MTR DNG-One (Dual Noise Gate)
MTR DNG-1 Noise Gate in studio trial
Every now and again a product comes along that needs a special on site' test. Such a beast is MTR's DNG-One Dual Noise Gate. IN TUNE offered our review sample to Sleaford's F & S Recording Studios for a thorough assessment. F & S's Steve Slater reports.
It's always nice when a different type of effect instrument finds its way into our studio for a while. Not only do you have time to give it a fair appraisal and test your customers' reaction to it, but if you've a mind to buy a similar item then it'll give you a sneak preview, so to speak, as to what to expect. Besides, it's always handy to have a second pedal, keyboard etc. knocking about anyway! So when the new MTR dual noise gate dropped through the studio letterbox for testing, it was quickly installed and soon ready for use.
Applying noise gates to a recording is wholly a matter of taste, and the various tricks one can achieve are endless, so I'll not go into them in this review. However, for the benefit of the reader who isn't too familiar with such devices, I'll try to briefly outline their functions.
Quite simply, a noise gate does exactly what its title suggests: it gates (shuts out) unwanted sound — i,e., hum, hiss, pre-impact noise such as squeaky drum pedals, even the drummer trying to ease his position on the drum stool — during virtually any given recording situation. Noise gates nave frequency control filters so you can determine what signal is to be allowed to pass through and what it to be rejected, the gate shutting off automatically when your pre-selected signal isn't being sent. For example, the bass drum can be 'stopped' during the quiet passage of a song, which is invaluable when the kit is multi-miked.
There is, in my opinion, nothing that benefits more from a liberal dose of gating than the drum kit, enabling you to achieve total separation on the bass drum, snare, tom toms, indeed every aspect of the kit from a crisp, tight bass drum to a reverse cymbal effect. Gated reverb is also a much used effect via the noise gate. A gate has uses too numerous to list: suffice it to say that it's an extremely valuable device and can be of as much importance in the studio as our tape machine itself.
So, on to the MTR. It's a rack mountable (virtually obligatory these days) dual channel unit for stereo grouping, and can be used for both PA and studio work as you require. It boasts a full and extremely variable range of controls to enable precise, controlled gating, featuring internal/external triggering, high and low variable filters (25Hz to 3.6kHz and 200 Hz to 34kHz), and a 10μs to 200ms attack time. The hold ranges from 350ms to 14s, the decay from 10ms to 32s. The floor is also variable from -70dB to -1dB.
The MTR has a front panel control facility with both rotary knobs and push buttons to enable frequency control and monitoring. I'll deal with the rotaries first, going from left to right on the machine.
1) High and low key filters. These are very precise and are used in situations such as the gate being triggered erratically from another signal, maybe a microphone picking up extraneous noise from a snare or a vocal. With careful attention and manipulation, these filters will enable you to define which audio bandwidth your signal is located in and shut out out other, unwanted sounds. These filters are extremely accurate on the MTR.
2) Threshold. The threshold control will only accept a signal that reaches its level (as set by the user). The signal that does not reach threshold level will automatically be muted; signals louder than the threshold level will be passed to the output. Adjustment must be made with care and attention, or a cutting-off effect will occur. On our sample model I found the threshold perhaps a bit too sensitive, cutting wanted signal slightly despite our having increased the signal level.
3) Attack. This will determine how quickly the gate opens once its signal exceeds the threshold level and is received. The attack on the MTR is very good indeed, allowing for some excellent effects. I got some ace handclap sounds from it — although, as I've said, it's purely a matter of taste and experimentation — and in my opinion the effects one could achieve are infinite!
4) Hold. Quite simply, this decides how long to keep the gate open once the signal has passed through and has dropped below the threshold level. The gate doesn't close until after the entire hold time you've set has elapsed; but, should the signal begin again during your hold time, it will automatically reset and return to zero, which is also very useful.
5) Decay. This, in my opinion, is the strongest feature on the MTR. A total of 32 seconds can be attained — superb for automatic fading, and much more precise than rolling faders down by hand only to find that just before the end of the fade it suddenly shuts off — very frustrating! It's a much more rounded, smoother fade as well. Such a long decay has to be a must!
6) Floor. Finally in the rotary controls section comes the floor (range). This will allow for some natural ambience if required, which obviously gives a natural sound to even the tightest of recordings. This, I feel, is sadly missing in some of today's recordings, with every snare sounding the same (thank the sampler!). Mind you, this is only my articular opinion... However, the floor ranges from -70dB to -1dB, giving a good range and allowing a 'natural' feel to emerge.
On the push-button side, we find, left to right:
1) Key. This is internal/external and allows you to use a different signal to trigger the gate, i.e. a loose, twangy bass guitar can be tightened up by triggering it (keying) via the bass drum and vice versa. This enables you to achieve a much tighter overall sound.
2) Monitor. This affords the luxury of monitoring what's occurring when the filters are in use; or, if preferred, to listen to an external 'key' signal simply depress 'key' on the monitor button.
3) Bypass. By depressing the switch you can compare your processed sound back to back with your 'dry', or untreated, sound: it simply bypasses the gated sound and gives you an instant A/B comparison. Useful for debating whether you're overdoing it on the gate, which at some time or other we've all been guilty of (come on, admit it!).
4) Link. A stereo link-up switch allowing the machine to operate via one channel (channel 1). Whichever channel has more sensitive level settings will then become the master channel. When in stereo use, depress the stereo link to prevent and image shift and ensure exact stereo tracking.
5) Status. LED indicators to show whether the gate is in the open or shut position. The LEDs illuminate when shut.
Gating is almost always used as a matter of course in today's recordings, and definitely varies according to taste — each to his own, horses for courses and all that! However, a certain standard is to be expected whatever one's individual preferences, and the MTR will safely live up to most of these requirements. All in all this is a very good noise gate, functioning and performing well, and standing up to studio recording demands. The MTR's decay in particular is superb, and really is a strong feature of the unit. 32 seconds is a long fade, and must therefore be a great help during mixdown.
My only criticism of the DNG-One is that the rotary controls rest on rather weak plastic spindles, and could be quite easily broken if caught by a loose sleeve or an eager-to-please studio tea-boy leaning forward to refill your cup! Indeed, one of the rotary controls had snapped off our sample when it arrived, so perhaps the unit would benefit from slightly reinforced spindles?
Which brings me to the price. At £279 (inc. VAT) the DNG-One isn't cheap, but then neither is its performance. However, I feel if the unit was cheaper it would be more likely to tempt the prospective buyer away from the more firmly established brands of noise gate, whereas at the moment there's not a lot to deter you from going for the other leaders in this field. This is purely an observation though, and in no way detracts from the MTR's obvious qualities. It definitely stands up very well against other, more established gates. Its appearance is sleek, it fits in well with other outboard gear and certainly does the job well. If you're buying a noise gate, check this one out — or put it on your list of potentials, at least!
RRP £279 inc. VAT
More details from MTR Ltd., (Contact Details).
Review by Steve Slater
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