Pulsar train their modelling sights on Manley’s mighty Massive Passive.
Pulsar may be a fairly young company, but they’ve impressed me with all their releases and their latest is no exception. As with the others in their range, Massive models an analogue hardware device and in this case it’s Manley’s Massive Passive, a transformer‑balanced, tube‑amplified, four‑band inductor EQ with additional high‑ and low‑pass filters. This EQ’s four bands are switchable bell/shelving types, both shapes being affected by the Q (bandwidth) setting. An important characteristic is that the four bands are arranged in parallel and thus tend to interact in interesting, always smooth‑sounding and forgiving but not always intuitive ways. Notably, apply a chunky boost with one band and then do the same around the same frequency with another (or even all of four), and the combined maximum boost will barely increase. Another characteristic is that the Q control can be used to coax complex curves from just one shelving band, with narrow bandwidths creating a bell boost just above the shelving frequency when you cut and a dip when you boost. (You might be surprised what you can achieve with only two low shelves and a high‑pass filter!)
I already have a couple of plug‑ins which emulate the Massive Passive and each has its pros and cons. UA’s Manley‑endorsed one sounds decent to my ears and mimics the hardware’s parallel signal flow, whereas Acustica Audio’s Magenta 5 sounds a touch more impressive and ‘hardware‑like’ sonically, but its sampled filters are not arranged in parallel and the bands thus combine in a different way. I use both of these plug‑ins in my mixes fairly frequently, so I was really keen to see how Pulsar’s offering compared.
Massive runs in VST2/3, AU and AAX hosts on Mac/Windows and authorisation is via iLok. As with other Pulsar plug‑ins, the GUI incorporates both a skeuomorphic front‑panel and more proudly modern digital features, in this case most notably an alternative node‑controlled EQ curve overlaid on a frequency analyser, along with peak and average level metering on the right. As on the hardware, the emulated filters are arranged in parallel, and I found that they interact in a similar fashion. There are options to show only the front‑panel controls, only the node‑based curve view or both simultaneously, which I reckon is a neat touch. The GUI is fully scalable too and that should please anyone working with a hi‑res screen, as well as those who, like me, use a touchscreen: stretching Pulsar’s GUI to fill my 27‑inch 1920x1080 touchscreen made it really easy to get hands‑on. (It’s not multi‑touch capable, though; it will respond only to a single touch at any one time).
As with its hardware inspiration, this is a dual‑channel EQ with two identical sets of channel controls, and it can be configured courtesy of switches in the centre to operate on the L‑R stereo signal, or separately on the Left/Mid and Right/Sides signals. In M‑S mode headphone icons can be clicked to solo the signal you’re EQ’ing. This centre section also caters for the variable high‑ (off, and 22‑220 Hz) and low‑pass (off, and 6‑18 kHz) filters, as well as the main channel gain controls. A switchable auto‑gain facility compensates for the level changes that inevitably result when you apply EQ boosts/cuts and can be very useful in preventing loudness skewing your perception when sculpting a source while in solo, or when mastering/processing the stereo mix bus. It’s good that it’s optional, though; I find it less helpful when EQ’ing something in the context of a full mix, where I might well want to boost a band specifically to make a sound ‘cut through’!
Intriguingly, each channel features two modelled output transformer options, a setting which always applies to both channels: setting 1 models the transformers normally used in the hardware, but you can switch these out of the ‘circuit’ altogether or select a custom option, which Pulsar say is a “modification of the circuit” with the aim of enhancing “the dynamic characteristics of the hardware while removing some of its harshness”. A Drive control helps you determine, without significant changes in overall level, just how much colour you’ll get from the EQ, and seems to affect not only the contribution of the transformers but also the inductors, valves and other emulated circuitry.
To either side, each channel is laid out with the lowest‑frequency band on the left and the highest on the right, and each band has its own in/out and shelf/bell selector buttons, and gain, bandwidth (Q) and frequency knobs. There’s generous frequency overlap between the bands and, as expected given its muse, some frequencies are found on two bands.
The analyser view (which appears at the top when both views are engaged simultaneously) is neatly styled to look like a digital rackmount device, so doesn’t look out of place. The analyser itself can be set to have a fast or slow integration time, and when the Infinite Spectrum option is engaged, the frequency response builds up over time. Helpfully, the analyser rescales automatically, FabFilter‑style, to accommodate your EQ moves.
The user can apply up to 20dB boosts or cuts in any band from either view, though the precise maximum depends on the selected bandwidth — the narrowest Q setting is the only one which makes a 20dB boost possible. With the Q at 12 o’clock (midway), the maximum is about 6.5dB and for the broadest bandwidth it’s roughly 3dB. The numbers on the gain control mean little in the real world, then, and if that’s something you require perhaps a more surgical digital EQ would be a better option. But in practice, when you’re judging the results by ear it all seems really intuitive and sounds oh‑so smooth. Should you want more control, you can define the virtual knobs’ behaviour as switched or continuous, and when switched you can set the step sizes, which is neat. You can also opt to type the desired settings in directly.
A comprehensive range of presets caters for recording, mixing and mastering applications, and includes a generous selection created by Maor Applebaum, Romesh Dodangoda and Andrea Lepori. There are preset save/recall, A/B setting/preset comparison, and undo/redo facilities, and a menu in the top right‑hand corner accesses an Aladdin’s Cave of configurability, including oversampling (off, 2x or 4x, specified separately for real‑time processing and offline rendering), the virtual knob behaviour, the ‘help balloon’ tooltips, and direct access to the manual and online support.
It was wonderful for breathing new life into a rather dull‑sounding strummed acoustic guitar captured with a mic, and the transformer and drive options were lovely on electric guitars, bass and vocals...
Pulsar’s Massive scores very highly on versatility and ease of use, so it’s easy to understand why its developers bill this as “the most complete passive EQ plug‑in”, but the chief consideration with any plug‑in of this sort has to be the sound.
I used Massive on a range of material, including DI’d bass guitar, miked acoustic and electric guitars, male and female vocals, and a rock drum bus, as well trying it in a mastering role on a few familiar mixes in different genres. It sounded good to me in general and also displayed the behaviours I’d hoped for — the interaction between the bands and those useful bandwidth‑related shelving curves. It was wonderful for breathing new life into a rather dull‑sounding strummed acoustic guitar captured with a mic, and the transformer and drive options were lovely on electric guitars, bass and vocals, as well as for subtle thickening of the drum bus and smoothing off the ‘air’ frequencies in a female vocal. I can confidently say that I’d happily turn to this plug‑in in any of those applications.
When comparing it directly with my UA and Acustica plug‑ins, I still felt the Acustica one had that slight edge in terms of clarity and top‑end ‘sparkle’, but, as I said, that plug‑in doesn’t offer the parallel signal path. I could perceive some sonic differences between the UA and Pulsar offerings, but they were not big ones in the grand scheme of things. For example, the filter frequencies didn’t always seem to be identical (and neither plug‑in always reflected the front‑panel labelling — I suspect this is an ‘emulated hardware idiosyncracy’). But both did sound really good and eminently usable, and I found I could achieve very similar results using them in my mixes. Pulsar Massive, though, had a clear advantage when it came to versatility and control, and with oversampling engaged, I perhaps discerned that bit more detail coming across in the high end.
The bottom line is that this is another lovely plug‑in from Pulsar, which combines a good‑sounding emulation of a wonderful analogue EQ with some genuinely helpful modern touches... not least that fully scalable GUI!
A great‑sounding plug‑in from Pulsar, Massive emulates the sonics and behaviour of the Manley Massive Passive EQ.
€149 (about $150)