COMPANY: Maag Audio
PRODUCT: Magnum-K Compressor
PROS: Groundbreaking design, sonically excellent
CONS: None found
Maag Audio makes no bones about redefining pro audio gear and how it operates. It all started from the mind of owner Cliff Maag back when he introduced the Air Band in the NTI EQ3. Fast-forward nearly two decades, and Maag Audio has taken the Air Band concept and pushed it into rackmount and 500 Series gear in the Maag EQ4M, PreQ4-500, EQ2, EQ4 and assorted plug-ins.
The Magnum-K is the company’s first compressor/limiter/EQ product, and it blows the lid off what can be accomplished in a single-rackspace unit. I had a pair that I used in many sessions at Blackbird Studios, and it never failed to make me stretch my workflows and create new sonic plateaus.
Make no mistake, the Magnum-K is complex, but the easiest way to understand it is to unravel its five component sections. From the left are the input attenuator and input gain controls. It seems odd to have both, but you can use the attenuator to trim up to -10 dB, which is handy when your input is hot. Here you’ll also see a handy signal-present LED and peak indicator helping you optimize level. The Input Gain control feeds the next section, the full-featured Magnum Comp compressor.
The compressor has the usual suspects—Ratio, Threshold, Attack and Release controls—plus some extras. The defeat-able, built-in sidechain HPF rolls off at 40, 80, 120 and 220 Hz. This can also be set to external should you want to patch in your device at the back of the unit. There is also a Comp Range rotary adjustment (4, 8, 12, 16 dB) that works in tandem with the Ratio control and Feedback (FB) and Feedforward (FF) switch. Here, the Ratio values are a function of the Range settings.
In FF mode, the compressor is smooth and predictable, but in FB mode the Comp Range restricts the amount of compression to the value set (4, 8, etc.) For example, with the range set to 4, the ratio range stretches from 1.3:1 to 1.5:1, narrow and relaxed. But with the range set to 16, the ratio range goes from approximately 3:1 up to limiting and is much more aggressive. In true Maag style, the Comp Range, Ratio and FF/FB buttons provide nearly limitless combinations of compression effects, from subtle to smashing.
The third part of the Magnum-K is the wicked-simple, and switch- able, K Compressor, a 3kHz focused dynamic EQ. A turn to the right provides more attenuation at a fairly wide Q centered around 3 kHz. It’s as simple as that with this surprising and musical feature.
Next, comes the two-band, boost-only, parallel EQ. Each band is switchable and can be separately blended into the signal that comes after the Compressor and K-compressor. The coolness and usability of this EQ can’t be overstated. Finally, make-up gain is there to feed a switchable Soft Limiter. This limiter adds distortion, but if tucked in nicely, it offers a final smoothness to the overall effects of the previous processors.
Because I was using two Magnum-Ks as a pair in most cases, I first linked the units. This is accomplished simply by patching a 1⁄4-inch TS cable between the two, then pressing the Link buttons. This pairs common Threshold, Ratio, Attack and Release settings across both processors. For this outing, a tracking session, I bused my overheads and hi-hat to a pair of Magnum-Ks to use as a parallel feed for drums. I’ll often do this, calling it a Kit Crush to tame cymbals, especially when the drummer is a basher and they’re overpowering my drum mix. I started with all processors out (see “Try This”) and set my input gain so I was barely compressing the inputs, noted by the blue LEDs between the Ratio and Threshold knobs. Because compressing cymbals can make them more brash, especially in the 3-to 5kHz range, I engaged the K-Compressor and dialed in the reduction to taste. This is a subtle way to get more cymbals in the mix without tearing your face off.
Next, I added the top band of parallel EQ, bringing Air to the blend. What I like is the ability to audition the various bands from 10 kHz up to 40 kHz. How I set it differed from session to session based on the cymbal choices, but I could always find the correct spot that put the sound of the stick hitting the cymbal right up in your face. The K-Compressor and Air settings I used with Zildjian Kerope and Sabian Artisans, which are smooth by nature, were different than with Zildjian A Customs and Paiste. It usually takes patching two to three processors to accomplish this when I go à la carte, but the Magnum-K had all I needed inside the box. Once I heard what this did for my drum tracks, I ended up using the Magnum-Ks a lot for this application. It’s addictive when recording drums.
I also used the Magnum-K when recording acoustic guitar. Either in stereo or mono, it sounded great. I patched the unit directly before the Pro Tools inputs and used it like I would another serial processor. For this application, I used fewer of the options, leaving out of the K-Compressor but using some mild overall compression, parallel Air and a bit of 1k to bring up the bite of the pick across the strings. I experimented with the limiter but found that it easily got out of control when the player strummed strong chords or made other dynamic moves on the instrument.
If you tally it up, the Magnum-K has two compressors, one full featured and another centered at 3kHz, a soft limiter that can go from “is it there?” to “OMG,” two bands of parallel EQ, and breakthrough fea- tures like variable compression range limits. And they all sound great. Like other Maag products, especially EQs, the results are musical out to the 10s.
All this firepower might seem overwhelming but what’s beautiful about the presentation is how Maag has stretched the boundaries of how common processors like EQs and compressors work together, yet they’ve kept it understandable. There’s no confusing terminology, oddly arranged GUI or other nonsense. This leaves more time for getting in there, turning knobs and hearing how you can take your tracks to new heights. Bravo Maag!