In keeping with this month’s theme of “Gear and Software”, I wanted to talk a little more about my number 1 “My Perfect 3″ find: The Universal Audio UAD2 DSP Card.
DSP cards for use in DAW’s have been around for a while now, predominantly starting with Digidesign and ProTools, then later came the UAD-1 card from Universal Audio and TC Electronics released the Powercore card around the same time. The Digidesign DSP cards used a proprietary TDM architecture that ran only in ProTools hardware and software. For the rest of us who did not have a spare 10-15K lying around to get into ProTools, we were left out.
When Universal Audio and TC Electronics released their native DAW versions of plugins that could run on their respective DSP cards, this definitely narrowed the gap and gave all levels of musicians and engineers the advantage of offloading plugins from the computers CPU to the DSP card to do the heavy lifting. Aside from the advantage of offloading the plugins to another DSP, the quality of the plugins has increased and the emulations of both vintage and current gear are nothing than stellar.
Universal Audio’s Analog emulation’s in my opinion are the best around. UA being the hardware manufacture of some of the best Analog hardware pieces on the planet did not hurt them in developing these plugins. Devices like the 1176LN compressor, the never forgettable Teletronix LA2A optical compressor, the LA3A, etc, are now available in multiple instance counts in your native DAW host of choice, Mac or PC, AU, VST and RTAS. (For more on Universal Audio’s history please check out their website: www.uaudio.com—history.html
The Universal Audio DSP
card (known as the UAD1) has been around for while and recently got an update in power capability (UAD2). This is one of the first third party DSP cards used to run plugins in native DAW hosts. Most people don’t know, but the original UAD1 card’s chip was actually a graphics chip, (GPU) that was used in some older computers motherboards. UA found a way to harness that DSP chip to run these plugins emulations in great quantity. They later released the ability to run up to 4 cards in a single machine or PCI chassis, significantly increase plugin counts.
Universal Audio originally started out with a limited set of plugins and now have ~50 of the world’s finest analog emulation plugins from Neve, Roland, BOSS, Empirical Labs, EMT, Fairchild, Harrison, Helios, Little Labs, Pultec, SPL, Teletronix and more.
The latest versions of the UAD 2 card, comes in four versions. The UAD2 SOLO Laptop, UAD2 SOLO, the UAD2 DUO and the UAD2 QUAD. These new cards use the latest SHARC 21369 DSP technology from Analog Devices.
The SOLO uses a single DSP chip, the DUO uses 2 DSP chips and the Quad as you can image uses 4 DSP chips.
You can see from this chart
the new UAD 2 significantly increases the plugins counts across the board. The UAD2 quad card for example has the power of 10 original UAD1 cards in a single PCIe card slot. Using the Neve 88RS channel strip plugin, a single UAD2 Quad card can have 140 mono instances running on the card. Imagine having the power of a 140 channel Neve console in your studio, with EQ, and compression.
I currently use the UAD2 Quad card in my setup (2.8Ghz- 8 Core Mac Pro). The performance is incredible. I used to have 4 UAD-1 cards and was maxing them out for most of my mixes. Now with the UAD2 Quad card, I don’t even bother looking at plug counts. I just start applying the plugs that I use the most often to my audio and VI channels. As we don’t have time to review all of the plugins that are available on the UAD2 platform, I will list the top 10 that I use on a daily basis:
The technology that we have access to today is sometimes so incredible that we simply take it for granted. In the old school days (my time J), you did not have the ability to use 10 1176LN compressors in your mix. You only had one or two in the whole studio. These DSP cards and more importantly the plugins have given us access to some of the best analog gear made in digital form. I still stand by the less is more rule when it comes to using plugins, and the rule of garbage in garbage out still applies. Spend more time on getting a great sound prior to recording, and then use the plugins as you would a spice. I’ll have a little dash of salt please.
I can highly recommend all of the plugins from Universal Audio. The have bundles so you can just purchase a specific vendor or category of plugins. Your mileage may vary but you will not go wrong using any of these wonderful sounding plugins.
Until next month,
RANDY KNAUB is an audio engineer, producer, songwriter, keyboardist, and music technologist. He composes music and sound bites at his studio, Jireh Productions, and works with local artists recording demos and CDs as well as pursuing corporate multimedia clients. Randy also consults for and beta tests for numerous music software and hardware manufacturers. His clients range from Martin Marietta, McDonalds, The United Way, Colorado Lottery, Visual Communications Group, and Jeppesen. You can find his SCOREcast bio (and links to his other sites) here.