Blue Cat Audio MB-7 – Jack Of All Trades
Hello and welcome to StudioWise. This week we’re looking at a unique VST plugin from Blue Cat Audio called MB-7 Mixer – which might just be the magic pill you’ve been looking for.
It seems nearly every week a new and innovative pro audio title comes on the market, and with all the big-budget marketing surrounding the mainstream developers it’s hard to keep tracks on the little guys and some of the really excellent designs they’re offering.
Blue Cat Audio has a range of your standard EQ, compressor and filter effects, plus one or two really interesting looking devices such as this weeks MB-7 review – a multitrack frequency mixer with a few ingenious tricks up its sleeve. Let’s jump right in and have a detailed look.
If you at all familiar with a multiband compressor you are most of the way towards understanding the MB-7, which in essence is a multiband compressor….without the compressor. Each of the 7 possible bands acts as a simple amplitude control for whatever frequency band you define….so basically an EQ, right? Well, yes and no.
Unlike those devices, MB-7 includes pan, stereo widening and individual VST effect inserts for each band. You can insert two VST devices both before and after the fader, potentially totalling 28 VST effects (!!). While this would be in the realms of crazy, possibilities become more interesting when you consider automation, bringing specific effects in at different times in the mix, or under certain conditions via a sidechain input.
So, it’s clever – but how do you utilise this in the real world?
First off, like all Blue Cat Audio’s current VST range, MB-7 looks fantastic. With its blue on black facia and contemporary design, it’s certainly easy on the eyes. In a plugin first for me, Blue Cat include a transparency control so you can fade out the GUI over your DAW, which sounds cooler than it turns out to be in practice, but great out of the box thinking.
The interface is awash in serious features. For a start, you get 12, 24 and a whopping 60bd fader gain, which is totally unwieldy in my opinion, but its no trouble to knock it back to 12db which works better for me.
The main readout display not only shows your band slopes and crossovers, but a full FFT analyser, spectrum or grey/colour heat spectrum with contrast control. These are all post effect, so you can see in real-time your processing consequences. The spectrum is overlayed over the frequency bands, so its dead easy to see your results real-time as they happen. Nice.
You can display band nodes, output response and a cool reference response for saving and importing previous sessions. The main mixer section is fairly rudimentary, with stereo width, pan and the main fader controls. The master section has a fader and mono downmix checker.
A handy grouping feature allows faders assigned to the same group to be moved together, or even across separate instances of the plugin.
So overall a very well featured mixing environment.
In The Mix
Called a ‘mixer’, MB-7 technically can be a ‘multi-band anything’ plugin. Right out of the box it acts just like an EQ, the faders boost or cut gain on frequencies, that’s easy. The results are very clinical, there is definitely not a hint of any mojo or vintage vibe here, but for surgical precision, its amazing, probably one of the best EQ’s I have for this purpose.
Where it gets interesting is inserting VST effects into the chain. If you were to throw a compressor across each of the bands, you’d have a multi-band compressor, try a chorus you get a multiband-chorus, you get the picture. But try putting a chorus on the mid band, a delay on the high and an amp sim on the lows, you’ve got a multi-band wacko-machine! Basically, try some ideas, see where it leads you. The device soon becomes more of a creative effect than a methodical tool.
Interestingly, MB-7 is amazing for applying reverb. You can define a frequency range of where to insert the effect and then have total control over the input signal to feed the verb – you get the cleanest reverb with much more control over the functions due to only the selected frequencies being affected.
The main downside to all this fun is the uncertainty of the results. Not only is there a large amount of guesswork involved when applying the pan and spread controls, but inserting VST effects can result in wildly different outcomes depending on your source material. Sometimes it can add a lot of width which helps to define focus points in your mix – other times it can completely ruin the soundstage and phase-out existing elements in the mix. You mostly don’t know until you try it.
It’s also very easy to overcook the mix. Inserted effects exponentially increase in output as you boost bands, especially set at 60db, it’s pretty much uncontrollable. You need a light touch to keep things in balance.
As an EQ, MB-7 surpasses a standard device by allowing you to extend the focus on a frequency range by increasing the stereo width or panning slightly. It’s quite interesting when you first try it, and if you show restraint and use subtle amounts to selected bands, the results can be quite stunning. Of course, you’re unlikely to be sitting there while mixing thinking ‘yeap, what I need is a little stereo widening at 400k’, it’s just not a concept you’ll consider until you’ve heard the results.
As mentioned, a big problem is the results are very input dependant, meaning you can never get used to a particular ‘sound’ of the MB-7, because it changes totally depending on whats running through it.
MB-7 can dig you out of a hole with a badly recorded track. Since you a can widen and pan 7 individual section of a frequency range, it does convincingly well to convert a phasey or mono-heavy mix to something more skillfully balanced. Likewise, its good for focusing in on a specific instrument in a mix to enhance or reduce their position and width in the mix.
MB-7 feels like it needs to be part of a larger collection, by itself the basic mixing functions don’t warrant the DPS hit. Called a ‘mixer’, but to me, it’s more an ‘EQ with benefits’
As an EQ, I particularly like the precise, scientific nature that is very EQ-like in operation, with additional individual band widening. It’s great having plugins with tonnes of vintage ‘vibe’, but you also need surgical tools like this sometimes. Being able to focus in deep on a frequencies amplitude, width and pan is incredible.
The big party trick is, of course, the VST supported inserts. Compressing and filtering bands is one way to utilize this feature, but for me, the most effective use is as a creative tool. Mix and matching modulation and delay effects will open up worlds of unique ideas. It’s probably the best way I can think of to apply reverb and delay inserts as well.
MB-7 looks amazing, feature boat-loads of options plus it opens up many creative possibilities for sound designers and producers. At $129USD it’s a lot for an EQ, but if that’s what you use MB-7 for primarily, you’re missing a trick. MB-7 is somewhat of a Jekyll and Hyde – either a simple and rather unassuming EQ…or wild and crazy effect-machine, how far you want to push it is up to you. Either way, this is a powerful platform that will fit in with your daily mixing needs, and then provide a little fun when the need arises.