GEAR REVIEW: MOTU The MasterWorks Collection (Mac) Review

Third-party EQ, dynamics, and reverb plug-ins are arguably the most ubiquitous and oft-used effects processors. MOTU now enters this crowded playing field with its MasterWorks Collection, three plug-ins that were previously available solely to Digital Performer users. We all have favorite “go-to” choices, so should we care about these? Do they offer anything new or different? The answer is a hearty “yes” on all counts.

The MasterWorks Collection bundle has an EQ, a leveler, and a convolution reverb, and each brings something new to the party. They ship in MAS, AU, RTAS, and VST 3 flavors for use in mono, stereo, or multichannel surround configurations 
with any DAW that supports these formats. The package also includes a pre-authorized USB iLok key, saving you from having to purchase one separately. (Thanks MOTU!) Installation and authorization is a breeze, and the included hard-copy manual is comprehensive without being overwhelming.

THE EQ

The MasterWorks EQ emulates the look and sound of British large-console EQs. There are five fully parametric bands, with the outer two doing double-duty as low- and high-shelf filters. Additional high- and lowpass bands make this a fully versatile 7-band equalizer. Each of the main five bands offers a choice of four different EQ filter types. This is where the action is, and having tried these different filter styles, all I can say is, “Wow!”

I was skeptical at first. It seemed like simply altering the Q width would achieve the same effect as switching between the four different filter types, but that wasn’t the case. Each filter type has a unique and dynamic nonlinear relationship between the Q and gain settings. The Type-I and -II filter types are great for traditional, corrective surgical EQ tasks. But there is something magical—dare I say musical—about the Type-III and Type-IV filter styles that give them true star quality for subtle wideband adjustments. The shape of the Q reacts differently depending on how much gain is attenuated or boosted. Subtler amounts of gain with the Type-III and -IV filter styles yield wider curves, generating stunning, colorful results.

I tried the EQs on a drum kit recorded with five mics. Types I and II were great for pulling out resonances. Boosting or cutting with bands set to Type III or IV sculpted the sound in pleasing ways by subtly coloring the frequencies surrounding the center points (see Web Clip 1). A couple of corrective Type-I and -II bands combined with some wideband sweetening using Type-III and -IV styles worked wonderfully on a female lead vocal recorded with a RØDE NT1A microphone (see Web Clip 2 and Fig. 1).

FIG. 1: The four different EQ filter styles are used on different bands of a MasterWorks EQ placed on a female lead vocal track, combining corrective precision with broadband sweetening.

The interface is also nice. Each band is represented with its own unique color used on the controls, as well as in the filter response and parameter displays. The parameter display updates to show the precise values of the band you’re working with or hovering your mouse over. When I tried controlling it from my Mackie control surface using Logic 9.1, however, fader or knob movements wouldn’t update the parameter display until I first touched a parameter in that band with the mouse. The adjustable dB gain scale and colored vertical Q lines make adjusting the parameters right from the filter display elegant and clean. It would be nice if the Q lines remained visible for all bands rather than just the one currently selected. The ability to hold the Shift key in the filter-response display to constrain movement to either gain or frequency is a nice touch. And the Audition button, which generates pink noise when parameters are adjusted, is great for objectively hearing and learning the effects of the different filter types.

ON THE LEVELER

The Leveler is modeled on the legendary Teletronix LA-2A optical compressor, and it is legendary for good reason. Notions of typical compression parameters don’t apply here. You won’t find any attack, release, threshold, or ratio parameters. It’s all about the dynamic nonlinear interaction between the Automatic Gain Control (AGC) circuit and the T4 opto-coupler. Leveler faithfully captures the nuances and relationship between these components as faithfully as the different EQ filter types capture the big-board-style, nonlinear relationship between Q width and gain.

Don’t be fooled by the relatively simple interface; there’s a lot going on under the hood of this LA-2A emulation. Just using the parameter knobs and opto-coupler buttons on the front panel is like driving your Cadillac to the corner store. The real action takes place when you click on the meter for the T4 cell memory-management menu (see Fig. 2).

FIG. 2: Leveler’s memory-management menu lets you save the “warm” state of the T4 cell after a waking stage where it’s “primed” by the underlying program material that is played through it.

Like the LA-2A, the Leveler goes through a “waking” stage where the algorithms react to the program material as it is first played through it. This is known as “priming the cell.” Once this “warm state” is established, the state of the T4 cell can be saved and recalled from this menu uniquely for each of the four opto-coupler model options.

To get a feel for how this works, I looped some program material with the memory-management menu open, the gain-reduction knob fairly high, and continually “retrained” the cell every couple of bars using the “Save current T4 Cell memory” command and then erasing it from memory. The sound changed dramatically with each new save as it responded to the program material at that moment. According to MOTU, this has been fixed in the current version.

Save a warm state you like, and then you can easily recall it from this same menu. MOTU thoughtfully included a Standby button to bypass the plug-in temporarily without losing the T4 cell’s warm state. Each of the four models has its own personality, but all have a long release. Using it on some drums and vocals offered interesting results from each model (see Web Clips 3 and 4).

The relative simplicity of Leveler’s interface makes it inviting and simple to use, but it would be nice if the T4 cell-memory controls were a little more obvious. It’s too easy to overlook what is really a defining characteristic of this unique leveling amplifier emulation.

PROVERB

Convolution reverbs digitally capture the reverberations of a physical space by using a prerecorded audio sample—an impulse response (IR)—of the space being modeled. Convolution reverb plug-ins are generally judged on the quality of the included IRs and the controls available to shape and sculpt them. ProVerb gets high marks in both areas, but there’s a lot of power lying below the surface of this simple and elegant interface.

ProVerb’s ability to drag and drop any audio file to create an IR is simply brilliant and encourages worry-free experimentation. The first thing I tried were some downloaded shareware IRs. Real-time drag-and-drop worked flawlessly, and the flexible IR-management scheme in ProVerb lets you easily copy imported IRs to User, Shared, or Project-based locations.

In the next maintenance update (shipping at press time), MOTU plans to add the ability to drag-and-drop entire IR libraries into ProVerb in a single operation that replicates the library’s folder structure in ProVerb’s hierarchical menus.

MOTU optimized the ProVerb algorithms so that modifying the IRs with the pre-delay, damping, and length knobs is almost instantaneous. This feature, along with the availability of negative pre-delay values, makes sound-design experimentation very inviting.

The 4-band EQ is a nice touch, but the dynamic mixing section really makes this reverb special. When enabled, it lowers the level of the reverb in the mix based on the level of the dry signal. So, effectively, it acts as a ducker being fed with the dry signal, acting on the reverb, before the effects return. This all happens within ProVerb’s internal signal chain. I liked using a low threshold setting and high compression value for dramatic results (see Web Clip 5 and Fig. 3). Here, I would like to see MOTU add a Bypass button for this whole section to easily A/B the signal with and without the ducking effect.

FIG. 3: ProVerb’s dynamic mixing section is set to “duck” the level of the reverb within the plug-in’s internal mix, based on the level of the dry signal.

PRESETS

MOTU has done an excellent job with all three of these plug-ins but could add to the “wow” factor by including more presets. (Note: According to MOTU, more presets will be added in a forthcoming maintenance update.) Granted, these types of effects are so program-dependent that factory presets are generally not a high priority. But they could spotlight the unique features lying beneath the surface—particularly of the EQ and ProVerb. I found myself using the EQ’s Type-IV filter type with very wide-band slopes and subtle gain in ways that I never usually do with other EQs. Some presets pointing in this direction might have led me to this approach sooner. ProVerb would also benefit from some presets showing off its unique sound-design and ducking capabilities by showing users unconventional ways of using the parameters.

Saving presets between formats is absolutely seamless, and I could perfectly and reliably drag-and-drop presets between RTAS and AU versions. This is an incredible step forward in interapplication compatibility.

All three plug-ins are definitely worthwhile additions, and if you take some time to experiment with these, you’ll be richly rewarded. I know I’ll be reaching for each one of these in my next mix.

 


Click on the Product Summary box above to view the MasterWorks Collection product page.

Eli Krantzberg creates instructional videos for various DAWs and plug-ins at groove3.com. Special thanks to Montreal singer Nancy Lane for her vocals.

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