Operating system: Minimum OS Windows XP, Mac OS X 10.4; requires Pro Tools 7.x or higher
McDSP takes a different approach from some companies, preferring to create original designs rather than model specific pieces of gear. For example, I love their Chrome Tone guitar amp, but they don’t claim it sounds like a Marshall or whatever; it just sounds like a really sweet guitar amp on its own merits. This allows McDSP the freedom to bend the rules as needed to make what they consider the right product, and the Retro Pack series is no exception.
The series consists of three processors. The 4030 Retro Compressor control set is straightforward, but with a twist; there’s a mix control to blend compressed and uncompressed sounds, along with a key input. The 4020 Retro EQ has four bands of EQ (high and low shelf, with high mid and low mid parametric stages). These have frequency controls over appropriate ranges and a boost/cut (Gain) control. There’s no bandwidth control for the parametric stages, but the slope changes shape to a more narrow response at higher gains. There are also separate highpass and lowpass filters, and phase flippers for each channel.
Finally, the 4040 Retro Limiter is as simple as it gets, providing a brickwall response with only two controls—Ceiling and Gain (which determines the amount of squashing).
Really, how interesting can these boring types of processors be? Well, pretty interesting, actually. My main impression with all of them is they have a relatively light touch on the signal, even with fairly extreme control settings. For example, I tried clamping down hard with the minimum attack time on drum transients, but they didn’t sound spiky, or throw the gain reduction into a fit. Similarly, you can really push the Limiter hard, but it retains the signal’s integrity very well. And the EQ has a sort of active-meets-passive sound quality, where the sound is detailed, but also has a more organic quality than plug-ins that take a strictly digital approach.
The EQ has another twist because of the adaptive slope. This is the perfect EQ for those in a hurry, because when you want “more” gain, you also get “more” sharpness. My only complaint is I wish they’d raised the highest highpass frequency, and lowered the lowest lowpass frequency—that would make it ideal for sharp, DJ-style cuts (yes, I know that’s not the intended application, but it would sound fantastic in this context). I also find the GUI kinda big, but then again it does look cool.
It also seems that when you push the signal, it stays clean but in addition, acquires some “girth” for lack of a better word. McDSP claims to have some kind of proprietary analog saturation mojo, which I presume is what accounts for this...