins, even some vintage emulations if that’s what will make our mixes really better. So with all the ideas, the long testing periods, the discussions we select our favourites. That’s a pretty big list at the start, then we try to pick priorities. The most popular goes up in the list and at the end we have what I call the would-be-cool to have plugins.

This year’s highlights


HEAT stands for Harmonically Enhanced Algorithm Technology. Developed by Avid and the legendary Dave Hill, who I think really needs no introduction.

I’ve been looking for the holy grail of analogue emulation for a long time, and HEAT was always on my radar, but haven’t tested it thoroughly before. Tried many other from different companies, but all failed at some point. Some sounded very good, but hindered my workflow, some maps on surfaces poorly like the Slate plugins. I even reached out to some developers if they are interested to fix the obvious shortcomings, but even in 2016 it seems that many plugin company still only interested in selling their thing, but not make it work properly.

So after the dead-end streets I found HEAT again. If you’re not really familiar with it, here’s a video that explains it much more interestingly than I ever could:

No-one can argue that the integration within Pro Tools is absolutely spectacular. And it works great with control surfaces. Now about the sound. Now I assume you know that it is capable of emulating the tape-like sound and the tube-like sound, depending on the setting. But instead of trying to emulate one or two iconic equipment, it promises to really emulate the analogue process itself. Non-linearity, softening the transients like tape and almost organically reacting to the input signal.

For the causal viewer it may seem that we would need more controls and parameters to adjust this analogue-like process, but believe me, the two main knobs are just what we need. One direction gives you more tape-like sound, the more you turn the knob counter-clockwise the more you hear the effect, and if you go to the clockwise direction, you’ll get a rich tube-like sound. Besides this, you have a simple tone control, so you can gain back the high loss caused by the tape algorithm for example. Other than these, there’s a global bypass, channel by channel bypass and pre-post buttons which define if the process takes place pre-plugins or post.


To be honest I was, and still surprised that this genius algorithm is actually working on insanely different materials. Tried it on jazz, symphonic, score music, rock, you name it, and it really works. The simple two knob control method really allows you to get the sound you want literally in seconds.

I’m a big believer of subtle small things that can really take the mix to the next level. HEAT can does that.

Comments closed

M/S matrix in AAX DSP

Or as I like to call it, mission impossible: the missing link. It is not a overly complicated process, with some effort anyone can do it in Pro Tools with some clever routing and stock plugins. However, when you want to use in a huge session, or even worse, in a broadcast situation, it’s absolutely inconvenient.


Brainworx has a perfect plugin for this: BX control v2, which is a bit more than an M/S matrix but would be perfect for that also. That means you are not forced to use only the plugins that has M/S option, but rather you can decide what processors you’d like to use for the Mid and for the Side. All good, except this little tools is not AAX DSP yet. Brainworx has a plan to update it to AAX DSP but no definite time table exist.

ms matrix

So, here we are, with a simple process, without the possibility to use it with a DSP system. I think Avid could make such a thing, but the reason why I think Brainworx should do it, because they have a growing number of AAX DSP plugins, so much as they even offer a full AAX DSP bundle.

If you know something I missed, please tell me. Is there any AAX DSP M/S matrix available?


The perils of testing

I knew this was coming. As soon as I received the emails about some new plugins, a few grabbed my attention and I knew I had to test them. As usual though I’m really snowed under at the moment so I thought I’m not in danger. However, jumping from one final mix to another, spiced up with many live broadcasts gave me the possibility to test some new, or new for me plugins.

Plugin Alliance as the prime suspect

I already own and use some their plugins but as an ongoing mission to find my ultimate bus compressor I was intrigued by their Vertigo VSC-2 for some time. Always tried to find different reasons not to try it like it’s expensive, I don’t need another compressor, I’m sure it’s fine but nothing spectacular, etc… And then the day has come. I had a few projects where I was in need of a truly great bus compressor so I thought a little test cannot hurt. As usual, they give a generous 14 day trial which is ample time to really thoroughly test it. The night before my test run started I read a bit about it, watched a few videos online then had a good night sleep.

The next morning I authorised my demo license and started to experiment with it. To be honest within a few minutes I knew I’m in trouble.

It handled the bus duties exceptionally well, without the need to tweak the parameters forever. After some more electronic-rock based stuff I thought it’s time to make it sweat. Opened some really delicate symphonic mix which usually easily make a compressor show it’s weaknesses, instantiated the Vertigo right at the end of the chain and started to tweak a little… and frankly I was floored almost immediately. I could go from really subtle to more aggressive without ruining anything in the mix. The most amazing thing was how subtly it could enhance inner details without exhibiting any damage on the mix itself. The real glue we always looking for, or the real detail enhancer, or the solid guard that gently keep things in shape. It can really be any of these depending on the settings. Further tweaking, obviously, you can achieve extreme result if that’s what you want. It’s splendid how this one plugin can be your subtle bus compressor and one audio-bus down the line another instant can be the really coloured pumping processor.

Vertigo compressor

After I really tried everything on some test mixes, I decided to be brave and use it during a live symphonic-pop show mix to see how fast and effortless to achieve the results I’m after. This is a serious point for me.

If you can make it sound stellar, but it’d need deep, long adjustments, then it’s not a good choice for a broadcast situation. But the Vertigo passed this test too. It really simply just works, on every type of material.

Thanks to the pre-BlackFridays at Plugin Alliance I got the VSC-2 with huge discount. My only problem is, I fell in love with the other Vertigo processor, the VSM-3. And frankly I’m not dare to try their new Neve channelstrip yet…

Besides my new favourites, I’d like to emphasise that I think Plugin Alliance is one of the most future proof, wise investment in the plugin world. Not only they really strive to innovate and come up with new things that sounds fabulous while eating very little CPU power, they’re committed to every serious platform, including AAX DSP, and also never forget the guys with control surfaces. I think this becomes more and more important in the future.

Comments closed

Need just a bit more DSP plugins

I confess I became a fan of DSP plugins, obviously in my case it means AAX DSP. Anyone who try to prove that there’s not enough of them is surely not surfing on the web, or try to deliberately avoid these plugins. Maybe it was a hard start, but now we have plenty of AAX DSP plugins, for many tasks we can even choose from different types and/or manufacturers.

And still, here and now I would like to ask more companies to consider coding their plugins to AAX DSP. I know there’s a plethora of different platforms to code to, but as even smaller companies started to do it, I see no reason why bigger or more popular ones don’t provide us users DSP versions of their plugins.

Maybe it’s not true, but in my opinion, the guys who’s invested into huge rigs are more willing to pay for the plugins than one man shops. As I see and experience it, one man shops only buy very few plugins, while bigger post houses, music studios buy more bundles with multiple licenses. Of course this is broad generalisation, but at least at this part of the industry, it’s true. So I think we might deserve a bit more attention.

And before you ask why I would like to have more DSP based plugins, well, this is why: my last mix almost ate a complete HDX2 hardware. I know native is powerful, but believe me, I tried, this mix would choke a pretty powerful computer, while it was going smooth with the DSP behind it.


Plugin Alliance is good example. They have amazing plugins, some ported to DSP, some still only available in Native formats. As far as I know they’re planning to port all of their plugins for all platforms, but it takes time. Still would like to have some of their stuff in DSP format badly…

The other example, which is not so great in this regard is Fabfilter. I love their plugins, my favourite eq is their ProQ2, but I also in love with their Deesser. They make not only fabulous sounding tools, but their codes must be fine, because I hardly get any errors while I heavily use their tools during big mixing projects. In my opinion, they should definitely code their plugins to AAX DSP as soon as possible. They are very, I mean very popular not only in the music side of the industry, but also in the post side. I think they’d have an even bigger success if they would port their plugins to the format what holds the biggest share in this industry.

I know my opinion won’t change their minds, but I hope that somehow our prayer reach them and they consider a more active DSP porting process, or in other cases, they consider starting to code for AAX DSP.

Comments closed