Channel Strips - Help Or Hindrance When Mixing Part 2

01-20-2014 08:43 AM

In part one of this article I asked about the value of channel strips and in particular the Avid Channel Strip, I promised in part two to say what I like and dislike about the Avid Channel Strip, so here goes!
Things I Like About Channel Strip:

  • It has very fast, characterful compressor section which can smooth, spit, pump and bounce with the best of them. The speed and aggression of the attack in particular impresses me. In terms of sound I could happily use this compressor very nearly 100% of the time and I’d probably get more done without alternatives distracting me.
  • The depth control on the compressor was something I hadn’t come across before this plugin. It opens up many interesting possibilities, one of which I will discuss later.
  • The gate is the fastest I have used and getting a DS201 style clicky kick drum is easy and very aggressive if that is what you need.
  • As I said earlier, there is the possibility that a channel strip plugin will not respond appropriately to individual bypass shortcuts using shift E+C. I have yet to update my SSL bundle to AAX64 but Channel G does not respond at all to shift+C or shift+E. McDsp do however supply the Dynamics and EQ sections of Channel G as individual plugins. I was pleased to discover that Avid’s Channel Strip does respond to shift+C and shift+E, bypassing the appropriate section and indicating this partially bypassed state with a suitably corporate Avid purple in the inserts section. Unfortunately shift+E does not bypass filters, which are treated as a separate section of the plug-in.

Things I Dislike About Channel Strip:

  • Tall UI: There’s no getting away from it. If you combine two or more plug-ins into one user interface it will either take up more room or you will have to hide elements and hamper usability.
  • Rather than using the conventional input vs output, the plug-in transfer curve plots input vs gain reduction. After some time using this system I have become used to reading it but I see no advantage to breaking with convention in this case.
  • The filters are treated as a separate section to the EQ and the position of these filters in the four available routing options is to my mind a little strange. Dynamics before or after EQ is a can of worms I have no desire to open here. Both are correct and can give different results. My preference has always been filters then dynamics then EQ. The default routing in the channel strip is EQ to filters to dynamics which seems an odd choice.
  • When using shift+E to bypass EQ the filters are not bypassed. To my mind a filter in the signal chain, as opposed to in the side chain, is part of the EQ and should be bypassed. For the same reason I have always wanted the effect of the filters to be reflected by the EQ curve rather than superimposed on top of it as it is here.
  • Yet another thing about the filters and one of my biggest gripes is the lack of 6dB/Oct filters. Channel strip offers only 12dB and 24dB/Oct filters. I use 6dB/Oct filters far more than 24dB/Oct, the latter being used only for very low high pass duties on kicks, basses and masters. I regularly use 6dB/Oct high pass filters for high but gentle high pass duties on overheads and cymbal mics and the most common slope I choose for low pass filters is 6dB/Oct if the high end needs taming. This is probably my number two reason for sticking with EQ3.
  • By default the HF and LF sections open as peak as opposed to shelf – Why? Setting up a user default easily solves this but it still strikes me as an odd factory default setting if a channel strip is emulating the operation of a mixer channel. In the shelf mode the Q is greyed out and there is one fixed slope available. After some experimentation I managed to null the channel strip shelf against the shelving filters in EQ3 with a Q of 0.46 - a very gentle shelf.
  • My biggest gripe about the channel strip EQ, and it is the EQ which has kept me away from this plug-in, is the way it seems to have been designed with direct manipulation of the control points in mind as opposed to the UI knobs. The problem with controlling the plugin from the control points is that it makes the single best feature of EQ3 difficult to use in Channel Strip. Band pass mode gives you the ability to null the currently selected band of EQ against the rest of the plugin and hear that band in isolation. This has been covered on the site before but to do this you press control+shift and move either the frequency or Q control to hear that band in isolation. The Channel Strip does offer this mode of operation but only when manipulating the control points This means that band pass mode is not available when using a control surface.

Duck it!

After doing such a hatchet job on the EQ section of Channel Strip, my last point, and it is one to which I said I would return when I discussed the depth control in the compressor section, is the fact that the dynamics section is sowell specified but omits a ducker. It was some years ago that a colleague who was even more pedantic than me pointed out that Pro Tools has no ducker. Until that point the difference between a side-chained compressor and a ducker had never occurred to me but put simply, a ducker reduces the level of programme material in response to a control signal feeding the side chain exceeding the threshold, but it does not affect the dynamic range of that programme material. A side-chained compressor would reduce the dynamic range of the programme material when the control signal exceeded the threshold. This would reduce its overall level but this reduction in level would be achieved through compression not through linear attenuation (i.e. it would sound different as well as quieter).
Actually the Channel Strip dynamics section can offer ducking but to set it up requires some understanding of the depth control and the mysterious negative compression ratios that lie beyond 3 o’clock on the ratio control. A discussion of these little understood ratios the other side of limiting is beyond the scope of this article but using the depth control to set the amount by which the programme material will be attenuated, the threshold in the normal way and setting the ratio as far clockwise as it will go, a useful linear ducking effect can be set up. Attack and particularly release times should be kept reasonably long if used to duck music against a voice-over.
After all of this criticism of Channel Strip, am I ignoring the shortcomings of the stock EQ3 and Dyn3 plug-ins? Come back for part 3 when I see what they have to offer.
Julian Rodgers is a certified Avid trainer who currently trains young people in Music Technology