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Musik Hack Master Plan

Mastering Processor Plug-in By Matt Houghton
Published November 2023

Music Hack Master Plan

This great‑sounding processor does more than make your music loud — but does it do enough?

At first glance, Musik Hack’s debut plug‑in Master Plan appears to be all about loudness: the biggest control is labelled Loud, and cranking it can certainly make things very loud. But that’s only part of the story, because Master Plan also includes a host of useful simple, intuitive facilities to shape and refine the sound you feed into this limiter. The company suggest, in fact, that it offers enough control that you should consider throwing out whatever else you have on the stereo bus — I’d describe it more as a sort of stripped‑down mastering chain, with a selection of well‑judged tools!

Master Plan is available for Mac and Windows and supports AAX, AU and VST3 hosts. Twelve‑month and perpetual licences are available, and authorisation to your computer is a simple online process; you don’t seem to need to be online thereafter for it to function.

When it comes to my own mastering efforts, I tend to prefer using separate and fairly traditional processors. So, with its fixed signal flow and streamlined control set, Master Plan offers a very different approach than I’m used to, and it’s fair to say that I approached this review with a little trepidation. But my apprehension turned out to be ill‑founded. You can make things very loud with this plug‑in, but as long as you use it with the requisite care and a discerning ear, you can do a lot to balance and sweeten things. The only real downside is that the minimal control set means there are quite a few things it can’t do. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised and genuinely impressed.


By default, the GUI was pretty small on my 16‑inch M1 MacBook Pro’s screen (it may be less so on lower‑DPI monitors) and at that size the off‑white text on a black background wasn’t the easiest to read. But it’s resizable, with five fixed settings ranging from XS to XL, and when set to XL it occupied about a quarter of my screen and was easy to read. You can also switch to a white background instead of the default black, which further improves legibility in my view. While we’re on the GUI, many controls have a coloured ‘glow’ whose colour is cycled by default, apparently just for visual entertainment rather than to indicate something. Not being a ‘spinner hubcaps’ sort of person, I was pleased to see that this feature could be turned off in the settings window, and a static colour of virtual LEDs specified.

The alternative white GUI.The alternative white GUI.

It’s incredibly easy to get started, but you should first listen, as the default settings aren’t completely transparent. Before you do anything, there’s a gentle thickening and a presence boost (the latter probably as much due to harmonic distortion as EQ). Then, pick a preset, set Out (the output ceiling) to taste and crank the Loud knob, and you’ll have instant gratification. You’ll probably find that you can push the perceived loudness a bit further than on most limiters, and this seems to be achieved with some sort of pre‑emphasis that compensates for the effects of heavy limiting. So far so ordinary. But handy Bypass (delay compensated) and Unity buttons allow you to compare the processed and unprocessed signals. If you engage Unity the perceived level remains the same whatever you do with the controls. That’s great, since it allows you to make judgements based on the sound, not on the meter readings across the bottom. Push Loud up until you hear things start to break up too much and then back it off a little. Then disengage Unity and you’ll probably have a grin on your face as you realise just how loud you made your mix.

Such a ‘twist it and see’ approach will only get you so far, of course, and for the best results you’ll need to understand what the other facilities do and where in the signal path they do it — and while the GUI is largely intuitive, the control layout doesn’t always reflect the signal flow. Top left, the In knob is an input gain control, and since there are threshold‑dependent processors with no user‑adjustable threshold, you’re going to want to learn to use this to get the signal in the sweet spot, particularly if mastering mixes that have already had stereo bus processing applied. An adjacent clip LED warns you that the processor is saturating, and is an indication to back things off for a cleaner sound. Top right, the aforementioned Out knob sets the output ceiling anywhere from the default ‑0.1dB to ‑12dB True Peak. Next to this are undo/redo buttons and the Bypass and Unity switches.

Push Loud up until you hear things start to break up too much and then back it off a little. Then disengage Unity and you’ll probably have a grin on your face.

The main Loud knob increases the signal level going into what, to my ears, is a great‑sounding combination of limiter and clipper. Up to 24dB of boost is available, and as the signal approaches the ceiling the algorithm does its thing. To the left of Loud are low (±6dB) and high (±8dB) shelf EQs. An 8dB boost might sound a lot for mastering, but the gentle slopes mean you can set this very high up the spectrum, with the EQ curve acting much more gently further down (an 8dB boost at 20kHz starts lifting somewhere in the 800‑900 Hz region). Note that these EQ bands come early in the signal chain, so boosts and cuts here dictate what’s fed into the limiting/clipping circuit, and if you need to rebalance things radically you may find it helpful to dial back the input level, to give yourself some headroom.

Below, a saturation processor called Thick can be set from zero to 100 percent — the plug‑in already introduces harmonics and it was very rare that I wanted to use this additional thickener when mastering, but it could certainly be useful in shaping sounds other than full mixes. Adjacent is another EQ called Clean. This can be switched on/off, making comparison easy, and when engaged applies a dip of up to 2dB, centred around 200Hz. The idea is to allow you to clean up any of the mud or boxiness that can often build up in mixes in that region, and can become more obvious as you start compressing and limiting.

Further facilities include Multi, a multiband compressor which can deliver up to 6dB of gain reduction independently in three bands (the crossover filters are fixed). Additionally, there’s Smooth, a gentle single‑band compressor with fixed settings, while Tape is what the name suggests: an analogue‑modelling tape simulation, again with mostly fixed settings. This models the head bump, HF roll‑off and hysteresis, and offers a single slide control to apply the effect from zero to 100. A Calm button, again with zero to 100 slider, is designed to tame high‑frequency harshness and this appears to be another cut‑only EQ, delivering cuts at around 4 and 8 kHz, while a x2 button adds a similar pair of filters at around 6 and 12 kHz.

The Settings window allows you to change some of the aesthetics, including the meter behaviour.The Settings window allows you to change some of the aesthetics, including the meter behaviour.

Across the bottom are numerical readouts of loudness, with LUFS‑I, LUFS‑S, True Peak and Crest Factor, all displayed simultaneously. In the Settings window, you can switch these readouts to change colour to indicate when you’re hitting/exceeding loudness targets. It’s a clever idea, though sadly these aren’t user‑definable targets — and it might have been nice to have one for the Crest Factor too. We also have what I think is an M‑S based Wide control, which can make the mix wider but not narrower and sits at the start of the signal path. Finally, there’s an array of monitor control facilities (mono, dim, a band‑pass filter, and NS10 and phone emulations) to indicate how well the results will translate to consumer playback systems.

Right On Plan?

This all adds up to a really nice‑sounding limiter/maximiser that can seem subjectively very clean and clear when pushing it really quite hard, and the Unity loudness compensation means you can make your judgements based on the sound and not just the numbers, which is as it should be. It also presents a range of options for cleaning up or thickening the sound. If, for example, you hear harshness, hardness or brittleness as you crank the Loud control, you can try countering it with a HF shelf, multiband compression, the tape emulation or the Calm EQ. At the same time, you have options to boost the low end with the tape sim, or with the shelf, or saturation... and have the ability to reduce any mud that such processing brings to prominence. And those prepared to dive a little deeper will find a pretty sophisticated signal chain with thresholds all sitting in the right place, allowing you to balance the Input and Loud knobs to obtain cleaner or dirtier results at or around the same loudness.

Can it replace your entire mastering chain? It’s certainly possible to do a lot with this one plug‑in. It’s not hard to coax wonderful results from it, but equally important is that it’s hard to go very far wrong. For me, it’s not quite the do‑it‑all plug‑in that’s claimed, and obviously not every mix needs to have character added. For mastering, I’m still going to want my M‑S EQs, and my favourite compressors and saturators, and certainly a dither, the lack of which surprised me here. But I do love how this plug‑in sounds, and what it can do (and do so conveniently), and the quality on offer does justify a not insignificant price tag — this is a well‑judged signal chain, and I will definitely be making use of Master Plan going forward.


An impressive‑sounding limiter‑centred mastering chain, Master Plan might lack the control of traditional tools, but is capable of great results — and helps to make bad ones unlikely!


One‑year licence $75, perpetual license $175.

One‑year license $75. Perpetual license $175.