McDSP's revolutionary APB‑16 promises to combine the sound of analogue compression with the convenience of plug-ins. Is it all too good to be true?
The most talked-about pro-audio product at this year's NAMM Show was McDSP's APB‑16. This was partly down to its eye-catching colour scheme, but mainly to the perception that designer Colin McDowell might have created something genuinely innovative — and a bit mysterious. If I overheard one earnest discussion about what could be going on beneath that Dayglo exterior, I must have heard 10. So now that it's here, does this enigmatic green machine justify the hype?
There have been attempts to integrate analogue processing into computer-based mixing before, but the APB‑16 promises to take this integration to a new level. From the user's point of view, the APB‑16 is designed to behave almost exactly like Universal Audio's UAD2 Satellite units and other digital plug-in co-processors. It can be configured to perform multiple different processes simultaneously, including compression, limiting and saturation. These processes are accessed using the Pro Tools plug-in list just like conventional native plug-ins, and are controlled from a conventional plug-in GUI. They can even be automated. Inside the APB‑16 itself, however, the processing itself happens entirely in the analogue domain.
The key to all of this is the use of 'programmable analogue circuitry'. It isn't only audio signals that are fed from your DAW into the APB‑16: they are synchronised with control voltages that tell the analogue processors what to do with those audio signals. For example, when you operate the APB‑16 as a compressor or limiter, side-chain detection, equalisation and so on is handled in the plug-in, which then sends a control voltage to an analogue device within the APB‑16 telling it how much gain-reduction to apply at a given moment.
The 16 in the product name is significant, because it reflects the number of processing paths available through the unit. In other words, a single APB‑16 supports up to 16 mono or eight stereo channels of processing — and because the processing happens in the analogue domain, this number does not fall at high sample rates. If 16 channels isn't enough for you, multiple APB‑16s can be stacked in the same system. At present, however, the APB‑16 is only supported in Pro Tools systems running on Mac OS. It's perhaps a shame that although all the APB‑16 plug-ins can operate in mono, stereo and multi-mono modes, there's no true surround...