I think it's pretty ballsy to call something "Ultimate," but having relied on this plug-in for over a year, I do agree with the name. McDSP was one of the companies that early Pro Tools adopters clung onto, because they were making plug-ins that worked well and had a sound. Before I gave in to the DAW revolution, I was aware that there was something interesting happening at McDSP.
I got my Pro Tools rig in 2013 and initially focused on using the included plug-in suite in conjunction with my outboard gear. I wanted to have recall for the clients who decided, weeks after the project was put to bed, that the second line of the third verse needed a change. As I got used to the system and the plug-ins, I started to think about what things I wanted options for — and what things I couldn't do — in software versus my hardware. More than anything, I was uninspired by the included compressors. The standard Pro Tools compressors controlled the levels fine but didn't do much for me in terms of excitement.
When I saw 6030 Ultimate Compressor, did a little research, and talked to some trusted colleagues, I bought the software. What drew me in is what keeps me using it time after time. 6030 is a set of ten compressors in one single plug-in. This is amazing for workflow, because all ten load up when you open 6030. The interface is in three sections, the first being a list of the ten compression models, each with its own algorithm, interface, and sound. Using the buttons on the left, you can quickly jump between the different modules and see which is working best for the source at hand. This is done on one insert; it's not like loading several plug-ins and activating each one in turn to do A/B comparisons. They are all loaded and ready. It's really quite brilliant — and time efficient. The middle section contains I/O meters, the output level control, and buttons for enabling and listening to the sidechain. The third section displays the controls for the loaded model as well as gain reduction meters.
All this is well and good, but only if the plug-in delivers, and I am happy to say it does! As you go down the list, the models go from gentle to more aggressive. Some models are unique McDSP designs, while others are inspired by well-known hardware units. The inspired ones are not meant to be exact digital replicas. Instead, these are tweaked and interpreted for modern use.
The first model is U 670, inspired by the legendary Fairchild 670 that now costs as much as a new Honda. According to Colin McDowell, CEO/CTO of McDSP, the plug-in's attack ballistics are altered to work better with modern music, while the original tone and gentle character are retained from the vintage unit that was analyzed during development. U 670 rounds out transients and creates a darker tone immediately. There are only two controls — Threshold and Time Constant. You can lay into U 670 and get a good amount of gain reduction — and a very pleasing tone, though it's very specific. I use it a lot for vocals that I want to sound more intimate and less bright. It can do some really interesting things to bass guitar as well. I find it really easy to dial in, and with such a sonic stamp, I can tell pretty easily if it is right for the track fairly quickly.
Second in line is Moo Tube, McDSP's all-tube Vari-Mu model. With Threshold, Attack, and Recovery, it dials in easily. It doesn't have a huge sonic signature the way U 670 does, but it does a nice job of keeping something within a tighter dynamic range. I've done some good things with vocals and horn solos with this. It doesn't alter the tone much, but helps things to stay forward in the mix.
Next comes iComp, a McDSP original designed for preparing songs for iTunes and such. It has just Threshold and Ratio, with attack times being "taken care of" by the software. I'm not sure if that means it's reactive or preset. It's simple and works, though I don't find myself using this one all that much.
The next two models are related. Opto-C and Opto-L are variations of the classic LA-2A tube-based leveling amplifier with a T4 optical attenuator. Each has a single Gain Reduction knob. Opto-C (compressor mode) is a little gentler than Opto-L (limiter). I was surprised that these didn't have a darker tone; they are actually really nice at controlling the dynamic range without altering the tone of the source. I find Opto-L quite good at keeping a vocal forward, and I used it almost exclusively for an EP featuring a female singer with a beautiful high lilt in her voice. Opto-C has worked really well on bass, as one would expect.
Number six in the model list is British C, based on the Neve 33609 and 2254E. This is by far my favorite model in the package. Its Threshold, Ratio, Attack, and Release controls are all very reactive, and you can really dial in the right dynamic control and even add "life" to a track. The unit has a very pleasing tone about it. The diode-bridge compression can be quite quick, but it doesn't ever seem to sound "grabby," which I find to be really wonderful. You can really shape the envelope of a sound with the British C in a lot of ways. Guitar solos can be brought forward, vocals can be made more intimate or bold, and rhythm instruments can be given a new presence in the mix. Each knob interacts in a pleasant way with the others. I'd buy this plug-in for this model alone.
Continuing on is Over EZ, again with full Threshold, Ratio, Attack, and Release knobs. This one is inspired by a classic American VCA design. It can be pretty quick and is quite effective on bass and some vocals. I find it to work better when always affecting the signal, at least a little, not just grabbing a peak here and there. I've heard some interesting results on drums (individual and bused) because it sometimes adds a nice "squishy" quality that many of us have heard before.
The eighth model is SST '76, an interpretation of the solid- state 1176. Unlike the inspiration with its set ratio selectors, SST '76 has a continuously-variable Ratio control, which I think is a pretty nice twist on this classic sound. As expected, it's grabby and can be aggressive in all the best ways. Kick and snare are great with this model, as is bass guitar and vocals. I even tried out tight harmony trumpets recently, and SST '76 was able to give them a great in-your-face quality while also pulling out some good room tone when the attack and release controls were adjusted accordingly.
Number Nine (number nine, number nine...) is FRG 444, which McDowell calls the Frog — another design unique to 6030. It's a wonderfully fast and aggressive model and works great on percussive sources, and it's the first thing I try when I have tambourine or shaker parts that need some squashing. It has the same layout of Threshold, Ratio, Attack, and Release as SST '76, and I often feel like it is the "chemically enhanced" version of that model. I often use it that way, thinking I want the SST '76, but more. It's another highly reactive model that allows you to shape the volume envelope and really put things into a mix just where you want them.
The last model is D357. As the name implies, this one is tough. The ratio control is renamed "Crush" and has indicators starting at "Some," with "More" in the middle of the knob's ring, and "Tons" at the end. These are pretty good descriptors. Threshold, Attack, and Recovery are still available. This isn't a model for simple envelope shaping. It's meant to pummel. It's pretty good at it too. So far, I've liked it most on some snare tracks for adding a little crunch and crackle to aggressive backbeats. It's interesting on bass sometimes as well. I thought I would go to D357 more often than I actually do, but when I do, it's really great.
If you're looking for an easy-to-use, wonderful-sounding, versatile-as-hell compressor plug-in, look no further than 6030 Ultimate Compressor.