Developing the EC-300, NR800, and 6034 with McDSP’s Colin McDowell

By in Live Sound, Music Creation

McDSP plug-ins have long been on the short list of studio and live sound engineers for their powerful sound processing capabilities (read my interview with founder Colin McDowell for more about the company’s history and design philosophy). I recently spoke with Colin to learn more about three of McDSP’s latest creations that have just been qualified for use on VENUE | S6L systems: the EC-300 Echo Collection, the NR800 Noise Reduction Processor, and the 6034 Ultimate Multi-band. These AAX DSP plug-ins are now also available in McDSP’s new “Live Pack II” Bundle.

Colin McDowell

DH: You have created so many dynamics and EQ plug-ins—how did the EC-300 Echo Collection plug-in come about?

CM: Being the gear-collecting crazy people we are, we always had an eye towards doing lots of kinds of products and delays were on the list. The EC-300 originally was going to be one delay. Then maybe a couple of delays. Then we were like, “Gosh, it could be like magnetic, digital, analog, bucket brigade-style delays,” and then underneath those categories there were several other characteristics you could pull out. A lot of outboard gear is, I won’t say esoteric, but there are definitely a lot of unique and cool features that we could pull into the EC-300. And I think it came out pretty good.

We definitely had some delays as starting points.  I’ll have to say the other engineer did the majority of the “which ones are we going to model” work. He would round things up and collect information, characteristics, get some measurements going. And I was sort of, “Make sure it has one of these, or that it has another kind of feature.” If there is a list of classic delays out there—they’re probably in the EC-300.

EC-300 Echo Collection

DH: I know that with a lot of your plug-ins you’ll start with a piece of analog to emulate the core sound or even the basic parameters, but then expand the functionality given the possibilities of digital. How does that approach come into play with something like the EC-300?

CM: Let’s start with the magnetic time delays. They’re tape-based. The tape goes around some kind of spool and eventually comes out the other end. One of the frustrating things about magnetic delays is there’s too much high-end loss or too much fidelity loss in the signal. So we could model that. We could play with it and go, “Okay, this is too much. This is not enough.  Oh, this is just right.” It was like making your own porridge. You could find the tones or the type of problems that the analog box would have, like fidelity loss and signal being played back to the tape. You could manipulate it in your digital model so that it still sounded good, but wasn’t like off the deep end sounding like a garage sale item.

The same thing with the bucket brigade delays where you’re actually not changing the delay length. You’re changing how fast you get to the bucket brigade and how fast you pull them out that creates the delay effect. But then we could play with some of that fidelity loss that you get with that product, but no so much that it sounds like crap. We can play with it or find some cool sweet spots. That was a lot of fun.

And with the digital one, we have all this modeling bandwidth that we’re not using so why don’t we go ahead and stick in a bunch of the Futzbox [distortion and noise-generation plug-in], if you wanted to put the delay line through a model of a fax machine or a walkie talkie or old-style telephone or something.

NR800 Noise Reduction Processor

DH: You’ve also released the NR800 Noise Reduction Processor. What is the background of this plug-in?

CM: Well most people have hobbies, like fly fishing or golf. On my hobby list, noise reduction is in the top five. I’ve always been kind of fascinated with that, and I just got around to making the noise reduction plug-in. As you know, there are a lot of really good noise reduction plug-ins already. I think iZotope is pretty much the king of it these days, but there’s always still room for other types of tools like the NR800.

I could be in a live sound situation and have drum leakage that’s just driving me crazy. If only I had something where I could just tell it, “Here’s the audio I want to keep,” and it would just know to suppress everything else. That’s what the NR800 does. Basically you can sit there and demonstrate to the plug-in, “Here is the audio I want.” You hit play or the singer is singing or the drummer is drumming you just snap it while they’re playing. And then whenever the audio is not near the threshold levels based on what you snapped in—when they stop or when they’re pausing between what they’re hitting—the NR800 kicks in and takes care of it. It doesn’t have any latency except for the small amount of buffer you need for the HDX card. We’re talking like 16 samples. It works great!

I was really excited about making this one, and as we were honing in on this algorithm, I just realized, “This is exactly what you’d want to have for any live sound production!” There’s no way you would want to be doing live sound without it, whether it was a noisy guitar amp or there was a singer walking around the stage picking up monitors in the mic.

6034 Ultimate Multi-band

DH: Finally, you’ve introduced the new 6034 Multi-band. You’ve developed lots of dynamics plug-ins—how does this one fit in?

CM: As you know, we’ve had these Ultimate Channel EQ, Compressor, and Channel Strip plug-ins for a while. The 6050 is the Ultimate Channel Strip, in my completely biased opinion. We have EQs and compressors and other dynamic processors and that’s cool. And that all came from even further back when we were doing the 6030, the Ultimate Compressor, and a few years later the 6020 Ultimate EQ. At some point some customers were like, “These are really cool modules, but do you have them in a multi-band format?” “Oh. Well, no, we don’t. That’s a great idea though. We should do that!”

The 6034 Multi-band leverages what we already have. There is nothing different about the module in the 6034 as it was in like the 6030 or the 6050. It’s just now delivered to you in a multiband format. It’s basically taking all the stuff we did on the compression and dynamics side and putting a crossover network in front of it, which is pretty compelling to a lot of people who like the tones they get out of the compressors individually, but gets them some other sounds in a multiband configuration—it works really well. I think it’s interesting because we had other multi-band products like the MC2000, which is from 2000. That’s a pretty flexible multi-band compressor. But if you’re doing multi-band compression and not sure this is the sound you want, instead of trying to figure out what kind of special attack and release times you want, just change the module out and see what happens. I think that sort of compels people to working on something because they have a bunch of other options.

The crossovers on the 6034 are cool too. We did it a different way than we’ve done in the past— you actually have different types of slopes, like a 6, 12 or 24 dB per octave. You have really steep slopes, which is kind of like how people I think think of a multiband product, to really carve the line between the low band and not so low band and the highs.   But you can actually take those crossover slopes and you can make them 6 dB per octave. That’s almost like four parallel compressors, because 6 dB per octave is a pretty gentle slope. You still can use it like a multi-band compressor, but now plenty of the signal from adjacent bands is leaking into the other bands. In some ways when people say that they love parallel compression, I think what they’re thinking of is multi-band compression, but with a really gentle crossover slope. There are presets that demonstrate that, where it has the super old school 6 dB per octave, and it’s like barely a crossover, but then you have four compressors on it. A user gets one compressor on the low, another is on the mids, and another is on the high, but they’re all kind of interacting because they’re all really overlapping a lot. Kind of a cool sound. Before the 6034, we didn’t have a multi-band product that would let the user, I don’t want to say make a mistake, but really let the adjacent bands just kind of bleed into each other and get a different kind of sound that way.

McDSP Live Pack II bundle for Avid VENUE | S6L

The included AAX DSP plug-ins

DH: Generally speaking, you have a lot of plug-ins that are collections. You could obviously break these out and sell them individually—why do you offer so many collection plug-ins with lots of plug-ins in one?

CM: I think you start going down a path and go, “Oh, that’s a good sound. Oh, that’s a good sound. Oh, that’s a cool way to do that.” And by the time you get done, you realize that you have a lot there. It’s kind of a hoarder mentality. I think I get some of the same vibe when we’re working on a product, because I realize there are so many good ideas we have along the way that I don’t want to give up anything. We don’t keep all of them, but we definitely take the best ones and I think that these should all be available in the same product, because our heads are in this type of algorithm development right then. We put it all together in one package because it’s really compelling for the user—and it’s just kind of fun to do!

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Sr. Marketing Manager for Avid Live Sound Systems and Music Notation. I previously worked at Euphonix and E-MU Systems before joining Avid.