When I first read about McDSP's Channel G, I made the
mistake of dismissing it as a repackaged application. We already own McDSP's Compressor Bank, Equalizers, and Analog Channel, so I figured Channel G was just those components strung together like the Waves Renaissance Channel is. This is not the case. While Channel G does make use of concepts from previous titles, it is very different in sound and function. Based upon the basic paradigm of "the analog console as a studio's centerpiece", Channel G combines four components into a cohesive package: G Dynamics-console style compressor complete with expansion, limiting, gating, and filters; G Equalizer-five-band EQs plus more filters; G Console-channel-style combo of G Dynamics and G Equalizer; and G Surround Compressor-a comprehensive dynamics solution for post production and 5.1 mixing. Like most McDSP titles, Channel G is available in TDM and RTAS versions.
If you're lucky enough to have a D-Command, D-Control, or VENUE, you'll be floored when you see that Channel G maps lock-step to those surfaces. I only had a brief time with the pair, but it was one of those experiences that made me think this is exactly what I like about analog-the tactile response, ability to make rapid changes, and fine control-with the advantages of digital plug-ins-near perfect recall, multiple instances, and expanding feature set. It was sheer geek bliss. And it left me believing I could mix a whole CD just using Channel G and a few outboard reverbs.
Channel G is a significant asset in mix situations. Be prepared to find new uses as weeks go by. It is a deep plug-in that can be used countless ways. The G Dynamics configuration handles both compression and expansion/gating. If you track with a gate, you have to live with your gated signal because it's printed. (Of course, that kind of applies to anything you record.) With Channel G, you can save the gating until later, and even try it on sources as an effect. The compressor is very tight, controlled, and smooth sounding. This is probably due to the design of the knee control, which can gently ease into compression as well as act as a hard-knee compressor when needed. Because we're talking digital here, fast attack times are possible. In fact, you can set Channel G Dynamics to an outrageously fast .001 ms. Another feature is the ability to switch between feed-back and feed-forward compressor designs. A full explanation of the differences is beyond the scope of this review, but the feed type determines if the detector gets its signal before or after compressing the signal. Most of the compressors we use are feed-back designs. These tend to be very musical sounding to human ears. However, API, Rupert Neve Designs, dbx, and a few others make units that utilize feed-forward designs. The forward topologies receive control signal from the input. This allows the compressor to react quicker to the signal and is more useful for limiting and hard effect processing. It takes some time to get used to it, but once you do, it can really pull you out of some tough situations. I did a loose A/B of the Channel G with the API 2500 bus compressor (set to feed-forward) and found them to be very close in sound and punch. The G Equalizer does pull from the original McDSP FilterBank plug-ins. However, the G Equalizers have more gain/cut range and also have switchable parametric/shelving capabilities. Having the EQ in the plug-in line meant that we used fewer other EQ plug-ins, especially for normal nips and tucks. So, in a weird way, the Channel G can save you DSP power by cutting down the number of plug-ins you instantiate.
Using G Equalizer with D-Command is what most impressed me. The knobs map directly to the control surface. I really don't like using a mouse to do EQ work, especially after growing up on a mixing board. And I know many people say, "I've grown up with a mouse, so it doesn't bother me." That may be the case, but once you've equalized tracks with a well-mapped control surface, you'll understand how much improved your workflow can be.
By far, our favorite incarnation of Channel G is G Console, which combines the EQ and Dynamics features with analog board modeling. Several renowned mixing desks are modeled in the software, including mainstays from SSL, API, and Neve. After using Channel G for a month, Dave Hidek (one of our engineers) said, "I could mix a whole album with just the presets." Indeed, the ground covered in the presets is enormous in both features and application. The API-esque channels were great on drums; the Neve-ish models killed on acoustic guitars, piano and vocals; while the SSL-inspired settings were bus plug-in heaven. I should point out that API, SSL, Neve, etc. are registered trademarks of their respective owners, and McDSP's Channel G is not endorsed by said manufacturers. And unlike licensed products (e.g. Universal Audio's AMS/Neve plug-ins), there is no representation that the models are the sonic equivalent of the hardware that inspired them. But in real-life use, the models allow you to classify the sounds in your head and give a good estimation of the flavor you can expect.
Another useful feature includes the ability to alter configurations via the GPH and SIG buttons. The buttons produce a cool flowchart block-diagram that shows all signal paths, routing, and inline status of all sections. Totally cool. Finally, you can change the key-signal routing and monitor the input readily. (See Tape Op #54 for my article about using "key listen" for more info.) Key signal flow is also displayed, along with the active status of the selected key. When the user selects a key input such as a bus, if there is nothing routed to that bus, the key signal path remains unlit. Once signal is routed to the selected key track, the signal path glows to indicate the presence of an actual key signal. Again, Channel G assumed the duties of other plug-ins I used to like for key listen applications, reducing my DSP load.
My only beef with Channel G is that you have to watch your DSP usage. It's easy to start slapping full G Console instances on everything and run out of gas. For example, a standard Pro Tools HD card will handle two instances of the stereo G Console per DSP chip at 48 kHz. Accel cards will support four per chip. Should you only need to use Dynamics or EQ sections, you'll get more mileage. What's really cool is that G Channel "remembers" what you're doing, which really helps when you instantiate a full console but end up needing less features. If you switch to a Dynamics or EQ configuration, all the settings are restored, so you can DSP-economize as you go. Of course, the number of instances go down if you increase sample-rate or switch to the multi-channel versions. Complete DSP usage charts are available on the McDSP website.
From the sheer number of jobs it can perform to the broad range of sonic ground it can cover, Channel G comes very close to being the only plug-in you ever need to do great mixes. Of course, I would never suggest you toss all of your plug-ins and just use one thing! But the fact remains, the sound and flexibility of Channel G are almost without peer in today's plug-in market. If you are a Pro Tools user, you would be remiss not to have Channel G in your arsenal. And did I mention it's green? ($995 MSRP; also available in Emerald Pack bundle; www.mcdsp.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.