McDSP ML8000 by Diogo C
Product: ML8000 Advanced Limiter (Native)
Formats: AAX, Audio Unit, VST, VST3 for OS X 10.7.2+ and Win 7+.
Price: $199 MSRP - $129 intro offer until Sept. 31 2016
DRM: iLok USB (single activation)
Demo: Fully functional for 14 days.
The scope: McDSP takes multi-band limiting to the next level with the ML8000, featuring whopping eight bands to enable thorough control over the limiting process. Built upon the highly successful ML4000, this new plug-in doesn’t only expand the number of bands but it also brings new processing options and brand new tech showcasing Collin McDowell’s latest breakthroughs. The ML8000 is made of two sequential parts and first is an eight-band limiter where each band can cover a certain portion of the spectrum, with adjustable frequency range, pre/post limiter gain controls, threshold, solo/mute buttons. Bands’ pre/post gains and threshold can be linked to one another and a freely-assignable “master” band can control the other linked bands. All bands are controlled by universal release, knee, mode and controls. “Mode” and “Focus” will determine the overall character of the limiter, with six modes from “clean” to “crush” and three flavours of “Focus” for different input signal tracking and processing. Bands #1 and #8 will also control optional HPF/LPF filters. Following the multiband section there’s a wideband limiter with threshold, knee, release, ceiling and the same six operating mode from the multiband section. The interface is clean and presents level and gain reduction meters on each band along with a master level section to the right part with input/output/gain reduction metering. Bands can freely dragged through the frequency graph or controlled through the “mini-mixer” at the bottom.
Sound quality: The ML8000 is a excellent sounding plug-in in all areas, both multi-band and regular limiting sounds very transparent and will deliver very good results with almost non-existent or discernible artefacts. It’s incredible how McDSP managed to make the ML8000 sound so natural while using all eight bands, there’s something about the way it tackles the common drawbacks of multi-band that is just remarkable. It doesn’t sound “multi-band” at all, keeping thing very much cohesive and glued together. Nevertheless, it’s also very easy to overdo and it’s a bit too sensitive to operate since the ranges are too big (more on this later), so it will sound scooped and/or unnatural if pushed hard like basically any processor of this kind would. I’ve kept it mostly in the 2-4 dBs gain reduction range on individual bands while cranking up to compensate the lost level with the wideband limiter. There were some cases where I could get away with more gain reduction but in my opinion sweet spot is up to 5 dBs per band, which is quite a lot when doing such operation on multiple bands. This is something that will greatly vary from one track to the other of course, but the overall feeling that I have is that the ML8000 is capable and versatile enough to deliver great results on many different situations and circumstances.
Ease of use: The interface is quite clear and it manages to display a great deal of parameters without making things clunky, which is quite an achievement. There are only a couple of drop-down menus for the master/multiband “mode” and multiband “focus”, but everything else is readily available. One thing that bothered me a bit in the beginning of my run with this plug is its high-sensitivity to adjustment, with a range of 24 dB and not a lot of graphics and area to cover it. Eyes can easily be fooled since doing 12 dBs of gain reduction doesn’t translate to a lot of graphic action. In that regard, some range adjustments options such as 6/12/18 dB would be very much welcome. The ML8000 uses some good bit of screen real estate, it’s not a small plugin, with the frequency plot taking a good chunk of its interface. I felt that it could use that are for a real-time frequency analysis, it would be helpful to visualize some troublesome resonance you need to tackle and enhance ease of use in general. With that out of the way, the ML8000 is relatively easy to use and operation should be pretty much straightforward, coming intuitively as controls are tweaked on the interface. One thing that I enjoyed was the “snap” button on the multi-band section, it lowers the threshold on all bands to values near the last measured peaks, instantly engaging the process and from there it’s just a matter of fine-tuning to taste and necessity. Other feature that I really enjoyed was the linking system, which makes managing eight bands a lot easier. I should also note that the documentation is very good, with a nicely written PDF manual with 34 pages that goes through all the features and parameters with great detail and should be of great help in case one needs further clarification on the plug-in.
Features: With eight dynamic bands, a brickwall limiter, many operating modes and a huge sound it’s hard to say it lacks anything but as I’ve said above there are some niggles in the ease of use department. That does not equals saying that it’s an unpleasant plugin to use by any means, but some few extra features could greatly help to make the user experience more smooth. Putting that aside I really enjoyed the features offered here. Initially I thought I’d miss more control over the attack timings, which is kind of fixed/restricted to the modes, but after a few minutes I realised the behaviour was spot on and with most modes it doesn’t chew transients and keeps things very much crisp. Speaking of modes, this is one interesting feature of the ML8000 that gives it some good depth - I fully advise experimenting with them every time you insert this plugin in order to find the best possible match for what you’re trying to achieve, it’s really a decisive parameter and that’s especially true in the multi-band mode. In terms of optimisation and resource computing this plug-in falls in line with McDSP’s line of superbly coded tools that are very efficient all the way through, with near zero-latency and easily manageable resource consumption that allows for running many instances if that’s needed.
Bang for buck: It’s hard to think of any alternatives to this plug-in in terms of the features put together, so that alone should warrant it some good value, but ultimately it boils down to the balance between how bad we need something and how much it costs. Fortunately for us McDSP plugins are mostly affordable and for its asking price the ML8000 delivers an amazing bang for reasonable bucks. Although it’s primary uses should be on the mix bus and mastering chain, I also find it extremely useful when mixing as it’s really good crank up individual drums pieces, vocals or other instruments while shaping them up nicely with all those bands available. It’s also really good on subgroups/instrument busses and also can work as a sort of de-esser. A very versatile plug-in with a lot of possibilities.
Recommended for any mixing or mastering engineer looking for a great sounding and versatile multi-band limiter.