Review: McDSP ML4000
Positives:* Amazing amount of control not found in other processors
* "uncompress" an over compressed sound
* Gating and expanding on each band of frequencies
Negatives:* Very confusing GUI
* you will have to get to know the layout before you can understand the controls
Total dynamic control when you need serious dynamic control
The McDSP ML4000 replaced my Waves L2 on my master fader years ago. It’s not as aggressive and alot smoother without imparting its own color. I first got a hold of the ML4000 as the ML1 (the full native version brings ML1 and ML4) in the McDSP project pack, Which brings “light” versions of their award winning, great sounding plugins in McDSPs roster, and in some cases, fully functional plugins just missing a more complete version, which you can upgrade to native and receive. I was unaware that the ML4000 had a bigger brother that didn’t come in the pack, although I started using the ML4000 ML1 to it’s fullest extent. The ML1, or Mastering Limiter 1, Is a clean sounding mastering limiter created for all types of material or genres of music. It has fairly simple controls that anyone would come to expect. Threshold, release, knee, and ceiling. choose your output ceiling and bring the threshold down until you get your signal as close to the ceiling as desired. The ceiling control will make sure you never exceed where you tell it. The Knee is fully variable and allows you to manipulate the transition between limited and unlimited signal, acting as an “aggression” tool from 0% = fully aggressive limiting to 100%, a more softer slope for attacking the transients and reaction of the limiting taking place. Think of the higher knees as more older sounding/reacting compressor with a much slower slew rate. On the bottom under “Mode”, there are different algorithm behaviors for suiting to different types of materials. I tend to use Smart, as it minimizes signal distortion as you push it more, it sounds the cleanest to my ears. On the list we have Clean, Soft, Smart, Dynamic, Loud, and Crush. Crush being something you want when you really want to add some Girt and dirtiness to your sound (Drum Buss) and it could really add edge.Try each mode and see what suits your tracks.
I loved the ML1 so much I decided to upgrade to its native version, adding a second plugin into the mix, the ML4. This was easily a good decision. I didn’t really know how to use it and the GUI (display) is a little confusing, but once I got the hang of it, oh man. This thing is a lifesaver. Its’ basically a Multiband Dynamic processor, meaning I can compress, gate, and expand a band or “group” of frequencies different than another set of frequencies. So I can compress the low end and expand the high end or vice versa. It can give you control like nothing else. I tend to use it more as a “fix” tool, for when I need control and I don’t have it. For example, I use it when I’m given drum loops instead of individual drum elements, then I can flip to the “X-over” tab and adjust where the bands are split (crossover points), solo out where the kick drum lives, compress it and If I want to add some punch to it (without affecting the rest of the drum kit), I can upward expand the the kick drum to bring it out. This is just on the low frequencies. Then I could solo out the range where I’d find the snare and maybe compress with a slower attack to let the transient through, and expand quicker to get snap out of it. basically i use upward expansion as a way to uncompress whats too compressed. This is INCREDIBLY useful when you have to mix with a two track (mp3 bounce) of the music and you can’t really control anything. I usually get songs absolutely squashed with compression and the ML4 and it’s expansion possibilities (upward or downward) can help “uncompress” it to a point and i can still bring individual elements up or down without sounding like an eq. I use it to fix badly recorded vocals, so when I receive something very “honky” or it has some “ear piercing” qualities to it, I can compress the range where I find the offensive frequencies very quickly and I can set the threshold as to where it keeps it under control no matter how loud or dynamic they get. Although, Using it on well recorded vocals is a dream, I can get a nice rounded midrange with soft compression and and I can use the High Mid band to tame the sharp frequencies that you would normally boost on an eq for sweetness, except now they wont be so obtrusive. I then use the top band to de-ess any sibilance out of the vocal and I can add as much top end to the vocal as I want without worrying about the “S’s” sticking out anymore. The difference between ML4 bypassed and unbypassed is like night and day. It’s very smooth and if you do it right, It sounds very transparent. On the master fader it can add movement and depth to a stale or flat mix. Using the expansion on certain bands can excite the transients and makes a new groove you didn’t think you could get out of it. Control everything in the low end without affecting the rest of the music, while compressing and turning down the shakers in the top band. The possibilities are endless. Give the ML4000 a try and you’d wonder how you ever mixed without it.