Operating system: Minimum OS Windows XP, Mac OS X 10.4; requires UAD- 2 DSP accelerator card
Formats: VST, RTAS, AU
Copy protection: Online authorization
Trial version: Time-limited to 15 days
Street price: $299, available from online store
I’m not a snob about boutique audio gear. Some of it sounds wonderful; some of it leaves me cold . . . and I’m not always sure there’s a correlation with price, either. So I’m doubly skeptical about modeling a complex piece of analog EQ that’s known for the ephemeral concept of “character” rather than the easily measured trait of surgical precision. Besides, a unit like this depends on the engineer’s concept of “good sound,” as much of that sound is locked into the components and design—controls do only so much.
But the Manley Massive Passive (MMP for short) has a few tricks up its sleeve. First, the hardware uses a passive approach to filtering, which results in gentler curves. (Incidentally, guitar amps typically use passive tone controls.) The sound is different from, say, a parametric EQ, especially because the EQs are in parallel. Second, Universal Audio did the modeling, and their specialty is capturing analog—a necessary requirement for this project.
The four EQ bands per channel can be linked or adjusted separately; each has different ranges (low, low mid, high mid, and high), a shelf or bell response (you can even stack multiple shelves), and a boost/cut/out switch. In addition to frequency and bandwidth knobs, the gain controls work differently than active EQs; when fully counter-clockwise they have no effect, while turning clockwise increases the amount of boost or cut, as set by the switch. There are also two master filters, highpass and lowpass. A link switch links the controls, but does not allow offsets between them.
You get two versions of the MMP, standard and mastering. The mastering version has slightly different highpass/lowpass frequency choices and slopes, “stepped” controls for repeatability (although of course presets are pretty repeatable, too!), and reduced gain ranges for finer resolution. Note that the EQ in/out switch is different from the power switch, as it’s not a “true bypass”—some of the hardware’s characteristics remain.
The MMP demands that you use your ears—not as a cop-out, but because the controls have a degree of interaction not found in typical active gear (active stages isolate circuit elements from each other). Forget your preconceptions about EQ unless you’re conversant with using older passive units, like the Pultec; for example, the gain and bandwidth controls don’t operate independently.
The MMP is not about fixes, like adding a sharp peak to increase electric bass pick sounds—it’s about creating a particular tonal quality. In this respect, it messes minimally with the signal despite giving strong results. I often found myself using settings that on paper, made no sense but in practice, sounded great. Although I tend to favor cutting with EQ, boosting the MMP is very effective too.
It’s hard to describe the MMP, which is why I’ve posted an audio example of what it can do at www.eqmag.com. The unmastered cut had too much bass, and a blah upper midrange. With a standard EQ, I would have cut the bass, and added some high end. With the MMP, I instead found that boosting around 500Hz and 1kHz added “meat” in the midrange that both fattened and added more definition; because it was a boost, the bass fell into place. A little bit of boost at 6.2kHz finished things off.
I really didn’t expect to get too excited about this plug-in, but the unit itself makes some great design decisions about what delivers “musical” EQ, and UA captured those qualities in a plug-in. As a result, if you’re looking for a bit of that “analog magic,” yes— you can find it in a digital audio plugin. Thumbs up to Manley for an inspiring piece of gear, and to UA for getting it right.
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