Review: The McDSP 6030 Ultimate Compressor by Zach McNees

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In the world of music and audio production, the nature of dynamic compression can mean many different things to many different engineers. From subtle level riding to drastic bone-crunching limiting, a compressor’s job is as varied as the genres of music that we tackle on a daily basis.

Zach McNees. Photo by Rosco Weber.

In the real world, we’re limited by the hardware that we (or the studio) own. Inside our DAWs however, there is a seemingly endless supply of choices. Often times we come back to certain plug-ins over and over again not just because they sound great, but also because we’re able to dial in the sound we want quickly and move on to the next task.

This brings me to McDSP’s newest creation: The 6030 Ultimate Compressor. McDSP is one of the original third party plug-in manufacturers for Pro Tools and certainly one of the best. Plug-ins such as FilterBank are standards in the industry, and the new 6030 Ultimate Compressor will surely be joining this illustrious group of go-to plug-ins in the future.

Tech Specs:  The 6030 Ultimate Compressor is available in an HD and Native version. McDSP HD plug-ins support the TDM, RTAS, and Audio Unit (AU) plug-in formats. The McDSP Native plug-ins support the RTAS and Audio Unit (AU) plug-in formats.  The newly added Audio Unit (AU) support means all McDSP plug-ins can be used in Logic, Garage Band, Digital Performer, Ableton Live and other AU compatible DAWs in addition to Pro Tools.  The 6030 is available for purchase as a stand alone HD ($449) or Native ($249) plug-in, or as part of the McDSP Emerald Pack HD ($2,995) or McDSP Emerald Pack Native ($1,495) bundles.

What It Does: The 6030 Ultimate Compressor is in actuality, ten different compressors housed inside one unit. Each type of compressor within the plug-in has a distinctly unique algorithm and sound. Some algorithms are emulations of existing classic gear (but with unique McDSP twists) while others were designed from scratch exclusively for use with the 6030.

The 6030 plug-in interface

The Interface: Designed to emulate the popular lunchbox style module format, the 6030 is a sleek, yet simple interface with large buttons and knobs that allow for easy mouse access. The first module on the left side of the plug-in displays buttons for ten different plug-in styles which are labeled: U 670, MOO TUBE, iCOMP, OPTO-C, OPTO-L, BRITISH C, OVER EZ, SST ’76, FRG 444, D357.

The middle section displays metering for input and output along with an overall make-up gain knob. Additional buttons for keying in a side-chain signal and listening to the side-chain are also available here.  The final module on the right changes based on the user’s compressor style selection.

The sharp graphical design of the plug-in modules and the labeling of their button counterparts will make many of 6030 Ultimate Compressor’s flavors seem very familiar to most engineers. McDSP has done an excellent job on the graphics. Everything is well labeled and easy to use.

In Use: Over the past few weeks, I put the 6030 Ultimate Compressor to the test on several different mix projects and at least half a dozen sound sources. Out of the ten emulations available, I found myself coming back to five specific ones on a regular basis.  Let’s dig in a bit on what each of these unique modules has to offer…

  • U670: Immediately recognizable as a Fairchild 670 look-alike, the U670 was originally conceptualized for the Compressor Bank CB4 Plug-in. New attack ballistics and a “warmth” factor were tweaked in this version for the 6030. The 6070 offers a commendable emulation of a legendary unit. Controls for Threshold and Time Constant (release) are available. The U670 performs accurately on bass and vocals smoothing out transients and really achieving that milky Fairchild sound without of a lot of “compressor sound.” Even with the time constant knob set fast, the release time of the U670 is relatively slow which is accurate to the original hardware. This unit is not for everything, but will do the job quite nicely when a mellow type of compression is needed particularly on slower tempo tunes or instruments with lots of decay such as piano or bass.
  • MOO TUBE: This is an all-tube design with a number of sounds reworked from the ground up by McDSP, such as mid-range sensitivity and output frequency response. There are controls for Attack, Recovery and Threshold along with a hilarious cowhide background to compliment its name. MOO TUBE picks up where the U670 leaves off in its ease-of-use and warmth factor but was a little too transparent for me overall. On female lead vocals for instance, I found it difficult to find a good balance with the threshold where the compressor could level everything out evenly without the meter pegging too much. Certain notes would hit the compressor much harder than others. The controls are very easy to use and the attack and release points do allow for a wide variety of sounds.
  • iCOMP:  iCOMP is the black sheep in this family. A blue, techno-like background with only two controls for Threshold and Ratio left me unsure of what I was in for. McDSPs website offers only that iCOMP “Sounds great and is good for songs heading to iTunes.” adding even more to my curiousness. They also state that “Attack and release are automatically updated based on user-selected threshold and ratio control values.” Listening tests proved pleasantly surprising, however.  As a drum bus compressor, iCOMP does an excellent job at leveling things out with a surprisingly pleasant amount of grit and dirt. Relatively fast attacks and release times make this a great go-to compressor for rock drums, bass and guitar. This compressor has the most “sound” to it of the three units I’ve touched on thus far and really surprised me on the depth of what can be achieved quickly.
  • OPTO-C/OPTO-L: With the look and feel of the classic Teletronix LA-2A and a sound just as close, the OPTO Compressor and Limiter blew me away. One simple peak reduction knob is all you need along with the makeup gain to do the job every time.  On a recent mix for Philadelphia-based R&B singer Ali Hoffman, the OPTO compressor became my drug of choice for lead vocals. The response characteristics are stunningly similar to its hardware counterpart providing just the right amount of added warmth and softening in the vocal chain. The OPTO compressor can be cranked up a healthy amount just like an LA-2A without having to worry about that squashed compressor sound. Finished off with a fair bit of make-up gain this compressor is good to go in record time. The OPTO C is in major competition with some of my former go-to standards for vocals and bass guitar. The OPTO L limiter also follows suit on everything mentioned above but with even more of that classic, dirty brick-wall limiter sound. The OPTO Limiter works very well as a “sub squeeze” limiter when blending a heavily limited sound on rock drums, guitars and even horns with the original uncompressed sound sources.  A+ on the OPTO Compressor/Limiter.
  • 6030 flavors

    BRITISH C:  Anyone who’s ever used a Neve 33609 will notice the familiar design of this British emulation. Traditional Brit-style settings for Threshold, Ratio, Attack and Recovery provide surgical control over the sound. McDSP’s website points out that great care went into the design of the algorithm to emulate a distortion-free sound even at high compression levels like the original and they’re right on. The BRITISH C is one of the best representations of what one would hope for in a 33609 replica. The controls allow for a very sharpened and specific sound which works very well on acoustic guitars and piano taking the edge off and adding some snap in a way that I’m used to hearing from a British style compressor. Lead vocals also shine with the ability to focus the attack for any kind of singer’s dynamic range.

  • OVER-EZ: This module features controls identical to the BRITISH C, but with a softer knee response, which provides a drastically smoother and more leveled sound. As I tend to like compressors that add something new sonically to the sound, the OVER-EZ felt a little too smooth for me.  On acoustic guitars and lead vocals for instance, the compression, even at fairly substantial levels above 5dB was almost invisible. With a very gentle sound source like classical strings or nylon guitar however, I can see this compressor shining through very well. Although this isn’t a go-to sound for me, when packaged around the rest of the units in this plug-in the OVER-EZ adds yet another distinct flavor to the palette.
  • SST ’76: The SST ’76 is a fast reactive Solid-State circuit design.  This unit is one of the first that I go to for big rock guitars. It seems to add just a hint of grunge-y ness and reacts very well to drums and percussive sources.  This compressor is all over a pop rock mix I’m doing for Boston artist Jamie Lynn Hart. On kick drum it really pops well giving my drums more bite and attack even with the meter just nudging around 2dB of gain reduction. On acoustic and electric guitars, this unit also does a terrific job adding a healthy amount of character depending on how much compression is added.
  • FRG 444: The FRG 44 is one of the more moderately aggressive sounding units in this package so naturally it ends up on a lot of my mixes!  The key to this kind of compressor is to really beat it up and crank the output and see how it reacts. Standard controls for Attack, Release, Threshold and Ratio allow for lots of experimentation. The FRG 444 sounds brilliant when pushed to the max.  As a “Sub Squeeze” unit and for anything needing a real kick in the face sonically, this unit does the trick. On a drum bus with ultra fast attack and release, the 444 stands up against some of my favorite brick-wall, smash-it-up compressors in hardware or software form. Heaps of harmonic distortion make for a creamy smooth, yet aggressive sound that can really transform an otherwise lifeless sounding instrument be it close drums, room mics, guitars or keys.
  • D357: McDSP jokingly warns to use the D357 with caution.  According to their website, this is their most aggressive unit in the package. With LED-style metering and a ratio control labeled as “Some,” “More,” and “Tons,” the D357 clearly isn’t your dad’s Sunday morning compressor. Like the FRG, the D357’s Attack, Release and Ratio knobs allow plenty of control over the sound and generally is best used when you really want to punish something.  In my tests I tended to prefer the FRG’s aggressive sound but the D357 certainly holds its own as a dirty compressor. Typical rock instrument sounds like room mics and attack-heavy piano came out sounding a little too smooth and slightly digital to me and without as much character as some of the other units above.

The full range of 6030 compression

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