Apogee Digital has released a simple, stellar-sounding channel strip plug-in. I’m guessing that ECS stands for Equalizer, Compressor, and Saturator, as those are the tools equipped in this channel strip. The EQ is a 3-band affair, with Lo Shelf, High Shelf, a sweepable midrange with a tight or wide Q selector, and a High Pass filter that goes up to 300 Hz with an 18 dB per octave slope that can be set to either trim the low end from the signal itself or act as a sidechain high-pass filter for the compressor detector – simple and effective.

The compressor in the ECS Channel Strip is a one-knob lover’s dream and is remarkably clean, which I’m finding to be satisfying and refreshing in the race for today’s gnarliest analog-sounding compressor plug-ins. The Bob Clearmountain [Tape Op #129, #84] tuned compressor section’s single-knob approach utilizes an auto makeup gain, providing easy use without having to mess with any attack, release, or gain controls. There is a Threshold knob, selectable Ratio control of 3:1, 5:1, or 10:1, and a Dry/Wet knob. I love this compressor. The 3:1 ratio is very gentle but sounds excellent on vocals and bass. 10:1 is noticeably more aggressive, but still clean, and can yield some Universal Audio 1176-style pumping at extreme settings. 5:1 is the sweet spot between the other two ratios, and sounds excellent on guitars and keys. A seven-segment LED-style Gain Reduction meter keeps operations simple yet effective.

Adding a Drive knob to channel strip plug-ins is a hot trend these days, and one I’m all for. In the case of the ECS, its Drive knob is controlled and useful for quick thickening. While it beefs up the midrange and adds harmonics to lows, it keeps the exciting sizzle at the top end without getting harsh. This knob can go from subtle volume-enhancing saturation to full-on buzz saw fuzz, with many other tones in between. At the end of the channel strip is an Output Level trim knob. Simple.

I only have one complaint about this plug-in: there’s no phase flip! I’ll take this opportunity to state that all plug-ins should have a phase flip button. Yes, all plug-ins! The ECS Channel Strip comes free with the Apogee Symphony Desktop [Tape Op #142] interface, and can run on the hardware’s DSP. If you do not have Apogee hardware, the ECS Channel Strip is also available as an affordable native option. It’s well worth the money, and offers a quick way to get solid sounds on just about any source. I highly recommend it!

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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