MIA Laboratories Musiqual Series BUNDLE SE by MarsBot
• Product: Musiqual Series BUNDLE SE• Developer: MIA Laboratories
• Formats: AAX/VST/AU Win/Mac
• Price: €280
• DRM: iLok (14 day fully functional demo)
• Website: Musiqual Series BUNDLE SE - MIA Laboratories
MIA Laboratories is a new company that recently released its first set of products, now updated to their "Second Generation." The company is based in Greece and founded by Akis Golfidis, one of the country's most famous engineers/producers. According to the company website he has "16000 released tracks, over 37 years of experience in mixing, mastering, music production and sound processing, working with some of the greatest analogue gear ever constructed . . . "
The website states, "Fusing science, experience, knowledge and passion, MIA Laboratories can claim to be able to finally deliver the revered, if not worshipped analogue sound, through digital processing . . . next-level audio processing software tools." Apparently, they are trying to distill and apply some general behaviors common to high-end analog devices. And in daily use, these Musiqual EQs do reveal a unique approach to creating analog-style sound in digital audio. They remind me somewhat of Contemporary Color by Endeavor FX but have their own unique sound.
The company is marketing these 3 plug-ins (BLUE, RED, and GREEN) as EQs that provide analog coloration. They can create a subtle effect of increased clarity on a source, especially if you use more than one in series. Each plug-in provides a single band of EQ with a set of selectable fixed frequencies for cutting/boosting, except for the semi parametric GREEN plug-in which can be swept continuously from 32 Hz to 20 kHz.
NO COLORATION WITHOUT EQ
On all three plugins, the "colour" knob has no effect if the EQ gain is set at zero. I set up two identical tracks to null by inverting phase on one track. Inserting any of the three Musiqual EQs with EQ gain at zero on one track results in complete cancellation even when colour is at 100%. So these cannot be used to add colour unless the EQ is either boosting or cutting. Plugin Doctor's Linear Analysis shows smaller secondary peaks and dips appearing above and below the selected EQ frequency when colour is enabled and EQ gain is set to a non-zero value. For example, if you set BLUE's EQ to 64 Hz with gain at 40% and colour at 50%, you see a large peak at 64 Hz and smaller frequency peaks at 1 kHz and 7 kHz. BLUE, RED, and GREEN all create different patterns of these additional peaks.
In practice, there are two ways to use these plug-ins, the first being just as a normal EQ, cranking up colour only if it's beneficial (and it often is). The second is for general coloration where you set a positive EQ gain value, put the colour at 100% and then rotate through the EQ frequencies to find a coloration pattern that works for your source.
THE INDIVIDUAL PLUG-INS
BLUE - This is the most neutral sounding of the lot. The 16 fixed frequencies seem well chosen and calibrated. I was able to get musical results both cutting and boosting. According to the website, BLUE is "inspired by top Class A analogue gear." I had good success on background vocals with BLUE followed by MIA Labs' BORDER high pass filter. Cranking up the colour to 77% and boosting 8192 Hz by 30% placed these vocals better in the mix than my other typical saturation/EQ combinations.
RED - According to the company, this is an analog tube flavored EQ. Cranking the colour seems to give a fatter tone than BLUE. A Latin funk vocalist in an Ozomatli-style band benefited from Red with 70% saturation and a boost at 220 Hz. I actually preferred this to the TAUPE TAPE I had been using on him for saturation. This vocalist needs help. He tends to sound thin and screechy at times and RED lent a natural sounding fatness that he needs while maintaining his presence at the front of the mix. There are 31 fixed frequencies to choose from on this EQ
GREEN - The coloration on this one is definitely "transistor flavoured" as the company says. When pushed, it has the most identifiable character of the three and can become pleasantly grainy. It's great for placing midrange secondary elements in a mix to make them stay audible. In particular, a secondary pluck sound sat much better in an EDM mix I was working on. The sweepable semi-parametric EQ facilitates this sort of midrange mix placement function. You can sweep around until the part sits right where you want it.
These plug-ins can add pleasant warmth when boosting at lower frequencies. But their main overall effect seems to be increasing the perceived presence of a source, especially when you stack several instances. In fact, the company makes another enhancement product called Pi & Phi and says in the EQ manuals that "You can try Pi & Phi in your chain right after this plugin, for enhanced results and brighter colour." Using Pi & Phi in this way, I was indeed able to get some serious presence going. Clearly the company wants users to be able to increase presence and brightness among other things.
Like any enhancement tool, these plug-ins can be overused. But when applied judiciously on many sources throughout a mix, they can help create coherence and a very clear, unobtrusive presence without the harshness you sometimes get from plug-ins of this type. On most sources, a little bit of colour (or Pi & Phi enhancement) goes a long way, and the overall effect on the mix increases as more sources get the Musiqual treatment. Even without colour enabled, the EQ portions of these plug-ins sound good. But when you crank up the colour, they become very effective tools for placing sounds in a mix.
The manual says, "Caution: Musiqual BLUE SE adds a lot of gain (exactly like its analogue counterparts) so beware of your gain structure on the channel you use it." To that end, it would be helpful to have input and output gain controls included. I often found that I needed to insert a volume utility plug-in after these EQs. Also, I think the manual should specifically say that the colour function does not work if the EQ is set to zero gain.
Sound Quality - 5/5: These are high quality plug-ins with a unique approach to analog-style coloration.
Ease of Use - 5/5: Once you understand how the two controls interact and the particular coloration available in each EQ, you can get very quick results.
Features - 4/5: These EQs don't have a lot of features, so they don't score a 5 here. However, that is one reason they are quick and easy to use.
Bang for Buck - 4/5: I think many people will view €280 as too much for three single band EQs, regardless of what "special sauce" the company claims they contain. I think MIA Labs will sell more of these if the bundle is priced closer to the current sale price of €100.