In the saga of audio processing, there is one common character that continues to play a consistent role: the channel strip. It was — and still is — the fundamental building block of the signal path.
In the past, analog designs gave the user a defined set of processing tools to work with, which could be bolstered by inserting outboard gear if needed. Then digital desks came into the picture, offering a fixed range of onboard, DSP-based audio tools, which could be upgraded over time or added to with new software. When DAWs evolved to take center stage, the roof was blown off, as they gave the user the independence to put together separate EQ and dynamics plug-ins from many manufacturers in any order.
In a true case of going back to the future, all-in-one channel strips have come back to play a role again, this time in the form of third-party plug-ins. Users see value in buying a strip that can be instantiated one time per channel and satisfy a range of needs at bundle prices. And in terms of versatility and, in some designs, the ability to move the order of processors to suit personal preferences and needs, channel strip plug-ins go well beyond their analog and digital console predecessors.
To see what's new in this regard, we looked at what's available in plug-in offerings from third-party suppliers and uncovered quite a selection. It should also be noted that many of these products are available as time-limited, downloadable, try-before-you-buy demo versions to check out on your own.
Part of the Anthology II Bundle, Eventide's (www.eventide.com) E-Channel is a set of 15 plug-ins for use with TDM Pro Tools systems — PC or Mac, Version 6.x or 7.x. Included is a gate, compressor/limiter with sidechain control, five bands of 48-bit double-precision parametric equalization, transformer emulation, extensive I/O metering and a user-configurable signal path that's optimized for multiple instances. The entire 15-plug-in set lists for $1,195.
Retailing at $599, the Focusrite (www.focusrite.com) Forté Suite channel strip is a Pro Tools TDM/RTAS plug-in based on the company's legendary $1.5 million Forté recording console from the mid-'80s. The scalable Forté Suite can perform both as a combined channel strip plug-in or as individual ISA 110 EQ or ISA 130 dynamics (including compressor, de-esser and noise gate). The 192kHz-compatible suite features graphical representations of EQ, compression and related module curves; sidechain input; and frequency filters for the dynamics processors. Additionally, the ISA 130 compressor supports all Pro Tools surround formats.
Designed to deliver the big analog board sound, McDSP's (www.mcdsp.com) Channel G (offered in TDM, AudioSuite and RTAS versions for Windows and Mac OS X) has three components: a G Dynamics plug with expander/gate, compressor/limiter and a filter section; the G Equalizer, a 5-band console-style EQ and filter section; and G Console, which combines the G Dynamics (settable as pre/post-EQ) and G Equalizer configurations. Analog Saturation Modeling is also included. Channel G HD (TDM/RTAS/AudioSuite) lists at $995; the RTAS/AudioSuite-only Channel G Native version is $495.
Providing similar sonic performance in a smaller DSP footprint with 4-band equalization, McDSP's Channel G Compact HD is offered in TDM/RTAS/AudioSuite versions at $495, or Channel G Compact Native (RTAS/AudioSuite) at $295. All Channel G configurations (standard or compact) seamlessly integrate with Digidesign's D-Control and D-Command control surfaces, and feature calibration modes for music and post-production work.
A pioneer in DAW plug-ins, Metric Halo (www.mhlabs.com) originally introduced the concept of large-console channel strip-style processing to the Pro Tools TDM platform. The new Version 2.2 of the company's ChannelStrip (TDM, $699; RTAS, $345) is Universal Binary and builds on the advantages of Pro Tools 7.3 while supporting earlier versions including Mix, HD and Accel PCI/PCIe. ChannelStrip features delay, expander/gate, compressor and 48-bit precision, 6-band parametric EQ. Users on a budget will appreciate the new GarageBand version of ChannelStrip, which brings Metric Halo-quality processing to that platform at an affordable $89.
Offered as part of the TC Electronic (www.tcelectronic.com) PowerCore 3 software upgrade (now at V. 3.2) for its DSP extension systems — PowerCore PCI mkII, Express, Unplugged, Compact, FireWire, X8 and 6000 models — VoiceStrip is a complete voice-processing channel, with compression, gating, de-essing, dedicated voice EQ and low-cut filter. The EQ and compression are modeled on classic vintage tube hardware, and all of the modules can run simultaneously with stored presets for recalling sounds quickly. The upgrade (for Mac OS 10.4.10 and above, or Windows XP SP2/Vista 32 systems) is free for PowerCore hardware owners.
Universal Audio (www.uaudio.com) markets an assortment of plug-ins for its UAD-2 Powered Plug-In series DSP systems for laptop and desktop DAWs, with VST, Audio Units and RTAS support for Mac OS Tiger (10.4), Leopard (10.5) and Windows XP/x64, Vista 32/64. The company's current catalog offers three channel strip options; all work with older UAD-1 or the new UAD-2 hardware.
UA's CS-1 Channel Strip is a free download, configured as a single plug-in using a single insert, or the three components (EX-1 EQ/compressor, DM-1 delay modulator and RS-1 Reflection Engine) can be used separately. The EX-1 combines five parametric bands and full-function studio compression. The DM-1 provides stereo chorus, flange, dual-delay and ping-pong effects, with controls for recirculation, HF damping and LFO selection. The RS-1 adds early reflection control with room shape/size controls, forward and reverse gating, and echo/multitap delays.
Designed to emulate a certain high-end British console, the $249 UAD 4K Channel Strip from Universal Audio has models of the 4000 G+ mixer. This plug-in is compatible with UAD-1 and UAD-2 systems, and features Type-E “black knob” equalization and filters, gating (with a “no chatter” mode), versatile compression that ranges from transparent to an aggressive VCA style, and a sidechain function that inserts the EQ or filter bands into the dynamics section.
Officially licensed from AMS-Neve, the $299 Neve 88RS Channel Strip is a Universal Audio-modeled software re-creation of the EQ and dynamics section of the 88 Series large-format analog board. The modules can be placed in any order, including being used to sidechain the EQ to the dynamics section. The EQ is 4-band with parametric midrange control and high- and low-shelving, along with -12dB/octave HF/LF cut filters. Dynamics include compression/limiting and expander/gate, and a global section offers output gain control, bypass switches and a phase-invert switch.
Unique Recording Software (www.ursplugins.com) offers the URS Classic Console Strip Pro with input stages, compressor, sidechainable filters and equalizer (TDM/RTAS/Audio Units/VST, $1,199; Native RTAS/Audio Units/VST, $599) and the URS Classic Console Strip with compressor and equalizer (TDM/RTAS/Audio Units/VST, $399; Native RTAS/Audio Units/VST, $199). All include Mac and WinXP support. The Pro version also has ducking/de-essing, 30 selectable input stage algorithms and 4-band parametric EQ, with a choice of five algorithms for each band. The DSP-efficient standard URS Classic Console Strip has a compressor with digitally re-created transformer input characteristics followed by a feed-forward 1975 VCA gain-reduction amplifier.
TrackPlug 5 is but a single component of Wave Arts' (wavearts.com) Power Suite 5 ($599 boxed or download), which also includes reverb, peak limiter, multiband dynamics and “panoramic” panning plug-ins. The channel strip features up to 10 bands of 64-bit EQ with choices for parametric, low/high shelf, low/band/highpass or notch filtering. Adaptive RMS/peak detectors reduce undesired low-frequency distortion while comprehensive metering aids in the setup dynamics thresholds. Other features include an adjustable look-ahead delay; soft, medium and hard compressor; and gate characteristics and automation of any control through compatible host applications. Mac requirements include OS 10.4 or later and a host program that supports the Audio Units, MAS, VST or RTAS plug-in architecture. Universal Binary (Mac Intel) support is offered for Audio Units and VST only (no RTAS support). PCs require Windows 2000, XP or Vista and a host program that supports the DirectX, VST or RTAS plug-in architecture.
AudioTrack from Waves (www.waves.com) is offered in Native ($150) and TDM ($300) versions for Mac or PC, as well as being included in its Mercury, Diamond, Gold and Platinum bundles. This single-step plug-in combines input gain fader, 4-band EQ, compressor/expander, gating, output level fader and metering for input energy (post-EQ), dynamic action and output level with peak hold.
Part of Waves' Mercury, Diamond, Platinum, Vocal, Renaissance Maxx and Broadcast & Production bundles, the Renaissance Channel puts EQ, compression, limiting and gating in one plug-in. The 4-band paragraphic equalization puts a visual display above the controls for fast, easy operation, and in addition to the independent compression and gating, it includes phase reverse, EQ/dynamics routing switch and a stereo rotation control.
Waves' SSL E-Channel is included in the Studio Classics and SSL 4000 bundles, supporting Mac/PC TDM, RTAS, Audio Suite, VST and Audio Units. As the name implies, this is an officially licensed re-creation of the discrete design and Class-A VCA chip circuits from Solid State Logic's 4000 Series console. The 4-band EQ (plus LP/HP filters) is based on the Black Knob equalizer that SSL developed with George Martin, and the soft-knee compressor/limiter and expander/gate in the dynamic section is modeled on SSL's LS611E and can be routed pre/post-EQ.
Another extension of Waves' Studio Classics and SSL 4000 bundles is the SSL G-Channel, which puts the equalization and dynamics of the G Series consoles into a single plug-in. The 4-band EQ models the characteristic pre-boost dip, pre-cut rise and broad Q of the original hardware. The Dynamics section has soft-knee compression/limiting and expander/gate with automatic output makeup gain.
One of Wave's latest releases, the Maserati VX1 Vocal Enhancer (available in the Tony Maserati Collection and Mercury bundles) puts versatile input controls tailored for vocal use in a simple interface. Controls include sensitivity, treble, bass, compress and output level, along with delay, decay, reverb and flexible contour switching between presets.
Mix executive editor George Petersen also operates a small label atwww.jenpet.com.