Test Drive: The ART MDC-2001 Stereo Master Dynamics Controller

by Jerry Vigil


Appropriately named a Master Dynamics Controller (MDC for short), ART's new MDC-2001 packs all the dynamics processing you could want on one neatly designed, single rack space unit. You get what you would expect from a "dynamics processor" and more. This full stereo processor offers a compressor, a de-esser, an ex-pander, a noise gate, an exciter, and a peak limiter/clipper. Plus, there are two "detector" circuits with insert points that allow for some interesting effects. Add to this some exceptional specs and a modest price tag of only $499, and you have what could well be the best dynamics processor on the market for the price.

At the far left of the front panel are the controls for the compressor section. You get an INPUT control, a RATIO control, and controls for ATTACK and RELEASE times. The INPUT control sets the sensitivity of the compressor by adjusting the threshold from -40dB to +10dB. At +10dB, only levels above +10dB are compressed. Likewise, when set at -40dB, anything above -40dB on the input will get compressed. At full tilt, the compression is very clean. The range on the RATIO control is 1:1 to 40:1. The ATTACK time is adjustable from .5ms to 50ms. At the lowest setting, the attack is very quick and "punchy" with the compression level high. At the 50ms level, the attack time nicely smooths out the attack of the unit. The RELEASE time is adjustable from .1 second to one full second -- enough for most any application. Both the ATTACK and RELEASE controls also have an internal "Auto Adjust" feature which analyzes the dynamics of the incoming signal and "fine tunes" the two controls continuously.

The next knob we get to play with is the DE-ESSER LEVEL control. The de-esser function is pretty straight-forward. The range is from 0dB to 15dB. The more you crank it, the more the pre-set high frequency band is suppressed. The de-esser in the MDC is designed to remove sibilance when using large amounts of compression.

Next up we have the two expander controls. The THRESHOLD can be set from -50dBm to +20dBm and the SLOPE can be set from 1:1 to 1:5. This downward expander works in conjunction with the compressor and helps to reduce noise when there are lulls in the input signal. Its effect is most noticeable when using the MDC as a voice processor. With proper settings, pauses between words become dead silent even though large amounts of compression are being used and noticeable room noise is present. The THRESHOLD control sets the level at which the expander starts working. The SLOPE control sets the amount of work the expander does. Set at 1:3, a 1dB decrease in input below the set threshold will result in a 3dB reduction at the output.

Next to the expander controls are the NOISE GATE controls. Let's talk. There are more multi-track production rooms in radio today than ever before. Most are four and eight track rooms, and some are sixteen. Most of these multi-track rooms use analog recorders which result in more tape hiss and other noise being mixed into that spot or promo. Noise gates should be standard gear in a multi-track production studio (if outboard noise reduction is not in use), and it's wonderful to see this function on the MDC-2001. There are two controls for the noise gate: the THRESHOLD and the HOLD time. The THRESHOLD is adjustable from -90dBm to +20dBm, and the HOLD time is adjustable from 15ms to 2 seconds. The THRESHOLD obviously sets the level at which the gate will "open" and allow audio to pass. The HOLD time sets the time it takes for the noise gate to close once audio drops below the threshold. This control also sets the attack time of the gate. Noise gates -- if you've got 'em, use 'em!